A recent Government Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) survey report identified that more than one in three disabled students experience bullying in mainstream schools.
For an individual who is autistic bullying can create huge problems and is sadly not uncommon. Social interaction and communication are challenging enough but then to be bullied is incredibly damaging.
In simple terms bullying is when someone or a group of people set out to purposefully hurt, scare, humiliate or intimidate another person. Schools should have a clear anti-bullying policy but sometimes the blame for the incident gets pushed back on to the individual or this policy isn’t enforced.
The bullying may be explained away as “just fun” or that the situation was misunderstood or that the individual is overly sensitive. This can be particularly challenging if the individual already lacks confidence in their ability to interpret the actions and behaviours of others. In other words, the individual may start to think it is their fault. Bullying is never the victim’s fault and schools should take it seriously.
Where such behaviour from others happens on repeated occasions, is intended to cause hurt or distress, involves other people ganging up on someone and the individual is being affected in a negative way then it is bullying.
Sadly, bullies tend to target individuals who are different and perceived as vulnerable. This might be just because someone is autistic but could be because the individual is clever or for an aspect of their physical appearance, there are 1,000s of reasons why someone might be the victim of bullies. Bullying in any form is never ok.
If bullying is an issue then it is important to keep a record of incidents. At the time it can be difficult for an individual to collect this information, but it is important to try to build up a picture of the incidents in order that they can be identified and explained to the school. Keeping an eye on increased anxiety or reluctance to attend school are key indicators that something is not quite right even if the individual doesn’t share what is actually going on in school.
For an individual who is autistic it may take time for them to process the information about what is happening and express their feelings. Discussing what is going on with someone who understands the individual and can support them with this process in a safe environment is extremely helpful. It may be easier for the individual to write or draw about the incident rather than describe it. Capturing the information about the incident as a log or journal entry gives it a sense of structure and order, who, when, where and what are good headings to make a start with as they are factual and not emotionally driven.
It may be that the individual will require someone to act as an advocate to explain the incident to the school, at I-AM we can help with this. For some individuals being put on the spot and having to articulate their feelings doesn’t come easily. If they appear detached then it might be wrongly assumed by teachers that the incident didn’t have an emotional impact, this is often far from the truth.
Here at I-AM our highly experienced Key Workers are able to engage with young people and help them to develop the skills that they need to articulate their thoughts and feelings effectively in a safe environment. Our groups enable individuals, with shared experiences and interests to form peer support systems and build safe friendships. Our one to ones can work with individuals in a focussed and individualised way to develop the skills and strategies to become more confident in order that they can deal with challenging situations and fulfil their potential and enjoy life.