“Schools must take action so that children with autism feel safe”

anti bullying alliance logoFigures released today, as part of a nation-wide survey, showed that a staggering 97% of autistic children are seen by their parents and carers as vulnerable to bullying, with 42.4% of children telling their parents they are often bullied in school.

The results come as part of an inspirational national campaign launched this month by the Anti-Bullying-Alliance (ABA) hosted by children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau and Tesco Mum of the Year 2013 Anna Kennedy OBE, who have joined forces to promote their collaborative campaign ‘Give us a break’ as part of Autism Awareness Month 2013.

The campaign calls on all schools and colleges to be particularly aware of the bullying that children with Autism experience at break times and to provide positive activities that keep them safe. This action will be welcomed by respondents of the survey; with over half citing that ‘structured activities’ are currently seriously lacking at break times in schools, alongside a vast 89% who said they would embrace positive activities as a constructive way of combating the bullying of autistic children.

Lauren Seager-Smith, National Coordinator of ABA, says: “For children and young people with autism, break and lunch times in schools and colleges can be particularly daunting and can put them at risk of bullying. We feel privileged to work with Anna Kennedy to raise awareness of bullying of children with autism in our schools and colleges. Too often these children are seen as the problem; as not ‘fitting in’ or ‘settling down’. We want to see all schools take decisive action to create environments and cultures where all children feel safe and supported without fear of bullying.’’

Further figures revealed the heartbreaking reality that almost three quarters (73%) of children with an autistic spectrum condition (ASC) find break times extremely difficult and in some cases actually frightening, something Owen Cordwell, aged 10, knows only too well:  “I have been bullied just because I was in special provision. I never want anyone else to go through that. It doesn’t matter if you are autistic or not, you should not be bullied as we are all people with feelings and no child deserves to be bullied.”

Anna Kennedy OBE, Director of Anna Kennedy Online, says: “I felt that a survey was needed to truly assess the extent of the problem due to the overwhelming amount of emails and messages I receive from families who are affected by this issue at grass-roots level every day; it became apparent that they needed a platform through which to voice their direct concerns. Partnering with the Anti-Bullying Alliance was the perfect opportunity to raise the profile of the problem and advise schools to take action on what is evidently an extremely serious issue.”

The national campaign has already gained support in the form of celebrated author and TV personality Kathy Lette, who has firsthand experience of the hurdles children with autism can face, following the diagnosis of her son Julius (now 21) with aspergers at age three: “Most school kids strive to learn math and grammar. Aspergic children strive to make themselves invisible….Venturing into the school playground can feel as hazardous as Scott leaving his Antarctic base camp.  67% of children with Aspergers report that they are taunted and bullied at school lunch time. There is no such thing as normal and abnormal. Just ordinary and extraordinary.  It’s time we recognized kids with Aspergers for the exceptional people they are. Bullying makes them runners up in the human race.”

Give us a break’ also seeks to inspire schools and colleges to communicate examples of their success stories, through designated resource sharing on both the Anti-Bullying Alliance and Anna Kennedy Online websites. Encouraging an idea sharing culture where thoughts on break time activities, keeping children safe and improving social skills can be discussed and circulated.

For further information on the ‘Give us a Break’ campaign, visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk or www.annakennedyonline.com

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