Anna Kennedy OBE tackles bullying in schools
Question: How can we stop the bullying of children with autism in our schools?
Answer: By raising awareness, offering playtime activities, and having parents and teachers communicate effectively with each other.
Bullying against children with autism is a major, widespread problem with many serious consequences.
“We conducted a national survey through my social website two years ago,” says Anna Kennedy OBE, founder of the autism charity Anna Kennedy Online. “Within weeks 900 families with children with autism responded. Of these families, 61 percent said that their children were being bullied at mainstream schools, and that bullying was affecting their child’s confidence, learning and ability to make friends as well as their family. More than 60 percent of parents reported that bullying had a negative impact on their marriage.” Most worryingly, the survey’s results show that 73 percent of mainstream schools do little or nothing address the situation.
Lack of awareness partly the problem
“After the survey, I approached the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). We placed the results on their website during autism week, plus facts and videos about bullying. They said that, during that week, they had the most hits ever from schools wanting to know more. This shows that teachers are hungry for information, so raising awareness works.”
Activities can help
Playtime is when children with autism are the most vulnerable to being bullied, so running lunchtime activity clubs could also help address the problem, according to Kennedy. “We conducted another survey asking mainstream schools what they do at playtime for children with autism and what they find works best. The results will give schools across the country ideas on how to help children with autism, which hopefully will inspire them to act.”
“The connection between families and the school should be strong. It’s important that teachers listen to the parents, because the latter are the experts on their children. “There should be a home-school book, where the parents write what kind of evening the child had as well as other relevant information. The book is handed to the teachers in the morning so they can write what happens during the day. So it’s almost a 24-hour curriculum.” Other useful interventions might include weekly meetings where parents and teachers update each other on issues that need to be addressed, as well as informing parents immediately if incidents occur.
“The good thing is none of these interventions is expensive or difficult to implement,” says Kennedy. “It’s all about people communicating, so that there is constant contact, which is really important. And it’s about parents and teachers ‘singing the same song,’ to prevent the child from getting mixed messages.”
Anna Kennedy OBE appeared on ITV London News recently to discuss the issues surrounding bullying, you can watch her interview here