Bullying is an important issue for all pupils but children and young people with autism are particularly at risk.
A lot of people are unaware of the sheer size of the autistic spectrum and we’re all different, simply linked by the fact we have differently wired brains to the general lot. They think we should fit to their definition of autistic, and get angry when we don’t
Autistic Young Person
Disabled young people and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are significantly more likely to experience bullying - including online bullying - than their peers. Children who have learning disabilities and autism are particularly at risk.
This guide on Bullying and Autism: Developing effective anti-bullying practice has been produced as part of the United Against Bullying free whole-school anti-bullying programme funded by the Department for Education. It has been adapted from resources originally produced in partnership with the National Autistic Society (NAS) in 2014/15. This updated version was published in 2023 with contributions from the Council for Disabled Children, Kidscape Professor Peter Smith, and with support from the Ambitious Youth Network at Ambitious about Autism.
The views of the young people involved, and associated quotations, are included throughout.
Below we have highlighted some of the key findings in this guide:
- Bullying rates are always extremely high with some research finding it as high as 94%.
- It’s important to understand that autism can affect young people in many different ways. Having a good understanding of autism and neurodiversity is key.
- Understanding why autistic young people may be targeted, the types of bullying they experience, and that peers can sometimes deliberately provoke autistic young people if they have picked up on their sensory differences.
- The young people in our focus group reported that bullying made them feel lonely and isolated, have low self-esteem and poor mental health, and made them lose their sense of self. They also reported not feeling safe, not wanting to go to school, and not trusting teachers and adults.
- Studies have shown a huge increase in the number of school exclusions for pupils with autism over the last 5 years and that autistic pupils are twice as likely to be excluded than their peers:
▸ It is important that the breadth of the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 is well understood. Otherwise, schools may not see a pupil’s behaviour as being linked to the nature of their disability and may interpret it as naughty, disobedient, or a failure to follow instructions;
▸ Some actions are often perceived, by others, as bullying may result from social misunderstandings. It’s important for school staff to have a good understanding of how autism affects individual young people in their care, not jump to conclusions about what has happened, and really try to understand what lies behind the behaviour. A multi-layered, whole school approach is likely to be most effective in enabling each pupil with autism to engage socially and be better understood by other pupils.
People jump to their own conclusions about every little thing that they don’t understand about autistic young people
Autistic Young Person
The approach needs to be based on:
- improved autism awareness for everyone within the school community;
- increased understanding of the underpinning disability duties in the Equality Act 2010;
- a strong voice for pupils themselves;
- close partnership with parents;
- identifying appropriate support for autistic young people; and
- implementing effective bullying prevention and response strategies that address the most pressing autism-specific needs.