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November 2011



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This week is Anti-Bullying Week, so we’re sharing our top five tips for parents of children with autism who are worried about bullying in school.

Our research suggests that over 40% of children with autism and almost 60% of children with Asperger syndrome have been bullied at school. Recent research from the University of Manchester has also found that children with autism are two to three times more likely to be bullied than other children.

It’s vital that your child’s school has a zero-tolerance bullying policy. It is their duty to encourage pupils to report bullying and investigate reports. Here are some strategies that you and your child’s school can put in place to help overcome bullying:

1. Help your child to tell someone

Telling someone that you’re being bullied is tough, but for a young person with autism it can be particularly difficult to express emotions and anxieties. Some may not even recognise that they are being bullied. It is important that your child knows they can talk to someone; if your child can’t communicate verbally about bullying, ask them to write it down or draw you a picture to explain what happens at school. You can also ask if your child’s school has a bully box – this lets your child write or draw their experience of bullying and place it in a box, so they don’t have to talk to an adult face-to-face.

2. Buddy up

Young people with autism can struggle to make friends. Many find it hard talk to someone they don’t know and may not always understand what they should say. Buddying schemes at school can be a great way for children with autism to learn how to develop friendships. Ask if your child’s school has a buddying scheme and, if they don’t, see if they will set one up. Your school can ask another pupil to stay with your child during breaks. Some schools also have a buddy bench where pupils can sit to show that they need someone to play with or talk to.

3. Make a plan for break time

Young people with autism may struggle with the lack of structured activity at break times and can become anxious because they don’t know what to expect. Ask the school what structured activities your child could take part in during break time and whether they have a quiet space or ‘safe space’, such as a library or classroom, where your child can go if they need to get away. You or your child’s teacher could also sit down with your child to write a Social Story for break times. A Social Story is a description of a particular situation, such as lunchtime at school, which explains what to do or expect.

4. Practice talking to bullies and understanding emotions

Young people with autism may struggle more than others to know how to react to conversations, comments and bullying. Try talking to your child to help them understand body language and eye contact – both their own and that of the bully. You can also practise with your child how to respond to bullies and what they could say in different situations. A child with autism may also find it difficult to recognise emotions like fear, so it might help to spend some time teaching your child more about different feelings and what to do when they experience them.

5. Get in touch with us and your child’s school

As the leading charity for people affected by autism, we provide confidential advice for parents worried about bullying. Call our Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 for advice on coping with bullying and approaching your child’s school to address the problem and put the right strategies in place. Our Autism Helpline can also advise professionals and schools on strategies to help prevent bullying.

You can also speak to other parents who may have been through similar challenges by calling our Parent to Parent advice service on 0808 800 4106. Our Parent to Parent volunteers – both mothers and fathers – have a wealth of experience, knowledge and insight and can talk through your concerns.

Are you a child with autism being bullied?

If you’re a child with autism trying to cope with bullying, please visit our bullying advice pages.

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