Unfortunately, far too many people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) experience bullying at some point in their lives. Bullying is never acceptable but if it happens individuals do need some strategies that they can use to deal with it until hopefully the situation is permanently resolved.
- Ignore. Although it can be incredibly hard to do and clearly depends on the nature of the bullying sometimes the best thing to do is to ignore it. In most cases bullies are looking to get a response, be this anger or upset. If they don’t get a response then there is little return on the effort that they are expending. It may be that without the response the bully will stop. Whilst this can be effective it can come at a high cost to the individual and cause internal distress. This is not ok. Ignoring it is fine so long as the bullying behaviour is going to be dealt with properly. In some cases though ignoring the bullying can cause the behaviour to escalate. In other words, the unpleasantness escalates in an attempt to get a reaction. Ignoring it in the short term might help but in the longer term there needs to be a proper solution.
- Stand up. Standing up to a bully and telling them in no uncertain terms to stop is hard. You need to be very assertive and confident. For people with ASC this can be difficult, but it can be effective as the bullying behaviour is usually targeted at an individual who the bully perceives to be easily intimidated and weak. Although this may work there is still a need to have the behaviour addressed properly. Sometimes, particularly in work, people don’t perceive their own behaviour to be bullying. In these cases, explaining to the individual how their behaviour is making the individual feel can be helpful. Clearly this only works if the bullying behaviour is unintentional. In young people and children this is less likely to be the case. For ASC people it can be helpful to rehearse or role play what they are going to say with someone to support them and practice a variety of responses depending on how the interaction goes.
- Tell Someone. It is vitally important that the person experiencing bullying speaks out. Bullying is never ok. This might be to a parent, a friend, a teacher or a colleague. Although people being bullied sometimes believe it is their fault or feel frightened to speak out it is imperative that they do. People with ASC may need support to do this. They may need to practice what they are going to say and have someone with them to help with this. It is helpful to compile a log of incidents so that there is factual information to refer to. This demonstrates the significance of the events and sets them in a real context that is less easy to ignore. It takes great courage to speak out and if someone does it needs to be taken seriously. All too often people with ASC get fobbed off and told that they have misinterpreted the behaviour of others, this is not acceptable.
- Pinch Points. Bullying often follows a pattern. This could be that particular environments or situations are pinch points where the bullying behaviour is most likely to occur. This could be meetings at work, or breaktimes or home times at school. In these cases, it may be a helpful, short term solution, to develop particular strategies to manage these situations. For example, making sure that one to one meetings are recorded or attended with support. Finding a different place to take breaks that feel safe or making specific arrangements for after school has finished can provide reassurance for an individual that they will be able to avoid potential situations where the bullying is most likely to take place. This isn’t however, really a long term solution as effectively the individual’s freedoms are being limited by the bully which is not acceptable.
- Shared Experiences. It can be helpful when an individual is experiencing bullying to talk to someone who has been through the same experiences or to find other role models. Many celebrities talk openly about their experiences and this can provide helpful role models. Being bullied can feel incredibly isolating and in reality sometimes friends melt away as they fear being caught up in the bullying or worry that by being associated with the individual they will be bullied as well. Finding someone to talk to who understands the situation can be very important to prevent feelings of isolation and to talk through feelings, emotions, and anxieties.
- Widen the social network. It can be very helpful to actively seek out opportunities to widen the individual’s social network beyond school or work. Linking into organisations such as I AM can be extremely useful as in this case individuals are surrounded by people who are supportive and understand the lived experience of ASC people. It can also be an opportunity to find new hobbies and interests where the individual can develop their interests with others who have the same shared interest.
- Move. Unfortunately, sometimes schools or workplaces don’t deal with bullying effectively. In these situations, there may be no other option than to move to somewhere else that is more supportive. Ultimately young people spend a long time at school and adults spend a long time at work, where the environment is damaging then they are unlikely to thrive and be successful. In these cases, in order to limit the long-term damage, a move is sometimes the only option. Additionally, in some cases the bullying may even constitute a crime, under the Hate Crime legislation. If the situation is serious and not being dealt with effectively then this may be a reporting route that can be considered. A hate crime is “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or anybody else, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone’s: race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability”.
At I AM we are able to support young people and adults with the challenges that they are experiencing in their lives. Our one to one support and outreach services help individuals to achieve their goals and aspirations. Our social and leisure activities enable individuals to meet with others and form friendships in a safe and supported environment.
To find out more contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0161 866 8483
There are also lots of other avenues for information and support, such as