Bullying and exclusion

Bullying and social exclusion of autistic kids is widespread and particularly harmful. Children with autism, like everyone, need a safe social environment in which to develop. The first big confrontation with ‘difficult society’ usually happens when they enter school for the first time.

Unfortunately, this moment often coincides with the discovery of their autism. So, all too often, parents are still struggling to come to terms with their child’s condition when this confrontation occurs. Consequently, at that time, it’s hard to coach their child sufficiently.

If the autism is discovered earlier and a safe and understanding environment has been established, this confrontation can still come as a shock, precisely because of the contrast with the home situation.

Theoretically, autism can be divided in three: one, the autism itself; two, the additional psychological problems – ego weaknesses in particular – and three: traumas stemming from social contact, which usually aggravate the psychological problems, among which are self-confidence and esteem.

We quote from Samen verder met autisme:

“Interaction with others is particularly hampered in school because of social awkwardness and lessened communicative skills, which compromise social confirmation, a need we all have and which helps the development of the necessary self-confidence. To normal children social life at school is a challenge which can be awarded with popularity and friendships, but which is acutely challenging for most children with autism. They start out with social impediments and the gap grows during their school careers. Schools are a dress rehearsal for life and here, too, a game is played with winners and losers where most autistic kids are counted among the latter. Schools are known for their cruel group dynamics which particularly target those who are ‘different’ in demeanor and appearance. As argued elsewhere, the capacity for empathy has grown in the course of history. This, however, is not an innate quality, but something which is learned in childhood. Children can be unusually cruel because their empathic skills are still underdeveloped. As a consequence autistic kids are bullied and excluded on a large scale. American research into this paints a disconcerting picture. Out of a group of children with an Asperger’s diagnosis nineteen out of twenty were bullied by a peer or sibling. (Little, 2002) Likewise British research finds eighteen out of twenty bullied and excluded, exclusively in (a mainstream) school, and in high frequencies too. (Wainscot et al, 2008)”

Among the many reasons why autistic children are bullied more often, there certainly is this one: because of their common social insensitivity they more often bully themselves, or at least act in ways which are experienced as abusive. So those youngsters are in the sizable category of both victims and perpetrators.

Among the general reasons given for exclusion and bullying, ‘being different’ and their motor awkwardness is commonly cited.

In the last above mentioned research, the researchers assume boys in particular cannot participate in sports such as baseball and consequently often suffer a painful loss of social status.

Many schools take special measures against bullying and some go through great lengths indeed. Yet it’s important to realize general measures may not be enough for children on the spectrum. A strong case for specific attention is made in The Autism Toolbox for regular schools.

Although ‘cyberbullying’ can have grave consequences and is becoming more widespread every day, it’s beyond the scope of these pages.

*Samen verder

Schrameijer, Flip, Editors Egbert Reijnen, Matt van der Reijden, Astrid van Dijk, Anneke Heijmen, Samen verder met autisme. Meer weten – meer kunnen – meer doen! (Onwards together with autism.) Doorwerth, Dr. Leo Kannerhuis, februari 2011.
Little, Liza R.N., ‘Middle-Class mothers’ perceptions of peer and sibling victimization among children with Asperger’s syndrome and nonverbal learning disorders.’ In: Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 25(2002)1, 43–57.
In 73% of the cases twice or more often a week. Wainscot, Jennifer J., et al., ‘Relationships with Peers and Use of the School Environment of Mainstream Secondary School Pupils with Asperger Syndrome (High-Functioning Autism): A Case-Control Study’, In: International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy 8(2008)1, 25-38.
Dunlop et al. (2009), published by the Scottish government which encourages its circulation.