Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder Often Victimized in Mainstream School Setting

Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder Often Victimized in Mainstream School Setting

Victimization Leads to Negative Educational Outcomes

Friday, September 09, 2016

A new study highlights the extent to which teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are victimized by classmates in the school setting and suffer negative educational outcomes.

Parents and teens report high levels of verbal and physical abuse, being provoked, being ignored, and being excluded from activities. These behaviors have a known effect on teens’ psychological health and general well-being. The new Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study adds poor educational outcomes to the list of negative consequences.

The study, published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, included parent reports of peer victimization and its effect on educational outcomes, as well as adolescents’ reports of peer victimization in teen boys.

“These reports from parents and teens provide a clear impetus to investigate the utility of social skills interventions in improving academic outcomes,” says Ryan Adams, PhD, a psychologist in the division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s and the study’s lead author. “Our study suggests that there should be a special focus on verbal victimization. Anti-bullying strategies that are most salient to teens with ASD could result in effective interventions.”

Adams and his colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s surveyed 432 parents of teens with ASD who spent at least half of the school day in a mainstream classroom. Of those parents, 63.5 percent reported their children were provoked, 43.1 percent reported verbal victimization, 30.6 percent reported their children were ignored, and 17.4 percent reported physical victimization. Verbal victimization, being ignored and being provoked were also significantly associated with the likelihood that school staff had told parents about academic problems.

Adams also surveyed 54 adolescents with ASD. Thirty-five percent reported some form of bullying over the past month. Half reported bullying at least once a week and 61 percent at least once a month.

"Results of the two surveys provide insights into why cognitively-able adolescents with ASD have such high rates of educational difficulties,” says Adams. “Across both samples, ASD-related peer victimization has some of the strongest associations with educational outcomes, such as enjoying school, fearing going to school, feeling safe at school and some measure of academic achievement. This suggests that interventions may need to specifically focus on reducing negative experiences that may arise directly from ASD-related behaviors.”

The study was supported by a grant (R40MC28145) from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Definitions for this Study

Bullying: When a peer with power over another peer uses aggression.

Peer victimization: When a peer uses aggression against another peer, regardless of whether one individual has power over another.  Bullying is a form of victimization, but not all victimization is bullying.

Being provoked: When a child who knows what bothers another child uses that knowledge to purposely trigger a meltdown or an aggressive outburst.


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Jim Feuer