Parents

How To Protect Your Child With Autism From Bullying

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my greatest concern was his safety.
03/28/2017 12:50pm ET | Updated March 30, 2017
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All bullying is abhorrent, yet there’s something especially diabolical about one who would bully and otherwise abuse those who are the most vulnerable among us.

Parents, like myself, of children with autism and other special needs, are acutely aware of and concerned about their children becoming potential targets for bullying.

When my son, Chase, was diagnosed with autism, my greatest concern was his safety and his inability to communicate. At that point in his life, Chase’s communication came in the form of echolalia (meaningless repetition of words).

Once Chase’s neurologist confirmed that he would eventually speak if he received therapy, I made speech and language Chase’s number one priority. If he could speak, then he could ask for help or tell me if he was feeling sick or if someone hurt him.

For parents of children on the autism spectrum or with other challenges, building a strong support system of people that will help you and your child monitor situations is paramount.

During the early years of Chase’s schooling and therapy, public transportation was available to him at no cost; however, I was uncomfortable knowing that if something happened on the bus or if someone hurt him, he would be unable to tell me what happened.

Therefore, as a single working parent, I arranged for my brother, Chase’s godfather, to take him to school in the morning so I could get to work. Then on my lunch break, I picked Chase up from school and brought him home, where he was in the care of his grandfather and therapists until I got home from work in the evenings.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, incidents will still occur. For Chase, his 2nd-grade year was the worst school year he had ever experienced; and at the time, I had no idea what the root of the problem was.

He had extreme anxiety, complained that work was too hard, regressed cognitively and emotionally and cried frequently. His stimming increased, and he got sick and needed to stay home more often.

Additionally, I was told by the school that Chase had “staring spells” in class, which led his doctor to believe he might be having seizures. After an MRI, an EEG test requiring a 2-night hospital stay, and psychological re-testing, a new plan was devised for his 3rd grade year.

But it wasn’t until Chase was in the 6th grade and had a better understanding of bullying, that he shared with me that his male aide from that horrible 2nd-grade year became angry and yelled at him whenever Chase didn’t get answers right.

The aide would shout things like, “What is wrong with you!” and “Why can’t you get anything right!” This hostile treatment tormented and paralyzed Chase.

When I asked Chase why he never told me about this, he said that he didn’t remember. This made sense, because impaired memory recall during times of severe stress was one of his symptoms.

Also, like most children, Chase believed that adults were right, and he was always compliant. Naturally, I was furious over the harm and betrayal caused by this adult bully who had been in a position of trust; and further outraged that no one else in the school noticed or cared enough to speak up.

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There are numerous academic and developmental reasons why I chose to homeschool Chase beginning in 7th grade ― the ability to prevent situations like that terrible year, while helping Chase to better identify and handle bullies, was among them.

Now 15, Chase is better at defending and speaking up for himself. I’m proud of him when he has an opinion that is different than mine, or corrects me. This tells me that his confidence level is growing.

We can’t be with our children all the time. But we must do our best to know the people that our children encounter daily; know their peers; screen and observe teachers, aides, and other caregivers. In school situations, offer to go into the classroom and educate students about your child’s disability. Report ALL forms of bullying and follow up on all reports to ensure that incidences are being properly handled.

Also, knowing your rights and the rights of your child will give you confidence, practical tools, and reference points. There are laws to protect against bullying, harassment, and discrimination which hold schools, organizations, and the public accountable:

  • Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Remember, you are your child’s voice, and greatest advocate and defender.