Bullying and ASD:
What to Do if Your Child Is Being Bullied

​It’s always upsetting to discover your child is being bullied, but when you have a child with autism, finding out about them being bullied can feel downright overwhelming. And it’s not uncommon: a ten-year longitudinal study conducted by SRI International indicated that children with ASD are more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical peers. [1]

We’ve put together some tips on how to help children navigate bullying, whether you are a parent or a teacher of a child with autism.

two boys talking to each other at The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis

Why Do Children with ASD Get Bullied?

Bullying, unfortunately, can happen to anyone. But for children with ASD, certain characteristics often make them more vulnerable to bullying, such as:

  • Having a hard time regulating their thoughts and feelings
  • Limited control over what is happening around them
  • Feelings of inadequacy or poor self-esteem
  • Being socially cut off from peers
  • Appearing depressed or self-destructive

As many children with ASD often find it difficult to understand other children’s tone of voice or body language, they may not even recognize they’re being bullied or mocked. Children with ASD also cannot defend themselves or problem solve verbally, which prohibits them from talking their way out of a difficult situation.

Bullying can also be brought on inadvertently. Since children with ASD already have trouble communicating certain feelings and thoughts, they could unintentionally offend a classmate, causing an argument.

playing with the kids The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis

Prevent Bullying Before It Happens

It may seem daunting, but preparing your child to recognize and avoid bullying is possible:

  • Talk to your child: Do your best to explain why it’s wrong to mistreat others and offer examples of acceptable interactions. Role play can also be helpful if this is something your child is already using for support or as part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • Keep close to trusted adults: Have your child stay close to the teacher or other school staff at lunch and recess/free time.
  • Limit what your child brings to school: Valuables, money, and other prized possessions, which could make them targets of bullying, should remain at home.
  • Create a detailed schedule for free time: Structure is helpful for children with ASD and establishing a routine (ex. five minutes on the swings, five minutes playing basketball) can help in avoiding bullies.
  • “Buddy system”: Ask your child’s teacher if there is another classmate that can walk with your child to and from classes. If your child has a sibling at school or if the school employs security guards, discuss these other options as well. If your child has an aide, this is the easiest option and can be addressed at an IEP meeting.
bonding mother and daughter with ASD

How Teachers Can Prevent Bullying

Teachers of children with autism can also take some steps to help prevent and intervene with bullying. They should always follow school procedures set forth by administration if they exist.

Encourage the child to talk about what happened utilizing whatever communication methods work best (verbally, journals, drawing, etc.). Assure them that reporting is not “tattling,” and that this is an appropriate time to reach out to a trusted adult.

How To Help
When Your Child Is Being Bullied

In a perfect world, the preventive measures listed above would be 100% infallible. However, if your child is already being bullied, there are still some ways you can help:

conducting an ASD consultation at The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis

Talk to School Officials

Be vocal and get in front of the situation by making sure you let your child’s teacher, aide (if applicable), and the administrator know that your child is being bullied.

In addition to communicating this verbally, via phone call or by scheduling an in-person meeting, it’s important to make sure that this process is documented in writing so there is a timeline of events that both you and the school officials can reference as needed.

Mother playing with her daughter with ASD

Discuss it with Your Child

Use the methods of communication that work best for them, but don’t push the issue if it is upsetting.

If they are already talking about it, ask questions to gauge the situation. For example, did they hurt you on purpose? Is the other child bigger than you?

If they are reluctant to talk about it, ask indirect questions. For example, how was gym class today? Who did you sit by at lunch?

a group of children working on art projects at The Cardinal Center

Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Make Friends

One way to help your child make new friends is by making friends with parents who have children close to the same age as your child. If you live near a family of a child who goes to the same school as yours, explore carpooling opportunities to and from school.

You can also arrange after school play dates or host a weekend get together in an environment that your child feels comfortable in and that his/her peers will enjoy.

These opportunities can extend beyond school as well. For example, you can seek out autism-friendly activities in which your child can meet other peers that may not go to their school.

two adults talking about autism

Use Your Child’s IEP

Every child, whether they have ASD or not, deserves a chance to receive an education, but bullying can become a major obstacle in them receiving one. That’s why the first step is to make sure you get familiar with your child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

Procedures and supports listed by school staff in your child’s IEP can be a useful resource for how to help them deal with bullying. It can also be used as a preventive measure if addressed during an IEP meeting before bullying occurs.

Autism Treatments

Talk to School Officials

Be vocal and get in front of the situation by making sure you let your child’s teacher, aide (if applicable), and the administrator know that your child is being bullied.

In addition to communicating this verbally, via phone call or by scheduling an in-person meeting, it’s important to make sure that this process is documented in writing so there is a timeline of events that both you and the school officials can reference as needed.

Autism Treatment Cost

Discuss it with Your Child

Use the methods of communication that work best for them, but don’t push the issue if it is upsetting.

If they are already talking about it, ask questions to gauge the situation. For example, did they hurt you on purpose? Is the other child bigger than you?

If they are reluctant to talk about it, ask indirect questions. For example, how was gym class today? Who did you sit by at lunch?

Autism Schools

Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Make Friends

One way to help your child make new friends is by making friends with parents who have children close to the same age as your child. If you live near a family of a child who goes to the same school as yours, explore carpooling opportunities to and from school.

You can also arrange after school play dates or host a weekend get together in an environment that your child feels comfortable in and that his/her peers will enjoy.

These opportunities can extend beyond school as well. For example, you can seek out autism-friendly activities in which your child can meet other peers that may not go to their school.

Autism Schools

Use Your Child’s IEP

Every child, whether they have ASD or not, deserves a chance to receive an education, but bullying can become a major obstacle in them receiving one. That’s why the first step is to make sure you get familiar with your child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

Procedures and supports listed by school staff in your child’s IEP can be a useful resource for how to help them deal with bullying. It can also be used as a preventive measure if addressed during an IEP meeting before bullying occurs.

group of people in therapy for ASD

It Helps To Know You’re Not Alone.

At The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis, we believe the key to dealing with challenges is community and collaboration. That’s why we facilitate parent-led discussion in our Parent Support Groups, where you’ll have an opportunity to discuss topics relevant to your life and family.

Our confidential groups provide a safe space where you can learn how to navigate difficult situations such as bullying from other parents of children with autism and get the support you need for your children and yourself. To learn more about becoming part of the Cardinal community, give us a call at (919) 822-8802 at or complete our contact form to get in touch today.

group of people in therapy for ASD

Questions?

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