Social Bullying

(its effect on adults on The Spectrum)

What This Is

This subject of bullying is extensively covered elsewhere, with respect to "schoolyard" bullying. Fortunately bullying is now addressed as a mainstream NT issue. In some jurisdictions, parents are able to hold school personnel liable for permitting bullying.

Adult manifestations seem to be limited to "control intimidation" and social group ostracism. This often affects people on The Spectrum.

"The Spectrum" generally means the autism Spectrum, including Asperger's syndrome, HFA, PDD, Kanner's autism, and other autism spectrum conditions. Many of us are comfortable with the generic reference of "autistic".


exercises.html describes where people on "the Spectrum" have difficulty in understanding the nuances of daily negotiated transactions. This page addresses specific issues related to social bullying.

Control Intimidation

Unlike general "control" personality issues, "control intimidation" involves setting demands which are not expected to be met. As with other social bullying, this may be isolated behaviour or may be the person's inherent behaviour.

Things to recognize:

Demands which cannot reasonably be met or which the person doesn't expect can be met.

Requests to do something coupled with an inconsistent request

Criticism of action based on the targeted individual not understanding something.
e.g., Excessive criticism of not understanding social custom or "getting it" (Of course "it" is undefined.)

Some types of contrived criticism
e.g., repetitious criticism which sounds contrived or otherwise unrealistic, e.g., "Your friend told me that _____."

Criticism keyed to the nature a person's interaction with others to an extent that suggests exploitation of a weak point

Social Ostracism

This consists of the bully encouraging others to prevent participation in group activities by the targeted individual.

Some things are not social bullying.

Many tactics used in bullying are also used elsewhere. Typically these are used in the commercial environments for persuasive purposes (which gives marketing an unfavourable image).

Responses to Bullying

Control Intimidation
Point out that the person is exerting control intimidation (e.g., is "a form of intimidation.") In appropriate cases, indicate the action "is close to bullying behaviour." Then be prepared to specify why.

Simply object to the behaviour:

example: "If there is a problem with something I'm doing, let me know specifically what the problem is AND what you want me to do about it. Then I'll decide if that makes sense to me. If you don't address the issue of what I can do about it, the presumption is that you just want to complain for the sake of complaining."

Social Ostracism
To the extent that this can be identified, describe the person's activity as "exclusionary" (or some other descriptive characteristic).

Be careful when describing another person because the comments will likely be repeated to that person. The comment may be well-received by the person you are speaking with, but expect the comment to get back to person you're discussing.

In the case of commenting about social ostracism, if done prudently, your comments create an atmosphere in which social ostracism is unacceptable.

Sometimes, just recognizing bullying for what it is can be sufficient to address the issue!

General Approaches to Bullying

Possible approaches include:
Let people know that something "is too close to bullying" in its nature.

penalizing the bully (The primary school equivalent is punishment.)

strong response (The school equivalent is beating up the bully in a fight.)
The adult form of schoolyard fighting is called "criminal assault". Adult situations are often suitable for verbal responses and other well-thought-out responses.

Ostracizing (Using peer pressure)

Response based on the bully's insecurity
This is the least intuitive approach, but probably the most effective. The technique consists of identifying a point of insecurity in the bully. In the schoolyard context, this is usually a mild insult. That accomplishes two things:
1.   It lets the bully know the victim will "fight back".
2.   It causes the bully to be more insecure during bullying, thus discouraging the bully.
The ideal insult is a relatively mild one, because the intent is to make the bully insecure, with a minimum of induced anger. The example I saw was, "Where did you get that haircut?" (As insults go, I can think of far worse.)

The theory is that bullies are generally very insecure, especially regarding how others perceive them. The ideal insult is one that most people would consider mildly amusing, but which would cause a bully to feel ill-at-ease.

Incidentally, this is also considered very effective with schoolyard bullies. (Use your intelligence to counter the bully!)

In an adult environment, it is often beneficial to "couch" the insult behind a concern: "I wouldn't do that because I wouldn't want to call attention to those colours you're wearing!" If you can come up with a way of making the statement without it sounding like a "Your Mama" joke, the effect of the insult will remain without directly challenging the bully. (Yes, it's okay to be disingenuous with a bully.)

Care must be exercised here, because such responses are still somewhat hostile. Make sure that the individual is really engaging in bullying, and not just being a social "bull in a china shop". (We know how easy it is to become the latter!) Another reason this technique should be reserved for clear-cut bullying is that it is a form of social manipulation.

This is linked to pages on relationships and autistics, and relates to the ability of autistics to establish intimate relationships.

The myth of lack of empathy has been used as some sort of justification for abuse of people on the Spectrum

back to Miscellaneous Adaptations for Autistics
back to Relationships index

First posted 17-Mar-06. Last revised 24 Sep 07.

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