School Bullying: What should I do to help my child?

In the past 16 years, I have met with many parents and there is a common concern they have shared with me, which is whether their children will become the target of bullying.

Some of our students in our center have encountered different levels of bullying, such as being called names, false accusations, or goaded into engaging in rule violating or socially inappropriate behaviors. Research suggests that bullies tend to choose victims who do not get supports from classmates.

Due to their differences in behaviors, interests or even appearance, children with ASD easily become the targets for bullying. They may not understand what a bullying situation is, and fail to protect themselves due to the lack of social and communication skills. Some may not even be aware that they are being bullied and see the bullies as friends.

Traditional strategies tend to encourage the victim to report to teachers, principal or any adult who can provide protection so the bullies can get punished. However, reporting may result in the bullies going “underground.” Another approach is to teach the victim to simply ignore the bully so the bully does not find it fun anymore. However, even though the victim ignores the bully, the peers may not. The bully may still get attention from the peers and continue the bullying. Also, it is very difficult to ignore undesirable behaviors, a victim’s deliberate and obvious attempts not to pay attention can serve as a sufficient reaction for the bully.

In our center, we spend a lot of time teaching our students appropriate social skills in order to improve their social competency. We will teach our students the following skills to deal with bullying incidents and avoid further bullying:

Differentiate Bullying VS. Teasing

Children with ASD find it difficult to interpret and often misread the motives of actions of others. It is important for them to determine whether they are being a target of bullying or it’s just some plays between friends.

Stay Away From the Bully

Develop a strategy of avoidance is another option. Making attempts to stay away from the bully during breaks, lunch or other times may be helpful in reducing unpleasant encounters.

Understanding Bullying

Help the victim in understanding that bullies are seeking responses from him/her. Therefore the victim needs to change his/her typical responses, so the bully no longer gets the pleasure from bullying.

Also, help students with ASD to understand which of his/her own behaviors (e.g. self-stim or talking contents) would trigger a bully, and teach him/her to refrain from engaging in those behaviors to reduce the bullying.

Stress Management

Teach the victim various coping and relaxation strategies to reduce their overreaction. Anxiety and stress can worsen a bad situation. Teach them how to stay calm will help them to deal with the situation better.

Kan Wong

BCBA, Program Director

Information provided by:

Ms. Lai-Kan Wong is a Certified Progressive Behavior Analyst (Autism Professional), a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and holds a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. She embarked on her journey with Autism Partnership in 2001. Over the years, she has gained extensive experience working with children across different settings, including individual therapy sessions, small group training, and ABA classrooms. Ms. Wong is now responsible for overseeing Autism Partnership centers in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, and she provides clinical support to consultants in different offices.

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