As if children with autism don’t already have enough to deal with: A new study has found kids with the disorder are three times more likely to be targeted by bullies than their peers.
The findings, reported by the Interactive Autism Network and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, indicate nearly two thirds of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been bullied at some point in their lives.
Researchers said ASD children are sometimes intentionally "triggered" into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by peers.
"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 researcher project. "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."
The findings are based on a survey of nearly 1,200 parents of children with ASD, ages 6 to 15 years. Among the findings:
• Bullying between 5th and 8th grades appeared to be the worst, with up to 49 percent of children with ASD in those grades targeted.
• Children with ASD attending regular public schools are bullied far more often than those in private school or special education settings.
• Types of bullying included being teased, picked on or made fun of (73 percent); being ignored or left out of things on purpose (51 percent); being called bad names (47 percent); and being pushed, shoved, hit, slapped or kicked (nearly 30 percent).
• 46 percent of children with ASD have been a victim of bullying.
• 52 percent of parents indicated that peers taunted their child to intentionally trigger a meltdown or aggressive outburst.
"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 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."