target on your backThe New York Times and our own site reported earlier this week that young people who are autistic are far more likely to be bullied than other children. Why is that?

Autism falls under the category of pervasive developmental disorders, a group of disorders that manifest in delays or a lack of development of social and communication skills. We don’t know why these disorders occur. The symptoms of the disorder are the exact reasons that make young people with autism vulnerable.
The ability to read social cues – deciphering if you are being made fun of versus being told a joke, articulating thoughts and feelings into words and recognizing other people’s personal boundaries are just a few ways these symptoms manifest.

More specifically, the New York Times reported that students who are considered ‘higher functioning’ and thus integrated in mainstream classes are in the most danger

The children at greatest risk, it turns out, appear to be those who also hold the most promise for leading an independent life. The researchers found that the risk of being bullied was greatest for high-functioning children who end up not in special education programs, but in mainstream classes, where their quirks and unusual mannerisms stand out and they are more exposed to bullies.

Which makes sense – if you are the odd one out, it lays the ground work for a student with a propensity to bully to do so! The responsibility to keep integrated classrooms safe seems to fall on educators. Keeping our classrooms safe for our kids involves all adults – parent, teachers, nannies, coaches, etc – involved in our children’s lives to talk about diversity. Race, ethnicity, gender, learning styles and a whole host of diversity issue should be part of our every day discussions with our children.

Man with target photo available from Shutterstock