Autism and Cyber-Bullying

by Eileen Parker

 

Cyber-Bullying-AutismAbby Fox wrote, “Cyber-bullying is using technology, such as the internet or text messaging, to post hateful material about another.  If you’re being cyber bullied, tell an adult or someone you trust. Don’t keep it inside. Don’t give in to cyber bullying. Stand up to it.” 

 

The National Autism Association writes, “Research shows children with disabilities are two to three times more likely be bullied than their non-disabled peers.”

This is a wonderful article on bullying with a section on cyber bullying, “A growing area for bullying is cyber-bullying in which Facebook, email, Twitter, and other forms of social media are used to spread unkind and often untruthful information about students. While social networking can be a great resource to connect people; it can and has been used in a harmful manner to ostracize and exclude others.”

Kevin Healey, ambassador for the National Autistic Society wrote, “Bullying has always been a major problem in autism. And now the digital age has taken it to a new level, with people with the condition being the easy target of threats and insults through texts, emails and social media. It’s called cyberbullying. And it may not be physical, like traditional bullying, but the consequences can be as dire.”

“It’s important not to engage with abusers. Rather, use the ‘block’ option on social media sites and mobiles, and report the problem to the police. Keep a record of login dates and times, and take screenshots for evidence.”

I imagine for children, teens, or adults, taking charge to stop the bullying can be empowering.  Schools are doing more and more to address the in-person or cyber-bullying.  Unfortunately, some people commit suicide or think about suicide that can be attributed to bullying.

On the Pacer Center website, they write,

  • There is a strong association between bullying and suicide-related behaviors, but this relationships is often mediated by other factors, including depression and delinquency (Hertz, Donato, and Wright, 2013).
  • Youth victimized by their peers were 2.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation and 3.3 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than youth who reported not being bullied (Espelage and Holt, 2013).

Cyber-bullying is a very important issue, for the effects, but also how easy it is to hide behind the internet to say things that an autistic person may never hear in person.

Here is a book, No More Victims: Protecting Those with Autism from Cyber Bullying, Internet Predators, and Scams, that may be helpful.  I haven’t read the book myself, so I don’t know how good it is, but it’s probably worth the read.

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TV AutismOccupational therapy isn’t a pill, or a cream, or a pinprick in the arm, so how can it be such effective medicine?

It has made a significant difference for me, a person with autism and the co-occurring sensory processing disorder (SPD). I still need more therapy, including a listening program to help with my awareness of my body in space.

What’s wrong with my sensory system being wired incorrectly, some may ask? It limits my life when I avoid activities I may like, such as talking in a coffee shop with a friend, going out for an evening with my husband, or opening the windows despite the assault of noise.

The sensory problem also isn’t safe.  My husband will say, “How did you get that bruise?”  I run into things and I have falls, some of which have caused injury beyond just a bruise.

The SPD also limited my work ability. I haven’t the balance to be a waitress. I can’t think in a cubicle with noise surrounding me. I would get quickly confused in a fast food restaurant with all the movement, smells, and sounds.

I was determined to get help at an occupational therapy clinic so I could live a fuller life.

What Helps Me

The Wilbarger brushing protocol is a big one, since I learned how to “scrape the senses away.”  The exercises on a trampoline playing ball helped, which seems like a simple thing, but it helped with visual assault, by having me focus on one thing at a time even though there were moving, talking, squealing children around me.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy at first.  Another one is the different types of swinging, which really affected my brain.  I felt so disoriented afterwards, but also more aware of my hands, my whole body, really.  I also learned things to do at home, such as balancing exercises.

A sensory problem isn’t treated with a pill; it’s treated by working on the sensory system, which is what occupational therapy does.

Exposure Therapy a.k.a. Suck it up Princess

When I moved in with hubby, the TV was a huge issue.  I found it next to impossible to figuring out what he was saying if the TV or music was on.  I am still the queen of the mute button.

He also drags me out places because exposing me to different sensory experiences helps my brain deal with them.  If I need to go or go to a quiet place for a while, he understands.  But, I also see the difference getting out does for me.  I am much better able to handle sensory confusing situations.

My sister is the one who uses the saying, “Suck it up, princess,” which means that don’t whine about it, you are not at the center of the universe, just do it whether unpleasant or not.  Maybe it’s just “I don’t want to.”

I am starting to look forward to our outings, as long as I know what we are doing in advance so my mind has time to acclimate.  And, it’s all because of exposing myself do sensory different situations.  The TV is not as much of an issue anymore.

Sometimes I have to “escape” in a hot hurry, but that doesn’t happen as much anymore.  Hubby holds my hand tightly for comfort and we go to a quiet place and sometimes go home.

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sad boy

I had to think hard about how to approach the topic of unsafe people with children and adults with autism.  I don’t want to give the impression that all autistic people are at risk of getting hurt by sexual abuse.  On the other hand, if an autistic child/adult has limited or no speech, it would be impossible to know.

Unfortunately, as a child, I had experienced it.  Since I didn’t talk, my mum wouldn’t have known.  I was a very passive, non-communicative child, so did the predator see me as an easy target?

Why don’t children tell?

“Children often feel a sense of guilt over the abuse, and they may also experience self-destructive thoughts or a loss of trust or self-esteem.”  Full article here.  This article is about all children, not only autistic children.

“Mansell, Sobsey, and Moskal (1998) note that the rates of sexual abuse for children with developmental disabilities are nearly two times greater than for typical children.”  Full article here.

From the same website are what to say if your child has been abused:

What can I say or do to help my child who has been abused?

Helpful things you can say to your child that will support them:

  • I believe you.
  • I know it’s not your fault.
  • I’m sorry this happened to you.
  • I don’t know what will happen now.
  • You don’t need to take care of me.
  • I am upset, but not with you.
  • I am angry at the person who did this to you.
  • You can still love someone but hate what they did to you.
  • I love you.

What can you do to keep them safe?

I don’t have the one single answer to that.  There are plenty of books and articles online that are helpful.

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In the movie, Good Morning Vietnam, as a disc jockey, the late Robin Williams did a ditty about a soldier in artillery saying, “Play anything, just play it loud!”  I’m autistic and I like it LOUD.  This should freak out an autistic person, right?

It goes like this:  If there are multiple sources of noise at a normal noise level, I get supremely agitated and cranky, and I want to escape.  I just want it to stop NOW.  But, if there is really loud music that drowns out other senses, I love it.  Love it, love it, love it.  Oh the joy of being able to revel in the focus of just one song.

It’s like that when hubby and I go dancing.  The loud music envelops my body like billowing silk and rubs my senses raw so I take in even more–of ONE thing.  And, he twirls me around and around, which for an autistic person is very relaxing.

Children don’t go downtown dancing, but as a child I did the same thing.  I found every excuse I could to twirl.  Wisely, my mother didn’t allow it in the house because I fell down once and hurt myself on a piece of furniture.  So I twirled outside and fell on the soft grass.

For sound, I remember playing my parents’ records over and over.  I memorized songs and album covers.  This sounds simple, and it was since we didn’t have TV in the house because it wasn’t available where we lived at that time.

Autistic children these days have TV, which is both a blessing and a curse.  They can revel in the same movie over and over again, or they can do something with the noise of TV in the background, which could produce a melt down.

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