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Bullying Takes Toll On Kids With Autism


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Children with autism are experiencing high rates of bullying and face significant emotional consequences as a result, a new study finds.

In what’s believed to be the largest look ever at autism and bullying, researchers found that 38 percent of children with the developmental disorder were bullied over a one-month period, in many cases repeatedly. What’s more, of those who were victims, 69 percent experienced emotional trauma and 8 percent were physically harmed as a result.

The findings were published this month in a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. They are based on a survey of parents of more than 1,200 kids with autism from across the country.

Initial results from the survey were first released last March, but the research published this month offers a more complete picture. The findings add to a growing body of evidence supporting concerns in the autism community that those on the spectrum are disproportionately affected by bullying.

“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,” said Paul Law, the study’s senior author and director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which conducted the poll.

In the 63-question survey, parents were asked about their child’s school as well as their level of functioning and their experiences with bullying.

Of those who said their kids with autism were bullied, 14 percent of parents said their child was scared for his or her own safety after facing a bully while 40 percent said their child responded with a meltdown or outburst.

Nearly 1 in 10 kids with autism were identified as being bullies themselves.

Children diagnosed with autism and psychiatric conditions like depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were more likely to be victims of bullying, the study found. Meanwhile, kids with autism and conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder were more often bullies.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. fairlady68 says:

    Bullied for a month?? Try experiencing it for 15+ years, my entire school career. And even in some workplaces after I left school. These experiences can be soul-crushing. And they are so unnecessary, done just to assuage the immature egos of NT children? That is the tragedy.

  2. Jon K. Evans says:

    Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! It shouldn’t be. Did that study go on to discuss how the bullying extended WELL INTO ADULTHOOD? Trust me! It should have!

  3. Zoe says:

    Bullying does not always end in high school, I was bullied through college, grad school, and in the work-place. We Autistics are ALWAYS vulnerable. Too much emphasis of late has been placed on the bullying of Autistics in school-settings, one needs to look at ALL settings, it happens everywhere.

  4. KA101 says:

    And those of us autistics who bully too–let’s not forget that.

    I wonder if the study included school authorities as potential bullies? I’ve been called when a teacher was exploiting a student’s known trigger, ostensibly for motivational purposes. Struck me as bullying but the handbook was pretty clear that bullying could only happen between students.

  5. Tacitus says:

    KA–I think the proper term for that behavior from an adult is abuse.

    Frankly, talking about “bullying” bothers me, because the word doesn’t really sound very serious. Yet it is clearly a very serious issue. Abuse is an important part of the vocabulary of power and exploitation. Assault is another one. I just don’t know about “bullying,” though. I’ve been tackled, confined, insulted, beaten, threatened, shamed, and humiliated, but I have never been bullied. To call my experiences “bullying” does me a disservice.

  6. mom says:

    This is why I am glad my son attends a school for autistic kids. He started to get bullied in 3rd grade in public school and that is when I took him out. Mainstreaming does not work.

  7. KA101 says:

    True, Tacitus. Abusive behavior is worse coming from adults and the term “bullying” is underpowered, all things considered. Nevertheless, the handbook in question made no other allowance for the possibility of staff-on-student abuse, so specifically defining adults out of “bully” in its anti-bullying policy seemed to me to only make the problem worse. “Teachers would never do such a thing! You’re just exaggerating!” Yeah, they can and they do. (To say nothing of the admins.)

    It’s easier to report, investigate, and stop harmful conduct when people are on notice that it’s a possibility. Not every student knows that authorities are humans and capable of malicious wrongdoing, and I’d much rather they learn from texts rather than from personal experience.

  8. Carol Morris says:

    This study relied on parental reporting. Did anyone find a way to anonymously ask the students themselves? Children often don’t report to adults because they don’t know there is a way to help, or they don’t realize they have a right to demand change. There were things my son didn’t tell me until it was too late to do anything about it – sometimes physical, but mostly psychological, such as the fact that the students on his bus called him “it” throughout middle school.

  9. Renee' Mohr says:

    I know that my son has faced tons of bullying over the years, unfortunately it wasn’t just kids, but adults that also joined in. These adults where supposed to be people who children go to for help, forexample, teachers, bus drivers, counselors, and coaches to name a few. Hopefully, this article will help people on how to behave and treat people in general. Hopefully we will start to see more people being friends to everyone, and not pick out who we want to treat as friends and who we don’t want to treat as friends based on differences.

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