Welcome to my last post in the series on Bullying that I did for the month of October. In the previous posts I have revealed my story and my son’s story of surviving bullying. I have also discussed Bullying Campaigns and the Zero Tolerance law and why they do not work. So what can we do as parents to protect our kids? I have done my best to articulate some ideas but I feel as though I have not included them all!
I think that all kids need assistance with help with bullying and I recently posted tips for everyone at http://www.cutecoconut.com. However I think that kids on the Spectrum, or any kid that is different in some way, gets bullied more. Not only do they get bullied more I think they also react differently to the bullying.
It was difficult for my son to explain what was happening. Although he is verbal and quite articulate he becomes non verbal in times of stress. And being bullied or fighting with another kid was definitely a stressor. My son started to experience behavior changes and was not happy in general. He went from loving school to dreading it every day. I had to be diligent about communicating with the school to determine what was going on.
I did not get good results from communicating with his elementary school but the middle school did work with me. Although they were not able to completely eliminate other kids behaviors they helped me understand what was going on. They also worked with me to help avoid certain situations when needed, like separating him from certain kids when there was an issue.
One of the most important things I learned was to work with my son to keep a target off his back. I am not saying they should be different person or even try to fit in completely. That could be a whole other blog post about whether or not someone on the spectrum should try to blend in or accept their differences. My son couldn’t pretend to fit in even if he wanted to and quite frankly he doesn’t want to. We try to teach him to embrace his differences. But we did work on certain behaviors such as not to hit other children or correct other kids because the other kids would get upset & than lash out at him.
I would also try to figure out when my son was most vulnerable. Yes he needs to work on his ability to get along with others but some circumstances are not worth it. The best example I can give of this is the school bus. School busses are horrible, it is prime opportunity for kids to act out and my son would either not defend himself or punch the other kid. Either way it was not a good situation. He currently rides a bus for only kids with special needs so we do not have any issues. When he rode the regular bus I insisted he sit up front.
This brings me to addressing bullying in the IEP. My son has a behavior improvement plan in his IEP and some of that was to address fighting with other kids. How IEPs and discipline works together is a whole different blog post (coming soon because I am currently addressing IRL). Right now I want to point you to an article on what to address in IEPs for bullying, I liked this information because it addressed working on the underlying skills such as social skills.
For my son one of the biggest issues has been understanding someone elses intentions. He would want to horse around with them but then he would take it wrong. The other kid could throw a ball at my son and he would get upset. My son would take things very personally and then the other kid wouldn’t understand why he got upset. Then my son would melt down and that would just put a target on his back.
I recently found an article about Aspergers and bullying. Although the article gave some good tips it then went on to say that a kid with Asperger’s is bullying when aggresive with other kids. I have to disagree. Yes my kid becomes aggressive when playing a game. He becomes stressed about and starts to dictate what to do. I don’t believe he is deliberately harassing the other child. It is yet another social skill that we are working on.
Even though my son would get offended easily I still gave value to his feelings. If he felt upset I never said “That is nothing to get upset about”. I would validate his feelings. I read shouldn’t say they are jealous or later won’t matter because asking them to be an adult & they are focused on now. I disagree as long as in combination with other techniques I think it is okay. I base this on that is what my dad said to me. It may not have consoled me much when I was 9 but I can still hear him saying this to me now as an adult & it means something to me now. Most things we say to our kids won’t have meaning till later but still worth saying. IMHO.
I also taught my son that it was okay to only have a few friends. I think kids get caught up in thinking that they need a ton of friends. My son now seems okay as long as he has a couple of good friends. Another important thing to do is foster those friendships. Even though my son is a teenager I still make a point of suggesting places to go with his friend that is “cool” but allows him to hang out with his friend in person.
The most important thing for any kid is to have confidence in themselves and that includes that it is okay to be different. There are many ways to work with the school to try to get results to help your child. A different way to get a positive result from the school may be in educating other kids on differences. I have read about other parents going in and educating the other kids on autism. I think this is a great idea. I think kids should be educated that any and all differences are okay and should be accepted and embraced. That is something that our society lacks in general.
If your child is currently being bullied it is important to address it as soon as possible. Address it with your child and get professional assistance from a therapist if needed. Also address it with the school immediately. If the school does not address it in a satisfactory manner go to the district. If you still do not get the issue addressed call a lawyer and/or remove your child immediately if necessary for their safety.