Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autism and Bullying at School

Brian Field

Many parents in our community have recently been discussing autism and bullying in school. In some cases a parent’s child has been relentlessly teased by a peer, in other more severe cases the child has been the victim of physical abuse at the hands of another student.

While bullying is fraught with varying degrees of emotional turmoil for the one affected, those with ASD are in many cases easier targets and more profoundly affected. Having difficulty understanding social cues and exhibiting unusual behaviors frequently make a child (and an adult!) an easy target for jokes, teasing, and general disparagement. Gone unchecked, this kind of negative activity can have long lasting emotional, psychological and even physical impact. It is the responsibility of each parent to protect and defend the interests of their child, and a legal obligation of the school and its personnel to provide a safe environment where students can learn without fear, and in accordance to that child’s IEP.

In addressing some steps that parents can take when bullying of their child with autism occurs:

1) Script. Those with ASD can benefit greatly from rehearsing and scripting social interactions, both positive and negative. While you can’t plan for every kind of situation, but it is helpful for parents to create a framework for options and responses for when such situations do occur.

2) Document. Keep a log of any bullying that your child might experience with the day, who it was, what happened, who was told – if anyone. Your record of events can be one of your most powerful tools in helping to defend the rights of your child. If there is any physical abuse, take photographs along with your written record.

3) Escalate. Parents need not be shy about contacting the child’s teacher when an incident of bullying occurs. There is one woman in our community to tried to approach the teacher and was told there was “nothing she could do about it” – and that the other child was just an aggressive type. A few days thereafter, this woman’s child was physically beaten by the bully and admitted to a hospital, and the woman is suing the school. The school and teacher are legally responsible for the educational health of all students. If you fail to get a satisfactory response, escalate to the principal. Then to the school board. You can also contact your local Americans with Disabilities Act representative and even hire a lawyer to write to your school board to ensure your child’s safety and right to education.

For a teacher in a class where the bullying of a student with ASD is taking place there are also important steps and considerations:

1) Don’t "blame" the ASD. I have heard cases of the victim being blamed for being bullied because of his/her ASD behaviorisms. “Tommy’s teasing you because you’re always moving your hands funny, so just stop that.” This is tantamount to telling an African-American boy he’s being teased because his skin color is darker - so just change it. Ridiculous!

2) Public admonishment can backlash. The axiom, “Praise in public, critique in private” is highly relevant here. A well-intentioned teacher or staff member who calls the bully out onto the floor, showing the whole class the bully is being punished for teasing the kid with ASD, can have a backlash effect as it magnifies the conflict in front of peers and can further isolate the child with autism. Better to remove the bully from the class and admonish in private.

3) Document. One of the teacher’s responsibilities is to ensure a healthy learning environment for all students in a classroom. Keeping a written record of bullying behavior, incidents and steps taken is an important document should the matter need to be escalated within the school, for a student’s IEP and informational purposes for parents.

4) Implement a social curriculum. Particularly important for the earlier grades is developing social curriculums in which social cues and responses can be demonstrated and taught. How one can recognize and respond to teasing/bullying, appropriate peer interaction, reacting to stressful situations can all be exposed in a group setting and learned as a group. This helps the NT children as well as those with ASD.

Finally, for both parents and teachers, engage your school in the creation of a plan for dealing with both bullies and victims if one does not yet exist. Having a school-wide plan in place and making the consequences well known is an effective way to broadcast a clear message and set expectations for both students and teachers.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about autism and bullying here as well as recommendations you might have for both parents and instructors.

Brian Field is the co-founder of the Autism Support Network

New book seeks to thwart bullying of those with autism.
Brian Field

As children with autism enter what can be the cruel social world of junior high years, the subject of bullying in the school shifts front and center as a topic of concern. Often these students can find themselves the targets of teasing and bullying for their seemingly eccentric behaviors or apparent ignorance of the social dynamics around them and reluctance to interact with their peers. While there are many articles and books written on the subject, one new addition is a short book entitled Four Minutes a Day (54 pages) by educator, E.C. Bernard who is nearing her twenty-fifth year as an educator.

Bernard focuses on what she calls “entertainment bullying” – that is, bullying to an audience in order to build a reputation for being perceived as “cool” within a peer group. The bully in such cases typically uses these tactics to solicit a reaction which can impress those in the bully’s social circle, or a social circle in which the bully seeks to be included.

While there are sections (towards the end) that outline how a parent or administrator might move to implement this program, this book is primarily written from the point-of-view of the teacher, and outlines the “whys” for entertainment bullying and a step-by-step process to implement the system to build a social scaffolding for the bullied autistic that thwarts bullying.

Giving an example implementation, Bernard’s program empowers a network of sympathetic peer volunteers who need only devote four minutes of their time a day (thus, the title) to fulfill a piece of the support program between classes in the halls, at key transition points of the day, and other times where the bullied person would otherwise be alone and a target.

For those educators, administrator and parents who seek new plans to reduce entertainment bullying, this book is a helpful addition.

You can purchase a copy of E.C. Bernard’s Four Minutes a Day here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Real Look into Autism

I'm fascinated by this woman. How often do you have an opportunity to learn about life through the eyes of an autistic person by one who is so highly educated and well spoken. Truly, Temple Grandin is an invaluable resource and an example of success in early intervention.

These are both long, but well worth watching.  (Get out your pen and paper for the 2nd video, I felt like I was in college again!)

Temple Grandin - Conversations from Penn State

My Experience with Autism

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