Autism is a developmental disability that leads to challenges with interacting in groups and connecting with others. Studies show that children with autism are up to four times as likely to be bullied as their non-autistic classmates. Given the strong negative impact that verbal and physical abuse can have on a young person’s emotional well-being and social development, protection from bullying is a major concern for parents of autistic children.
Public schooling bullying risks
The connection between autistic children and bullying is a strong reason for parents to educate developmentally disabled kids at home. However, studies have shown that public schooling leads to better outcomes overall for autistic children. Unfortunately, the benefits that come from a public school education come at the potential cost of taunts and mistreatment from fellow students. Studies indicate that nearly half of all autistic children between the ages of 13 and 16, who are enrolled in public schools, are targeted by bullying peers.
Bullying actions can be quite shocking, especially when the victim is someone with an obvious developmental disability. The Washington Post recently reported a story about two girls who repeatedly bullied an autistic boy and may face many years in correctional facilities as a result. Incidents include taunting him with a knife and coercing him to have sex with his dog. Sadly, the boy considers the two girls to be his friends and does not believe that they meant any harm by their actions. Stories such as this one are frightening to parents whose children have a similar lack of social awareness.
Why bullies target their autistic peers
The primary objective of bullies is to exert power over others and demonstrate this power to peers. In order to accomplish this goal, bullies will pick victims who are least likely to fight back or instigate a reaction from a group of friends. Since autistic children have a harder time connecting with others, they are often socially isolated. In addition, they tend to be trusting and gullible. This makes them the perfect targets for overbearing students who know that few, if any, fellow students will come to their rescue.
Fortunately, parents of autistic children can take advantage of resources that aim to improve these kids’ social awareness. If children with social disabilities learn to be suspicious of abusive situations and stand up for themselves, they will be much less vulnerable to bullying. If parents suspect that their autistic child is the victim of bullying, they should consider meeting with an attorney and taking legal action.