Autism Toolbox a resource for Scottish Schools

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The Impact of ASD on Bullying 

Core difficulties in social relatedness and understanding will often have a significant impact on a child or young person with autism . They may not be socially motivated to fit into the crowd or eg follow fashion trends, or be motivated by the same types of things as other pupils. They may be drawn to pupils of a younger age group or activities associated with younger children. They may like things that seem ‘odd’ to other pupils and teachers causing them to ‘stand out’ in a crowd and be more vulnerable. Difficulty interpreting unspoken meanings behind words can also result in the pupil being vulnerable in terms of others’ intentions. Pupils with autism can often become ‘targets’ as their social naivety can be very apparent

When motivated to ‘fit in’ they can lack the social awareness of being ‘exploited’ by others and may become involved in ‘anti-social’ activities. Pupils on the spectrum may not be able to differentiate other people’s motives or judge whether others are sincere or not. 
The ‘grey areas of bullying’ may be a difficult concept and they can lack of awareness that they are being bullied or accept bullying behaviours as the norm. They may perceive any form of teasing to be bullying.  

A pupil with ASD may have a single minded focus on developing friendships. They may desperately want a friend and can misinterpret kindness for friendship and become attached to someone who does not consider them a friend. Inflexibility of thought and a lack of appreciation of the others feelings may result in rejection. 

As a result some pupils with autism may experience physical symptoms as a response to being bullied or prolonged bullying. Higher levels of anxiety, with a strong need to control their environment or others within their environment, or mimicking ‘bullying behaviours’ with others can occur as a consequence. 

Think about...
•    Provide the pupil with concrete visual ‘friendship guidelines’ 
•    Assess and develop self-awareness skills in areas related to their vulnerabilities 
•    Provide alternative opportunities, such as ‘safe communities’ within the school 
•    Provide social skills and understanding opportunities or ‘social translation’ sessions
•    Be aware of the limitations of generalising these skills
•    Teach ‘signs of bullying’ so that the pupil is aware of what behaviours indicate bullying
•    Incorporate role play sessions for all pupils to recognise ‘bullying behaviours’ and teach behavioural responses in relation to day-to-day situations
•    Provide ‘assertiveness training’- aware of the possible impact of inflexible thinking and that the pupil may rigidly apply a set response in a variety of        different contexts 
•    Consider providing a ‘buddy system’, usually more successful if older pupil
•    Involve all pupils in the school’s anti-bullying policy to encourage shared responsibility, at the same time as supporting peers to understand the              ‘different’ thinking and relating styles of pupils with an ASD 

Learning Grid - Toolbox 2009 

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