Kids with autism are more likely to be bullied as they get older but the odds of victimization are influenced by a variety of factors, new research suggests.
In a survey of teachers and parents, British researchers found that bullying is more common among kids on the spectrum who attend mainstream schools as opposed to special education environments. Bullying also becomes more prevalent as children enter adolescence, according to the findings published online in the journal Autism.
“Children with autism are easy targets because their behavior may be regarded as odd or different, and our research tells us this is likely to result in bullying, teasing and provocation,” said Judith Hebron of The University of Manchester who led the study. “But not all of these children are bullied, and as researchers, we are interested in finding out why.”
For the study, researchers asked 722 teachers of students with autism and 119 parents with children on the spectrum ages 5 to 15 about the kids’ experiences with bullying.
Children with autism who had strong support networks — including friends and teachers — were less likely to be bullied as were those whose parents were actively engaged at school, the study found.
At the same time, however, kids who struggled with behavior problems were more likely to be bullied. Children with autism who relied on public transportation or school buses to get to class each day were also at higher risk.
The researchers speculate that those with autism are more vulnerable as they enter their teen years because social interactions become increasingly complicated as typically developing peers become less tolerant of differences and more interested in adhering to social norms.
What’s more, researchers said that students with autism may experience less bullying at specialized schools because of higher staffing ratios. Likewise, the lack of adult supervision often found on public and school transportation may lead to vulnerable situations for young people with autism, they indicated.
“Our results send out a message to parents and teachers to help them identify opportunities where they can intervene to prevent bullying,” Hebron said.
The study is the latest adding to a growing body of evidence on the vulnerability of children with autism to bullying. Findings released last year from a survey of about 1,200 parents in the United States indicated that 63 percent of children with autism have been bullied.