When autistic children experience bullying, nearly 70 percent have significant short-term negative effects on their physical and mental health.
Some children with ASD also become bullies.
“Recent research indicates that children receiving special education services are at risk of being victimized at higher rates than regular education students,” says Dr. Paul Law, senior study author and director of the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger.
“Our findings show that not only are these children being bullied more, but they are also experiencing significant short-term, and likely long-term, effects of being bullied.”
Study findings about children with ASD who experience bullying
- Children with a pre-existing psychiatric disorder and ASD are at a higher risk of being bullied
- Children diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder are more likely to become bullies
- Children with ASD and a diagnosis of depression or ADHD are at the highest risk of being bully victims in a one month period, both as the targets of bullies and perpetrators
- 38 percent of children with ASD were bullied, 28 percent experienced frequent bullying over a one month period
- The children experienced immediate consequences such physical injuries (8 percent) and emotional trauma (69 percent)
- 14 percent of children reported that they were afraid for their own safety
- 18 percent of the children said they were triggered to fighting
- 40 percent of the children had an outburst or emotional meltdown. School staff reacted with disciplinary action
- The effects of bullying can last a long time and increase the risk of psychiatric illness is the victim comes into adulthood
“Our results provide insights that will help teachers and school staff identify children with autism who may be at the greatest risk for bullying involvement, either as victims or perpetrators,” says Dr. Law. “Outside of school, parents should be encouraged to talk to their child about bullying, particularly if they are concerned their child may be a victim. Parents should also set up appointments to talk to the staff or teachers at their child’s school to learn more about how they can work to prevent bullying and help children involved in bullying cope with the consequences.”
Researchers say that further study is needed to validate the relationship between bullying behavior and the children’s psychiatric diagnosis.
Parents of 1,221 children with ASD were recruited to participate in the study through an online questionnaire. Researchers utilized the Bullying and School Experiences of Children with ASD Survey, a 63-item questionnaire, to collect data about their child’s school environment, experience with bullying, and the child’s educational and psychological functioning. Researchers also used the Parent Observation of Child Adaptation (POCA) to show how parents rated of their child’s behaviors and level of psychological distress after experiencing bullies.
The findings were published on Jan. 10, 2013, in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.