School Climate & Safety

Children With Autism More Likely to be Bullied

By Nirvi Shah — March 27, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The early results from a new survey find that 63 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied at some point in their lives, three times as much as their brothers and sisters who don’t have the disorders.

The Interactive Autism Network‘s survey also found that children with autism—many of whom have deficits in social development—are often intentionally “triggered” into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.

IAN’s community scientific liaison, Dr. Connie Anderson, who worked on the survey of about 1,200 children, said the organization delved into the issue because it was a topic of conversation but hadn’t been studied in depth.

“It’s never OK for my son to hit, but what happens is kids pick at him until he pops, and often times his target is the teacher,” one parent told IAN. “His stress builds up as the kids mess with him, then, if the teacher reprimands him, he turns into a Tasmanian devil, scratching, pulling clothing and hair and trying to bite the teacher.”

In a discussion about the results, Dr. Anderson said the survey revealed other details—and more questions to explore—about how bullying affects students with ASD.

“Children with Asperger’s syndrome are the most vulnerable, and we hope to find out why. Is this because they are usually in general education settings, display traits that entice bullying (like clumsiness or talking on and on about a favorite topic), or some combination of factors?” she said.

One hypothesis: It’s because more children with Asperger’s are in typical classrooms in regular public schools—which the study found are settings associated with more bullying than other school settings. But that will require more study, Dr. Anderson said.

In addition, the survey found that children with autism who were homeschooled were bullied at the same rate as students enrolled in school. Homeschooling appeared to be an attempt at putting an end to bullying for some families.

One mother said her son, homeschooled ever since being diagnosed with depression in 3rd grade, “is doing much, much better without the constant name calling and being singled out for his ‘weird’ behaviors!” (Bullying, or the potential for bullying, isn’t grounds to warrant a student being transferred to another school, a federal judge has ruled.)

Other studies have found that in general, children with disabilities are bullied more than other students.

The survey also found that one group frequently bullied was children with autism spectrum disorder who wanted to interact with other children but were having difficulty making friends. Of them, 57 percent were bullied, compared to 25 percent of children who prefer to play alone and 34 percent of kids who will play, but only if approached. One bright spot: Children who had learned to make friends successfully were bullied at a lower rate: 34 percent.

As far as kids triggering aggression or meltdowns? Parents were asked if another child, who knows what bothers or upsets the child with ASD, had ever used that knowledge to trigger a meltdown or aggressive outburst on purpose. Fifty-two percent of parents said “yes.”

IAN is preparing several scientific papers that address bullying and children with ASD. But in the meantime, the group said, there’s clearly a need to increase awareness, influence school policies, and provide families and children with effective strategies for dealing with bullying, whether a child is a bully, victim, or bully-victim.

“Cruelest of all is the fact that bullying may further impair the ability of a child with ASD, who is already socially disabled, to engage with the social world,” the network said.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP