October 1, 2013

Bullying: Signs and Prevention

Posted in AMT's Faves tagged , , , , , at 1:13 pm by autismmommytherapist

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted from the September issue of Exceptional Parent Magazine

One of the worst experiences a child can face is bullying. Twenty-three percent of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis according to the 2011 National Indicators of School Crime and Safety. In this digital age, opportunities for bullying have expanded from classrooms, playgrounds, and buses to include cyberbullying, a particularly insidious form of cruelty as it is often done anonymously.

Among the most targeted groups are special needs individuals, especially those with autism. Preliminary results from a survey of parents of autistic children conducted by the Autism Speaks supported Interactive Autism Network revealed that 63 percent of 1,162 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder ages six to fifteen had been bullied at least once.

If not halted in its tracks, bullying can have life-long ramifications, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Even bystanders are affected by the experience. Here are some signs to tell if your child is being bullied, and what actions to take for both teachers and parents to stop it in its tracks.


1. Problems at school begin to crop up, including frequent trips to the principal and detentions. Your previously well-behaved child is now in trouble constantly, and is often engaged in attention-seeking behaviors.

2. Your child may seem withdrawn or depressed, unable or unwilling to engage in favorite activities or make contact with friends. Events which would normally entice your child to participate hold no allure no matter how hard you cajole him or her to join the crowd.

3. Issues with sleeping or eating may occur. This may include sleeping too little or too much, and the same with eating issues. Any deviation from the norm is suspect.

4. Your otherwise compliant child reacts angrily or violently to situations in the home where he or she does not get their way. These reactions may occur over big issues, or seemingly small ones.

5. You notice that many of your child’s belongings are either lost or damaged, and there’s no rational explanation for why this occurred. Warnings that items may not be replaced may be met with indifference.

6. Grades begin to plummet, and your child seems reluctant to study or do homework. Your child may not seem to care that his or her grades have fallen, and any plans to rectify the situation may be rejected.

7. Suspicious bruises or injuries occur, and your child chooses not to tell you how he or she sustained them. Your son or daughter might also lie about how they were sustained.

8. Your child claims more and more frequent illnesses to avoid going to school, or is chronically late in the morning so that he or she must be driven. Often a bullied child will simply refuse to go to school without stating why.

9. Your child shuns all types of social media. If your child is typically attached to his or her phone, computer, or iPad, this is a huge warning sign.

10. You hear your child talk about injuring him or herself, or speak about suicide.


1. Talk to your child every day about his or her experiences with peers, including interactions in class, on the playground, and if applicable, on the bus. Monitor their time on computers, phones, iPads, etc. You are their first opportunity to secure help. If your child feels comfortable talking to you about his or her day, it may be easier for him or her to secure assistance.

2. While discussing bullying with your child engage in role-play with him or her, acting out situations in which he or she is the bully, the victim, and the bystander. This gives your child practice for real-life situations. It may also facilitate greater communication between you and your child.

3. Make sure that your school has a “no tolerance” policy for bullying. If your child is being harassed ask his or her principal for your school’s anti-bullying plan, and the steps the principal will take to make sure this behavior will not continue. If there is not an anti-bullying program or plan in place, insist that one is created. Some states have a mandate that every school has a program; find out if yours is one of them.

4. Encourage the administrators at your child’s school to implement school-wide programs about the effects of bullying, how to spot it, and how to prevent it. Make certain these programs address the effects on bystanders as well as victims and bullies. Ask if these programs encourage bystanders to speak up for victims while protecting their anonymity.

5. Ask your school to adopt a program pairing neurotypical children with their special education peers in a safe environment. Nothing promotes acceptance like the opportunity to interact with one another. This pairing will also hopefully encourage typical children to stand up for classified students if they are bullied. Such programs are not only beneficial to classified students, but to neurotypical ones as well.

6. Talk to your school’s administrators about creating a cyberbullying policy. Ask for workshops to be conducted so that teachers, school staff, and parents are informed. Make certain it is widely publicized throughout the school. Ask for literature to be sent home to parents which outlines steps on how to talk to children about cyberbullying.

7. Ask for formal lessons to be implemented on cyberbullying within each classroom. Make sure these lessons outline exactly what constitutes the act of cyberbullying, and what steps students can take to report it.

8. Make certain your child’s school is taking adequate care to supervise playgrounds, lunchrooms, hallways, and bathrooms. These are prime areas where bullying can occur.

9. Ask your child’s teacher to incorporate lessons on kindness and cooperation into the curriculum. Sometimes a child simply needs to hear the words said to know how both to behave properly, and to help others.

10. Encourage your child’s teacher to hold weekly classroom meetings. This gives students a chance to air grievances, and hopefully to find common ground with other students they might find “different” than them. Make certain the teacher creates a safe environment where all students feel secure in sharing with each other.

11. If bullying occurs on your child’s school bus, ask school administrators if bus drivers and aides have had bully prevention training, and if not, request that it be implemented.

There are a variety of resources available to assist you in helping to spot and stop bullying. Among those are the following.






  1. Loddie said,

    Good afternoon, Ms. McCafferty,

    I became familiar with your blog through your guest post on Autism Speak’s website. I want to share a link to a news story about a little boy in Iowa and the ignorance and mistreatment he and his family are facing in their community and in his school. If there is any hope or encouragement you can provide, I would appreciate it if you would consider lending your voice to the cause.

    Here is the story link: http://news.yahoo.com/iowa-town-defends-bullying-of-autistic-teen-203249332.html

    Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration.

    • Loddie, thanks for this, I will absolutely look into it, and thanks for reading, I appreciate your time!

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