Autism And Bullying: Building Positive Social Experiences

June 13, 2012


Children with an autism spectrum disorder generally have poor social skills and poor social judgment. They also have a low tolerance for interacting socially for extended amounts of time because it is exhausting for them. Many children with autism want to have friends but don’t know how to go about it. This is where the parents can come in and lend a hand.

I care very much when parents talk to me about the loneliness of their child and their concern that the child is isolated. This is a situation where a child may be set up for bullying. Recently a report was released from IAN (Interactive Autism Network) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute stating 63% of children with autism have been bullied.

There are so many ways to explore the topic of bullying and prevention.

This is just one of the ideas I suggest to parents when we sit down to explore strategies that will reduce social isolation and may help a little to prevent setting up a situation where the child will be bullied.

  • You can create opportunities for your child to be socially successful.
  • You can position your child so his peers begin to associate him with positive experiences.
  • You can orchestrate encounters so that your child begins to feel positive and identify himself as a person who has friends.

One of the simplest examples is this:

  1. Set up a movie date with your child and a kid from school or the neighborhood. It is often helpful if you can explain your situation and child’s diagnosis to the other child’s parent so they are on board and understand your goal to create a successful social encounter.
  2. Take both kids to the movie. Movies are great because no one expects interaction during the movie, so there are no awkward silences, no inappropriate remarks and no arguing.
  3. Take your guest home right after the movie. That way the children’s time together is limited. You have not allowed a playtime where things might go wrong. Instead, you have contained a situation, and both kids will feel it was fun. Plus the visitor now associates your child with a positive experience. Likewise your child realizes he had a successful time with a peer.
  4. It takes time and lots of small steps to build on this. Perhaps the next time they see a movie they can go for ice cream afterwards, allowing a brief 12 minutes of playtime before taking them home. Perhaps they play for 30 minutes before you take the guest home. You always want to bring encounters to a close while they are succeeding and not the moment they start to go downhill.

Obviously there are many strategies that can be tailored to your child’s interests and strengths. As parents, everyone needs a friend to sit and talk with to help figure out the best approach for your individual child. A social worker, counselor or classroom teacher as well as family members and friends can all help with this. Even a little bit of a push in the right direction can go a long way for children with autism looking for a friend.

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