The topic of bullying has been front-and-center this past month, including an anti-bullying conference
held last week with President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama.
The conference addressed the administration’s anti-bullying campaign and plans
to hold school districts accountable if they don’t adequately protect bullied
students. Then a video went viral this week featuring Casey
Australian sixteen-year-old who turned the tables on a school bully and body slammed him
into the ground.
More notably, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California recently spoke before her colleagues about the epidemic of bullying in our schools and addressed the heartbreaking truth that children with special needs are bullied at a much higher rate than all others. Additionally, it was noted that bullying reported among those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome was markedly higher than neurotypical children. Ms. Speier will soon be introducing legislation to address this crisis head-on, requiring schools to track incidents against children with disabilities and include content in anti-bullying programs that specifically addresses this susceptible segment of students.
While I applaud these efforts, it seems more education and awareness will be required to truly make a difference. If a school has an inclusion program, as most do, guest autism speakers should address the PTA on what it means for neurotypical and children with autism to share a classroom. This would cue parents of neurotypical children to not be fearful or resentful of a child with autism sharing a room with their child. The parents could then in turn help their children become more compassionate and supportive of their special needs classmates.
Tragically, much of the problem comes from the top, as administrators and teachers themselves don’t understand or appreciate the nature of autism, even as they are required to meet the needs of those students in their midst. Too often, the principal regards the child with autism as a “headache” and a behavior problem absorbing his or her valuable time.
As far as teachers go, my experience has been that when a teacher sets a respectful tone towards a child with autism, students will follow the lead. Sadly, the converse is also true.
Earlier, I recommended a new DVD called “Intricate Minds” as a way of facilitating a dialogue about Asperger’s Syndrome and though I personally haven’t had the opportunity to introduce it in a needed school setting, I hope someone else will do so and share their findings.
Personally, I would advocate training about autism among adults in schools who are most likely to encounter a child with autism and also require a fixed number of training hours for all special education teachers. There is also software that some schools are using with great success that enable students to report incidents of bullying they have endured or witnessed anonymously online to a school administrator. This is a resource that should be available in every school.
We all want to provide children on the autism spectrum a bully-free and safe environment, but we cannot do that alone. Only through knowledge and awareness will we be able to counter the ignorance and fear that currently exist in our school systems.