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Autism Awareness Even More Urgent During October, Bullying Prevention Month

Paul, April 2014, People's Academy

Autism Awareness Even More Urgent During October, Bullying Prevention Month


SPRING, TEXAS (October 17, 2014) – October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and the plight of autistic kids and bullying is at the forefront of national discussions. Bullying and autism played out on a national scale this fall when a Cleveland-area youth was “pranked” into taking what he thought would be the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Instead, several “friends” had filled the bucket with bodily fluids and tobacco spit. Celebrity Drew Carey put up a $10,000 reward for the identification of the teens, and on Tuesday, Oct. 14, five teens were charged with a range of offenses including disorderly conduct, delinquency and assault.


“The victim and five charged juveniles were and are friends and classmates. They regularly associate with one another and, at times, engage in distasteful and sophomoric pranks,” said Assistant County Prosecutor Duane Deskins, head of the office’s Juvenile Division. “However, this incident is clearly different. It crossed a moral and legal line, and even the five alleged perpetrators understand that and have expressed regret.”


Bullying has gained attention in the past few decades, and research shows that at-risk groups of kids, such as those on the autism spectrum, have an even higher prevalence of being bullied because they are perceived as different.


“People with special needs are often the target, and you’re five times more likely to be targeted if you’re on the autism spectrum. A lot of parents would tell you the number is even higher than that,” says Paul Louden, an autism awareness advocate from Spring, Texas, and co-host of the Understanding Autism radio show. “The student may not realize it’s out of the ordinary because they don’t have the typical cues and expectations.”


According to an Interactive Autism Network report published in May of this year, 63 percent of children with autism reported that they had been bullied in the past month, while only 12 percent of their siblings reported the same. According to the IAN report, as well as other nationwide figures, bullying peaks in the middle school years.


While children with Asperger’s Syndrome may often be higher functioning than others on the autism spectrum, 61 percent of Asperger’s children reported that they were currently experiencing bullying, while the numbers for kids with autism were just 28 percent. ADHD, depression, anxiety and defiance can add to the social complexities of children on the autistic spectrum as well. As Louden explains, each child experiences autism differently, and where a child may be able to identify behaviors that are wrong, others may need adults to sit down and explain appropriate behaviors time and again.


“For people on the autism spectrum, even typical social experiences that other people enjoy may be upsetting—hanging out with their family, for example—because of noise levels or confusing social cues,” Louden says. “Day to day interactions can be confusing—what is positive and what’s negative? Without people teaching you things and modeling positive behaviors, a child may not have the experience necessary to identify that they are being bullied. They may think, “This is what people do to have friends.”


Adult intervention and positive role models are key. According to a National Education Association survey, 90 percent of school staff members questioned believe it is their job to intervene when they see bullying, while only 46 percent had received training on how to do so, and only 39 percent participated in prevention efforts. Awareness campaigns give kids direction and modeling on how to deal with bullies, and give potential bullies an understanding and outlet for their antisocial tendencies. Both bullies and their victims experience a greater incidence of stomachaches and headaches, depression and anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.


“We talk about the benefits of mainstreaming, and usually focus on the benefits to the child with autism who gets to be in a class with neurotypical students,” Louden says, “But it’s also about exposing students to the range of how different a person can be and still be a person with opinions and expectations. We can model healthy behavior in the classroom by incorporating people with special needs in the classroom, and putting those interactions in a positive light.”


For more information on Paul Louden and Understanding Autism, visit