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Episode 37 of 69

My Child Has Autism: Do Not Bully Him

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Hi, Friends! Thanks for joining me today. It’s just me. October is National Bullying Prevention month, so I thought I would do a segment specifically on my thoughts on this subject, and some of our recent experiences. Since my son started Kindergarten this fall, a subject that I’ve been especially interested in on our journey has been bullying. As a parent with a child on the spectrum, it’s been on my mind a lot. Stay tuned for some of my thoughts, along with some advice that I’ve heard and read about.

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There have been moments when I’m with my son where I have witnessed (and intervened) on other children…and sadly some adults…bullying him. It absolutely rips my heart out and shakes me to my core. Thankfully, in those moments, I’ve been with him…so then my thoughts turn to “What if I hadn’t been with him? What would have happened? Would he have stood up for himself, or would someone else have intervened?” We can’t be with our children every minute of every day, and we all know that words (good and bad) can be carried with someone their entire life. Of course, bullying doesn’t just happen to individuals on the spectrum, it doesn’t just happen to children…but what can we do about it?

Let’s first start with the very definition of “bullying”. I’m talking about the Webster’s definition. To bully someone means: seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable). The facts tell us that children with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. When looking within a school setting, one study shows that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students. As parents and caregivers, we have a right to ensure that the school our child attends provides a framework of protection. All children have a right to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment and free from disability-based harassment.

Personally, I can remember (middle school primarily…because, let’s be honest, those are tough years for any child) when I was bullied. I was backwardly shy, glasses, braces, a bad perm, good student…you name it…I was the poster child that screamed “nerd”. I got made fun of…and I cried…sometimes in a school bathroom stall, in the gym locker room, at home. It sometimes made school not so fun. I carried a lot of that with me for a long time, and though I know I can’t protect my son from all of the nastiness that life can bring, I do want to make sure that I equip him (and others) on handling situations like this.

Bullying, I used to believe, used to mean meeting someone on the playground and beating them up, or stealing someone’s lunch. As I’ve grown older and have become more educated and aware, I’ve recognized there are many complexities and various forms of bullying. Bullying not only includes direct contact or physical assault, it can be milder and more indirect: social exclusion, subtle insults, teasing, and the spreading of rumors. Laughter at another person’s expense is a form of bullying. And now that most individuals have online access, we have issues with cyberbullying. I have to admit, I’m so glad that social media wasn’t around when I was growing up.

At my son’s school, they have a couple of apps they use to update families on special events, reminders, updates on their child, pictures from their day. They’re really awesome, and my son’s teachers do an incredible job of keeping the lines of communication open. Alex seems to be really happy at school. But one day recently, a video was posted on one of these apps that showed the entire class singing a song they had learned. I was watching it with Alex, and was commenting on how sweet and special this video was. It was then that he pointed to a specific girl in his class. Now, please note that Alex is now verbal, but can still very much struggle with piecing together sentence structures, especially when it comes to more (as I say) colorful language. He points at this girl and says, “She squeezed my arm and called me stupid.” I immediately replayed the video, and again he pointed to the same girl and said the same thing. I froze. This was the first real conversation that I had had with Alex about bullying. We’ve talked a lot about self-advocating, saying “stop” when he doesn’t want something, but we hadn’t
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