Article By: Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg
Article Date: 08/24/2010


Now that the new school year is starting, both parents and teachers need to be on the alert for bullies’in any form’and take swift action, to nip such behavior in the bud. Never allow your child to be bullied or picked on. Prevention is always better than intervention.

Those children with autism are often seen as outsiders, and provide easy marks for ridicule and abuse. Activities such as simply walking or riding the bus to and from school, or while on the playground, or during lunch period, or passing to classes in the hallways, provide ample opportunities for bullying, which often goes unnoticed by others. Most school districts have a no-tolerance bullying policy, but teachers are often unaware of specific targeting. So, if no one calls attention to such poor behavior by reporting it to the teachers or staff, and if the victim is too intimidated, scared, or forgetful, to mention it to parents later on in the evening, the bullying is likely to go unnoticed, which tends to escalate in amount and duration.

Although teachers present lessons regarding friends, manners, and school rules, at the beginning of each year, teasing and bullying is rarely addressed, until after an incident occurs. Discuss safety, well-being, and how it feels to be teased. Teachers rarely speak specifically of students with special needs. It would help if teachers mentioned some of the challenges that such children have to cope with on a daily basis, to elicit understanding, empathy, and cooperation among the classmates.

Then, if such bullying is observed by other children, they can bring attention to such, by informing their teachers. If the bully and/or the victim is in another classroom, then one teacher can advise the other, and so on. Then, with many observing eyes on watch, the staff can intercede, as needed. Elementary teachers need to reinforce the idea that each classroom is like a family, and everyone needs to look out for each other. Signs (such as NO BULLY ZONE! or Treat everyone with RESPECT and KINDNESS.) can be posted around the classrooms and hallways, for visual reinforcement.

Parents need to keep a copy of the school policy and IEP documents for accountibility purposes. Make sure that your child recognizes verbal harassment (name-calling, whispers, teasing, swearing), and physical abuse (hitting, pinching, pushing, tripping, spitting), as well as how to respond (ignoring when possible, leaving the area, telling others, standing by an adult, shouting to draw attention to the misbehavior), so he/she won’t be a silent victim. Sometimes it may be hard to get your child to confide in you. Keep track of headaches and stomachaches, as well as a change in attitude or behavior, which may be indications that something is awry. Check for bruises, scrapes, or scratches. Immediately inform the school of any problems. Never ignore bullying. Follow through.

Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg, Autism ABC (CreateSpace, 2009, $13.99)

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