The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

04 June 2012

Stop the bullying of students with autism

Ms. Dang Koe
By Dang U. Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus

Every day inside the school bus, students are treated to a “show.” Some laugh and mock Joseph, 15, as he dances on the bus aisle and follows the instructions of some classmates who ask him to do silly stuff.

Carlo, 17, gets a weekly allowance for food, but some of his classmates ask him to buy them burgers.

Whenever Gerald, 14, does not obey a classmate who treats him like his servant, he gets punched.

His classmates always ridicule Ricky, 12, for his “robotic” voice and “weird” behavior. One time, the hecklers turned into a small mob and started shouting insults at Ricky. Being sensitive to loud sounds, he ran away from them but only to be pursued. He got hold of a cutter, ran inside a cabinet to “take cover,” and tried to ward off the bullies by putting out his hand with the cutter. The school suspended Ricky, not the bullies, for possession of dangerous weapon.

“Because of difficulties with social interaction and the inability to read social cues, children with autism have higher rates of peer rejection and higher frequencies of verbal and physical attacks,” said Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

House Bill 5496, the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012 was approved last month requiring all elementary and secondary schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. The bill requires that “anti-bullying policies be included in the school’s student and employee handbook; details of the policies should be posted in school websites and school walls; schools shall submit their anti-bullying policies to the Department of Education within six months upon effectivity of the law; bullying incidents in schools must be reported to the division superintendents, who in turn shall report to the Education Secretary; and the DepEd must submit a report on bullying incidents to the appropriate congressional committee and impose sanctions on school administrators who do not implement anti-bullying policies.”

Ability Path, an online hub and special needs community came up with a comprehensive report and guide, “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and Special Needs.”

Here are excerpts, from the Teacher Toolkit chapter, for teachers who should be first to respond when bullying occurs in the classroom.

Education and Training

Make yourself and your staff aware of the physical and behavioral needs of your students with disability. Some children exhibit sensory issues and have issues related to this such as being touched, not tolerating noises, or being surrounded by groups of children.

For children with autism, it may be difficult for them to express emotions or make friends. Learn more about the symptoms and characteristics of these special needs. Talk to your class about how each person has different abilities and how to be a supportive friend no matter what kind of help another child needs. Consider implementing disability awareness programs.

Monitor Students’ Use of Cameras and Video

The use of cellphones by students has escalated the number of cyber bullying incidents; many of which involve children with special needs. Educate and encourage all staff to watch how both neurotypical and atypical students use these devices. Educate students about privacy and closely watch what they post or view if logged onto a social media network. If an incident occurs, notify the parents of the victim, school officials, and potentially local law enforcement immediately.

Talk to Students

Many children with special needs sometimes are not aware that they are being bullied. Ask students about their friends and activities. Who do they sit with at lunch? What do their friends call them? Do they have a nickname? Do their friends push or hit them? Do their friends ask them to do something they don’t like? Sometimes it takes a little investigation to realize what is happening when adults are not around.

Establish Peer Mentoring

Creating peer-mentoring activities as early as elementary school has been shown to be effective in decreasing bullying of children with special needs.

Help Students Make Friends

Bullies are less likely to target students if they know they have a support system or someone to defend them. Identifying a peer or friend that provides support as well as advocacy is vital to the child’s ability in making new friends and defending themselves themselves against bullies.

This article appeared in the printed and online version of the Manila Bulletin.


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