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How to help if your autistic child is being bullied

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare that their child might be the victim of bullying. When your child is autistic, they might be more vulnerable and an easier target simply because they behave differently from their peers. Unfortunately, in 2023 parents have the additional worry of online ‘cyberbullying as well as face-to-face. It is a minefield. We all know that the impact of bullying can be significant. It can cause isolation, and anxiety and lead to depression. It can affect self-esteem and confidence and change the way that your child interacts. It’s important to know the signs of bullying and in this blog, we aim to give you these and help you to manage bullying with an autistic child.

Signs that your autistic child might be being bullied

It can be difficult to know if your child is being bullied, especially if they struggle with communication. It’s important to know what to look out for so that if this is happening to your child, you can take the appropriate action to make it stop.

Tell-tale signs of bullying include:

  • Changes in behaviour and how they interact – perhaps your child has become withdrawn, anxious, stressed or depressed. They may even have started to imitate bullying behaviour and repeat this to their siblings.
  • A change in repetitive behaviour, such as an increase in stimming or specific routines.
  • Reluctance to go to school, wanting to leave school early or returning home late.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Self-harming.
  • Damage to your child’s property such as torn clothes or missing property.

Signs of cyberbullying

As well as the general signs of bullying above it is also important to look out for other signs that might indicate that your child is being bullied online.

  • Being upset or withdrawn after using a tablet or computing device.
  • Reluctance or unwillingness to share information about online activity.
  • Seeming angry or depressed, especially after going online.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life.
  • Being nervous, jumping or upset when texting or using social media.

Strategies to help if your autistic child is being bullied.

Below is a list of things you can do if you suspect that your child is being bullied.

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    • If your child struggles with communication, you need to ascertain whether your child understands what bullying is. You can do this using a social story and PECS.
    • If your child doesn’t want to talk about being bullied but you feel that they are, speak to their school and ask that a watchful eye is kept. Ask the school for a copy of its anti-bullying policy.
    • Ask the school to set up a support system for your child. They should find an adult at school that they feel comfortable talking to so that they can approach them if they need to during the school day. They could also use a ‘buddy’ system so that your child has someone with them.
    • Keep a record of events and keep the school informed of this.
    • Reassure your child that the bullying behaviour is not their fault and that you are always there to listen to them, no matter what day or time it is.
    • Try to get your child involved in activities in and out of school to help build their confidence.
    • Seek advice from a health professional if you are concerned about your child’s mental health and well-being.
    • Consider contacting services such as Childline and the National Counselling Service, if you feel these might be beneficial to your child.

It is easy for us to give you a list of strategies but we know if this is happening to your child it is extremely upsetting and worrying. Your school should be absolutely behind you to combat this and will support you and your child and help to find the right strategies to put an end to the bullying.

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