Stop Aggression Sign

Bullying, A Vicious Cycle for Teens and Adults with Autism

Hi, I’m Edie Brown. I’d like to share what makes me happy. Today’s blog? It’s about helping a teen on the Autism spectrum change how he deals with being bullied.

All I needed was faith and a great psych professor. I had them both.

Bullying…We folks in the Autism Community know all about it. We often think about little kids. What about teens and adults with Autism? It’s more common with age. Read on to find out what we can do about it.

Traveling in the Wayback Machine to when I was a special education teacher…

Wow! In my second year as a special education teacher, I was blessed to have the same caseload of students for two years in a row. Fernando was one of my favorites.

He worked hard and was not afraid to speak out for others in distress. Unfortunately, that opened him up to bullies. I watched, powerless, trying to stop it. I couldn’t find effective allies at school.

Students and teachers called him retarded, but he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Fernando was high-functioning, popularly classified as having Asperger’s Syndrome. His obsession with Super Mario Brothers made him strange in a Grand Theft Auto world.

Fernando was sensitive to the harassment that I faced as a Black woman. He took on my colleagues publicly, in spite of the repercussions. When he was in 7th grade, he confronted me.

“Why do you stay here?”

“I’m leaving,” I replied. “This is my last year as a teacher. I want to help kids with disabilities and I’ll never be successful in the classroom. I’m going to work where I can make a difference for kids like you throughout the world.”

Working with my Capella University psych professors, I carved out a career combining academics with psychology (academic therapy). I used their protocols to help Fernando deal with his most significant issue…he’s not retarded!

I encouraged him to write an English-class research paper on Autism. His assigment? Learn about his disability so he can educate others. We also used it as a springboard to write his Transition IEP. 

When I left Forest Oak, Fernando was a new person. He told his teachers that they were violating his civil rights by denying his accommodations. He stood up to his bullying peers, saying that Autism made him unique and special. He included a list of famous people on the Spectrum. Eventually, everyone left him alone.

It was a blessing to see Fernando flourish. Self-knowledge is empowerment.

What is bullying? 

Bullying is a systematic abuse of power carried out repeatedly over time (Samson, 2011). Social aggression exists due to an imbalance of power (Griffin & Gross, 2014). Most of all, the behavior is unprovoked. What can we do about it? Work together. Shake a hand, Shake a hand.

Students on the Autism Spectrum can stand out as targets by their peers. Their speech patterns are unusual compared to the norm. They are sometimes called spastic as a result of the lack of motor coordination. Their perceived behavior just makes them weird, Where does this information come from? High-functioning adults with Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome).

Adults with Autism: Their Perspective

A 2019 research project directed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) interviewed high-functioning adults with Autism. The results? 45% reported that they were victims of childhood bullying. More than 10% were involved in teasing, The impact continues into adulthood.

  • Explosive anger
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Victimization
  • Physical (headaches, stomach-aches)

People Stepping In

Most of the bullying takes place in school, at home, and in the workplace. Reporting can be misleading. Bullying doesn’t exist if no one reports it. Children with Autism are less likely to identify problems due to their lower communication and social skills. The same with adults. It’s up to leaders to support their efforts.

  • Create a safe place at lunch/break time.
  • Don’t let bullies get away with verbal aggression either (taunting, yelling).
  • Educate to get others on the lookout. 
  • Encourage observers to speak up (snitch).
  • Encourage adults on the spectrum to tell the entire story to someone they trust (friends, colleagues, parents. boss).


It’s essential to create a team to resolve bullying issues (NIH, 2019). Workplaces should establish consistent treatment and reconcile disability as an issue. 

The first step should be to sort out the situation and emotional connection. Set up a meeting between teachers, administrators, and parents. 

  • Make a plan before he/she arrives.
  • Identify an administrator/staff member to report bullying to.
  • Establish/maintain friendships (buddy system).
  • Work to develop social skills and play activities.
  • Define success.

Parent Involvement – At Home

45% of high-functioning adults with Autism report being bullied in their childhood. Schools haven’t been successful in protecting our kids. Look within. Identify the Top 5 people you trust as resources. Seek out support from people who treat you wonderfully and respectfully, Find some hobbies and make real friends. Consider therapy.

Research says that bullying has a severe and long-lasting impact on the victim. Make sure that they know that this is not their fault. Reinforce that they aren’t responsible for fixing things. 

…Are you?

Copyright © 2023 by Edna Brown. All Rights Reserved.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.