Monday, June 4, 2012

Children With Autism Are Often Targeted By Bullies

It has been suggested that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are especially vulnerable to bullying. The Interactive Autism Network (IAN) is now sharing initial results of a national survey on the bullying experiences of children on the autism spectrum. Our findings show that children with ASD are bullied at a very high rate, and are also often intentionally “triggered” into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.

IAN Research Report: Bullying and Children with ASD

Connie Anderson, Ph.D.
IAN Community Scientific Liaison
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Date First Published: March 26, 2012
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Bullying and its consequences

The Bullying and School Experiences of Children with ASD Survey

How many children were bullied?

Figure 1.
Pie chart showing how many children with ASD were ever bullied: 63%

Figure 2.
Pie chart showing how many children with ASD were bullied in past month: 39%

Potential risk factors

Figure 3.
Bar chart showing how many children with ASD are bullied by grade level

Figure 4.
Bar chart showing how many children with ASD are bullied by type of school they attend

Figure 5.
Bar chart showing how many children with ASD are bullied by type of ASD diagnosis

We asked parents about behaviors common in individuals with ASD to see if any of these behaviors was strongly associated with becoming a victim of bullying. Children with more repetitive behaviors, like flapping or spinning, were less likely to be bullied. We do not know whether this was because they were more likely to have more severe autism and therefore to be in more sheltered school situations, or if this outward sign of a disabling condition made other children less likely to victimize them. Behaviors and traits that were associated with an increased likelihood of being bullied included:
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor hygiene
  • Rigid rule keeping (enforcing adults' rules when other children would not)
  • Continuing to talk about a favorite topic even when others are bored or annoyed
  • Frequent meltdowns
  • Inflexibility or rigidity
Sadly, one group that was frequently bullied was children with ASD who wanted to interact with other children, but had a hard time making friends. Of these, 57% were bullied, compared to only 25% of children who prefer to play alone and 34% of children who will play, but only if approached. The one slightly bright spot was that children who had learned to make friends successfully were bullied at a lower rate: 34%.

Bullies and “bully-victims”

Figure 6.
Pie chart showing children with ASD who are bullied, are bully-victims, only bully others, or have no involvement in bullying

Bullying and children with ASD: An urgent problem

Bullying is extremely common in the lives of children with ASD, and occurs at a much higher rate for them than it does for their typically developing siblings. It is crucial that educators, providers, advocates, and families be aware of this, and be prepared to intervene. Children with ASD are already vulnerable in multiple ways. To have to face teasing, taunts, ostracism, or other forms of spite may make a child who is already struggling to cope completely unable to function. If a child was anxious, or dealing with issues of self-control, or unable to focus before there was any bullying, imagine how impossible those issues must seem when bullying is added to the mix. Cruelest of all is the fact that bullying may further impair the ability of a child with ASD, who is already socially disabled, to engage with the social world. "The bully made life a complete hell for my son," said one mother who withdrew her child from school. "He came home from school crying every day and begging to never have to go back." Said another, "This has had a significant influence on my daughter's ability to trust her peers and develop new relationships."
There is clearly an urgent need to increase awareness, influence school policies, and provide families and children with effective strategies for dealing with bullying, whether a child is a bully, victim, or bully-victim. It is our hope that this research will contribute to these efforts.


Kennedy Krieger Institute

Children With Autism Are Often Targeted By Bullies | WWNO - WWNO
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