Association Between Affective Symptoms and School Bullying Experiences in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Objectives: To describe affective symptomatology endorsed by adults with autism spectrum disorders and determine what relationship those symptoms have to bullying experiences.
Methods: A survey evaluating current affective symptomatology (depression, anxiety and anger) as well as details about school bullying experiences was completed anonymously by 48 adults (36 male) with ASDs. 58.4% had attended at least some college. Subjects were recruited at local autism community meetings or were mailed the instrument after expressing interest in participation. The latter subjects were identified from a database maintained by the Arizona State University Autism/Asperger’s Research Program. Comparison between the groups was conducted using the non-parametric Kruskal Wallis test for population mean shift between the groups for continuous variables. The Pearson Chi-Squared and the Fisher’s exact tests were used to test for group proportion differences for categorical variables.
Results: The majority of respondents reported depression (85.1%), anxiety (87.2%) and anger (68.8%). Depression severity reported by respondents was: “Not at all” (14.9%), “A little bit” (27.7%), “Somewhat” (25.5%), “Quite a bit” (17.0%), and “Very much” (14.9%). Anxiety severity reported was: “Not at all” (12.8%), “A little bit” (23.4%), “Somewhat” (23.4%), “Quite a bit” (25.5%), and “Very much” (14.9%). Anger severity reported was: “Not at all” (31.3%), “A little bit” (31.3%), “Somewhat” (12.5%), “Quite a bit” (20.8%), and “Very much” (4.2%). Of those reporting depression or anxiety, 51.2% were not receiving treatment. Only 6 respondents reported no history of bullying. Bullying experiences during college were associated with more severe depression (p=.0485), while bullying during preschool/kindergarten (p=.0323) and high school (p=.0261) were associated with any depression. Bullying experiences during elementary school were associated with more severe anxiety (p=.0350) as well as any anxiety (p=.0037). Bullying experiences during graduate school were associated with more severe anger (p=.0404). Prolonged bullying during elementary school was associated with any anger (p=.0490). Those respondents experiencing the greatest bullying frequency across all school levels were more likely to endorse depression (p=.0276) and anxiety (p=.0194). Cyber bullying in school settings was associated with more severe depression (p=.0042), anxiety (p=.0467), and anger (p=.0219).
Conclusions: Bullying experiences reported by individuals with ASDs appear common across multiple school settings and are associated with a significant burden of affective symptomatology in adulthood. The school level at which bullying occurred and variables describing the type and intensity of bullying experiences may predict the types of affective symptomatology impacting adults with ASDs. Such symptomatology appears undertreated.