Save as PDFDownload PDF

Bullying – How To Tell If Your Autistic Child Is Being Bullied

Bullying – How to tell if your autistic child is being bullied

This article by Gemma France offers suggestions on how to tell if your autistic child is being bullied.

autistic child bullied

Sadly, autistic children are at far greater risk of being bullied than their peers [1]. For all that we like to think of children as sweet little innocents, they can be remarkably vicious to each other. Autistic children are palpably ‘different’, and this can make them targets [2]. This is unfortunate enough – but many may also have problems in communicating the problems they’re facing to their parents and guardians. Here is a quick guide to spotting the symptoms of bullying in autistic children.


Many of us think that bullying is a simple case of physical abuse. In fact, there can be a lot more to it than that. Causing a child physical harm is certainly one form of bullying – but there are many others. Children may be bullied through name-calling, through social exclusion, through trolling on the internet [3], through the spreading of rumours, through theft, through deliberate humiliation, and many more methods. The ultimate aim is usually to drive home the ‘inferior’ status of the victim, and make the bully feel ‘superior’. Any form of bullying can have severe physical and psychological impacts [4] which may last for decades into the future. If your child is on the autistic spectrum, it may be that they are likely to experience difficulties when communicating themselves to the world at large as they get older. They certainly do not need these difficulties exacerbated by the psychological trauma of childhood bullying. It is thus imperative that any bullied autistic child gets help as soon as possible.

Spotting The Signs

It may be that you know that your child is being bullied before they do. Many autistic and Aspergic children have trouble with interpreting expressions and intentions [5], so may mistake a hostile or mocking advance for a friendly one. You may be able to see that your child is being made an object of mockery by their new ‘friends’, while your child remains blissfully unaware. This can be a tough call. For a start, it is too easy to become over-defensive of your child, and start micromanaging all of their social interactions for them. So called ‘helicopter parenting’ [6] – while undertaken with the best of intentions – may end up excluding your child from their social group more than simply letting them deal with the rough-and-tumble (both physical and emotional) which comes naturally with childhood friendships. On the other hand, if your child truly is being bullied by their ‘friends’ then it is only right that you should step in and help out. The issue is in interpreting what’s truly going on. Teachers and other adults who observe your child and their friends closely may be able to help. Otherwise, watch out for these common signs of bullying:

  • Frequent and unexplained cuts, bruises, burns etc.
  • The frequent disappearance of things like lunch money, phones etc.
  • Reluctance to go to school.
  • Stress, depression, mood swings.
  • A loss in confidence.
  • A loss in self-esteem.
  • Increased self-soothing behaviours (repetitive motions etc).
  • Increased obsessional behaviours.
  • Plunging into a ‘world of their own’.
  • A decline in schoolwork and other progress markers.

Of course, some of these things are not uncommon anyway for a child on the autism spectrum – and they may be simply brought on by the onset of puberty, a change in routine and so on. However, if any of them become pronounced, it may be worth talking to the school, daycare, clubs, or wherever your child goes to interact with others. Anyone who observes your child should be able to give you some idea of their social status with their peers. If you communicate your concern to the relevant authorities (e.g. teachers), they will be able to keep a closer eye upon your child, and spot more easily if things are going wrong. From there, the bullies can be dealt with in whichever way is deemed fit while – perhaps more importantly – your child is helped to process and cope with the otherwise potentially lasting [7] effects of being bullied.

[1] NATTAP Partners, “Bullying and Students on the Autism Spectrum”, Indiana University.
[2] Maia Szalavitz, “Why Autistic Kids Make Easy Targets For School Bullies”, Time, Sept 2012.
[3] Katherine Sellgren, “Cyberbullying ‘on rise” – Childline, BBC, Jan 2014.
[4] KwikMed, “Physical Effects of Bullying
[5] Interactive Autism Network, Asperger’s Syndrome: Problems Interpreting The Social And Emotional World”, Apr 2007.
[6] Hara Estroff Marano, “Helicopter Parenting – It’s Worse Than You Think

Editor’s note

Readers might also be interested in the article below by NVision on childhood bullying due to wearing glasses.



If you need support in getting a specialist independent placement for an autistic child or young adult, we will do our best to help. Click below for our Autism Schools and Colleges Placement Support Service.