Nearly half of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders are victims of bullying, according to research published online Sept. 3 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
If you have a child who has autism, you need to be concerned. I work in schools all across North America and kids tell me what it is like in the 21st century social scene. Kids show me what people write and post on Facebook and Twitter. Much of this behavior may seem normal if you watch The Housewives of New Jersey, Survivor or Family Guy, but to a teen who wants nothing more than to fit in and be accepted, the things that teens write about each other on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the kinds of things that would spiral any teen into a deep depression. And for kids who have disorders that do not enable them to properly assess social cues, you would be sick with what you see. For me, it’s enough to dedicate my life to carrying a message of hope and teaching solutions.
This past month, I presented a program at Stockton College where we had a full house in the lecture hall. During the program we discussed:
· Online dating
· Legal ramifications of taking videos of others and posting them online
· How your online persona can affect impressions of you with regards to looking for jobs
· Negative comments and inappropriate language on line
· Inappropriate pictures on Facebook
During the program, I asked students if anyone had been cyber bullied in high school and if they would be willing to tell their story. One boy raised his hand. He told us that he has a mild form of autism and explained how he was relentlessly bullied in the halls and online. The details were heartbreaking. I asked how he dealt with it and he told the room how his mom had to have daily talks with him just to keep his spirits up.
I have not been able to get this boy out of my head…I think that is why this particular news article caught my eye. The story talks about the problem, the sickening fact that such a high number of kids with autism are bullied on a regular basis. Then the story attempts to give a solution.
“School-based bullying interventions need to target the core deficits of ASD (conversational ability and social skills) and comorbid conditions (e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,)” the authors write. “Future bullying interventions also need to address the higher rates of victimization that occur in general education settings by increasing social integration into protective peer groups and increasing the empathy and social skills of typically developing students toward their peers with an ASD.”
Here is the thing…this solution is totally unrealistic. As I read the story and the suggestions of how schools could handle this, all I could think was even if you found a school administration that was willing to do this, you would have to get every single teacher in the school to buy into this. I find teacher morale so low that it is very hard to suggest new ideas and methods of dealing with “behavior” issues, much less new methods of teaching.
For this proposed solution to be effective the school would have to teach empathy and social skills to the students and this can’t be taught with one assembly. These skills are developed by repeated lessons, real life situations and practice. Furthermore, how are schools going to pay to have this training for both teachers and the “peers” as this article suggests? Schools don’t even have the budget to bring in bullying programs to each grade, much less protecting a certain “class” in the school district.
The reality is that there is a major “disconnect” going on here. Who is going to make sure these kids are protected? Doctors diagnose diseases and psychologists and psychiatrists recommend systems to support children with learning disabilities. But unless you train the administration, the teachers, the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers and the students in the school there is no guarantee your child will be safe from harassment, intimidation and bullying.
If your child or loved one has autism, you need to get ready. Social Media has many benefits and can be used in so many positive ways; however, put into the hands of millions of teenagers, who are all trying to make sense of the whole social ladder in middle school and high school, you have a long road ahead of you.
The first thing you need to do is educate yourself. I encourage you to start by learning more!
(For any reader that would like to attend one of my parent talks, feel free to look at the schedule on our web site for a talk near you.)
The goal of this blog post is to continue to offer parents and educators the opportunity to understand what goes on in the on-line lives of children in this generation. It allows you to consider alternate viewpoints and reflect upon your own approach to raising your child. By no means are my thoughts and reflections the ONLY way to address these concerns.