Bullying is a widespread problem among all children. Children who are perceived as “different” such as those with Aspergers syndrome are particularly vulnerable to bullying because their differences are noticeable and they might not know the correct way to handle it. As a parent, you want to encourage as much independence as your child is capable of, but you also may need to advocate for him or her in order to put a stop to bullying.
Teach Your Child What Bullying Looks Like
One of the challenges that children with Aspergers sometimes face is that they may not know the difference between someone who is really their friend and someone who is pretending to be their friend in order to bully them. Last season an episode of Parenthood demonstrated this via a storyline where Max, who has Aspergers, was unaware that some of his classmates asked him the answers to math problems in order to laugh at him and not because they liked him. Children with Aspergers may also do things like trade dollars for coins that are worth less because they think the people asking them to do so are their friends. They ay also break rules and get themselves in trouble because a bully told them to and they think that person is their friend.
The best way to handle this problem is to teach your child what bullying looks like so that he or she can more easily avoid bullies. You want to protect your child from being taken advantage of or influenced negatively. Depending on your child, you might want to role play different scenarios, read stories together or watch scenarios on television. Discuss each scenario you play, read or watch with your child. Ask your child if the bully in the scenario was the other child’s friend so that you can discuss what makes someone your friend or not.
You should also give your child some general rules to follow so that they can tell the difference between bullying behavior and friendly behavior. Many children with Aspergers have a finely tuned sense of right and wrong. Teach your child that if another child tells them to do something that they think is wrong, they shouldn’t listen. Explain that friends don’t expect them to do things that they think are wrong or that make them feel bad.
Meet With Your Child’s Teacher
If you believe another child is bullying your child, the next line of defense after talking to your child about what to do is to meet with the child’s teacher to explain your concerns. Children with Aspergers sometimes have a hard time communicating if they are being bullied. In addition, teachers may sometimes think your child just needs to stop reacting to bullies or stop behaving in ways that attract bullying.
For all these reasons, it’s important to talk with the teacher if you have any concerns regarding bullying. Approach the conversation from the perspective that you’re concerned about the issue and want the teacher’s help rather than wanting the teacher to do something specific to resolve the problem. This leaves space for you and the teacher to come up with solutions together to help your child. If you enlist the teacher as an ally, you may be able to find a way to resolve the problem that doesn’t require a lot of parental involvement. This is important for fostering independence and avoiding the appearance that your child is a “baby” who always runs to their parent, which can lead to more bullying.
Put Things In Perspective
All bullying is wrong. There are too many stories of children who commit suicide or who lash out violently at classmates because they have been bullied. So you certainly don’t want to ignore it if your child is being bullied. At the same time, you don’t want to react to every incident the same way. Save your energy for the bigger battles–if a child is continually bullying your child after you’ve taught your child to recognize bullies and walk away, if your child is unhappy or angry because of being bullied or if another child physically attacks your child.
It’s hard to find a balance between protecting your child and letting him or her solve problems themselves. This is challenging for all parents, but it’s especially challenging for parents of children with Aspergers because sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your child fully understands what’s going on.
The best thing to do is keep lines of communication open with both your child and the school. Talk to your child about what he or she experiences in school. Encourage your child to talk about what’s happening socially as well as what’s happening in class–some children with Aspergers don’t consider social interactions important enough to tell you about. You should also check in regularly with your child’s teacher to see how things are going in general and to create a relationship with that person so that you can find out about and handle problems.
Parenting a child with Aspergers is challenging in many respects, and dealing with bullies is one of the harder ones because you want to protect your child from harm. If you practice communication with both your child and the school, it will help you resolve problems before they get out of control.
Is your child with Aspergers being bullied? If you would like one-on-one guidance on how to deal with this situation, I am available for one-on-one consultations. Please visit my contact page to get started!