Autism Spectrum Australia

‘Researcher says : teachers intervene in bullying as little as 4% of the time’

  • Posted: 14/08/2017
  • Author: Thomas Kuzma
  • Comments: Loading.. .

Bullying is a significant and common problem for kids on the spectrum.  When you are an autism advocate, you meet many people on the spectrum who have been bullied; and yes, I’ve been bullied too.  

Bullying was the most cited reason for home schooling in research completed by Autism Spectrum Australia (Cheney & Bruck, 2016). As this problem becomes increasingly recognised there are people on the spectrum who are working towards doing something about this matter.

Image result for scrunched up paperStephen Mark Shore is a professor of special education at Adelphi University, a Plenary Speaker at APAC17, and is running a half day pre-conference workshop on bullying in the lead up to the Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Sydney.  He describes the impact of bullying on a person as like scrunching up a new piece of paper.

“You can take a piece of paper that is nice, smooth and everything then you scrunch it up into a ball and maybe squish it under your foot. After you have done all that, you can’t get it back to its original state”

The paper will always have the lines and marks on it. It is equally hard to undo the impact of bullying, Stephen says “to the person who is being bullied, you can apologise to them, you can explain to them why that may have happened but that person is forever changed.”

As I reflect about my life (in my book), I realise that being bullied wasn’t just something that ended with me proudly stating to the class “I am Aspie and I am Proud!”. Bullying had broken me to the point where I wasn’t able to defend myself later in life.

I worked for a studio in 2012 as their Multimedia Designer. I had a boss that said he would be understanding of my autism but in the end bullied me more than I could imagine. In these moments, I would no longer be the fully functioning adult I was, but the kid from high school who would flee to the library. Unable to fight back.

Stephen commented that, unfortunately, there isn’t much hard research on prevention of bullying, but that…

there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that if we can find commonalities between people that people tend to be more alike than different and if we foster those similarities, that can be a great help. Additionally, he says, having a climate that doesn’t tolerate bullying in school, work and wherever else, is essential.

“We need to recognize it for what it is and we need to stop it. It has to come from the adults in the situation”.

What about the old advice of standing up to the bully?

Stephen commented “This has never made sense to me because the key matter of bullying is an imbalance of power and why would ask the person with the least amount of power to be doing the most amount of work?”

Stephen mentioned some recent studies. US research reports that students on the spectrum were bullied 43.6 percent of the time. People on the spectrum can be easy targets. It can be hard for us to understand whether people are just having a joke or if someone is being genuinely mean.

The only times where the kids have not been bullied is when the father is the school’s principal. This felt pretty obvious because who would bully the child of the person who runs the school they are going to?

If we go deeper into the research we can find it more interesting and quite shocking. The Examiners asked teachers to rate “how often do you intervene when it comes to bullying?” to which the teachers reported they intervened around 70 percent of the time.

The research also observed the rate of teacher intervention in bullying in real life school settings.

Observations showed teacher intervention is shockingly low.

  • Observed teacher classroom intervention = 14%
  • Observed teacher playground or school bus bay intervention = 2% to 4%

This is obviously an environment that tolerates bullying.

In high school I was in science class, trying to get my work done when I had a classmate ask me “What’s that in your hand?”

I told her that it was a pen that my mum got from Poland. Another friend decided they wanted a look and I happily obliged. As the second class mate looked at it, one of the bigger bullies took it. I asked the bully to give it back.

Snap.

I was distressed, the pen had value to me, and he treated it like nothing. What really felt like a kick in the guts was that my science teacher was busy talking about her nail polish with female students.

If you are being bullied, please don’t feel like you’re alone in this matter. Bullying occurs on a regular basis, whether it be through race, gender, disability or sexuality and this doesn’t stop at the schoolyard.

If you see bullying happening, please do something about it...

But remember students that are reading this, you are not alone, you can do the following.

  1. See your parents/teachers
  2. Seek help with a therapist or a school councillor
  3. There are support lines you can call including Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636 and Life Line at 13 11 14

Thomas Kuzma, Engagement Officer, Autism Spectrum Australia

You can find out more about Stephen Shore here [link]

Stephen Shore’s APAC workshop is the 6th September 2017. More information here 

Cheney, L., & Bruck, S. (2016). Educating children on the autism spectrum at home: Experiences of families across Australia. Paper presented at the Aspect Autism in Education Conference, Melbourne, Australia

Statistics taken from "Perfect Targets: Perfect Targets: Asperger Syndrome and Bullying--Practical Solutions for Surviving the Social World" by Rebekah Heinrich (2003) Autism Asperger Publishing Co

This matter has come up previously on my blog which can be seen here.

Thomas Kuzma interviewed Stephen Shore in June. The animation was created by Callum Gurney, a volunteer working with Aspect and was edited by Asher Scobie, Aspect's Digital Content Developer. They are all on the autism spectrum.

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‘Researcher says : teachers intervene in bullying as little as 4% of the time’