“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a rhyme that many of us may have heard when we were children. Sadly, research shows that there is little truth to this rhyme, as name calling and other forms of bullying often result in negative effects for young children, teenagers, and even adults. The detrimental consequences of bullying are felt by both the victim of an act of bullying, as well as the perpetrator.
Research currently shows that one in four children in Australia become victims of bullying, and victims can be as young as three years of age. According to a recent article in the UK’s Birmingham Mail, research also shows that autistic children are more likely to be victims of bullying, and that this tendency to be bullied actually increases for autistic children as they grow older. Bullying can be an especially distressing event for children along the autism spectrum as well as their families.
Bullying is not just “empty and meaningless” words. Words can in fact have harmful short and long term effects. The effects of being bullied are devastating, as research also shows that bullied children are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression, are nine times more likely to contemplate suicide, and girls that are bullied as young children are especially likely to continue a pattern of victimization into adulthood.
News reports from around the world are also often filled with stories about children or teenagers who have committed suicide after being bullied, but bullying is not confined to childhood, as it can happen in the workplace, and even adult friends and neighbours can bully other adults and even children.
The world was recently shocked by reports of a letter that an unidentified neighbour wrote to a lady who was caring for an autistic child calling him a “wild animal” and advising her that she should euthanise him because of his autism.
So, in a world where teasing and bullying are commonplace, how does one raise a child that is resilient to the effects of bullying, especially if one has a child with a disorder along the autism spectrum?
Get Involved – As a parent or primary caregiver you may already feel “involved” just dealing and coping with the day to day challenges of raising a child with autism, but it is imperative that you interact with your child’s teachers and others in the classroom to both educate them about autism as well as to be on the lookout for signs that your child is being bullied. This is true whether or not your child attends a “mainstream” school, or a school that is centred on the education of those with special needs.
Seek Support – As awareness of autism spectrum disorders increases, local and regional support groups have been forming all across the globe that seek to provide a place for members to learn about autism, as well as to learn about coping strategies and to seek and provide emotional support for one another. These groups are invaluable to help members acquire the tools that they need to support one another in their efforts to raise their children.
Advocate – There are now several groups in Australia and across the world that are seeking to educate others about the real harm caused by bullying as well as to come together to work for positive change. Bullying No Way is just one of the many groups that have resources for parents, kids and others to come together to end bullying for all Australians. No Bullying is another group that can provide information about bullying and efforts to end this deadly practice. This site has information that is also especially for children and adults who have disabilities and are victims of bullying and other forms of discrimination.
A greater awareness of the subject can go a long way in stopping bullying before it becomes a major problem in a child's life.