Case Study EF (School Life/Bullying)

EF is a fifteen year old girl who attends a mainstream Post Primary School. She has a diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Background

EF is a fifteen year old girl who attends a mainstream Post Primary School. She has a diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

EF was bullied at Primary School and was anxious that this would reoccur in her new school. However, EF often misinterpreted her classmate’s behaviour as bullying. She was referred to the Centre due to concerns of high levels of anxiety, low self-esteem and peer interaction difficulties. EF was also due to transfer to a Senior School during the time of referral.

As EF had experienced incidents of bullying in the past, this resulted in her being wary of her peers, and at times, she tries to avoid them. At other times, she would try to initiate interaction, but would often do so inappropriately. EF was socially isolated within school resulting in her spending break and lunch times alone. EF reported that she wanted friends but did not know how to make, maintain and repair relationships. Her strengths lay in her care and concern for others, her imagination and her sense of humour.

Within her class, many pupils expressed a desire to include EF, but were not sure how to do this. However, some of her peers have discovered that they could evoke a reaction in EF, by saying things, or making noises, which they knew she would find distressing; resulting in her, leaving the room, or shouting in the classroom. Some found this reaction to be entertaining and the frequency of such behaviour was increasing.

Areas of Difficulties

  • Initiating conversation with peers.
  • Misunderstanding social interactions with peers as bullying, which caused distress.
  • Coping with unfriendly peers who called her names.

Strategies

  • EF undertook training on how to correctly identify bullying and what to do if she was not sure. This included role plays, video examples and written information. The aim was for EF to be able to distinguish between bullying, a mistake, an argument and a “mean moment.”
  • A step by step guide for dealing with bullying was developed with EF. This included a ‘bullying report’ which she could complete and discretely give to teachers. The aim of which was to lower anxiety that bullying attempts would be promptly dealt with.
  • EF received instruction on “safe zones” within school where she could spend her lunch time while being supervised.
  • EF’s peers undertook a peer awareness lesson about autism. This focused on the strengths and needs a peer with autism may experience within school. During this lesson, bullying and its different forms were covered.
    • In particular, it was important to highlight one type of bullying which is common among individuals with autism: social experiment. This involves peers engaging in behaviour to see what impact or reaction they can evoke in a young person.
  • A number of pupils in her class were identified as ‘peer buddies’. Their role was to check in with EF to make sure she was ok. (The National Autistic Society has a range of useful information on peer support and more)
  • EF was provided with support around specific areas of social difficulties. It was essential that when this took place, it was to educate EF around her social choices rather than to imply that these difficulties were the reason she had experienced bullying. The following areas of social difficulty for EF were identified,
    • Tendency to repeatedly say other students’ names to get their attention.
    • Interrupting other peers’ conversations
    • Sitting at tables at lunch time with peers she did not know.
    • Making accusation to her peers of bullying.
  • A number of strategies were used including
    • Social stories
    • Role plays
    • Prompt cards.