July 2013

Teasing + Autism

I’m actually not talking about “typical” kids bullying kids on the spectrum. No, I’m thinking about what happens when a bunch of little kids get together, specifically my group of 6-8-year olds, all on the “higher-functioning” end of the spectrum (which is, only to illustrate that they are very verbal, independent, etc.), and a behavior I see in them often is teasing each other. Now, by teasing I mean, “Boo, Peter!!” or “We don’t like Lily!!” but severe or not, they interpret it as the other child being mean to them, and they don’t like it. So, they are mean back. And the cycle continues.

I see two ways that I can address this, and help their caretakers address this. One way is to address the reaction — strengthen their ability to ignore, to self-advocate, to speak up and say they don’t like it, etc. That I’ve got down pat. But it’s the other way, dealing with the teasing behavior, that I’m thinking about tonight. I just sat down and tried to intuitively put myself into their minds and imagine what it’s like for them and what leads them to tease. What immediately came up for me was that they want to connect, they want to bond with another child, and it’s very easy to do that by teasing a third child. Conversations are tricky, pretend play is tricky, initiating games or activities is tricky, but saying “Boo, Peter!” helps them bond with the other teaser. If I’m right (and I’m not saying I AM right, or that this is a universal application, or anything like that), then maybe the way to handle this is to really solidify ways to connect with a peer — brainstorm things to say (e.g., “Wanna play a game?”) or laugh about (e.g., knock-knock jokes). Because if this IS the case, then the behavior is certainly serving a function. Eliminating the behavior, by just saying that teasing is not okay, doesn’t give them any replacement.

Thoughts? Ideas? Experiences? Please!

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