Latent Bullying and ASD, the Epidemic Grows

19 Oct

Working with youth and adolescents with ASD means dealing with the inevitable fallout from bullying. If you can think of a form of bullying, it’s happened at least once to at least one of my clients. Due to struggles recognizing social cues and understanding the dynamics of pragmatics, I would wager that many of my clients have been bullied in ways they do not recognize or even know about. The bottom line is that if you know someone with ASD, they have been bullied. Even if they don’t know it, you do. So, what do we do with latent bullying, especially if the “victim” does not recognize the crime? Especially given the reality that at some point what is latent becomes malignant.

Most of what I have read in the literature suggests that anti-bullying campaigns are ineffective, at best, and potentially damaging, at worst. Kid with ASDs are a tricky audience, regardless. They are kind, too kind to stand up for themselves with the empowered and sometimes sassy words that stand down a bully. They are not equipped to recognize the savviness of cyber- and mobile-bullying, with its faceless and nameless tactics. They are primed targets because they want so desperately to believe in others, to believe in a friend, to have a friend. They are cyclical victims because of the flaws of the system that shields them; “tattle” and enlarge the target.

Easy targets. Savvy bullies. Backfiring prevention. Growing epidemic of bullying. Here is what I propose:

Let’s consequence bullies more intelligently and effectively, not stringently. No suspension, expulsion, or groundings that only fan the eternal fires of revenge. Let’s find a way to introduce, perhaps re-introduce, the bullies with the Aspies and the auties and the other victims so that they can see likenesses, rather than the differences to be made fun of. Is that too pie-in-the-sky?


Posted by on October 19, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


4 responses to “Latent Bullying and ASD, the Epidemic Grows

  1. Rose Wade

    October 19, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    Shouldn’t be “pie-in-the-sky” at all. My son Matthew has been the target of bullies for as long as he’s been in school and for the same reasons you’ve stated: He’s too to stand up for himself, and constantly struggles to recognize social clues.

    He’s in the 8th grade now and what worries me most, is the escalating severity of the bullying. Last year, he was involved with another boy in a misunderstanding over a sheet of paper on the floor. Matthew believed they were both playing around until the other boy stabbed Matthew through his shoe with a pencil.

    The principal remains under the fog that keeps her from recognizing that the school has a bullying problem at all. And though the school has assemblies and shows videos regarding bullying, I doubt much has been done in the way of enforcing consequences for bullying. Suspension remains a common punishment. Which I believe is a mere vacation from school for the bully.

    I’ve trusted the middle school for 3 years to put and end to the bullying against Matthew. But it persists. So, I have taken my own route. In the last meeting with the principal and teachers, I told them that I instructed Matthew to first tell a teacher then call me each time he was bullied. I also told them that I would come to the school to meet with the principal over every incident, no matter how small. In addition, if Matthew is physically bullied, I would call the local police to take a statement. If I’m not allowed to know either the names of the bully or their parents, I would at least have a record of the bullying Matthew suffers so frequently.

    I would like to rely on the school to handle the bullying problem and correct the behaviors appropriately. However, that hasn’t worked. I’ve found the only thing that is working is that I’m compelled to be more aggressively active against the problem.

    Since taking this approach, Matthew has not been bullied.

    • jholverstott

      October 19, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      That is amazing. I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out why this response was so effective. My initial reaction — he’s bullied just as much, the school simply doesn’t tell her. But, your son would. I wonder, then, if the effectiveness of your attitude has spread beyond the school staff to the students to change their behavior, or, if the staff is simply more vigilant? Either way, I congratulate you and I am happy to hear a successful, positive strategy.

      • Rose Wade

        October 19, 2010 at 6:17 PM

        Thank you, again for your positive and encouraging response. Matthew struggles to explain the specific events of his day to me. But, I ask him everyday how his day was. You’re correct; he would absolutely tell me if he was being bothered in any way. One of his favorite questions is to ask everyday is: “How’s your day?” I ask him the same and we exchange as much as we can.

        On a day he had been bullied, he said: “I don’t know why the kids hate me.”

        It’s nice, for a change, to ask Matthew how his day was and he replies “Good. No one was mean to me today.”

    • The Untoward Lady

      November 5, 2010 at 6:23 AM

      I feel that as an autistic person I should share my experiences with being bullied and my relationship with my parents regarding my bullying. Hopefully you can get something of value from it.

      First, let me say that I was bullied a lot in school, a tremendous amount in elementary school but it piqued in middle school. I was even abused, physically, by a special education teacher. I told my parents about almost none of it.

      Part of the reason why was because I did not always recognize the bullying as what it was, abuse. And abuse is like that in that it is encapsulated in other social relationships and that the abused is also getting something out of the relationship. In my case, it was the only form of companionship I really ever experienced or understood.

      I felt a bond with my abusers and I would not have wanted them to be hurt. I would have defended them because even though I felt hurt by them I was ultimately loyal because that’s just how abuse works.

      I did not tell my parents about my abuse because I was afraid that they would do things to protect me, or in my mind to punish them. I did not want to communicate what was happening in my life because I did not want them to get hurt. Having more aggressive parents just meant that I had to modulate their aggression by depriving them of knowledge.

      I’m afraid that the same might be happening with your child in that it only seems that what is happening is controlling the situation.

      I think if I could give you any advice it would be to ask specifically about bullying and in the specifics not in generalities like “are the other children treating you well?” Learn the behaviors manifest in bullying and in your child’s abusers and ask specific questions about those behaviors such as “did anyone throw anything at you this week?” Finally, be sure that your child can speak to you knowing that you will do nothing unless they want you to intervene. Make sure that your child understands that you are capable of being talked to and that you will only listen and not act but that you will be there and ready for action if your child wants you to do something. Follow your child’s guide in planning your response, as well.

      That’s my advice, I’ll probably write more on my blog soon when I have the cognitive wherewithall to piece it together.


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