As children go back to school this week, an advocacy group is calling on education providers to be mindful of the lasting effects of bullying, particularly for children with autism.
- Survey finds children with autism experience higher bullying rates
- 55pc of autistic children attend mainstream schools, survey says
- Findings passed to education ministers, asking for more teacher training, resources
Members of the Autistic Family Collective have carried out a survey recounting their children's traumatic experiences, including death threats and physical abuse.
The survey will be passed on to state education ministers in a bid for more training for teachers and more resources for schools, to better support autistic students.
The Autistic Family Collective said despite statistics showing 55 per cent of autistic children attend mainstream schools, teachers and schools are not adequately equipped to deal with their needs.
The collective's co-convenor, Dr Leia Greenslade from Griffith University, led the research which heard from 57 families across Australia.
The survey had no control group, and has not been peer-reviewed.
But Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, who directs Latrobe University's Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, said the research reflects other studies that have found children with autism experience higher bullying rates.
"It's a bit of a double-edged sword because you want that child to be in a mainstream school and having all of the rich experiences children have in school," Professor Dissanayake said.
"But clearly that child has difficulties and so there has to be some reasonable accommodations made to assist that child to be able to learn within that setting."
A mother from the Autistic Family Collective, who wants to be known only as Michelle, contributed to the survey.
He was grabbed by another student in the change rooms after gym and shoved into a shower stall and had the water turned on him while other people looked and laughed at him.
She said it is particularly distressing to see her autistic child upset because he has difficulty processing what happened.
"He had possessions stolen, possessions urinated on, and the one that he actually found the most traumatic, he was grabbed by another student in the change rooms after gym and shoved into a shower stall and had the water turned on him while other people looked and laughed at him."
Michelle said her teenage son was also bullied by a teacher.
"When my son is not sure what is expected from him in an academic task, he tends to ask a lot of questions.
"And so the teacher shamed him in front of the rest of the class and used phrases like, 'oh well, you should be able to figure this out yourself'.
"And then when he tried to ask another question, he was actually sent out of the class and excluded for the rest of the lesson."
Michelle's son is now home schooled.
The same is true for Cas Faulds' son, who developed anxiety and refused to return to school after being bullied.
"There was some pushing, shoving, punching and hitting, there was also horrific verbal abuse," Ms Faulds said.
"In one incident my son was told he should kill himself. He was told that by a 10-year-old.
"[After] that particular incident, he actually lost speech for two days."
Parents push for 'meaningful participation'
This month, a Senate report found children with disabilities were being denied a future by school systems that assume they have nothing to contribute.
Michelle said this resonated with her experience.
"We talk about inclusion but actually a lot of the time that just means that the disabled student is present, it doesn't mean they're meaningfully participating," she said.
Ms Faulds said teachers and schools had to reassess how they respond to any bullying of autistic students.
"The school responded by calling everyone in including my son. That puts blame on the person who was the victim," she said.
Professor Dissanayake said teachers and allied health professionals needed more training and resources.
"First of all, a core understanding of what autism is and how it presents and the variability, the need to take an individual approach and have an individual educational plan for the child — and this doesn't always happen," she said.
"Sadly not all school environments have sufficient supports and teachers aren't always supported sufficiently to support children with special needs."