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Kids With Autism Bullied Three Times More


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In the largest look ever at autism and bullying, new research shows that children on the spectrum are significantly more likely than other kids to be bullied.

Researchers polled nearly 1,200 parents across the country and found that 63 percent of kids with autism have been bullied. What’s more, some 39 percent of parents said their child with autism had been bullied within the last month compared to just 12 percent of typically developing siblings.

While many within the autism community have long believed that bullying is an especially acute problem for those with the developmental condition, the preliminary findings released Monday add to a growing body of scientific evidence on the topic.

“Even though I expected it to be a big problem, it was bigger than I even thought,” said Connie Anderson, community scientific liaison at the Interactive Autism Network, a national autism registry at the Kennedy Krieger Institute which conducted the ongoing survey.

With concrete findings, the researchers say they hope policymakers and educators can be encouraged to take steps to address the issue.

For the survey, parents across the country were asked about the bullying experiences of their kids with autism ages 6 to 15 and about the experiences of their typically developing children within the same age group. Findings reflect the experiences of 1,167 kids with autism and 795 children without.

Overall, those with autism were more likely to be bullied in fifth through eighth grade and kids attending regular public school were 50 percent more likely to be bullied than those enrolled in private schools or special education environments, the survey found.

Certain attributes also appeared to play a role. Specifically, kids with autism who are inflexible, have frequent meltdowns and those who talk obsessively about particular topics are at higher risk, researchers said.

In most cases, parents reported that children who were bullied were teased, picked on or made fun of. In other instances, kids were ignored, left out, called names or subject to pushing, hitting, kicking or slapping.

Kids with autism aren’t just victims of bullying, however. In 17 percent of cases, parents said that their children were both subject to and had been accused of being bullies themselves.

“I hope this is really good evidence for society at large that this is a problem,” said Anderson, who in addition to her research role is also the parent of a child with autism who has been bullied. “It’s really sad to know that this is going on.”

Analysis of the survey is ongoing and the researchers said they plan to submit final findings to a peer-reviewed journal within the next year.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. Susan DeMilia says:

    I hope that we can introduce an early and consistent empathy program into the school system to teach kids and teachers that everyone is different and everyone needs help at one time or another. If this message become part of the fabric of education, maybe there will be less bullying of all children.

  2. Kelly says:

    This is a sad commentary on our society. Bullies have to learn this behavior from someone. Both of my daughters have autism and have been mainstreamed for the last year. No one has ever discussed their disability or had anything to say about their behavior, other than question some of the things they do. They are both in elementary at this time, so I know it is bound to get worse. That being said, it doesn’t have to. If people started early teaching these kids that everyone needs to be accepted, this would not continue to happen. If adults were not acting out towards other adults, this would not be an issue. If teachers and regular citizens were not turning a blind eye towards these activities, maybe it would not be happening. There is something that can be done, but it takes the work of everyone. Sadly, everyone is not on the same page.

  3. Larry Zier says:

    “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
    ― Thich Nhat Hanh

  4. fairlady68 says:

    This is no lie. I was bullied at home, all through school and even in college, and at some of my workplaces too. It was especially bad in “junior high” just like the article said (5th-8th grade). And I was one of those who talked obsessively about my special interests. Thank goodness my current special interest (cats) is more mainstream than what I was interested in before, and I am better at recognizing when not to talk about them.

  5. Bob_in_NYC says:

    I suspect that it may actually be a little worse. I can only really talk about myself, but I’m pretty sure that when I was in that age range, I would have not said that I was bullied. I just blindly either ignored or didn’t recognize it.

    The only way I know this is that my cousin who was in my same grade was “teasing” me (unkindly) and my sister asked why I didn’t say anything …. that’s the only way I recognized that something was wrong … but I just ignored it. Most of the time, I just stayed by myself.

  6. Thomas Charles Wood says:

    I am 54, & I have been bullied in school & in the workplace as a person with Asperger’s/Autism.

  7. Dr. Nora Baladerian says:

    Sadly, bullying is just the tip of the iceberg. This is an important research study and I hope the researchers will continue to address this issue. All types of abuses are committed against children with autism. I have been working in the area of abuse and children with developmental disabilities since 1971 and am well aware, yet it seems that parents are not informed or equipped in how to prepare their kids or respond when bullying begins. As one commenter wrote the kids may not realize that bullying is happening. It is easy to have that happen if no one has described what bullying is. We need the school staff to quickly intervene when bullying happens, but even better, to have an “atmosphere” of acceptance, and informing the kids that diversity is a good thing, and value each kid period. The Value of One program is fantastic in addressing this particular issue as well as the disability and abuse programs.

  8. Sharon says:

    I just wanted to add that a child with ANY type of mental health disorder or learning disability is more likely to be bullied. There is a lot of press and awareness for Autism right now, which is great!!! But there are other childhood mental illnesses that would benefit from a similar amount of public attention.

  9. Dr. Corrine R. Donley says:

    Years ago, I designed a musical program in which children from my special education classroom were mixed into the third grade classrooms for subjects such as art, physical education, and music during the year. Then as a culmination of the program, all children in special education and third grade gave a patriotic musical program for the whole school. Bullying and name calling were reported to be less of an issue for fourth graders the following year.

  10. Jon K. Evans says:

    I know about this. I have Asperger’s that was NOT discovered until I was age 47. In the meantime, I was frequently bullied with 5th-8th, 9th-11th, 15th grades being the worst. I was also frequently harassed about my speaking voice. That made me hate my own race! I was also bullied about my speaking voice at ages 24, 29, 33, and 39. I was also a retaliation bully in 5th-6th grades.

  11. angelbryant says:

    My son was bullied for most of his 6 th grade year. the problem was so bad that we had to meet with princal and other school staff. He was choked and the other boys where saying they were going to kill him. Thankful the school acted and those student were removed , but the sit backs were had to deal with. we back on track now and he is better and tell us quick of problems in his day.

  12. ann masotti says:

    I have more bad news to add to this…my 25 year old high functioning autistic daughter has never been able to put the bullying piece behind her….understandable. To say that it didn’t affect her permanently would be a lie.

    Teachers are guilty of ignoring the situation; parents of “normal” children are equally as guilty. In our community of high achievers, Westchester County, NY, there wasn’t room for “flaw”….the lack of compassion and sense of community for everyone is palpable…even though everyone talks a good game, the reality is quite the opposite for the “different”…..there was a time in this Country, years ago, when creativity and unusual were embraced…today in the schools, especially, it is easier to teach to the middle and teach to the Test so the scores will keep the status of the school up. Our elected officials are also lax….buzz words such as “Autism Friendly” abound….what does this mean? Three aren’t any programs in our community for the young people with Autism and DD’s….that isn’t friendly at all. If I appear a bit cynacle you are correct…..I had to bring my daughter way out of State to a worthwhile program….costly, but I am so grateful I found it….If anyone out there is interested, I can be reached at…..thank you, good luck, and God Bless.

  13. Katie says:

    This article hit home for me…I am a mother of twins, one of which has high functioning autism. My son with autism has been bullied each year of middle school at least 2-3 times a year (that I know of) and his twin has not. Kids target him knowing he has autism and say nasty things to him that sometimes he takes very literally or doesn’t even realize he’s being picked on. We’ve had to teach him how mean people can be which is a lesson I hate. We also teach him how nice people can be too but the focus here is to learn how to watch his back. I am afraid that one day he will get in trouble himself sticking up for himself and maybe taking it too far. You can only push a person so much :(

  14. Christine says:

    I will start out by saying that i wish there would be something legal like put a sing on them that says i bully kids with disabiity and more. Then stand them out front of the school so they get commented on or picked on . So they know what it would be like . But you cant teach one bad examples with another. Or can you ? It has been known that my Daughter has Autism and has been bullied i stared to noties it when she was 9 and she and i had some trouble in the neighbourhood . She was playing with kids outside and i saw the kid running from her . At first i though it was her but when i witnessed it closer i started to see a pattern she would engage in a game of hide and seek with other girls her age and she would have to bee the one to hide and the other girls would have to find her . but when i noticed that they where not really trying to find her. I then new what was going on . Now as a Mother and a kid once i was taking back of course i intervene with the children to find out why they did that. Children can be very con vincing to why they wonted to play the game even if i know every one knows that was wrong way to play the game i then let them play the game any way .
    Then the next incident was even sadder when i notice after a month or so the next game was lets all stand in a group and tell secrets about something and stand and watch Kylies then she be gain chasing them and trying to hit them. Again as a Mother i watched this behavior go on and tried to intervene with the girls it just seemed to get worse then the girls tried to ignore her as they would walk up and down the street to ignore her she just chased them up and down the street wonted to play hid and seek . but becoues i told the kids to ignore her that is what they did to a T. Tell she started throwing stones at them and i had to go and get her and punished her . I mean as you know kids with Autism have behavior problems too that is whay the girls would do this to her in the first place kids don,t wont to play with other kid that hit or hirt them even though i was trying to correct her behavior as well it was not a nuff besides it was hard to see or correct all of it i am a Single Mother of too kids with disabillitys the older son has mild ADDHD to and i was bizzy much to but i was not just those kids to there where others to . there was a girl next door that would herass her a lot her motive was about me and her mother where fighting with each other becues of the problems when they would play and other stuff that was going on tipcale neihgbor stuff untel it became more then that . After we would fight the other mother (my neighbor) would sind her Doughtre outside to play .After a big fight i am shower the kids would be influenced to fight to only natural right. well after i noticed the kids behavior would be worst i stoped leting Kylie go out side after we would fight .but as time went on i noted a gain that every time i would sind kylie out side wen to be shower that the other girl was not out side soon after that girl was out ther fihgting with Kylie and had to bring her in time and time again this girl would actually psychiatric attack Kylie to the point she would cry well to the point the mother and fought so much that i hade anuff and got a nuff evidenc that where nuff to try to put a restrain in order on her becoues the police where involved and every thing.
    so when the time came to go to cort and i told the juge what happend and she tolde her side she even broght her doughter to cort room so she could show how smart she was and all that the juge dismissed it becoues i soupposed to put the restrining oder on the chile and not the adult well let me clear this up for ya i was asking the judge to put the restraine order on the adult so that the mother could not seend her doughter out to herass my doughter and we would beable to have some cinde of peace in the naberhood. but not a thing was resolve and eventually the mother got her self kick out.Then shortly after i moved coincidence around the block from her i was hoping not again. but not to my surprise she never bother me again But a few mounths in the new Apartment the same set of problems begain again with my doughter bulling again witch was again some old neihgbor kid from the old naeighbourhood where next door this time its like i never moved out the neighbourhood any ways in the old neighbourhood were some boy that lived there they liked Kylie and enjoyed playing with kylie and happy to see her and Cody they all played good untel things started to clash they where all brothers and the younger one has behaver problems to he to has ADD and so Kylie and him collide to so when they fought it was not just with each other it was with all of them the three brothers they pull her hair ,kick her punch her and for what what she sad or did they could have ignore her or told me or there mothers but they did not to even i told there mother if i felt had to i talked to them a few times but it still did not stop at the last place i called the police a lot but the police did nothing or it was a he sad she sad thing so acorus i have been let down in the past so what to do what to do!!!

  15. Susie says:

    Bullying is awful and needs to be stopped — but kids on the spectrum can also be *bullies*. My daughter was rushed to the ER, where she needed six stitches, after being stabbed with a protractor by C, a classmate (and mostly very sweet kid) who has autism (and impulse control issues).

    Here’s what happened: My girl was doing he math worksheet HORRORS wrong, C told her she was doing it wrong and that she should do it HIS way (which, for the record, was the right way). She carried on doing it her (wrong) way, he kept at her, she kept doing it wrong & he stabbed her in sheer frustration.

    Both kids were 10 at the time. Contrary to C’s strange but deeply held belief, the world doesn’t cease to spin on it’s axis just because some fourth grader is having math issues

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