Researchers say autistic children who are bullied at school often do not receive any help until the abuse becomes physical.
A study of 50 autistic primary and secondary school students by Bond University on Queensland’s Gold Coast has found 80 per cent of them have experienced bullying without their teachers knowing.
Dr Vicki Bitsika from the Centre of Autism Spectrum Disorders says it often takes a long time for a child with autism to realise they are being mistreated.
“They won’t pick up on the sarcasm. They won’t pick up on the mimicking or mocking, especially if they’re desperate for friends,” she said.
In many cases, Dr Bitsika says the bullying is only reported to teachers when it is too late.
“The bullying actually has to escalate to something physical,” she said.
Ben Haack is autistic and says his school years were marred by suffering.
“I went through a whole variety of mistreatment. I know I was peed on in grade one, I got bashed up in the toilets by my school football team,” he said.
Mr Haack, now 29, says he was not diagnosed with autism until Year 11.
Before then, he says he struggled to come to terms with why he was so different to the other kids in the classroom.
He says he would hide in the corner hoping he was not noticed.
Mr Haack says when the bullying turned violent, his teachers were forced to take action.
“Funnily enough, the reason why I got diagnosed was because I’d been bullied pretty well through all my time at school but then I started to fight back,” he said.
“It was at that point I think the school recognised what was going on.”
Dr Bitsika says the researchers have heard stories similar to Mr Haack’s many times before.
She says because autistic children may not have the verbal skills to report what is happening to them, teachers need more training so they can tackle the problem in its early stages.
Mr Haack agrees and says more awareness among staff at his school could have spared him a lot of pain.
“A bit more understanding and really listening to the kids that you’re involved in and really looking at what’s going on,” he said.