Bullying is any kind of unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. The behavior must be repeated or have the potential to be repeated over time. All schools have codes of conduct, which are designed to promote safe and healthy environments for learning. Yet the nature of bullying makes it sometimes difficult to monitor, and evidence shows that it frequently occurs without the knowledge or sometimes even the concern of school personnel.

There are three types of bullying: (1) Verbal (examples: teasing, threatening, or making inappropriate comments); (2) Social (examples: excluding someone on purpose, spreading rumors, publicly embarrassing someone, cyberbullying); and (3) Physical (examples: hitting, tripping, or taking or breaking someone else’s belongings).

There are three roles that children can play in a bullying situation. The victim is the one who is bullied, the aggressor is the one who does the bullying, and the bystander is a witness to the bullying activity. The bystander may be an active encourager or a passive watcher, which, by giving the aggressor an audience, may in itself be enough to encourage the behavior. Children are not limited to playing one role. Frequently, children – even children on the autism spectrum – play multiple roles in different bullying situations. While many people assume that it is the child with on the autism spectrum who is the target of bullying, sometimes the child on the spectrum can be an aggressor in a different situation. There are a number of reasons for this, including attention seeking, peer recognition, and being manipulated by another aggressor to bully someone.

There are a number of strategies students can use to avoid being bullied. In general, it is not a good idea to simply ignore the bullying. This may actually encourage the aggressor. All approaches to curtail or avoid bullying don’t work for all kids. One reason for this is that most approaches require the child being bullied to realize that they are being bullied and understand that bullying is not acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, some children, especially those on the autism spectrum, may think that any attention is better than no attention. Additionally, some of the ideas below require a level of verbal ability that some children on the autism spectrum are not capable of. Finally, it may be very difficult for a child who is being bullied to remain calm in a stressful situation. Many children who are bullied instinctively react in a way that actually encourages the aggressor to continue.

10 Ideas for Students Who Are Being Bullied

  1. Tell the person who is bullying to stop in a calm, clear voice.
  2. Try to laugh it off.
  3. Walk away and stay away. Go find an adult.
  4. Tell your parents or another trusted adult that you are being bullied or teased. Try to tell them privately.
  5. Learn and use an effective “come-back” when someone insults you. Try not to show you are upset.
  6. If someone who has a history of bullying you asks you to do something, think before you comply and say “No, thanks” if you think it might be a trick.
  7. Try to find someone to be with at recess and on the bus.
  8. Be smart! Don’t provide easy opportunities for kids who are not nice to you to take advantage of you. Avoid them.
  9. Don’t fight back.
  10. Remember: bullying is not your fault.

10 Ideas for Parents of Children Who Are Being Bullied

  1. Let your child know that being bullied is not his or her fault. Thank your child for telling you and compliment him or her for being brave. Tell your child that you are always available to help. Follow up with your child without pestering him or her.
  2. Teach your child about bullying and the different ways it can occur. Bullying can be subtle, but subtle bullying can hurt just as much.
  3. When speaking to your child about bullying, try to avoid overly negative remarks that may leave your child feeling that he or she cannot trust teachers or other peers and that may make your child feel even less safe.
  4. Rarely is it a good idea to call the parents of someone who is bullying your child. Report incidents to the school and then follow up to see how the situation was handled and what measures have been taken to see that it doesn’t happen again.
  5. Have regular conversations with the school about the bullying. Tell them you appreciate their help and want to work together to help your child. Encourage your school to do a workshop on bullying for students and for educators.
  6. If your child’s difficulties with social skills or other behaviors are contributing to the bullying, make sure your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) has strategies and goals related to improving social skills and self-monitoring. If you are worried about the effect of bullying on your child’s self-esteem, add counseling services to the IEP.
  7. Brainstorm and role-play good strategies with your child for responding to an aggressor.
  8. Help your child make friends at school. Brainstorm and role-play how to join activities at recess or join a group at lunch. Children who are seen as loners are more frequent targets of bullying.
  9. Make sure the way your child dresses or his or her hairstyle or hygiene are not making him or her a target. Pay attention to how other kids dress, and try to help your child not to stand out in a negative way. Make sure your child takes regular showers or baths.
  10. Consider private therapy. A private counselor can help teach your child to identify his or her own feelings as well as recognizing how others feel. If your child has behaviors which draw negative attention (for example, hand flapping or vocalizations), find therapists who can come up with strategies to help reduce them.

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Last Updated: August 20, 2020

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.

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