Bullying is thought to affect around 20% of school-age children - and those who are ‘different’ (because they have a food allergy or are on the autistic spectrum) are most likely to be the victims.
Below are some suggestions from a recent FAAN News plus a review of an excellent book by Nick Dubin on Aspergers and bullying.
More help in dealing with bullying can be found on the Childline website or on 0800 1111
Bullying is a deliberate, repeated physical, verbal or emotional abuse at the hands of another child and can lead to serious consequences including lowered self-esteem, depression, isolation, school avoidance and, in extreme instances, suicide.
Bullying is estimated to effect 15-20% of all school age children, but children with food allergy may be targets more frequently than others. A study of teens with food allergy showed at least 50% reported being bullied because of their food allergy. Such bullying can include taunting ( ‘Haha! I’m eating this and you can’t have any!’); provoking fear (‘You drank from the water fountain after I rubbed cheese on it!’ ) or physical abuse (throwing peanuts at a peanut allergic child or tainting a meal with an allergen).
Aside from affecting self-esteem and peer relations, or putting a child at risk of a reaction, a child with food allergies who is subjected to bullying may lose a sense of security in the school environment, thereby increasing fear and anxiety.
A few suggestions:
• Focus on the child, not the bully. Listen to your child and report the bullying to the school.
• Teach your child the difference between ‘ratting’ (to get someone into trouble) and ‘telling’ (to get help). Encourage your child to tell an adult about the bullying.
• Do not encourage your child to retaliate, which usually only makes the situation worse. Encourage them to stay away from the bullies, and if they do get bullied ‘keep their cool’ and just walk away.
• Do not, as a parent, confront the bully - this should be done by the school.
• Try and set up a ‘buddy’ system for your child or ensure that your child is with trusted friends at vulnerable times - at break time, on the bus etc.
• Try to ensure that the other children in the class understand about food allergy.
Courtesy of FAAN - US Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
Aspergers Syndrome and Bullying
Nick Dubin was not diagnosed with Aspergers until he was 27 but when the diagnosis came, it answered many questions - among them, why he had always been bullied at school.
Further investigation revealed that 90-99% of children with Aspergers were bullied at least once a week and were four times more likely to be bullied than their peers.
Unfortunately many common Aspergers’ traits (difficulties with multi-tasking, low frustration tolerance, motor difficulties, obsessive ‘special interests’, problems with reading non-verbal cues, auditory processing delays, gullibility and the odd use of language) make those with Aspergers ideal targets for bullies. But this does not mean that they have to remain victims and Nick Dubin offers a wide range of strategies to ensure that they do not.
These include ‘empowering the victims’: increasing self-esteem; finding role models; ensuring a safe haven into which to escape; involving bystanders as supporters; understanding the bullies; empowering teachers who often understand little about Aspergers and can all too often be, themselves, the bullies; and empowering parents to help their children and to educate the teachers.
Much of what Nick says relates specifically to Aspergers victims of bullying but many of his strategies are applicable to any bullying situation and would certainly be helpful for parents of allergic children who were being bullied. An excellent, enlightening and supportive book.
Asperger Syndrome and Bullying by Nick Dubin is published by Jessica Kingsley.
More articles on the management of allergy in schools
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