Recognizing Bullying in Autistic Teens with Social Struggles

It can be hard to recognize if your autistic teen is being bullied at school if you expect them to report social struggles. Autistic teens with social struggles may also be less likely to understand that they are being targeted and may believe they’ve chosen to withdraw. As they may have a hard time understanding sarcasm and other social subtleties, it is also possible that they are more likely to overreport bullying by peers who may have disagreed with something they said or made a joke about something they are sensitive about. 

Common Social Struggles in Autistic Teens

Teens with autism often consider themselves outsiders. They are more likely to prefer their own company or struggle to relate to the social complexities of their peers. They may experience social anxiety around big groups or saying the wrong thing in front of others and being judged for it. 

It is not uncommon for teens with autism to have one or two friends that they hang out with occasionally, but struggle with meeting new people or hanging out in bigger groups. They may also be less likely to initiate plans and prefer socializing online. They often connect with people who share similar special interests and are better at socializing through activities than holding two-sided conversations. 

Throughout adolescence, they may experience increased social struggles as social rules and friend groups change. As they have a difficult time adjusting to new routines, they may have a hard time accepting that their friends’ interests are changing or that they are expanding their social circle. Teens with autism are often loyal friends but struggle to understand that some relationships change without any explanation.

When Does it Become Bullying? 

Some signs your teen is being bullied might include:

  • They come home with damaged or missing belongings
  • Doesn’t want to talk about their day at school
  • Has unexplained injuries or physical complaints
  • Has few, if any friends, with whom they spend time
  • Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers
  • Finds or makes up excuses as to why they can’t go to school
  • Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
  • Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home
  • Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
  • Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem

As many of these signs may not seem atypical for your autistic child, like not wanting to talk about their day, experiencing anxiety, or being socially withdrawn, it is important to keep a close eye on any sudden changes in behavior that might indicate they are being bullied at school. 

Sometimes, it is up to you to start conversations about what bullying looks like and how to advocate for themself if they are being bullied. While it can be helpful to bring up specific questions so that they understand what information you are trying to gather, it is also helpful to be vague about your concerns by talking about features of healthy relationships and developing social skills.

Why Do Teens with Autism Often Stay Quiet About Bullying?

Trouble with communication and social cues can make it hard for teens with autism to express the situation to adults that could intervene. 

It’s also possible that they may not pick up on the fact that they are being bullied. Some bullies target people by being really nice to them and then taking advantage of the relationship by saying or doing whatever they want. They may feel like having someone they can sometimes talk to, that has more social status than they do, or that claims they would protect them from “other bullies” is worth the negative side of their relationship.

Another reason is that they may feel pressured to not tell anyone. If they’re already struggling to fit in, the thought of telling someone and bringing attention to the situation could be extremely frightening. Because of this, bullying teens with autism can continue to happen uninterrupted. 

Recognizing the impact of your teen’s social struggles on their mental health can help them get the support they need and develop healthier relationships.

New Focus Academy Can Help 

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related social struggles. Our professionals understand the intersection and overlap between these issues and follow a holistic approach in addressing both at the same time. The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have more positive social interactions, feel more organized, and gain a clearer sense of judgment that minimizes anxiety when stressful situations occur. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits.

For more information about social struggles in autistic teens, call us at (844) 313-6749. We can help your family today!

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