Students with autism can miss social cues and sometimes not know that they’re being bullied, so they often benefit from guidance in things like how to interpret facial expressions and body language or how to recognize sarcasm or insincerity.
But what about “neurotypical” kids? An article on EDWeek.org, “Autism Issues Complicate Anti-Bullying Task,” reports that “while social-skills training is commonly a part of the individualized education program, or IEP, for students with autism, such instruction should not be limited just to them.”
Kids who don't have autism, particularly kids who are neurotypical and who bully, also need to learn social interaction skills. Teaching all students empathy is key to helping them communicate in a healthy way. According to Dr. Terry Ehiorobo, a school principal and education professor, putting themselves in their victims' shoes can help kids who bully stop hurting others. In “Bullying in School,” Ehiorobo points out that reflective interviews can help kids who bully think about how their actions affect their victims.
When dealing with bullying situations, Ehiorobo first meets alone with the students who are doing the bullying and asks them to reflect on their behavior. He then has them meet in his office with the students they've bullied. “Making things right with the victim lessens the bully’s sense of power and control over the victim,” he writes. “This process also allows me to empower the victim and provide him with new tools of confidence and assertion.”
In his Empathic Educator blog post, CPI’s Gary Weber talks about the importance of teachers, support staff, and administrators being empathic too. Gary shares an empathy quiz you can take, which was developed by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, and he offers his own educator-specific empathy quiz.
Gary’s Empathic Educator quiz can be adapted for students too. To help those who bully think about their actions, ask them to respond to statements like:
- I can easily tell how someone in my class is feeling.
- I’m quick to spot when someone feels awkward or afraid or uncomfortable.
- I can sense how my behavior affects the feelings of someone else.
- I consider the points of view of others and I adapt my actions to their perspectives.
- When someone is sad, frustrated, angry, or emotionally hurting, I’m eager to help.
A big part of reducing bullying is helping kids who bully understand how other students feel and how to treat them with care and sensitivity. Programs like Remaking Recess and Second Step can help kids of all abilities engage socially and respect each other’s perspectives.
Staff training is also important. Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training teaches staff skills for using a supportive, empathic approach to preventing and de-escalating disruptive behavior. Plus, if you’re a Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor, you can conduct Bullying Behaviors refreshers in your school or district.
Learn more about helping students replace problem behaviors with positive behaviors.