The advent of the internet has been an incredible boon for kids and teen with Asperger’s – it’s a place where they can go where they want, communicate at their own pace, and enjoy time away from the stresses of their normal life.
Unfortunately, it’s also a place where bullies can reach them – especially those from the child’s school, who often deliberately seek out vulnerable teens online to harass them.
What Is Cyberbullying: What’s Going On?
People with Asperger’s often have great difficulty with understanding alternate “typical” points of view. Now, it’s widely understood that people who live with this syndrome have trouble in normal NT (neurotypical) conversations because they don’t always understand the feelings and expressions of others… but what many people still haven’t realized is that online communications can have just as many ‘hidden’ layers of meaning that can mark people as outsiders.
Every forum and social network has its own unique cultural – a set of behaviors and expectations for how members will interact with each other. People who violate these rules tend to be reported and banned, but the codes aren’t immediately obvious to people with Asperger´s. It’s not unknown for members to gang up on anyone who doesn’t seem to fit in – much like a digital version of claiming a playground and driving away any child who doesn’t seem to fit in.
In short? If their time online has a social component, children with Asperger`s could still be bullied. Let’s look at how to stop that.
Understanding the Context of Cyberbullying
Most forms of cyberbullying can be broken down into three categories.
1. Random Cyberbullying: This is most common on social networks and forums that have many people with diverse viewpoints. Here, the bully only wants to make others feel bad, and will often send hate-filled messages from anonymous accounts.
Asperger Strategy: Report the user, then block all further communications from them. It may help if the child can be taught to view these messages as inconsequential – if they don’t assign value to the other person’s opinion, they won’t be nearly as bothered by it.
2. Contextual Cyberbullying: This usually happens as a result of the person with Asperger’’s actions. People may object to comments they wrote and decide to try to harass them into leaving.
Asperger Strategy: Identify the comment(s) that sparked this behavior, and talk to the child about why people reacted the way they did. Place an emphasis on the context of the conversation, and explain that other people may have had a different experience than your child. Once this possibility is acknowledged, the person will usually be much more understanding – indeed, they may even become friends.
3. Targeted Cyberbullying: This is by far the worst type of cyberbullying that people with Asperger’s can face. In most cases, it happens because other children they know – typically classmates – decide to find them online and start harassing them. The nature of the internet means that this is easy to do, and it’s even easier when the victim willingly gives out their contact information. They really might, too, especially to anyone posing as their friend.
Asperger Strategy: Learn to take control of the situation and block these users from future harassment. The best thing to do – besides blocking them – is ignore them and refuse to respond. Children and teens with Asperger’s have one major problem in this regard – they don’t like asking for help when dealing with a problem.
To make this easier for your child, try creating a flowchart of situations and appropriate responses. They can use these to make sure that they react the correct way to each kind of situation – and the flowchart should always include regular points asking if the flowchart still applies. If not, it should instruct them to talk to you and explain the situation in more detail. Merely knowing what to do next can help stop people with Asperger’s from continuing to be victims – and the more they learn about control away from bullies, the safer and happier they’ll be.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome need more help than most, and it may be worth understanding how to actively and passively monitor them – at the very least, you should be sure they know how to react to unexpected situations before you allow them unsupervised access to the digital world.
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.