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Children with Autism Bullied 3 Times as Much

  • Published: 2012-03-27 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-26) : Author: Kennedy Krieger Institute
  • Synopsis: Preliminary results of national survey examines the impact of bullying on children with autism spectrum disorders.

Autism is broadly defined as a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills.

Main Document

New Data Show Children With Autism Bullied Three Times More Frequently Than Their Unaffected Siblings - The Interactive Autism Network reports 63 percent of children with autism have been bullied.

The Interactive Autism Network (IAN),, the nation's largest online autism research initiative and a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, reports preliminary results of the first national survey to examine the impact of bullying on children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The results show that 63 percent of children with ASD have been bullied at some point in their lives. These children, who are sometimes intentionally "triggered" into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by peers, are bullied three times more frequently than their siblings who do not have ASD.

"These survey results show the urgent need to increase awareness, influence school policies and provide families and children with effective strategies for dealing with bullying," said Dr. Paul Law, director of the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "We hope that this research will aid efforts to combat bullying by helping parents, policymakers and educators understand the extent of this problem in the autism community and be prepared to intervene." (For more insights on the survey results, visit this online discussion with Dr. Connie Anderson, IAN's community scientific liaison.)

Nearly 1,200 parents of children with ASD completed the survey. Findings show that these children (ages 6 to 15 years) are especially vulnerable to bullying, and point to a number of risk factors.

Where and When Bullying Occurs:

Potential Risk Factors:

Experience as Bullies and "Bully-Victims"

While children with ASD are frequently victims, they may also behave as bullies, or at least be viewed as a bully.

Researchers believe that the deficits in social understanding common in children with ASD may lead to bullying behavior by the child that is different than that displayed by typically developing children. For example, an honest but socially unacceptable remark such as, "You're fat," by the child with ASD may be viewed by others as purposely cruel when it is not. Likewise, a child with ASD who is accidentally bumped into might misinterpret this as intentional, and lash out in a way that looks like bullying.

"Children with ASD are already vulnerable. To experience teasing, taunts, ostracism or other forms of spite may make a child who was already struggling to cope become completely unable to function," said Dr. Law. "The issue is complex and we plan to carefully analyze the data and publish peer-reviewed findings that will serve to advance policy and care for individuals with ASD."

The Bullying and School Experiences of Children with ASD Survey was developed by the IAN Project's autism experts in partnership with Benjamin Zablotsky, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, the deputy director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention and Early Intervention and an expert on bullying.

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