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Being “bullied” doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s often a feeling of total helplessness…and hopelessness. Many students don’t report it. Because they don’t know how, or don’t think they’ll be believed, or feel ashamed.


By Dan Coulter

     What’s the worst you’ve ever felt?

     No, scratch that.  No one should have to remember something that painful.

     But that’s not an option for nearly half the students with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism.  People on the autism spectrum tend to replay traumatic events over and over in their heads, sometimes for years afterwards.

     And one of the things they remember most vividly is being degraded and demeaned by other students. 

     Being “bullied” doesn’t begin to describe it.  It’s often a feeling of total helplessness…and hopelessness.   Many students don’t report it.  Because they don’t know how, or don’t think they’ll be believed, or feel ashamed.  Or for any of the millions of other reasons that millions of kids have in their highly individual heads.

     And we are talking millions.  I read in the New York Times about a new research study based on a nationally representative sample of 920 middle and high school students with autism spectrum disorders.  Published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, the study revealed that 46 percent of these students had been bullied.  This compares to an estimated 10.6 percent of children in the general population who are bullied.

     The lead author of the study, Paul R. Sterzing of the University of California, Berkeley, said the findings revealed “a profound public health problem.”  The study notes that the risk is greatest for high-functioning children on the autism spectrum who are mainstreamed with other students.

     The Times story described incidents all too familiar to many parents: a boy who had his pants pulled to his knees in a school cafeteria.  Another who couldn’t walk home without classmates throwing things at him.  When he started getting a car ride home, the bullies pounced on him as he was waiting for his ride.  While the Times story focused on examples of physical bullying, students on the spectrum know that mental bullying can be just as devastating.

     With a new school year beginning, it’s the perfect time to put on a full-court press to prevent bullying for your child this year.  It’s important to coach our children what to do when bullied.  But, more and more, we’re learning that’s not enough.

     We need to work with teachers and other school personnel to keep a close eye on children who are at risk and take fast, appropriate action whenever it’s necessary.  We need to convince school administrations to hold disability awareness training in school-wide assemblies or individual classrooms.  Such training can help prevent some bullying from starting, and can empower other students to intervene if it does.

     If you need support conveying the urgency of the issue, I’d suggest sharing the New York Times article or one of the many reprints you’ll find in newspapers around the country or on the Internet.   The Times article is titled, "School Bullies Prey on Children with Autism" by Anahad O’Connor.  It appeared September 3, 2012.

     This new research is not just a study.  It’s our children’s reality.  And it reminds us all that the start of school is the best time for a full-court press to prevent bullying before it does life-long damage.

     Taking steps now can help parents and teachers ensure students come home happy about this school day and excited about the next.   Because, when it comes to school, that’s the best thing you can feel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Dan Coulter is the author of the DVD, "Intricate Minds: Understanding Classmates with Asperger Syndrome" and the book, "Life in the Asperger Lane."  You can find more articles on his website:

Copyright 2012 Dan Coulter      All Rights Reserved      Used By Permission

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