CHILDREN with autism are being targeted by bullies in schools, shocking research has discovered.
More than half of parents of autistic children said they had been victimised rising to 87% of families with children with Asperger syndrome or higher-functioning autism.
And a study by the University of Manchester has found children with autism are two to three times more likely to be bullied than other children.
In cases where children with autism have been bullied, two-thirds of parents said their children have developed mental health problems.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) Cymru has now published advice for parents of children with autism who are worried about bullying in school.
Neil Ingham, of NAS Cymru said: “We are hearing more and more from concerned parents who are unsure how to help their child cope with bullying and how they can approach their child’s school.
“Bullying can have a devastating impact on the life of a young person with autism and our research has found that playground bullying can lead to mental health problems and setbacks in a child’s education and can potentially damage their outcomes later in life.
“Nearly half of all children with autism have been bullied and, because of the communication difficulties associated with this condition, it can be particularly difficult for a person with autism to adopt the strategies and techniques they need to respond and make sense of their experiences of bullying.”
Jonathan Hanna, now 22, who lives in Cardiff, has Asperger syndrome and was bullied while at school.
I remember about 4 years ago my oldest son came home looking a little shaken saying he punched someone on the bus. After the initial shock, we asked what happened. He told us how this one girl on his bus and in his grade began making comments about his brother, who has Autism. This girl was a known bully in his school, easily had 30 lbs and 5 inches on him, and had been suspended previously for starting fights and threatening other students. Nick told us how he first tried to ignore her because she was making generalized statements, trying to get a rise out of anyone on the bus. When she focused on his brother Mike, saying he was weird, he continued to ignore her. When she called his brother repulsive names over and over again, Nick got up and punched her one time on the jaw. She did not say another word after that. After the girl got off the bus, some kids on the bus patted his back as a show of their approval.
As he recalled this incident to us, he had that look that said, ‘I didn’t have a choice, he was calling Mike really bad names’. After the usual talk about violence not achieving anything, we told him we were proud of him for defending his brother’s honor, and for trying his best.
Needless to say, the bus driver had no option but to report the incident to the school principal the next day. Despite my protestation and lengthy reasonable argument, he gave Nick detention for one day. The girl was suspended for a few days, as she was a repeat offender, and later that year transferred to another school.
I don’t advocate or condone violence, and I wish Nick never had to experience this incident. I do, however, take a certain measure of pride in his initial restraint and decision-making. I take a certain measure of pride that he literally looked into the face of a bully, acted briefly and decisively, and did not himself become a bully. I am proud that he ‘owned up’ to his actions, and accepted the penalty his principal gave him.
Nick has always viewed himself as Mike’s defender of sorts; being the oldest, understanding what Autism meant at a young age, and quite often volunteering at his brother’s socialization group at Helping Hands modeling appropriate behavior. This incident only cemented that impression.