Bullying has become a heated issue of debate among the autism community. When assessing specific types of disabilities, bullying prevalence rates differ: 35.3 percent of students with behavioral and emotional disorders, 33.9 percent of students with autism, 24.3 percent of students with intellectual disabilities, 20.8 percent of students with health impairments, and 19 percent of students with specific learning disabilities face high levels of bullying victimization (Rose et al., 2012).
According to TIME Magazine; “Many people with autism have trouble recognizing social cues, which makes them awkward around others. They also often engage in repetitive behaviors and tend to be hypersensitive to environmental stimuli, all of which makes kids with the disorder ripe targets for bullies.”
However, the bullies are not always other children. From the Courier Mail; “More than 44 percent of bullying cases against students with autism examined by the Autistic Family Collective were found to have been started by the students’ teachers and other school staff.” What are some ways to combat this disturbing trend in behavior?
One suggestion is for parents of children with autism to practice emotional connectedness. Emotional connectedness is the state of being appreciative of and “in-tune” with the feelings, experiences, and perspectives of others.
The practice of emotional connectedness requires changing interactions to active questions, set in a more positive tone with a focus on progress. It is less stressful and thereby produces less cortisol for everyone—parents and children. Cortisol is the hormone in our bodies that becomes elevated when we are stressed.
It can change neural pathways over time and prevents neural bundling (connecting the two sides of the brain). Changing neural pathways and reducing neural bundling can also lead to lower myelin sheath levels. Children with autism tend to have lower myelin sheath levels than those who are typically developing. Myelin sheaths are vital because they are the cover for neurons in the brain and help perform tasks and submit signals efficiently.
Scientists have recently observed that the fewer myelin sheaths an individual with autism has, the more difficulties he/she will have with social interactions and daily functioning. In children with autism, who often already have diminished neural connections, increased stress only harms their development. It is reasonable to assume that active questions promote more neural bundling and pruning, eliminating unproductive neural connections in a neurotypical child’s development process.
Developing emotional connectedness requires vigilant work in practicing self-awareness for parents. When using active questions, we ask ourselves and others: did I do my best today to…
- Help my child find a safe place when he/she was feeling or acting atypically?
- Provide teachers with an understanding of my child’s trigger points?
- Fully understand how my child experienced interactions with “typical” children?
- Find ways to advocate for my child?
- Ensure my child felt safe to communicate with teachers and fellow students and to actively participate in class?
After 79 studies with 2,537 participants, author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” and “Triggers,” Marshall Goldsmith created the list of six Active Daily Questions. In every study participants were asked to use the active daily questions at the end of each day. After two weeks, 37 percent of respondents said they were better at everything, and 65 percent said they had improved on four out of the six questions. Only 12 percent didn’t change.
Click here to find out more
Active daily questions should be posed at first by the parent. Then, the questions should be directed toward the child as an activity to build self-awareness. The question process will also assist with external validation of positive daily practices.
Because of the focus on positivity, active daily questions form a deeper emotional connectedness between parents and children, enabling a greater amount of connection and performance in school and outside the house. With this increase of emotional connectedness, it is reasonable to suggest the bullying behaviors mentioned above are far more likely to reduce over time.
Bullying Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2018, from http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/stats.asp
Colamarino, S. (2012, July 25). Cure Autism Now Science Summary: The White Matter Story. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/initiatives/brain-development-initiative/white-matter-story
Dialogue Review. (2016, October 31). Six daily questions for winning leaders. Retrieved March 11, 2018, from http://dialoguereview.com/six-daily-questions-winning-leaders/
Hill, J. (n.d.). Marshall Goldsmith and the 22 active questions before bed. Retrieved March 11, 2018, from https://www.thenational.ae/business/marshall-goldsmith-and-the-22-active-questions-before-bed-1.130916
Szalavitz, M. (n.d.). Why Autistic Kids Make Easy Targets for School Bullies. Time. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/05/why-autistic-kids-make-easy-targets-for-school-bullies/
Yandell, K. (2014, September 24). Method reveals thin insulation on neurons in autism brains| Autism Research News. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://spectrumnews.org/news/toolbox/method-reveals-thin-insulation-on-neurons-in-autism-brains/
Zoia, R. (2017, January 4). Triggers. Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be. By Marshall Goldsmith. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://zoia.org/2017/01/04/triggers-creating-behavior-that-lasts-becoming-the-person-you-want-to-be-by-marshall-goldsmith/
This article was featured in Issue 95 – Managing Autism Together