As we approach National Anti-Bullying Week (Nov 14th – 18th, run by the Anti-Bullying Alliance) I would like to bring your attention to a really shocking situation that now exists in mainstream schools across Britain and I have prepared the following information from a recent survey which highlights the terrible plight of children with Autism who are being bullied in our schools on a daily basis, simply because of their condition.
Despite facing tremendous difficulties children with Autism can, with care and specialist support, really blossom and develop to fulfill their potential. You will recall James Hobley, an 11-year-old who suffers from autism, who grabbed the nation’s attention recently when he entered ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent show and performed dance routines to rapturous response over many weeks. James eventually came 8th in the competition. I have met James and he told me the heart-breaking story of how he was bullied regularly at his local school, which of course was not equipped to deal with children with Autism. He explained how he was tormented, both physically and mentally, and despite appeals to teachers none of them took notice so the torture continued. Eventually, James plucked up the courage to tell his parents and they acted swiftly to have him moved to a new school where teachers were more understanding and awareness of the issues involved. Ironically one of the reasons James was bullied was because he was into dance and the other kids teased him about his hobby.
I have recently conducted a national survey of over 900 parents of children with Autism in Britain and……..it reveals that over 60% of children with Autism have suffered from bullying at mainstream schools and the problem is being largely ignored.
Of those questioned, 61.0% reported that their child had been bullied at school as a result of their Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). Even more disturbing was the fact that schools are simply not addressing the problem with 73% saying it had either been ignored or was poorly handled.
The startling survey results also reveal that a huge 93% of parents believe their children’s progress at school has been seriously affected, and 96% saying that their child’s ASC makes them much more vulnerable to bullying and teasing by other children.
It seems that parents of children with ASC are fighting a constant battle as they try to get a good education for their offspring and also protect them from some of the harsher aspects of everyday life in today’s schools- 89% of the survey sample said that their children found it difficult to mix with their classmates out of school hours.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in every 64 children now has some form of ASC in Britain and this latest survey suggests that the problem has been growing for some time with 88% of respondents saying they believed the number of children and adults with ASC has increased significantly in the last decade.
The research also revealed that having a child with ASC can put a real strain on a couple and other members of the family. 74% said that having a child with ASC had a negative effect on the parents and other members of the family and 65% said there was a negative effect on their marriage or relationship.
I believe this is a national scandal. This survey makes such depressing reading and shows that the problem of ASC is getting more prevalent in Britain and as a society, we are not doing enough to support children and their families in this situation. The results also confirm the tremendous strain this condition places on parents who need special carers and educators to help with their children.
The Government must not ignore this problem because it is not going away and is getting worse. We must increase the number of special needs schools or facilities within mainstream establishments if we are going to tackle it effectively.
Gladly there are people such as Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine and the patron of the school I founded for those with Autism, Hillingdon Manor School, who are campaigning for a better deal for all children, and particularly those with special needs. When I spoke to Esther about the results of the survey she was truly shocked and said the following….
“ This is awful. We simply must do something to stop the pain and misery of children with Autism being completely overlooked in mainstream schools and being systematically bullied. If we are a caring nation then we must recognise that children with Autism need special care and education and if they don’t receive it they are at the mercy of a harsh and unsympathetic environment where they are likely to be bullied on a regular basis – this is bad enough for any child but for one with Autism it really is a nightmare!”
I realize the Government is cutting back on everything at the moment but this problem is a real time bomb and if we don’t address it now we will have a growing generation of adults who are unable to integrate with or contribute properly to society. If we don’t do something now we will face much higher costs in the future when we have to care for those with ASC.