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Monday, September 10, 2012

Nearly Half of Students With Autism Bullied in School

It is back to school time, and as if it wasn't enough for children with autism to get used to new teachers, different classmates, and new routines, a recent article in the New York Times drew attention to another serious issue faced by our students: bullying. A study from UC Berkeley found that 46% of middle and high school students with an autism spectrum disorder had been bullied. Yes, nearly half of kids on the spectrum are facing ridicule, taunting, and other abuse during the school day. These numbers are similar to those reported from a bullying study done by the Interactive Autism Network, which discovered that 49% of 8th graders with ASD had been bullied within the past month.

The students most likely to be bullied are those with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome - in the IAN study, a shocking 61% of students with AS are currently being bullied. Both studies surmise this is because those are the students who spend the most time in the mainstream classroom around potential bullies. It is the students whose autism is less obvious who are most at risk of being bullied, perhaps because they strike their peers as "different", but not obviously disabled.

As disheartening as these numbers are, there are some things that schools and parents can do to help. The Autism Society of North Carolina has a guide to bullying on their website (disclaimer: I authored it) that discusses the signs of bullying and what parents and educators can do to alleviate - or better yet - prevent it. The state of North Carolina has anti-bullying laws on the books, and all schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy. What I took away from researching this topic is that one of the best ways to prevent bullying of students with autism is to educate their peers about ASD. CHCCS does use well-respected bullying prevention programs, but as far as I know, there is currently no district-wide program about disability education for peers. If your school does not currently have one, the ASNC guide has information about peer education programs. Sometimes individual parents or students come up with their own presentation to teach classmates about ASD. It is also very important that schools create a climate in which bystanders feel responsible to speak up when they witness bullying. Implementing a Social Thinking curriculum in all classrooms (not just in special education classrooms) can make a difference in building empathy, as well as helping students with autism to build social skills.

A few more tips for parents: become involved in your child's school. Find out what bullying prevention programs and disability education methods are currently in use, and if you are not satisfied, provide school officials with materials about appropriate programs. PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center has a wealth of information. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so this is an excellent time to bring this serious issue into the spotlight. For those whose kids are attending CHCCS, please try to attend the EC Focus group for long range planning on September 27th to make sure that the needs of our kids with autism are addressed in the school district's new comprehensive plan.

ASNC Orange Chatham will be hosting a chapter meeting about bullying on Tuesday, October 16th from 7-9pm at Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill. The speaker will be ASNC's Parent Advocate Director Linda Griffin, who was instrumental in lobbying for North Carolina's anti-bullying laws. It is a must see presentation for all parents of children with autism or any special needs. And if your child is currently being victimized, call an IEP meeting. The school is obligated to ensure the safety of your child, and adding simple things to the IEP like a buddy system for lunch, recess, and between classes can make a big difference. While the current statistics about bullying of children with ASD are heartbreaking, we are not powerless, and the more parents who take a stand, the safer our kids will be in school.

1 comment :

  1. Hi, Great article!

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