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« How one teen with autism beat the bullies | Main | Is there an autism epidemic? »

11/13/2012

The bullying problem

Bullying affects children with autism far more often than other kids -- and it was a common theme in many of the stories families shared with the Star when talking about their experiences in the education system.

In fact, a recent study of 920 families reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, found that almost half of autistic teens have been victimized, which is "substantially higher" than the average bullying rate.

"Future interventions should incorporate content that addresses the core deficits of adolescents with an ASD, which limits their verbal ability to report bullying incidents," said the study, led by Paul Sterzing, who is now at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Schools should incorporate strategies that address conversational difficulties and the unique challenges of those with comorbid conditions."

The study's authors also suggest that integrating students with autism into regular classrooms boosts understanding and empathy in the class.

There are no specific bullying prevention programs to help those with autism, says Wendy Craig of Queen's University, a leading expert in bullying in Canada and a leader of PREVNet, an anti-bullying coalition. (The name stands for "promoting relationships and eliminating violence network").

She says that there is research showing that there is an awareness of bullying of ASD students.

Studies have said anti-bullying programs for both students with and without ASD are needed.

York University professor Jonathan Weiss was recently awarded a five-year research chair to look at mental health issues for those with autism, and in part will look at how bullying can affect their lives.

A small 2011 study he co-authored found as many as 77 per cent of families report their child had been bullied within the past month, double the average rate.

Bullying can increase stress and anxiety in children with autism, and lead to more self-harming behaviours.   

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The Autism Project

  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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