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How to handle bullying at school

For all children, being at school should be a fun and fascinating experience. Learning new things, making friends and enjoyment are part of the journey from nursery to college and university, but for some kids, there’s a harrowing downside. Bullying is something that shouldn’t happen at school, but it occurs quite often.

Recent statistics suggest that primary school children with a special educational needs (SEN) statement are twice as likely to be bullied as those without one. There are many reasons why this happen, but what can you as a parent do? In this post, we’ll explore this topic and offer advice on how to handle bullying.

Why bullying happens

Bullying comes in many forms, but why does it happen? Where autistic children are concerned, their non-autistic schoolmates may notice something different in the way they talk, move and act. As anything even remotely different can seem unusual to many kids, they could be tempted to focus on it as a negative.

Then, those who feel inclined to bully their autistic peers may resort to such things as:

  • Name-calling
  • Spreading rumours
  • Making fun of something
  • Physical acts like punching, pushing or tripping up
  • Leaving out of social activities e.g. playing football

Autistic children who act a little differently to everyone else in school, mainstream or otherwise, are more likely to stand out. Any kids who pick up on that and feel threatened by that in any way may feel inclined to question why they’re different.

A lack of awareness of what it means to be autistic is another reason why bullying happens. Schools who fail to teach their kids that being autistic is perfectly acceptable aren’t doing their jobs correctly.

The signs of bullying

To see whether your child has been bullied, there are a few signs worth looking out for. These include:

  • Any bruises, cuts or marks on their body
  • Their clothes may appear torn or damaged in any way
  • Any signs of stress, illness or unhappiness
  • Signs of reluctance to go to school or insistence on getting to school another way
  • Missing clothes, books, lunch money or stationery

Your child may also seem a little defensive when you ask them a question. This could be because they don’t want to upset you by revealing that they’ve fallen victim to bullying. If this happens, try to reassure them that you’re there to help and listen. A little reassuring can go a long way in helping an autistic person to open up.

Longer-term, bullying can have an impact on self-esteem. For an autistic child, self-esteem and confidence could suffer almost irreversible damage. Having a good long-term memory in this instance can be more of a curse than a blessing; flashbacks in dreams could occur, while they may be more hesitant in future social situations for fear of being bullied again.

If it’s not ended quickly, bullying and all of its negative impacts could last well into adulthood. Anxiety around being in groups could affect all aspects of life, from trying to forge relationships to finding a job and living independently.

Reporting bullying

If you know for sure that your child is being bullied, it’s important that you report it to your school as soon as you can. Here are the people you should be able to speak to:

● Your child’s form teacher
● The school’s SEN coordinator
● The head of year
● The headteacher

Contacting any of these people will do, but to improve the chances of any bullying incidents being dealt with, it’s imperative to go straight to the headteacher. Make a phone call and arrange a meeting time, preferably after the school day has ended.

In a meeting with the headteacher, explain to them that your child is being bullied because they’re autistic. Mention how it’s affecting them in terms of the way they are at school and around the home and how your child is being victimised because they’re autistic. If it’s not possible to get to the headteacher, the SEN coordinator would be the next best thing.

If nothing is done straight away, it pays to be persistent. Follow it up if it happens again; your child should never be bullied for any reason, let alone because they happen to be a little different from their peers.

If all else fails, and the bullying is a criminal offence, go to the police.

What schools should do

All state-run schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy. The contents of each policy vary by school, but they must specify that no bullying on the grounds of disability (including autism) should be tolerated. They are also responsible for ensuring that all of their students are safe and secure for as long as each school day runs.

When your child enrolled with their school, the school should have known about their autism diagnosis. This should help them to understand your child’s needs, not only when it comes to learning, but also the social and communicative side of being in school. If they fail to hold up their end of the bargain, they’re badly letting your child (and many others) down.

Supporting your child

Aside from offering to talk and listen to them, there are a few more things you can do for your child. Finding something to help boost their self-esteem such as an activity they enjoy, letting them spend time with people they like and doing something fun to take their mind off bullying can all help.

Another way to offer your child some support when it’s needed the most is giving them some space. When they’ve been bothered by some nasty kids at school, some alone time can work wonders. It may help them to clear their heads and speak a little more confidently about what’s happened to them.

Helpful links

Bullying guide for parents and bullying information for teachers from the National Autistic Society

The National Bullying Helpline 0845 2255787 or 07734 701221

Advice if your disabled child is bullied from Bullying UK

Bullying advice from Ambitious about Autism

Bullying advice from KidPower

Information about bullying and the law

Government bullying guidance