Why Autistic People are more likely to be bullied …


Anyone can become a victim of bullying, but it does seem that a disproportionate number of autistic people experience bullying at some point in their life.  There are a number of reasons for this, and most of them are to do with the psychology of the person doing the bullying.  There is something about autistic people that makes them appear to be `good victims` in the eyes of a potential bully.  Probably the simplest way to illustrate this point is to list a few of the key issues below so that you can get some idea of what I am talking about.

  • Autistic people tend to stand out from the crowd – one of the fundamental principles of autism is that if you have it you are not like everybody else around you.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and you don’t even have to be completely different from everybody, but the fact is most bullies will pick on somebody who is even slightly different.  This could be somebody who is fatter or thinner, or taller or shorter than average.  If somebody has autism they might communicate differently from those around them, or behave differently.  It might be something as simple as dressing in a particular way, for example, somebody I knew would wear a suit every day.  Or it might be talking in a formal manner in informal situations.  The fact that somebody is looking for a victim means that even the slightest difference will make a person with autism eligible for bullying.
  • Autistic people may not have as big a circle of friends to stand up for them as other people do – what I feel I have to make clear with this point is that I am not talking about everybody here – I am just using what I have been told by a lot of autistic people who have been bullied to make these points – it won’t be true for everybody.  But what some autistic people report is that as they struggle to make friends in school or the workplace, they are singled out within days of arriving somewhere as being that one person who hasn’t made friends yet; therefore if the bully is looking for a victim they won’t be looking for a group, but a mere individual.  This is the beginning of a vicious cycle.  Because they couldn’t make friends quickly enough they became known as that friendless person who gets bullied – and who wants to be friends with that person? Apparently no one, meaning that they are even more likely to experience further bullying.  Of course people should be able to go in to a certain situation and make friend s in their own time and their own way, but unfortunately it seems that a lot of schools and workplaces have social structures almost like prisons; if you are in a group you are much more likely to have people watching out for you, whereas if you are on your own you are much more likely to fall victim to bullying.  It should also be pointed out that people who do have good friends can also be bullied, but the majority of bullies will look for the easiest possible target.
  • A lot of people with autism are not able to read body language or other social cues, so it can be hard for them to read other people`s intentions – this obviously makes them much more vulnerable if somebody is planning to do something to them – perhaps luring them away to somewhere more secluded so they can be beaten up, or manipulating them in to doing something embarrassing, or illegal.  The person doing this might not even be that intelligent or good at disguising what their intentions are, and it may be evident to everybody else in the room – but if it goes completely over the person with autism`s head, then they instantly become a much more inviting target for anybody intending to bully.  People with autism may underestimate the severity of what another person is planning.  It is also possible that they may be manipulated in to thinking that the bully is their friend.  The cues that something is not right when they are being lured in to a certain situation: certain looks, laughs or remarks, may be completely missed.  This allows bullies to be able to manipulate autistic people in a way they couldn’t do with neuro-typical people.
  • Autistic people also tend to take things literally – this connects to the point above in that it makes them easier to manipulate – But what it also does is lend extra power to the words of the bullies – this comes in two ways: if somebody says `I`m going to kill you` most people assume it means they are going to get beaten up.  Now this isn’t pleasant in itself, but if the person with autism genuinely believe what people say to them, and they have to go in to school the next day thinking someone intends to kill them, then the toll that would take on somebody’s physical and mental health must be extreme.  To have the pressure of believing every single threat that is given by a group of bullies would put incredible stress on to an individual.  The person’s family, and their life may be threatened daily.  This might have the added complication of stopping the individual telling somebody about the bullying.  It would also make the experience even scarier for the autistic individual. The other way that taking things literally can make things more difficult is when it comes to on-line bullying; threats and verbal abuse are an unfortunately common part of people’s on-line experience.  But most people know that in reality the people at the other end of it do it for their own pleasure, and probably don’t feel one way or the other about the people they are sending these messages to; if the bully hadn’t come across that particular autistic individual then the messages would be sent to someone else.  I am not trying to say that this makes it easier for the victim, so imagine believing that every random insult thrown up by someone on-line was sent with genuine hate to you personally, then is it any wonder that some people begin to believe these insults and threats, and feel worthless or scared?
  • Sometimes, because autistic people struggle to understand how to fit in socially, they may do anything they feel is necessary to attempt to fit-in with their peers –Unfortunately this makes them incredibly vulnerable to those who simply want to tease them.  In their mind they might be part of a group and they are all having fun together, but in reality they are just the butt of the jokes.  This obviously isn’t the case in all friendships autistic people make, it is just something that can sometimes happen with a bully, or a group of bullies.  Because that desire to fit in can be so strong the autistic person may know that what they are being asked to do is wrong or embarrassing, but they may do it any way rather than go back to being ignored.  Now unfortunately this can happen with any type of social out-cast, whether they are autistic or not.  It is also possible that the autistic person may not know that they are doing something wrong or illegal, and also that they are not trying to fit-in because they want to make friends, but trying to fit-in just to stop the bullying.
  • Autistic people often give a better, more rewarding, reaction when bullied – now bullies like to hurt and manipulate people – this isn’t to say that they will be bad people all their lives, but in that moment they are causing physical and psychological pain to another human being – some do this because they enjoy the power it gives them over someone else, but most do it to see what reaction they can get from another person.  Somebody who is autistic may obviously be provoked to the point of a meltdown –which is just about the biggest reaction a bully can get.  They may wind the person up in subtle ways that will lead to the autistic person having an outburst, and being perceived as the bad-guy themselves.  The reason a lot of bullies, or former bullies give as to why they hurt people to provoke a reaction is that they were bored.  This doesn’t have any weight to it though, as there is really no reason to be bored in today`s society – the internet and mobile phones give us everything we could ever want at our fingertips, and yet some people choose to use this to bully.  People who engage in provoking these kind of reactions do so for their own enjoyment, and unfortunately autistic people often provide the best reactions.
  • Autistic people can struggle to ask for help with a problem because of their communication skills – maybe they physically can’t ask or tell because of an inability to speak? Maybe they are too scared and anxious to make an attempt at telling a teacher, co-worker or parent about what has been going on for them?  Maybe they believe the threats of the bullies, and don’t speak-up for this reason?  Whatever the reason is, autistic people can find themselves suffering in silence at any stage of their life.  People say tell a teacher or a parent, as if that solves everything – that`s fine but if you don’t know how to tell somebody, if you don’t have the confidence to approach somebody, if the idea of going up to someone and starting a conversation like this is almost as scary as being bullied, then what are you to do?  I am not offering solutions here, but perhaps it is better if the parents and teachers try to notice the problem themselves, and look out for it?  It is really important that somebody else knows what is going on and supports the person who is being bullied.

The above are just a few points that occurred to me when I began to think about why autistic people are more likely to be the victims of bullies.  I suppose what I did was put myself in to the shoes of a bully, and ask myself if I wanted to hurt somebody and get away with it, what type of person would I target, and why?  There may be other reasons, and not everybody who is autistic will be a target for bullying during their life.  I hope that the points I made above make some kind of sense to you.  I am sure I didn’t cover them all, and if any others do occur to you please comment below, and let me know what they are.  I also don’t mean to suggest in this article that only autistic people will be bullied, as bullying is a problem that can affect anyone in society.

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17 thoughts on “Why Autistic People are more likely to be bullied …

  1. Reblogged this on Sonnolenta… A Neurodivergent Journey and commented:
    I think this is an excellent list, no matter what age you are. I will be sharing this list with my 12 year old neurodivergent Son, for he has been experiencing quite severe bullying in school since he was only eight! The problems continued over three different years, two different schools, and four different teachers. Between the bullying and a long list of other reasons, I finally withdrew him from public school and we started homeschooling.

    We are now on our second year of homeschooling, and I am happy to report that my Son has never been happier, or more confident. He’s also learning a lot now that his sensory sensitivities are being respected. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but it’s amazing for us. My Son has started to develop his baking skills, spending many afternoons working on delicious recipes. He wouldn’t have a chance to do this if he was still in regular school. He also recently began participating in 4-H, and is looking forward to starting some new clubs after the holidays are over.

    1. Thank you. I hope it helps him and sorry to hear about the bullying. I was home educated from the age of seven so I know how good it can be. I think it gives a lot more freedom to do things that you might not get a chance to do if you stay in school. I hope it all goes well for you both.

      1. F### awareness, I’d rather have acceptance. After all, other kids being aware of my differences is what led to them bullying me, whereas acceptance requires accepting me as I am and helping me mitigate real issues such as not being able to tie my shoelaces until I was seven or not being able to wash my own hair to this day.

    1. We should raise awareness of bullying in school to prevent from long-term consequences (traumatical experience, anxiety, and low self-esteem).
      Ah, sorry. I was rather tired when I left my last comment and my dyslexia kicked in full force, meaning I skipped over most of your comment. You’re right, awareness of bullying (everywhere, not just in school) should be raised, but the causes behind it should also be investigated so they can be eliminated. In addition, acceptance of differences should be promoted so long as they aren’t used as excuses. That means no “He has ADHD so we shouldn’t teach him self-control,” but plenty of “He’s Autistic so he’s allowed to stim. After all, it’s not hurting you.” Simples!

  2. All too true.
    My son and I have both struggled with bullying over the years. Right now he is having a beautiful time where he feels free to be totally himself and that he belongs…maybe that’s the best time to share something like this with him, actually.
    Thank you.

  3. The problem for me as an Autistic person when it comes to being bullied is wondering what I did that caused others to want to hurt me. I try so hard to be perfect because life has taught me only neurotypicals are forgiven for their mistakes. No matter how much I apologize, beg for forgiveness, people just see my past mistakes as opportunities for hurting me.

    I read some neurotypicals think it’s fun to torment an Autistic person into melting down. Like Autistic people are toys instead of people to them. I’ve experienced this most of my life, people triggering my sensory sensitivities because making others suffer is amusing to them. They think the helplessness and despair that comes from being used is being oversensitive. That wanting to be safe is asking for an entitlement.

    Bully neurotypicals will lash out at anyone who holds them responsible for promoting the suffering of Autistic people. Taking full advantage of having better social skills to confuse and frighten Autistic people. Laughing when an Autistic person begs to know what they want to hear to make the abuse stop.

    I just was trying to stand up for Autistic children adversely affected by Disney parks new disability DAS program. I was bullied for suggesting they were people too. That they shouldn’t have to feel fearful at a Disney park. I got attacked for not thinking of how neurotypicals would be affected. It never seems to end.

  4. Hi, thank you for this list. I am autistic and have been bullied at school and later for a long time.

    Especially at school (Germany, 1980’s) I had to make the sad experience that neither my parents nor my teachers took me seriously. They thought it was just child’s play and didn’t recognize what it did to me.

    I told more than once what happened. First I was told that I should defend myself. When I did, I was told, oh no, I must not beat anyone (back) as girls don’t do that. Then, when it went of course on, I was told to ignore it. And yes, I had lots of meltdowns at school. The bullying stopped at last – but not because somebody interfered, but because everybody had to prepare themselves for the final exams …

    Bullying in workplaces was more decent as at school, but you can’t talk to the boss if the boss and colleages are both part of it …

    Greets from Germany

    1. Bullying is bullying, whether it be in the workplace, or in school. There’s no such thing as “decent” bullying. It just plain doesn’t exist, whether it be physical or psychological, either.

  5. I am a 31 year old female with high functioning autism. I have been bullied several times in my life even in school when I was school aged, and I also still get bullied even at work. I live in Toledo, Ohio. I moved here in the spring of 2008 to be around more family as I get older. My family has always been really good to me. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. At my job in Columbus, there were three girls who pretty much wanted to be alone together. They were basically pretty clique. I tried sitting with them at lunch a few times, but they said to me “No, don’t sit here.” And, I just ignored them, and pretended I didn’t hear them. I finally told them to SHUT UP. I didn’t respect their wishes. It was about something that happened to me out side of work (at home) that was bothering me. I am VERY musical. I sing and play the piano. At THAT time with the girls at work situation, I was upset that I didn’t get a solo part in my choir. I auditioned for some solo parts, but didn’t get any obviously because of the moving situation (moving from Columbus to Toledo). I WAS being VERY manipulative to those girls at work. Then a few crew leaders said to me I should NOT sit with them at lunch anymore, as they wanted to be alone. I admitted to those crew leaders that I did not respect those girls wishes and was manipulating them, and then I started to respect their wishes and sit at a different table. The crew leaders there knew what was bothering me, so they all understood.

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