Preventing Bullying of Students with ASD

Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month? In an effort to raise awareness around issues of bullying for students with autism, we’re honored to feature this article on preventing bullying of students with ASD by Lori Ernsperger, PhD, BCBA-D, Executive Director of Behavioral Training Resource Center, on some tips and information for parents on protecting their children from disability-based harassment in school. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

We have a nine-year old daughter with ASD who started 3rd grade in a new school. She is coming home every day very upset due to other students calling her names and isolating her from social activities. We wanted her to attend the neighborhood school but how can we protect her from bullying?

Answered by Lori Ernsperger, PhD, BCBA-D

Unfortunately, bullying and disability-based harassment is a common issue for individuals with ASD. As parents, you have a right to insure that the school provides a multitiered framework of protections for your daughter to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment and free from disability-based harassment. Start with educating yourself on the current legal requirements and best practices for preventing bullying in schools.

Preventing Bullying of Students with ASD

Recognizing the startling prevalence rates of bullying for students with ASD is the first step in developing a comprehensive bullying and disability-based harassment program for your daughter. According to the Interactive Autism Network (IAN, 2012), 63% of students with ASD were bullied in schools. An additional report from the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (Ability Path, 2011) surveyed 400 parents of children with ASD and found that nearly 88% reported their child had been bullied in school. According to Dr. Kowalski, a professor at Clemson University, “because of difficulty with social interactions and the inability to read social cues, children with ASD have higher rates of peer rejection and higher frequencies of verbal and physical attacks” (Ability Path, 2011).

In addition to recognizing the prevalence of bullying of students with ASD in schools, parents must also recognize the complexities and various forms of bullying. Bullying of students with ASD not only includes direct contact or physical assault but as with your daughter’s experience, it can take milder, more indirect forms such as repeated mild teasing, subtle insults, social exclusion, and the spreading of rumors about other students. All adults must recognize that laughter at another person’s expense is a form of bullying and should be immediately addressed.

Finally, recognizing the legal safeguards that protect your daughter is critical in preventing bullying. Bullying and/or disability-based harassment may result in the violation of federal laws including:

  1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112)
  2. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2008 (PL 110-325)
  3. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 (PL 108-446)

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), along with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), have written guidance letters to all schools to clarify that educational institutions are held legally accountable to provide an educational environment that ensures equal educational opportunities for all students, free of a hostile environment. Any parent can access and print these Dear Colleague Letters and distribute them to school personnel working with their child.

  • US Department of Education/Office of Civil Rights (October 2014)
  • US Department of Education/Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (August 2013)
  • US Department of Education/Office of Civil Rights (October 2010)
  • US Department of Education (July 2000)

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Pick of the Week: Bullying & ASD – The Perfect Storm – NEW from Autism Partnership

Work in Progress v6 Cover.inddBullying & ASD: The Perfect Storm – the brand new booklet and DVD from Autism Partnership – comes at a most important time. Recent school bullying and cyberbullying statistics show that:

  • 1 out of 4 kids are bullied
  • 77% of students are bullied either mentally, verbally or physically
  • Cyberbullying statistics are rapidly approaching similar numbers, with 43% experiencing cyberbullying
  • Of the 77% of students that said they had been bullied, 14% of those who were bullied said they experienced severe (bad) reactions to the abuse

Bullying is a real and pressing issue in our schools and online, and children with autism spectrum disorder are especially at risk. In the most recent volume of the Work in Progress Companion Series, Doctors Leaf, McEachin and Taubman explore not only the reasons that children with ASD are targets for bullying, but more importantly, they offer realistic and attainable strategies for kids on the spectrum.  

Several traditional methods of dealing with bullies are explored in this booklet and DVD, including avoidance, informing an authority figure, and fighting back.  In addition, there are strategies for educating and preparing the victims so that students with ASD can better combat bullying.  The included DVD features over an hour and 40 minutes of footage including advice from experts, one-on-one interviews with students, and real classroom brainstorming sessions where students with autism spectrum disorder are shown:

  • The difference between teasing and bullying
  • How to avoid the behaviors invite bullying, including determining the important difference between “cool” and “uncool”
  • When and when not to listen to peers
  • How to react to a bully

This week only, save 15% on the important new booklet and DVD – Bullying & ASD: The Perfect Storm –  by entering the promo code BLOGBASD2 at checkout.

*Offer expires on April 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.