The three words no parent wants to hear from their child, ‘I’m being bullied’! The IAN research report found that a total of 63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives. After the shock and concern parents are often left wondering what can be done to help their children deal with bullying. Is there a way that using sensory toys can help them unpick the scenario? Parents have found play therapy with puppets helpful and learning mindful techniques to be helpful.
Toys that support recovery
Toys and games can help children with ASD deal with bullying, as a sensory toy can reduce anxiety, help with focus, and create a stimulating safe environment. Understanding that the anxiety created by bullying can be minimized is the key. Children sometimes become too afraid to seek help at school or at home. Some children are even intentionally ‘triggered into meltdowns’ or aggressive responses by a bully. Thus, it is vital that all children receive support to help them deal with bullying and its ramifications. Using a sensory ball, for instance can help calm the mind, and well made toys designed for auditory stimulation as well as tactile can reduce anxiety, frustration and stress.
Playing with a familiar toy that is designed to enhance the sensory needs of the child can be a liberating relief for the child who has been bullied. This play helps a child begin to understand the situation. Children respond positively playing with a puppet and can be supported by an adult so that together they can create a script or share a story. Drawing a picture about what the puppet did at school that day will assist children in their self-expression and equip them with the opportunity to understand a bullying situation and think creatively about ways to react.
Children need support, social stories and time to work through the trauma and injustice of what has happened. Many children with ASD find talking, making eye contact and interacting with an unfamiliar adult overwhelming. In some cases, the child may have communication problems that go deeper than just speech and language. In these cases, when the child cannot even interpret why another person would inflict unkind words or pain on to them using toys and play is invaluable.
Mindfulness does work
Children can recover from a bullying incident by learning to be mindful. Older children that are the victims of bullying are up to nine-times more likely to develop childhood depression. Learning to use mindful thinking can literally be lifesaving. Mindful programs have good success in helping children develop greater empathy and compassion for themselves by understanding different perspectives. A good mindful program will reduce bullying in schools. A study on mindfulness-based programs for children with ASD discovered that “their social communication problems decreased and their emotional and behavioral functioning improved”. Using coloring in books, that has been designed to assist children with special education needs, can foster mindfulness and is a useful activity. The added structure and raised print helps to calm children who are pacified or engaged by the sense of touch.
By Jackie Edwards