Lisa deFaria, LCSW, BCD, Director, Family Center for Developmental Therapies, CA, Monica G. Osgood, Executive Director, Profectum Foundation; Co-Founder & Executive Director, Celebrate the Children School, NJ, and Karen McDowell, BA, Lead Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Children and adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder or other special needs are frequent targets of peer harassment – “bullying” – both at school and in the community. Core challenges in the areas of social communication, reading and adapting to social cues, vulnerable sensory and emotional regulatory capacities, even idiosyncratic areas of interest contribute to their peer’s perception of the ASD individual being “different,” and therefore vulnerable. Since bullying often begins as early as preschool and accelerates in intensity and complexity as the child ages – intervention requires a developmental framework, sensitive to each age and stage. Utilizing video and discussion, the presenters will explore how a focus on individual empowerment, experience-driven and in the natural environment, may improve awareness, communication skills and the ability to self-advocate appropriately, to build resilience in the child. However, presenters will also discuss the equally important role of community education and understanding, inspiring a culture that tolerates differences, while mandating a “zero-tolerance” for bullying across the domains of school and community.
Participants will be able to:
- Define the meaning of “bully” – or peer harassment – as reflected by age and stage
- Describe how bullies are created – as are victims – culture, community, school, educators, parents and peers – we are all complicit
- Identify key differentials of the bully-victim dynamic when the targeted child or adolescent has special needs
- Describe how the individual with special needs may unwittingly contribute to their victimization, including: misinterpreting social cues; black and white thinking; misunderstanding humor; poor perspective taking or “theory of mind;” unaware of social hierarchy; and lack of “filter,” knowing how much to say, what and when not to.
- Identify the six primary proactive elements of intervention:
- Creating school-wide “bully-free” zones
- Maintain a culture of zero tolerance for bullying reinforced across grade levels
- School wide peer sensitization, plus tools for peers to intervene
- Establish well-articulated consequences, as well as help, for the student that victimizes others
- Enhance the social intelligence of the individual with special needs
- Empowering the victim to advocate for themselves and how to do so appropriately.