Autism and anti-bullying speaker event

With Dr Emily Lovegrove, psychologist, lecturer, author, and leader of workshops on anti-bullying strategies, working mainly with autistic children and young people.

ESPCF was delighted to welcome Dr Emily Lovegrove as the guest speaker at our event on autism and anti-bullying strategies on Thursday 26th November 2020. The session was open to all parent carers in East Sussex. This summary is a reflection of the discussions at the event. All personal details have been removed.

"It was lovely to hear from someone with academic knowledge combined with her own real world experience. It made it very relatable."

"I felt that now I may be able to help my son through his difficulties with friendships."

"I loved how deep Dr Lovegrove delved to help each person who asked a question. She really is caring and her knowledge is priceless."

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Emily began the session with a brief explanation of her background and work, and for those interested you can find out more about this on her website here The Bullying Doctor – Defusing bullying and raising self-esteem.

The focus then turned to the key questions of how do we raise self-esteem and start to feel ok about ourselves? Emily explained that anyone is capable of bullying and we have all probably felt bullied at some stage – it doesn’t matter if the experience doesn’t fit the ‘criteria’ for bullying (for example, it must be deliberate); a passing comment can be as devastating as a violent act and provoke similar physical reactions.

What to do first?

Try to put yourself back in control; as parents and carers, our job is to make our children feel hugely better about themselves. Emily advised that standard responses to bullying are not solutions:

  • ignore it and it will go away - if you can’t do this, you feel a failure for not being able to follow the advice you were given
  • fight back - you might be a gentle child and not want this, or if you do lash out in response you will get in trouble
  • tell someone - kids know there are ramifications to actually telling people

What are the strategies to help cope?

Emily talked about ways to help children to ground themselves and said that there are various ways to help achieve this, such as breathing exercises and different forms of meditation (Emily stressed that the latter did not need to be long periods of silence; simply a minute or two of quiet time, at an appropriate moment, is a good start).

Being able to generate positive thoughts can help you to feel calmer, more positive and less aggressive.

Collaborate and practice breathing and meditation exercises together (and recognise that these can’t be done during a meltdown).

Adults can model their behaviour and show children what they are doing – demonstrate how to take a few moments to be calm and switch off your brain – and show your child that you are learning and practising.

Q&A

Q) Can and should other children be advocates for others with differences?

A) Don’t make your child a rescuer: we show support, make offers to play, and be friendly.

Q) What if a child doesn’t recognise they are being bullied?

A) This can be really difficult. Try to know the rules of bullying: just because everyone laughed doesn’t mean it was funny. Encourage your young person to join groups. Build up confidence and self-esteem. Autism has aspects about it that make social situations challenging and it’s easy to miss social clues – which is why it is important to explain the differences: your brain functions in a different way and you are a perfectly normal autistic person.

Q) How can you boost your child's self-esteem?

A) What are they good at? What do they enjoy? Identify positive words about themselves – think about their skills, interests, personality, and appearance.

Q) What if my child wants to join a gang – is there a risk they might become the bully?

A) Think about family values – if at home your child knows what good, non-bullying behaviour is, they will feel secure and soon suss out that a particular group might not be for them.

Q) Is it possible to interpret signs of friendship as bullying, if the latter has been experienced in the past?

A) Yes, being bullied is a form of trauma. Work hard on self-esteem and acknowledge it was awful and how it made them feel. PTSD research suggests different physical therapies might work: non-competitive martial arts – gaining mastery of your body; running, swimming, yoga – physical things that make us feel better about ourselves. Lots of grounding exercise and meditation. Teach distraction.

Q) What if my child is not being invited on playdates?

A) Being invited is important but the invasion of space and the noise can be hard for autistic children. If it is stressful, just accept that your child is not going to enjoy it – there is no point forcing it.

Q) What advice do you have for when to tell your child they are autistic?

A) The sooner you do it, the sooner your child can accept it. Keep it simple and open up conversation channels.

Thank you very much to Dr Emily Lovegrove and all the parent carers who attended this valuable session. We hope to hold more speaker events in the near future - keep an eye on our events page.

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