Children on the autism spectrum at increased risk of online bullying

Children on the autism spectrum at increased risk of online bullying

Autism advocates have warned parents to be aware of the increased risk of cyberbullying while technology use increases during the coronavirus pandemic.

Spectrum Support chief executive Kathrine Peereboom said she had seen social media become a 'hot zone of angst, anger and abuse across the autism community' amid COVID-19.

"What I've seen happen on social media is horrific," she said.

"Parents with children on the spectrum and some autistic adults have been bullied and shamed and had the most awful things said to them.

"These online bullies are not only causing emotional harm, they are hurting the very people who are the most vulnerable and isolated in our community."

Autism Spectrum Australia data shows children on the autism spectrum experience more bullying than their peers and the victimisation associated with bullying can lead to low self-esteem and mental health issues.

These online bullies are not only causing emotional harm, they are hurting the very people who are the most vulnerable and isolated in our community.

Kathrine Peereboom, Spectrum Support

Bullying has also been identified as a major concern for adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum.

Ballan-based charity Keeley's Cause was started by teenager Keeley Murphy three-years-ago with a dream to provide iPads for children with autism or an intellectual disability.

 CARE: Ballan teenager Keeley Murphy started national charity Keeley's Cause, with a desire to help other children with their learning. Picture: Kate Healy

CARE: Ballan teenager Keeley Murphy started national charity Keeley's Cause, with a desire to help other children with their learning. Picture: Kate Healy

Keeley, now 16, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a young age and found using an iPad helped improve her learning experience.

Keeley's mum and Keeley's Cause director Sharon Murphy said Keeley had been a victim of bullying on social media in the past and it had a profound negative impact on her well-being.

"It can feel like there is nowhere to hide from the bullying when it is on social media," Ms Murphy said.

"The key is as soon as bullying happens the victim needs to block them and let someone in the family know it is happening, whether that is mum, dad, a sibling or a close friend.

"If you act straight away and block the person as soon as the bullying starts, you have a better chance to get on top of it than letting it go on.

"Taking that action empowers the victim too and allows them to make decisions about their own lives."

Children on the autism spectrum can have difficulties understanding and negotiating the social world and difficulties in communication. These are considered risk factors for bullying.

A lack of awareness and understanding about autism and school culture are considered external risk factors.

Resilience, having supportive friends and good self-esteem can help children on the autism spectrum avoid the negative impacts of bullying.

Ms Murphy said Keeley had developed resilience from her past experiences with bullying and now immediately blocked anyone on social media who bullied her.

Kids Helpline suggests children experiencing bullying should not bully back, tell bullies what they are doing is not okay and talk to a trusted adult.

Tips for parents to help their children are available at kidshelpline.com.au/parents/issues/cyberbullying.

Lifeline 13 11 12, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

This story Children on the autism spectrum at increased risk of online bullying first appeared on The Courier.