You only have to listen to the news to know that bullying is a large problem in schools. With the advent of instant communication through texts, emails and social media, bullying is not only in the school yard but follows your child home, called cyberbullying. For some children, there is no escape from the endless name calling and bullying. And children with Asperger's syndrome (AS) seem to be at a high risk for being at the receiving end of this type of treatment. An article on ABCNews.com states, "In some areas, there have been reports of 90 percent of kids with Asperger's getting bullied on a daily basis." 
Bullying is described as intentional and repeated aggression toward someone who is normally weaker or smaller in order to intimidate, frighten or get him or her to do something. It can be through physical or verbal harassment and includes behaviors such as: teasing, insulting, shoving, hitting, excluding or gossiping about someone among other behaviors. The victim of bullying often feels alone, embarrassed and ashamed. He may go to great lengths to avoid going to school or feel physically ill from the stress. Bullying can occur from early elementary school all the way up to high school.
Aspies are often socially awkward, not understanding the subtle nuances of social communication and misunderstanding non-verbal cues. They often don't pay attention to their personal appearance. They may talk like "little professors" and have few, if any friends in school. They are often loners, are physically less developed or clumsy. Their lack of communication skills makes it difficult for them to explain what is happening. All of this makes them easy targets for bullies.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Some of the signs your child may be being bullied:
- Agitated when it is time to go to school, may have physical symptoms such as stomachache or headache
- Missing books or other belongings and doesn't want to explain what happened
- Has unexplained bruises, cuts or scratches
- Seems afraid to go to school
- Grades go down without a good explanation or he loses interest in completing school work
- Shows signs of depression
Although these warning signs may indicate other underlying issues, for example, teens with AS are more at risk of developing depression than their peers, as a parent it is important to pay attention to what is going on.
What Parents Can Do
The first reaction of many parents is to go and talk with the parents of the bully. As a reasonable parent, you believe all other parents are reasonable and you think that if you sit down and discuss the situation, the other parents will understand and help to solve the problem. This usually isn't a good idea. Parents often become defensive when faced with what their child is doing wrong and may end up blaming your child for the bullying behavior. Instead, use some of the following suggestions as a guideline to helping your child:
Talk with your child. The first step is to find out as much as you can about what is going on. Although it can be hard for your Aspie to explain what is going on, have a discussion about what is going. Ask for specifics, your child may have an easier time reciting specific incidents rather than talking about how he is feeling. This shouldn't be a one-time conversation, make sure to keep up the dialogue on a daily or regular basis.
Include talking about what is going on that may be leading up to the bullying. Are there some behaviors that your child is exhibiting that is annoying, irritating or provoking other children? Although your child may not mean to provoke others, some Aspie behaviors, such as being the one who "tattles" on others can lead to bullying. You may need to work with your child on those behaviors.
Talk with your child's teacher or guidance counselor. This is easier when your child is in elementary school. Once he reaches middle school or high school, he may resent your involvement, afraid it will show he is weak and it will increase the bullying. For older children, before heading to the school, talk to him about your involvement and whether he feels it is appropriate. However, if you believe your child's physical or emotional well-being is at risk, it may be necessary for you to intervene.
Create a plan of action with your child. What should he do when confronted by the bully? Should he immediately go to the teacher? Should he walk away? Is there a safe place for him to retreat to at school? Giving your child specific steps to follow can help him feel more in control of the situation and give him more confidence. You may want to role-play different situations to help your child find ways to cope with the situation.
Ask the school for help. Teachers and other school personnel are often instrumental in creating a safe environment. Anti-bully programs and other ways to directly address the situation frequently help. Teachers can help by teaching tolerance and not accepting any type of discrimination within the classroom. Having set rules against bullying, and posting those rules, may be effective.
Use resources such as Stop Bullying Now to help set up bullying programs at your child's school. Programs include insisting on respect for one another, creating positive relationships between students and teachers, and responding immediately and effectively when bullying does occur.
Helping your child find resources and activities outside of school, where he can grow and feel accepted, helps to build confidence. Look for resources in your community.
 "Kids With Asperger's Syndrome: ‘Bullied on a Daily Basis,' " 2007, April 4, John Donvan, Caren Zucker, Eric Johnson, ABCNews Nightline
"Signs of Bullying-Warning Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Stop Bullying Now!
Published On: February 23, 2012