From a very early age, we pick up on important social cues that benefit us throughout school, and even into our working lives. These cues include standing at an appropriate distance, not touching the person in front of you, and even using the right volume when speaking. These basic skills are essential for functioning socially. Children with autism often do not pick up on the same cues as other children can, which can make them vulnerable to bullying.
Recently, children with autism have caught national attention because of the bullying that happens to them. A 2012 study by Sterzing, Shattuck, and Narendorf in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that about 46% of children with autism in middle and high school told their parents they were victimized at school within the previous year, compared with just over 10% of children in the general population. Needless to say, this is a huge problem.
Can’t We Just Get Along?
All children deserve to be safe in their school environment. Achieving that safety is a challenge, but not impossible, according to the same 2012 study. The researchers suggest integrating these students into protective peer groups to increase the empathy and social skills of typically developing students toward their peers with autism. Attention also needs to be brought to the victimization that happens in schools, especially towards students with autism. Developing the social skills and modifying the conversational language of children with autism are tools against bullying. Just because children with autism may not pick up these cues implicitly, does not mean they can’t pick them up if they are taught how. For their peers, this research suggests challenging stereotypes, raising expectations, and promoting peer understanding to stop bullying.
By focusing directly on children with autism, and raising the empathy and awareness of their peers, we can get that much closer to stopping bullying!