Many young people on the autistic spectrum are different compared to those with other lifelong conditions in that they are able to become independent and not require constant support as they grow older.
While this in itself has many advantages in our development, there are notable challenges which face this cohort on the spectrum. According to stats from the Department for Education, 70 per cent of young people with autism are in mainstream education and are integrated with other students who do not have any diagnosed issues themselves, which can sadly often mean that there will be a proportion of their fellow students who do not fully understand what autism is. Whether at secondary school or in further education, bullying can become a serious problem in the lives of autistic teenagers and can have lasting consequences.
Having gone through this experience personally, and come through on the other side, there are a number of strategies to tackle some of these issues. Please note that this advice is not definitive and not appropriate in all situations. Help should always be sought personally from other trusted adults (e.g. teachers, parents). The strategies I suggest are:
1. Ask to leave classes five minutes before the end of each lesson.
While teachers may not be thrilled at this idea, which is why support should be provided by the SEN department at your school, corridors can become the most chaotic locations during the move to next lessons or during break times. Having that head start may allow the chance to move to another classroom in peace and without fear of harassment or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of noise.
2. Find out if there is a safe space.
There should always be an option to have a ‘safe haven’ away from the playground/outdoor areas, whether it’s to eat lunch or hang out with friends, schools and colleges generally have a facility which ensures you are safe from people who are might be targeting you. Check out with the SEN staff at the school where this might be, as I know from experience, it can make a significant difference.
3. Try and move in company with a friend when possible.
Realistically, this may not always be possible when friends may have different classes to go to, but if these opportunities do arise, it can mean a bit more security and support if someone who you know may pose a threat approaches. They can be valuable witnesses too if an incident takes place and not a case of your word against someone else’s.
4. Try and find alternatives from the school bus.
Though I had to take the school bus sometimes from college, it is always more ideal to find services outside which will have adults and other members of the public beyond the school environment travelling on it, so there is an extra layer of security. Sometimes, in plans for students with special educational needs, minibuses or taxis can be provided by local authorities to give personal transportation home. Ask parents/guardians to investigate this option.
5. Other methods of reporting.
Sometimes, having to go over issues of bullying by speaking is not the most conducive for a person with autism. This may be the case if you have become extremely withdrawn or having a ‘meltdown’, which makes it impossible to think straight. Being able to write down what happened or using creative approaches, like action figures to represent you and others involved, should be explored by teachers and teaching assistants to identify what is wrong.
These may be ‘survival’ tips to get through the weekly school routine, but when there are issues of bullying, surviving alone is not a solution. Always find a way to report when bullying happens, so it can be dealt with swiftly and not escalate. It is time to Make a No!se about bullying!
If you want to talk to someone about Bullying you can contact Bullying UK on 0808 800 2222.