Bullying is a fact of life in today’s schools and playgrounds. Often, children can manage the bullying by simply ignoring or avoiding the offending individual. In the case of children with Asperger Syndrome, things aren’t so simple. Asperger Syndrome children may not even understand when they are being bullied and if they are, they don’t understand why. In fact, research by educational consultant (specializing in autism and AS) Rebekah Heinrichs, MSN, MSEd, suggests that children with Asperger Syndrome are much more likely to become the target of bullying.
This is because bullies are constantly seeking the “easiest target”, and they are often quick to discover that children with Asperger syndrome are easy to manipulate into inappropriate behaviours without any or little comprehension of the social consequences of such activities. Heinrichs claims that children with Asperger syndrome might not be able to recognize the fact that they are being bullied due to an inherent social naiveté, and are therefore prone to being tricked into behaviours that can cause them trouble or put them in danger.
In Heinrichs’ book, Perfect Targets: Asperger Syndrome and Bullying – Practical Solutions for Surviving the Social World, surveys, studies, and anecdotal reports demonstrate that within the United States, 20 percent of all middle school and high school students are targeted by bullies moderately to frequently. Approximately 30 percent of students between grades six through ten have reported being bullied as either a target, a bully, or both. Amazingly, 75 percent of all students have – at some time in the school year -experienced at least one bullying incident. Every day there are 160,000 children in the United States who do not attend classes as they are afraid of being bullied.
In the case of Asperger Syndrome children, these statistics are much higher, as they are more frequently, severely, and chronically bullied and socially excluded if they do not receive adequate support from the adults in their lives. In fact, it is Heinrichs’ belief that up to 100 percent of Asperger Syndrome children are targeted at some point in their school lives. This often inhibits the academic and social potential of these students.
Another reason that Asperger Syndrome children are more likely to be bullied is the fact that they commonly stand out and are more frequently alone than other children their age are. At a time in their lives when peer acceptance is of the utmost importance for social and academic achievement, bullying can be very damaging to these students.
Psychotherapist Kathleen M. Howe, MSW, LCSW works with children, adolescents, and adults with Asperger Syndrome. She has noted that those with the syndrome frequently lack the natural ability to understand the relevance of this form of social interaction (as well as many other forms). Their abilities to gauge emotional states, intentions, and what is considered to be “acceptable” are impaired. Therefore, especially in middle school, students with Asperger Syndrome are prone to being teased, left out, misunderstood, and of course bullied.
The result of frequent bullying can place Asperger Syndrome students at a serious risk for lasting consequences, which may include lowered self-esteem, depression, issues of anger management, chronic stress, and suicidal thoughts or intentions.
As schools do not always have a social worker on staff, it is up to the parents and the teachers to work together as best they can to alleviate bullying specific to Asperger Syndrome students, and help those students to cope with the bullying that will occur at some point in their lives.
As very few teachers and social services professionals have any in-depth training about Asperger Syndrome or autism spectrum disorders, it is vital that parents remain involved and educated so that some information may be provided to these school professionals and a specific plan of action can be chosen.
Signs of Bullying
Physical Signs: excessive scratches and bruises. Torn, dirty or missing clothing and school bag.
Emotional Signs: excessive complaints of real or imagined illness so that they don’t have to go to school, especially after a weekend or holiday break. Some children can become so stressed about bullying at school that they physically become ill more often.
Bullied children can also often display changes in character. They may become withdrawn and sad or they may display anger and act in a bullying manner towards siblings or pets.
There are many more resources and information about diagnosing, controlling and treating Autism in, The Essential Guide To Asperger’s Syndrome