The Prevalence of Bullying in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
3:00 PM
B. Zablotsky1, C. P. Bradshaw1, C. M. Anderson2 and P. A. Law2, (1)Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health , Baltimore, MD, (2)Medical Informatics, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD
Background:  Bullying has become one of the most frequent forms of school violence with nearly 30% of children involved either as bully, victim or bully and victim (Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O’Brennan, 2006).  Children who are bullied report higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem (Seals and Young, 2003).  In more extreme cases, victims present with suicidal thoughts and actions (Arseneault et al., 2010).  The majority of studies dedicated to the prevalence and consequence of bullying have been limited to the regular education population, with few studies dedicated to bullying and children with ASDs. ASD-focused studies have been restricted by small clinical samples and particular age groups and ASD diagnosis types.  These studies, however, speak to a notable increased risk of bullying in ASD children (e.g. Little, 2007).  The present study intends to determine the prevalence of bullying using the largest and most diverse clinical population of children with ASDs to date.  

Objectives:  1) Determine the prevalence of bullying in a sample of ASD children.  2) Identify risk factors for being bullied.

Methods: Parents were recruited from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), an online, national voluntary registry of families who have children with an ASD.  Five hundred parents, with children aged 6-15 years, completed a survey dedicated to their child’s school experiences (the full sample of 2100 parents will be presented at the conference).  As a control group, parents were also asked to comment on the school experiences of any non-affected children.  Basic tablatures were used to calculate the prevalence of bullying in the sample, and a multiple logistic regression was used to estimate the Odds Ratios (ORs) of being bullied in the past month by child and school characteristics. 

Results:  At the time of the analysis, 70% of parents reported that their child had been bullied in their lifetime, while 42% had been bulled in the past month.  In comparison, 43% of non-affected siblings were bullied in their lifetime and 9% were bullied in the past month. The adjusted multiple logistic regression model revealed children with Asperger’s to be more likely to be bullied than children with other ASDs (OR=3.01, 95% CI: 1.77-5.16, p<0.001).  Demographic differences included children in elementary school being more likely to be bullied than children in high school (OR=3.34, 95% CI: 1.42-7.82, p=0.006), while children in public schools were more likely to be bullied than children in private schools (OR=2.22, 95% CI: 1.01-4.89, p<0.05).  Children who received free or reduced breakfast or lunches were also more likely to be bullied (OR=2.61, 95% CI: 1.54-4.41, p<0.001).  Finally, males were less likely to be bullied in the past month than females (OR=0.52, 95% CI: 0.30-0.91, p=0.02).

Conclusions:  Children with ASDs were bullied at rates higher than the general education population and their non-affected siblings, warranting the need for interventions against bullying that take into account this vulnerable population.  Children with Asperger’s were at the greatest risk of being bullied, perhaps a consequence of these children being the most likely to attend public, regular education schools.

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