(This is our 5th post in our series about bullying.)
A couple of weeks ago, we received an email at HaltonParents from a mother of a child with Aspergers. Her son is now in grade nine, and she told us how all throughout his childhood he has been bullied or made fun of. Unfortunately, this year it has even gotten worse. Of course, she is frustrated and very concerned about how children with special needs have to work so hard just to fit in, and that many in the community don’t always understand how to help.
Many parents who have a child with special needs have similar concerns when they think about their child’s social interactions with the world. Will my child belong? Will he/she fit in and be accepted by his/her peers? What if my child gets bullied and how would I know? How can I protect him/her from this?
It can feel overwhelming trying to figure out how to prevent and support this child who is potentially being bullied by his/her peers. The child may not be able to recognize that bullying is taking place. This can make it difficult to pinpoint what is going on. Ask your child specific questions about what he/she does with other children, what those children say and how they respond to your child. This can give clues for how your child is being treated. If your child is unable to communicate, you will likely see changes in his/her behaviour that are different from typical patterns in the past (e.g. change in appetite, refusal to participate in activities, increased anxiety).
Another risk factor is that a child who has been bullied may demonstrate similar behaviours towards other children, as their way of coping or imitating what has happened to them.
Here are some other ideas for a proactive approach in bullying:
- Create opportunities for your child to interact with other children and for those children to get to know your child. You can start this in a familiar and comfortable surrounding so your child’s strengths and personality can shine.
- Teach your child the difference between what is a friend and what is not a friend, so it’s easier for him/her to recognize when he/she is not being treated in a way that is comfortable.
- Practice social skills such as greeting peers, conversational skills, turn taking skills, recognizing facial expressions and body language.
- In each setting, identify a couple “safe” people that your child can approach if he/she is feeling uncomfortable or anxious. This should be a person that the child is familiar with and who knows your child well.
- Approach your team of support – family and professionals to help monitor and build goals for your child’s social success.
If your child is being bullied:
- Give your child concrete and specific action steps if a bullying situation takes place (e.g. leave a situation, find an adult).
- Depending on where the bullying incident(s) have taken place, work with other adults to ensure that there are appropriate levels of supervision, to create a safety plan and to develop strategies for ongoing skill building. This can include the child’s school and other community programs/agencies.
- If the bullying happens at school, advocate for anti-bullying programs and awareness. A good resource is www.prevnet.ca
About this guest blogger:
Esther Choy is a Behaviour Consultant with Family & Community Behaviour Services at Halton Region. She has been working with this team since 2005. She works with the families of children and youth who have been diagnosed with a developmental disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder from the ages of 2-21. Her work with families and youth involves planning for behaviour change in various domains such as communication, self-help and independence skills, and social skills development.
Share your experience:
Parenting a child with special needs is not always easy. We’d love to hear more about your experiences.