Isolated children who lack social skills are at an increased risk for bullying–partially because of their social awkwardness and partially because they are less likely to know how to fight back. In an anonymous survey, 75% of mothers reported that their child on the spectrum had been emotionally bullied over the past year. Many children on the spectrum struggle with recognizing signs of being bullied, as they struggle with many social interactions and don’t always have a solid model of what healthy relationships should look like. Teaching your child on the spectrum to stand up to bullies involves teaching them social skills and values in relationships.

Higher Rates of Peer Victimization

Sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but it’s a myth that words can’t hurt people! Many teens with autism don’t know how to respond to being targeted by bullies. They may internalize messages about themselves and believe that they are true or they may lash out and fight back. Neither approach acknowledges the impact that rejection and name-calling can have or that these fight-or-freeze impulses are a reasonable response to these situations.
“The inability of children with autism to stand up for themselves and the ease with which they can be reduced to tears of rage or frustration by others make them ‘perfect victims,'” writes ASD researcher and writer, Patricia Howlin. “Often they are unclear if they are being bullied, or if what is happening in their own fault.”
Often, parents encourage their child to not let how bullies treat them get to their heads and to focus on positive support in their lives. However, ignoring it doesn’t make the behavior go away and can place blame on children for being “too sensitive” or not being able to “take a joke.” It is important to validate that their experiences have been difficult and that they should not just have to tolerate other people’s behavior. Teaching your child to stand up to bullies help them feel empowered and to recognize that they deserve to be treated better.

Why Do Teens with Autism Stay Quiet About Bullying?

Problems with communication and social cues can make it hard for teens to express details of the situation to adults that could intervene. They may also feel pressured not to tell anyone. If they’re already struggling to fit in, the thought of telling someone and bringing attention to the situation could be extremely frightening. They may worry that they will stand out even more as a target or that someone will tell them they are misinterpreting or exaggerating a situation. 
In some cases, teens with autism may struggle to recognize signs that they are being bullied and blame themselves for not sharing the same sense of humor as their bullies. Some may even believe that they are friends with their bullies, as they talk to each other often. When teens with autism stay quiet about bullying, it can continue to happen uninterrupted. 

Helping Your Child Stand Up To Bullies: Encouraging Self-Advocacy

  • Talk to your child about their social experiences at school. Many teens are afraid of admitting to their parents that they are not well-liked or that they don’t feel like they belong. Children on the spectrum often overthink their relationships, which can lead to pushing people away. Asking them about their experiences with others can be useful in helping them identify both positive and negative situations.
  • Teach them about warning signs of being bullied. Ask if they have had similar experiences or if they’ve witnessed bullying in their school climate. Remind them that bullying is not always obvious or aggressive. It can include spreading rumors, making threats, name-calling, or cyberbullying. Problem-solve with your child to help them find how they can navigate these situations.
  • Ask your child to practice taking another person’s point of view—step into someone else’s shoes—and consider that child’s feelings. How do you think someone else might feel if they were in their situation? How would they respond to What could be going in the bully’s life that they may treat you this way? Remind them that it is not always personal.
  • Role play social skills that help kids connect or be kinder. What could you do to be helpful in that situation? What would you want someone to say to you if you were feeling that way? Help them come up with social scripts to use when standing up to bullies that involve calling out their harmful behavior, defending their personal strengths, and reinforcing that they deserve to be treated with respect.

Seven Stars Can Help 

Seven Stars RTC is a residential program for teens ages 13-17 struggling with Autism-related issues. The program provides acute care stabilization, residential treatment, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, skill building, and positive psychology. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 844-601-1167 for more information about bullying and Autism Spectrum Disorder.