A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggests that teenagers with an autism spectrum disorder are up to four times more likely to be bullied at school than their peers from the general population. Andrew M. Seaman, writing for Reuters, reports that the estimated rate of bullying victims among kids generally is 11%, but the study suggests that nearly half of those with an ASD are being bullied at school.
Previous studies have found that children who are bullied are at higher risk of depression and have higher incidences of anxiety and loneliness. These children also do much worse academically than those who are not being picked on. This is especially disturbing for those concerned with enabling positive academic outcomes for those with an ASD as they are already statistically more likely to struggle in school than other kids and with the added negative effects of bullying are now facing a dual problem.
“I would argue that the bullying interventions that we’re using now, if not tailored, are ineffective,” said Paul R. Sterzing, the study’s lead author from the University of California, Berkley.
Researchers argue that schools should target their anti-bullying work towards more vulnerable populations such as those with an ASD or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Sterzing added that the problem risks growing further as the number of kids being diagnosed with a form of autism keeps increasing. Latest estimates suggest that one in 88 children in the US have a disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum.
Using records from a 2001 survey of 920 parents, Sterzing and his colleagues found that 46 percent of parents said their autistic teenagers were the victims of bullying and 15 percent thought their children were bullies themselves. Nine percent of moms and dads said their kids were both victims and bullies.
Debra J. Pepler wasn’t involved in the study, but does research on bullying among vulnerable child populations at York University. She said that there are strategies that parents and teachers could employ to reduce the rate of bullying towards children suffering from an ASD such as ‘circles of support’ being created within classrooms. These are groups of children who are educated properly regarding the victim’s affliction and are then able to provide help and support.
Sterzing told Reuters Health that teens with autism and ADHD or those who had autism and were in regular classes were both especially likely to be victims of bullying.
That, however, does not mean kids with autism should be separated from their peers and put in special education classes. Instead, Sterzing said it could mean that regular classes haven’t been doing a good job of including kids with autism.