“Being fair is not giving every child the same thing, but giving each child what he or she needs”
Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger’s (p35)-“ a ‘freak’, by the way, seems to be anyone who doesn’t act, look or speak like the rest of the world. The Oxford Dictionary says that a freak is: 1. A person or thing that is abnormal in form;2. Something very unusual or irregular: 3. A person who dresses absurdly: 4. One who freaks out, i.e. a drug addict… What on earth is normal, usual, or regular anyway?”
What is bullying and who is bullied?
Almost any child or adult that is different is typically a target of bullying. However, people with autism are especially prone to bullying because others view them as extremely different. Bullying is any form of physical or mental abuse, typically from other children. However, bullying can come from parents and teachers who do not understand why an autistic child acts a certain way. Bullying can be physical or emotional including, but not limited to gossip, name calling, rumors, and ridiculing. Bullying usually begins at a young age before they have had therapy to teach them more socially acceptable behaviors and before they learn social norms. Most of the time the bullying that involves autistic children stems from their social abilities, communication abilities, and their repetitive habits. Because autistic children do not understand why they are being bullied and other children do not know why autistics (or other different or disabled children) are different, education is the key to the elimination of bullying.
Education is the key, but WHY?
- Knowledge is the key to prevent bullying. Education about bullying, autism and differences between people is very important to start at an early age regardless of whether there are kids with disabilities in the classroom or school. Many kids get bullied and don’t even know it, therefore It is important to make sure that children know what bullying is. They should be taught what bullying looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They may assume that some of the situations they encounter are normal, which makes it difficult for others to know about the situation who could help control it. There are also many different forms of bullying that many people (especially those with disabilities and young children) don’t understand (such as gossip and rumors). Knowing about the differences in people with autism is also important because many kids (and teachers) think that these children are purposely trying to be difficult or weird and don’t understand that these children physically don’t understand how to act in a socially acceptable way.
How can we educate children?
- Educating children about bullying and people with disabilities should start at a very early age and be continued through high school. The following methods are very effective ways of communicating and instilling good ways of interacting with others and eliminating bullying:
- Retreats: These activities help children to get to know each other on a more personal basis than what they can learn in a classroom. It is also easier to focus the retreat on a variety of bullying campaign related topics with varied approaches to understanding and teaching.
- Stimulation sessions: Some programs have been developed that allow “normal” children to learn what it is like to be disabled. Although the stimulations are not perfect and do not encompass the real problems a disabled child is likely to encounter, they do allow others to think about what it could be like. Stimulations can be anything ranging from having to use a wheel chair the entire day to placing an elastic restraint on someones arm and asking them to write a sentence.
- Videos: Videos allow individuals to visualize what bullying looks like and how it can be appropriately dealt with. It overcomes many linguistic problems that could arise from dry reading and it captivates the mind much more readily to make the material interesting.
- Role playing: One of the most effective ways to realize what a situation feels like and how you should react is role playing. It is a much more real life experience that becomes encrypted into the mind through various sensory modalities.
- What about large group assemblies?
- Large group assemblies are often used to try to teach children values such as not to use drugs and not to talk to strangers. However, these assemblies are often not engaging to each individual child and many of the values of the presentations are lost. Although these assemblies may have some small effects, they are a relatively poor way of relaying information and instilling moral behavior.
Teachers and parents sometimes need to intervene. How can this be done effectively?
- If teacher or parental intervention is required, it is suggested that it is done in private so that it will not cause more bullying by these children maybe being labeled as “momma’s boys.”
All of these suggestions have been implemented but bullying is still a huge issue. What do I do?
- If these suggestions are implemented and children with autism are still having large problems with bullying, the next step is to remove the child from the situation. This could be by moving the child to a different school, placing them in a class with other kids with disabilities, or homeschooling them. Regardless of who the child is or what difficulties they might have, it is unacceptable for them to continue being subjected to the mental and physical abuse of bullying.