Half of Teens with Autism Bullied
Credit: Teens photo via Shutterstock

Nearly half of children with autism are bullied, a new study says.

Researchers surveyed 920 parents of teens with autism spectrum disorders, and 46 percent of them said their child had been the victim of bullying. By comparison, about 11 percent of teens in the general population report being bullied, the researchers noted.

"Adolescents with an ASD may be uniquely vulnerable to this form of aggression, given the social and relational problems that are hallmarks of their condition," the researchers wrote in their study.

The researchers, led by Paul R. Sterzing of the University of California, Berkeley, used data gathered on teens in special education programs during the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2. Parents were interviewed, and information also was collected from the school staff members who were most familiar with the students.

While it has been thought that integrating students with autism into regular classrooms might protect them against bulling by increasing their social skills and general acceptance, this is not always be the case, the researchers said.

Among teens with autism whose classes were in a general education setting, those with the greatest social skills or conversation abilities were least likely to be bullied, the researchers said. (Even lower bullying rates were reported for those teens in a more segregated setting, such as teens with no conversation ability at all, probably because they are insulated, the researchers added.)

The findings suggest that schools need to find ways to educate students about autism and explicitly promote the acceptance of teens with autism into protective peer groups, the researchers said.

The study also found that teens with autism were no more likely than other teens to be the perpetrators of bullying.

Teens with both autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were more likely to be victims of bullying, as well as to perpetrate bullying, than teens with autism who did not also have ADHD, the survey found. This finding — which is in line with previous studies — shows that researchers need to consider ADHD a risk factor for bullying, and that anti-bullying efforts should consider these children especially vulnerable, according to the study.

The study was published online Monday (Sept. 3) in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. One of the researchers received funding from Autism Speaks, an organization that advocates for autism awareness.

Pass it on: Teenagers with autism may be four times as likely as other teens in classrooms to become the victims of bullying.

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