As kids are returning back to school this week, we should not only prepare them with the necessary clothing and school supplies but with the appropriate social skills to deal with situations involving their peers. With bullying on the rise, it is important for our children that have a diagnosis of autism to identify bullying when it occurs.
A recent preliminary study by Bond University states that 4 out of 5 children with autism have experienced bullying. The problem is that these children tend to lack age-appropriate social skills and are unable to pick up on mean gestures, mimicking, and sarcasm. In addition, these children may have communication deficits. So, even if they could identify behavior as bullying, they would not be able to report it to their teachers or parents. The study also suggested that most of this bullying goes unnoticed until it results in a physical altercation. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers and school staff are trained to identify bullying as soon as it begins to occur.
In addition to staff training, it may be helpful to teach our children that have autism to identify and notify school staff of bullying by using 1 of 3 (or a combination of the three) strategies:
Social Stories are short stories that describe a situation, from the perspective of the child, and define the appropriate behavioral responses within that situation. The goal of a social story is to improve a child’s understanding of events and expectations, which tends to improve their behavior when placed in that environment. For example, a social story about bullying may include: “when kids at school call me names such as “stupid” or “dumb”, it is called bullying. When this occurs, I need to tell my teacher immediately. They may also be bullying me if they touch me in ways that I don’t like. This touch could be pushing, hitting, or kicking. I should also tell my teachers immediately if this happens to me.”
Role Pay Strategies: Another technique for teaching a child with autism to identify bullying it to use role play strategies. This includes practicing a specific social interaction using a script. Since children with autism tend to respond well to scripts, this can be an excellent way to help them to identify the behavior of bullies and how to communicate this to an adult. The parent/caregiver can review with them what the behavior may look like of a bully and then act it out. The child can then practice how they would notify an adult about this behavior. You can even switch roles with your child so that they can see the roles from both perspectives.
Video Modeling: Finally, video modeling is a mode of teaching that utilizes a video recording to provide as a visual model of a behavior or a skill. Caregivers can videotape other individuals acting out a bullying situationsand show this to their child with autism. They can use this as a discussion tool as well as to teach their child to identify the signs of bullying. The victim of the bullying in the videos can also appropriately notify an adult of the situation so that the child is aware of how this would look. Research shows that video modeling is an effective strategy to use with young children up through middle school and can be implemented in home and school settings.
In conclusion, 4 out of 5 children with autism are the victims of bullying and a majority of these cases goes unnoticed until it results in a physical altercation. Therefore, in addition to staff training, it is imperative that we teach our kids how to identify the signs of bullying as well as how to notify an adult when this occurs.