By Amy Cleator, Provisional Psychologist
Children and young people with ASD typically report higher rates of victimization and bullying than their typically developing (TD) peers. For many young people with ASD, difficulties in understanding others, interacting with peers, and reading social cues can lead to a misunderstanding of social interactions. Youth with ASD also tend to experience higher levels of negative emotion (e.g., anger and anxiety) and have more difficulty with self-control, compared to TD peers. The combination of poor social skills and difficulty regulating emotions can make many children and adolescents with ASD targets of bullying because they are easily triggered to overreact.
Both bullies and victims are known for demonstrating high levels of anger, but for most TD youth, anger is typically used to establish/maintain social dominance or avoid retaliation. For young people with ASD, the expression of anger in social situations tends to be more related to frustration and misunderstandings, rather than antisocial behaviour or an act of dominance. An anger response to bullying can be positive, in that it implies a willingness to confront the bully and stand up for oneself. However, overreacting or expressing too much anger and aggression towards another person can then make the victim a bully.
So how can we tell if we are being bullied?
|What is being said?||Just because you don’t like what someone else is saying or you don’t agree with their opinion, doesn’t mean they are bullying you. It’s ok if someone doesn’t like your shoes.||If they are using abusive language, threatening you, calling you names, or putting you down.|
|How is it being said?||If someone is talking to you in a calm and polite way, than it is unlikely they are bullying you.||If they are shouting or being sarcastic.|
|What is the person’s body language?||Sometimes someone will stand too close to you, just because they like you.||If they are standing close to you AND clenching their fists, or using their body to stop you from getting away from them.|
|Why is the person saying or doing something?||Ask why… are they trying to be helpful?||If they are not thinking about your best interests, or trying to make you angry or upset for fun.|
What can help to protect us from bullying?
• Feeling good about yourself
• Valuing the things that make you different and unique
• Having people around you who support you
• Being able to talk to people about the things that upset you
• Being able to ask for help when needed
• Asserting yourself and letting people you know you don’t like what they are doing
• Being able to walk away from a situation where you think you are being bullied
Rieffe, C., Camodeca, M., Pouw, L., Lange, A., & Stockman, L. (2012). Don’t anger me! Bullying, victimization, and emotion dysregulation in young adolescents with ASD. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9, 351-370.