This week, a parent asked:
I worry about bullying. We have not yet encountered it yet, not really. But how can I be proactive with my son’s school community instead of just feeling like I’m waiting for something to happen?
That is a very important question … and a subject that is very difficult for me to write about because of past bullying experiences that have left me with more than a few triggers, that I still work through everyday.
When I was a child, and even now, having friends who stood up for me is what helped most. The more my family and friends shared with me about bullying, the more I understood how to avoid it, how to react to it, and most importantly, how to ask for help when I am not able to handle a situation.
It saddens me that so many kids are bullied, not just autistic kids. No one should be bullied, but unfortunately it does happen.
Communication is the key to being proactive. I know that every autistic child, and adult, has different ways of communicating, and sometimes it can feel impossible to communicate certain things. But it does make a difference to both the ASD individual and their family when we all keep trying, and opening up, and listening.
Finding ways of communicating that work for your child is so valuable. For my family, it is dry erase boards, notebooks, sticky notes, gestures, typing, texting, and lastly verbally talking. Verbal communication is the least effective way for me (and many other ASD individuals) to process any kind of information.
When others share their experiences and stories about bullying (and many other topics) I listen, I learn (it takes time), and I am glad. And sometimes that person may never even know that I took anything from the conversation, because I was either too busy processing, or I thought I had responded… when in fact I said nothing.
Here are some ways to be proactive about bullying that I have found helpful:
1) Help your child, and others around you, understand what bullying is, by sharing experiences and looking at kid-friendly sites online about bullying. Even if it seems like (s)he may not be paying attention, or may not be verbal, we all still listen, and take in information. And we need to know things like: what bullying may look like, sound like, and ways for to advocate for ourselves.
2) Help your child create meaningful relationships with other children their age, and mentors, to help, guide, advocate, and teach them how to stand up for themselves. And how to get help when it is too big of a problem.
3) Have open communication with family and friends. Share past experiences. Show him/her that it is safe to communicate things that (s)he may feel are small, irrelevant, or too scary to communicate.This doesn’t have to be a big production. In fact, smaller conversations can be much more effective than longer, big conversations. It gives less for us to process at one time.
4) Talk to the school about what kind of system(s) they have in place to monitor, and react to bullying situations. Keep a regular, open dialog with the teacher(s).
Most of all, make your autistic child, friend or family member feel valued, loved, and respected. Self esteem and confidence can make all the difference. Remind them of who they are, and what makes them unique, special, and talented. That has greatly helped me through life, and still does. In fact, my family keeps a notebook where we write down compliments I have received talents I have gained, barriers that I have broken through, and loving statements to help me focus on the good things, instead of the people out there that have said or done hurtful, untruthful things.
Anabelle Listic is a 27 year-old artist living is Seattle and is a film and digital photographer. Anabelle has autism and is profoundly visual. She is passionate about her art and about mentoring parents and kids living life on the autism spectrum. Find more of Anabelle’s work and insight by following her Blog, Twitter and Facebook.