Friday, May 20, 2011

Bullying Never Ends

Bullying is nothing new to me. Even as a second grade student I could tell you why I was a target for bullies. But, when I saw the headline "Predictors of Bullying of Autistic Children Identified," I found myself reading the story below on Medscape (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/743027). Maybe I was searching for a solution I know doesn't exist. Yes, I am cynical about human nature. (Read my previous post on lying and narcissism as they relate to popularity and power: Social Success and Narcissism)

My simple theory on bullying: people of all ages, young and old, test each other to determine the nature of the "competition" in a social group. We measure people, to locate the strongest and weakest in the group. Bullying is an extreme version of this social testing. Even those of us who want to believe we are exempt from such impulses rarely are. Every group has power rankings, the challenge is to see people beyond those social standings.
Predictors of Bullying of Autistic Children Identified (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/743027)
International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) 10th Anniversary Meeting: Poster 105.143. Presented May 12, 2011.
Reported by Norma MacReady
Other investigators have confirmed that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) come in for more than their fair share of bullying, lead study author Elizabeth Kelley, PhD, told Medscape Medical News. In this study, she and her coauthors at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where Dr. Kelley is an assistant professor of developmental psychology, searched for factors that could help predict a child's risk of being bullied.
As I stated earlier, I already have a view of why one is bullied: he or she appears potentially weak to others in the social group. The appearance of weakness might be misleading, but peers attempt to verify the perception.
The participants were 68 boys ranging in age from 11 to 18 years, with a mean age of 14.6 years. Thirty-one of the youngsters had a confirmed diagnosis of an ASD; the remaining 17 were typically developing (TD) adolescents, who served as control subjects.
Tangent: I'm often asked why a study would only include males or females, instead of a mix of the genders. There are two reasons: 1) it removes gender as a variable from the study, providing better statistical control; 2) certain conditions (like autism) have different prevalence rates so we tend to study the larger population in preliminary studies. Choosing males over females in an initial study is reasonable, especially if later studies include both genders. Statistically, this study should be generalizable to similar populations, specifically young males. Replication of this study should be possible, based on the information included in the full text.
Significant differences between the boys with ASD and TD boys were seen in the tests of pragmatic judgment, emotional intelligence, behavioral regulation, and metacognition. On multiple regression analyses, the emotional control domain of the BRIEF and the stress management domain of the emotional intelligence test emerged as significant predictors of being bullied.
In simple English: the boys with ASDs had less ability to control their emotional responses to being bullied. These young men might respond angrily, they might run away from confrontation, or they might simply become flustered under stress. My personal response to stress? Flee the situation and hide until the threat is gone. Seems logical, at least to me, but it also leads to further confrontations.
Why does a flight response lead to more bullying? Because it is perceived as weak.
"Unfortunately, I think this says a lot about adolescent behavior — bullies pick on the kids they think they can get a rise out of, and when those kids react strongly, they just tend to get picked on more," Dr. Kelley said.
I react quickly, almost instantaneously, to stress. If I believe someone presents a threat, I leave the room or shutdown, ignoring the person as best I can. I don't like to be pushed around, but I like responding to confrontation even less.

What was a lousy approach as a child isn't more effective as an adult. As an adult, the only alternative to leaving a situation, especially in the workplace, is capitulation. This surrender leads coworkers to take advantage of my unwillingness to challenge them. You can guess who ends up with extra work or the least-desired assignments. My non-reaction is a reaction, in that it conveys my weakness to others. I'm not sure there is a way to "react" without "over-reacting" to pushy colleagues. Going to a supervisor is a certain sign of weakness, similar to telling the teacher that other students are bullying you.

Tattling is certain to lead to more bullying.
"These findings suggest that it is important for parents, teachers, and other adults who work with adolescents with autism to convey the idea to these kids that the more they react, the more they're going to be bullied," Dr. Kelley said. "I also think that emotional regulation is an understudied area in individuals with autism. We're so focused on the social processes and the language and the repetitive behaviors that we don't always think about the associated difficulties that these kids have, such as anxiety, depression, and problems with emotional regulation. That, too, is something that needs to be addressed in these adolescents."
I don't have any great words of advice. I'm still "pushed around" from time to time. I'm trying to discover the best way to avoid being a "victim" of social rankings, but to date the only solution I have is to work alone as often as possible. Avoiding most social situations seems to be the only solution that works well for me.

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