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Volume 108

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Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…

Can a Child with Autism Recover from Being Bullied?

Yes, children with Asperger’s syndrome and high functioning autism can recover from bullying by following this three step process.

Update: We added this video after the original newsletter was published:

Life Academy – This is part of a series of articles on coping with life with Asperger’s Syndrome written by a young woman with AS.

Kids as well as adults with Asperger’s syndrome often have more than their fair share of bullying and negative social experiences in their formative years. Bullying is hard for anyone to cope with, but for extra sensitive kids with Asperger’s syndrome or autism, even mild teasing or exclusion can really change the way they view themselves and their damage their self-esteem. Years later, they may still find themselves affected.

So what can you do to help yourself or a loved one on the autism spectrum recover a sense of confidence after trauma at the schoolyard?

The other day, a friend of mine asked me a question that got me thinking. She had previously told me how her college roommates excluded her and made fun of her, and how she found it hard to talk to anyone now or make friends. She was constantly thinking that other people thought the worst of her, even several years removed from the experience. She had so much anxiety she could hardly talk to people. “How,” she asked me, “do I regain my confidence?”

As she talked, my mind wandered back to my own experiences with the very same issue she was having.

What helped me? What would help her?

1. Surround yourself with positive, accepting people.

Even if you don’t know them well, join a church, a hobby group, or a support group, or stick close to any friends you may already have.

Most of my negative social experiences were in junior high and high school. When it came time to choose a college, my only criteria was one with as open and tolerant a student body as possible. Two years after I started college at a small liberal arts college with a very friendly and accepting student body, I noticed something. I was no longer afraid of people.

Overcoming Past Reflexes

I had spent most of the last two years unable to shed my previous reflexes from middle and high school. I was sure everyone was talking about me behind my back. I was positive if I passed a group of students and heard them laugh, that they were laughing at me.

I scurried away when other kids approached. I kept waiting to hear negative things about myself from others.

And waiting. And waiting.

It never happened.

I never did get any negative comments from others. Instead, people were warm and conversational towards me. We might not have been fast friends, but I had many people who I chatted with, and no matter how much I thought they would, none of them ever walked away laughing about me afterwards.

Two years later, I finally got it — I was okay the way I was. These people liked me, eccentricities and all. They even admired my uniqueness, wanted to find out more about me. Finally, I felt comfortable in my own skin.

So, the moral of the story is…

Try to replace your negative social experiences with ones that at least have the potential to be good. And then be prepared to wait, because unfortunately, healing takes time. But it does happen.

2. Write about it

I can’t count the number of times I sat in my college’s computer lab, pouring out the stories of those years to a blank computer screen. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more.

I submitted a story about bullying to my college literary magazine, and wrote about in occasional assignments for writing classes. Eventually, I think all that writing got it out of my system, because I finally got to a point where I was sick of writing about it.

I had expressed every emotion, examined every situation from every angle, and finally felt some measure of peace about it.

Writing can be a great way to get out emotions and stories hidden deep inside you that you might not have another way to express.

Suggest to your loved one that they keep a diary about these experiences.

Perhaps model to them how to do it. If you think it will help, buy one of those fancy, elegant paper diaries with pretty designs and a lock to help entice a female loved one to start writing.

Writing tip — many people struggle with writer’s block when they first start. If you can’t think of anything to write about, then just write whatever the first thing that comes to mind is. And keep writing, no matter how silly you think it is. Eventually you will access deeper thoughts.

3. Talk about it

There are some pretty strong emotions that go along with being bullied, whatever the situation. Shame, humiliation, self-blame, and lack of confidence in yourself, to name a few. It helps to talk to people about what you’re feeling. This can be a friend, family member, or therapist. They can help you process your feelings. They might seem overwhelming at first, but the more times you tell the story, the less power it has over you. Don’t give your negative emotions power over you by not expressing them.

Parents, encourage your loved one to talk about their experiences. Do not judge or minimize anything they say. A counselor may be helpful.

There is Hope

I will never forget standing in my guidance counselor’s office in high school, and catching sight of an article in a magazine there. It was an article about a girl who had been bullied quite badly in school, and it had taken her six years of counseling to regain her confidence. Six years???! I remember thinking when I read that.

You’ve got to be kidding me! Six years seemed an eternity. I knew I couldn’t take six years more of feeling like this! In the end, it was probably more like three or four (and more life experiences than therapy that helped). But it was worth it to get to the other side. It’s worth it to be able to live your life not having to always look over your shoulder. To bask in the simple knowledge that you are liked, even loved by others, is the sweetest reward of all.

So what did I say to my friend when she asked me? I said, “Surround yourself with people who are good to you, make an effort to interact, and the rest will come.” Healing has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

For more advice specifically aimed at adults with Asperger’s and high functioning autism, see the book Thriving in Adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome.

13 Responses to Can a Child with Autism Recover from Being Bullied? – 108

  1. Donna says:

    I’m not sure how far gone on the spectrum we are concerning bullying, but I’m running out of options. Our daughter has friends and hasn’t really experienced any bullying until this past year. She made a new friend in her class who is also a special needs kid in public school and at first I thought how wonderful for both of them. However, that started to change when my daughter would come home saying her new friend was kicking her at school. Long story short…this has progressively gotten worse this year and I’ve contacted the school and recently wrote a letter including the ones my daughter receiced from her “friend”. I talked with the princicapl, teacher and social worker in a conference call and they said they were going to stay on top of things. So far it seems to help, but yesterday my daughter came home again saying her “friend” was back to kicking her at school. She’s afriad to say anything to her or get her upset since this girl has threatened to hurt her if she did.

    I haven’t talked to her parents yet but I think I’m left with no choice. They “might” be able to do something outside of school and maybe it might stop this. Her friend called this morning to talk to my daughter and I said to call back later since she was sleeping.

    I’m probably going to kick myself for this, but when she calls back I plan to ask this girl if I could talk to her parents. I know she’s calling to see if my daughter and her could go swimming today. My daughter and her friend are only 12, but I’m at the point I can’t keep waiting for this to fix itself and will let her parents know what’s going on and see where it goes.

    Sorry for going on and on, but I’m at a loss where the bully involves another special needs child. If anyone has suggestions I’m more than open to hear them.

  2. Kelly says:

    My daughter has been bullied by a girl
    and then her older twin brothers. They
    have gotten other people on the bus to
    join in. She is 13 years old. It is sad
    but the only answer the 2 of us could come
    up with was for me to drive her to school.
    She has too many bad memories of the people
    on the bus to get back on the bus.
    The school spoke with the kids and they stopped for a week or two but then started
    back again.
    So, I drive her to school. She is happier
    that she does not have to go on the bus.

  3. jean says:

    This is the exact thing my daughter needs. She is very outgoing at times but not with peers due to bullying in 9/10th grades. I feel she shields herself now from trying to make friends with her peers due to being rejected. I am going to share this article with her and her Doctor. Thanks.

  4. VC says:

    My kid 10 old is badly bullied but it is really hard for her as the bullies are not just the kids at school but a group of mothers and some teachers who mix with these other adults. We just tell our kid to hold her head high, she is very clever and whilst abit uncoordinated in some activities she’s a very high achiever and great at athletics and swimming. We always highlight her achievements, tell her we are proud of her and the groups she is in are varied and have been supportive. Try and make your kids see that school is only one part of their life and and there are so many more opportunities and positive experiences to be had outside of school for them and let them know the best revenge is success and happiness. Great advice Craig, thanks..

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      I think that you should NOT allow other adults to ever bully your daughter. Make a formal complaint to the school. Document everything via email. Make sure you copy all of the heads of the school and document what, if anything they say they will do to help your daughter. By putting in writing the issues, and documenting what the authorities say, and copying EVERYONE from the teachers, to the principal to the guidance counselors, you will likely get much more help than you will get by simply speaking with them. Bureaucrats are always afraid of documentation and looking bad. Document and send copies to everyone you can think of. This often makes them do something to protect a child.

      • VC says:

        Great advice, but been there done that! (and still do) The problems is some of the teachers are involved and P&C parents and if you ever complain about staff and P&C folk, well not only is your child demonised further but so have we been and the collective departmental shut down is unbelievable. We don’t personally respond to the adults we write and email include photos of her injuries etc, but as for ages there’s been persistent denial about what was happening the Principal and Department backed them- selves into a corner and now refuse to acknowledge or help, but then again when you as a parent we are told ‘Don’t believe your daughter, I have spoken to BETTER QUALITY children and ….” it’s a hopeless case. Solution – new school next year for a fresh start, varied out of school sports and hobbies and support and love our wonderful girl as much as we can. Thanks we always love your advice and articles.

  5. LeRoy says:

    Good article, it has great insight.

    Now, how about an article on teaching kids not to bully at all???

    Or one to teach kids how to deal with bullying when it is happening, or very soon thereafter?

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Getting kids to stop bullying is tough. Schools are trying but many of the anti bullying programs are being cut back due to lack of funds. If you have not seen this video, you should watch it. It can help with the bullying problem:
      Preventing Meltdowns and Bullying

    • jean says:

      I agree with you 100%. Why doesn’t someone do a study on why kids bully and see what the problem with THESE kids is?
      My daughter gets so angry when she has to listen to kids making fun of others and stands up for them. No one has ever stood up for her in high school and she doesn’t understand why everyone just can’t get along.

  6. June says:

    Thanks I really enjoyed that. It brought so many memories back. It explained alot. Thanks again.

  7. David Davies says:

    I am a 33 year old with Aspergers syndrome and I was bullied all throughout school and it really scarred me for life,I never thought I would be able to recover from what the bullies had done to me, but when I was 29 I enrolled in university I had great support from student services and had a full time supporter with me,the reason I am writing this is because the people in university were completely different to what I had experienced in school and college, I would describe my experience as a quantum leap, going back into the dreaded class room and putting right what once was wrong, my faith & confidence has been restored, not completely but it is getting a lot better.

    • jean says:

      We are looking at colleges now for my daughter. Because of her anxiety levels she wants a small school, but everyone tells her that college is different than high school and things will be so much better. I don’t know if this is true but I would like her to be accepted and make friends. I am worried!

      • tony says:


        I enrolled my son in the University of Indianapolis due to a program they offer called Build. This program was created to help students with Asperger’s and other challenges.
        We are half way through his first semester and things are great. The school offers a number of resources for Asperger students.
        U of I is a small school and so far my son has been removed from the terrible environment he experienced in high school.
        The wonderful woman in charge of the build program is Mary Lynn, I’m sure she could answer some of your questions about enrolling you daughter or provide other avenues for her.

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