90% of autistic kids bullied?

13 Nov

A story just out from the Boston Herald state: Survey finds 90% of autistic kids bullied. The story starts out with:

A shocking new online survey has found that nearly 90 percent of autistic children in the Bay State have been targeted by bullying so violent and ruthless that a state lawmaker says teachers and school systems must be held accountable.

All kids are bullied to some extent, but I have no doubt that autistic kids get much more than their share of bullying.

I have to admit that the survey did not use the most rigorous methods as it was taken to convince legislators:

About 400 Massachusetts parents responded to the online survey between Sept. 23 and Oct. 12. The survey was prepared as part of an effort to pass legislation requiring that autistic children be taught bullying coping tactics as part of their individual educational plans.

With that acknowledgment, I’ll say it again, autistic kids get bullied more than typical kids. In some cases a lot more. A lot of us feel like our kids have great big bulls-eyes painted on them. Our kids have a hard enough time coping in schools.

I hope the Massachusetts legislature takes notice. I don’t know if including “bullying coping tactics” into IEP’s is the best response, but I know that doing nothing is the wrong response.

Edit to add: a second story from the Herald: Parents say schools look the other way

16 Responses to “90% of autistic kids bullied?”

  1. Adelaide November 13, 2009 at 08:35 #

    What bullying coping tactics have already been taught? (and applied?)

    Which ones have been proved not to work?

    So, essentially, 360 of the children in the survey have been bullied. 40 haven’t. (it looks like the actual figure was 88 percent or 352 children who were bullied).

    It would be interesting to know what happened to the 40 children who haven’t been and try to replicate it.

    “All the children were adjusting to being in school” is the explanation for a 5-year-old being bullied for the first four weeks?

    And what happened to the older children and teenagers is scarcely less shocking and sad. Especially, probably, the suicidal ideation from the 14-year-old. I hope he does not go that way in the future.

    Carol Gray has a lot of good material about this. So does Amanda, author of the book “Dave is Brave”.

    68% of parents seem to have said that the dealings with the district are effective. It is a gap in the survey that we do not know what would have been adequate or effective.

  2. David N. Brown November 13, 2009 at 08:46 #

    What, only 90%?
    In my considered opinion, the only acceptable courses of action are either to remove all autistics from mainstream education, or absolutely eliminate bullying.

  3. Adelaide November 13, 2009 at 08:50 #

    Brown, what would be the alternatives?

    How can you absolutely eliminate bullying?

    It might be good to have ‘reverse integration’ where the neurotypicals are the only one in an autistic school. Or maybe not the only ones. That would be too unkind.

    And if you removed all autistics from mainstream education, where would they go?

  4. Mike Stanton November 13, 2009 at 09:01 #

    From the responses I have had over the years it does seem that schools and other organizations find bullying more acceptable than autism. “Coping strategies” often amount to little more than blaming the victim because their autistic behaviour “provokes” the bullies.

    Instead of concentrating on autism we should find the gene for bullying and Defeat Bullying Now!

  5. David N. Brown November 13, 2009 at 10:05 #

    I am convinced, based on my experiences and the narratives and research of others, that most abuse of autistic children is committed by groups of socially and psychologically dysfunctional children who have NO other relationship with the victim. This can be solved by three major steps:
    1. Replace recess with structured small-group activities.
    2. Make all students wear name tags (so no bully is anonymous).
    3. Isolate bullies from a past victim AND each other.

    The best alternative, as I see it, is homeschooling plus social activities with younger children or adults.

  6. Adelaide November 13, 2009 at 11:45 #

    I like the idea of name tags for everyone, even the teachers and the custodians. What if some of the students decide to switch the name tags or if somebody loses them, though, as a class prank or an accident?

    Number 3 is probably the most effective. Many schools I know already try to do this. And when people come from previous schools or there is a new intake they try to look at histories: which is to say, if anyone had engaged in this bullying behaviour before.

    Structured activities: there is chess club or something like that. Or students can go into the library.

    Homeschooling would be quite a blog in itself. How often do I hear that people wish so much that they had been homeschooled (or unschooled, or freeschooled, as one autistic young woman is presently doing). And activities with younger children and adults would be good. Too many people I know get one or the other, seldom both.

    I think I read your bullying narrative on Raven Days: great repositery, that one!

  7. Jen November 13, 2009 at 11:50 #

    I realize that I’m in the minority here, but in the school boards that we’ve been involved with (3, in different parts of Southern Ontario), anti-bullying education starts at kindergarten and goes at least up to grade 8 for all students. It’s definitely been successful- although bullying still exists (it’s actually moving more towards online bullying after school, as students know the repercussions if they do it inschool), it has definitely helped. Between my three kids we’ve only had one bullying incident over the years (up to grade 9), and that was dealt with very swiftly by our school principal in an appropriate way- punishment and education for the bully (including home education with the parents), and support for the bullied child both in-home and at school. The two kids (bully and bullied) eventually ended up becoming friends, and the bully now is a buddy for kids with special needs in her school and doing a great job.

    I think that the only way that there is to minimize bullying is to start teaching about it very early, and across every school in a board, and have a no-tolerance bullying policy that includes psychological and sexual bullying as well as physical. But that’s only going to happen if people demand it, and vote in school board representatives etc. who will make it a priority.

  8. Socrates November 13, 2009 at 14:31 #

    What about bullying of adults? It doesn’t automatically stop when a child reaches 16/18

    • Sullivan November 13, 2009 at 15:18 #

      What about bullying of adults? It doesn’t automatically stop when a child reaches 16/18

      As clearly demonstrated by some of the autism blogs and, even, some of the commenters on this blog.

  9. NightStorm November 13, 2009 at 15:11 #

    Ok I literally just woke up so sorry for lack of coherance.

    About every kid from the age of 3-18 has been the target of bullying, neurotypical kids and autists alike. Autistic children get harassed just as much as any kid with a noticable disability. I will also add something else.

    Autistic people also do the bullying too.

    Maybe not in the classic manner but I know I enabled quiet a few people. It’s defense mechianism. We try to mimic what they see. If indiviual is tormenting someone we do the same(group-harassment). Or like mostly bullies do, we lash at people, out of our own abuse and frustration. More often than not, bullies especially children are targets of abuse and bullying themselvess. The react but dumping their frustrations onto people, including easy targets like autists and down symdrome kids. Autistic kids depending how high fuctioning might do the same thing. They might have different symptoms of abuse like not sleeping or eatings or they may too feed the cycle and terrorize others out of pain.

    We need to start treating bullies like victims too, and figure out why are they attacking and hurting people and ask if they need to talk to an older peer for mediation or a consuler. Also we need to step a chart of occurances to see when intervention is needed. Name calling isn’t as bad as oh say sexual harassment. So we need have a list of “instances” that bullies exbit on a particular victim and record them. We can find patterns of abuse better and find solutions.

    Also. Teachers need to be held freaking accountable! If a kid from your class badgers another class member or your own. It’s your responsiblity. Don’t dump it on to the admistration or the parents. Take charge of it.

  10. almandite November 13, 2009 at 15:13 #

    I’d say that it’s closer to a 100%.

    And yes, the victim absolutely carries the blame. With one exception, my dozens (you think I exaggerate. Ha.)of bullies were never punished or counseled. The emphasis was always on getting me to appear more normal. Lovely.

  11. Socrates November 13, 2009 at 15:35 #

    “The I Exist report found that a worrying 56% of adults with autism had been bullied or harassed.”

    Click to access I%20Exist%20England%20report.pdf

    Only 56%?

  12. Joseph November 13, 2009 at 15:48 #

    Any idea how survey respondents were recruited? The article doesn’t say. It would matter if it was something like “Please fill out this online survey about bullying in schools.”

    Other than that, I take issue with the suggestions in the article in regards to solving the problem:

    Dr. Elizabeth Caronna, who directs an autism center at Boston Medical Center, said social skills should be addressed because so many autistic children don’t even know they’re being bullied.

    “The first thing is teaching a lot of these kids to identify when it’s happening before it spins out of control,” Caronna said. “It’s such a big problem. It’s so prevalent.”

    Shouldn’t the first thing involve trying to determine why some children are bullies, and identifying bullies as the “problem” children?

  13. Leila November 13, 2009 at 16:29 #

    Some schools have great programs to combat bullying. I agree that the autistic kids need to learn – not “coping” strategies, but how to recognize and avoid bullying, which is extremely hard even for the NT child. Most of the funding should go to teach the whole classroom, not just the special needs kids, about the dangers of bullying and how you shouldn’t victimize your peers.

    Back in the early 80’s in middle school I remember my class had some workshops where we were supposed to get out of our usual cliques and get to know the other classmates better, eliminate prejudices, etc. Teaching tolerance and friendship goes a long way. You can’t eliminate bullying completely but you can reduce the incidence and try to foster important values in children.

  14. VAB November 13, 2009 at 17:59 #

    Our guy (in high school now) has never been bullied. I think that is mostly because the whole school system here is geared up to prevent anyone being bullied. They have lots of educational initiatives, including something called The Roots of Empathy, in which they bring babies into the classroom, and they make a big deal out of something called Pink T-Shirt day, which is a student-lead anti-bullying event. They also have peer mediation in which older kids act as mentors for younger kids to resolve conflict. Basically, when the whole school system decides to eliminate bullying, it can happen.

    I don’t think this is particularly an autism issue. When there is no bullying, autistics will not be bullied either. And, in case anyone is thinking that near-zero bullying would not be possible for their school system because of culture or whatever, I will point out that I went to school in the same system and was mercilessly bullied (sometimes being beaten up by ten or more kids at once). The only policy the school had at the time was something called a Fighting Field. That is, we were encouraged to limit fist fights to one particular field. That and the general belief that kids need to fight their own battles. That changed because parents and teachers wanted it to change. If you want to stop autistic kids from being bullied, stop everyone from being bullied. By helping your neighbor’s kid, you’ll be helping your own.


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