What's doubly difficult for parents is their own frustration with their child's behavior, Mahoney said. "I was angry at the bullies, but also frustrated and exasperated with her at her inability to cope," Mahoney said.
Kids with high-functioning autism or Asperger's are twice as likely as children with more severe autism to be bullied, the survey found. This may be because they are often in regular classes; it could be because it's socially unacceptable even among youth to tease an obviously disabled child, said Katherine Thweatt, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Whereas children get told not to pick on someone clearly handicapped, what about people with mild differences? "Kids aren't told, 'Don't tease people because they stand too close to you, or because they talk to you for too long,'" Thweatt said.
Anderson urges parents to keep close tabs on what happens during their child's school day -- to ask an aide, if the child has one, or the child. Without prompting, kids may not share what's happening to them. Even the numbers in the survey may be an underestimate, Anderson said.
Eventually, the teasing led Mahoney to quit her job and home-school Abby for two years. Recently, she enrolled Abby, now 13, in a private school for kids with communication disorders such as autism.
"Even though some days are a struggle there, she is going to be in a supportive environment where she is not facing the teasing," Mahoney said. "Kids can be so cruel, even to normal kids. But I know that she is safe there, and she can learn to help herself deal with those challenges."
Mahoney urged other parents dealing with a similar situation to seek out help and support from autism resources.
"With support and intervention, these kids are amazing, a great gift," Mahoney said.
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