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Individuals with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their peers regardless of whether it is within a school or workplace setting. Bullying refers to repetitive, negative actions directed toward a peer and characterized by a power imbalance. Victimization (i.e., singling person out for cruel treatment) and perpetration (i.e., bullying) of individuals with ASD often results from (King & Murphy, 2014):

  • Social blindness: Lacking understanding of social rules (i.e., social naivete) and social situations, e.g.,
    • How to read other signals
    • Understanding social hierarchies
    • Knowing what is “cool”
    • Brutal honest (e.g., “You are fat” or “You are ugly”)
    • Knowing that what they do may be consider bullying by others
  • Disruptions of routines that may cause aggression
  • Low level of empathy in individuals with ASD

IAN data highlighted additional reasons with being bullied:

  • Clumsiness
  • Poor hygiene
  • Rigid rule keeping
  • Frequent meltdowns

Impact of Bullying

Since individuals with ASD tend to internalize the problems, a significant correlation between bullying and the following characteristics has been observed:

  • Communication problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased risk for anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress
  • Lower SES
  • Fewer friends

Bullying at School

Adolescents with developmental disabilities have higher rates of victimization (7-94% vs 12-41) and perpetration (15-46% vs 10%-44%). This negatively impacts both mental health and social engagement and integration of individuals with disabilities. Risk factors for individuals with ASD to be bullied:

  • Individuals with ‘chronic behavioral, emotional, or developmental’ problems were 3 times more likely to become a bully-victim than other children. (Van Cleave & Davis, 2006)
  • Individuals diagnosed both with ASD and ADHD were 4 times more likely to bully than typical children. (Montes & Halterman, 2007)
  • Bullying associated with behavioral problems in study of 120 children with ASD, while victimization associated only with peer problems. (Fink, Olthof, Goossens, van der Meijden, & Begeer, 2018)

A common challenge is parents not knowing that their child may be bullied. For example, in a study of 35 college-bound youth with ASD, 51% reported they’d been recent victims of bullying, but only 31% said the same (van Schalkwyk, Smith, Silverman, & Volkmar, 2018).

Bullying at a Workplace

Bullying does not stop with graduation. Individuals with ASD or neurotypical individuals may experience bullying. However, since bullying is about power, about 61% of bullying is done by people in power (e.g., supervisors), according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Additionally, most of bullies are men. While women comprise 65-67% of victims of bullying regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

Bullying Prevention

Research shows that building a positive climate at school, workplace, and/or community along with the advancement of social-emotional learning (SEL) can help with effective bullying prevention.

Autism Society: Bullying Prevention:

What are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying at School?