Involvement in Bullying among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Parents' Perspectives on the Influence of School Factors

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

Children with developmental disabilities are at an increased risk for involvement in bullying, and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may be at particular risk because of challenges with social skills and difficulty maintaining friendships, yet there has been little empirical research on involvement in bullying among children with ASD. The current study presents findings from a cross-sectional national survey of 1,221 parents of children with ASDs regarding their children's experience with bullying (as both a victim and a perpetrator), as well as the parents' perceptions of the school and their involvement in school-based prevention efforts. Structural equation modeling analyses revealed parents rate their child's school climate more negatively if their children had been bullied in the past month. Parents who viewed the school more positively were more likely to be involved in their child's school. These findings highlight the potential role a positive school climate may play in protecting children with ASDs from the harmful effects of bullying, as well as the potential benefits of involving parents in school-based activities. Moreover, the current study identifies children with Asperger's to be at particular risk for being bullied when compared with children with other ASDs.

Bullying has become a serious public health problem in the United States. It is estimated that 30% or more of school-aged children are regularly involved in bullying (Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O'Brennan, 2007; Spriggs, lannotti, Nansel, & Haynie, 2007). The effects of bullying among children with typical development are well documented and often include both immediate and long-term health problems, internalizing and externalizing mental health problems (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin, & Patton, 2001; Seals & Young, 2003), academic problems, and impaired social functioning (Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Tobin, 2005; Swearer, Espelage, Vaillancourt, & Hymel, 2010). Yet much of the research on bullying has focused on general education students, with a limited number of studies focused on children who receive special education services (for a review, see Rose, Monda-Amaya, & Espelage, 2011), particularly children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Children with ASDs are at increased risk for being bullied as a consequence of their difficulties in making and maintaining friendships (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003). Because children with ASD generally lack strong peer group supports, they may rely more heavily on parents and school staff to help them combat bullying (Whitaker, Barrati, Joy, Potter, & Thomas, 1998). For this reason, we are especially interested in the role parents play in their child's school experience, as well as the potential for parents to serve as key targets for bullying prevention efforts. The current study examines bullying among children with ASDs in the context of parental school involvement and perceptions of school climate. This area of research has important implications for the development of interventions to help buffer the effects of bullying among children with ASDs.

Involvement in Bullying among Children with Disabilities

There is increased recognition that children with disabilities are at greater risk for involvement in bullying, particularly as victims. A recent review of the literature on bullying among students with special needs concluded that children with disabilities were at a greater risk of experiencing victimization than the general student population (Rose et al., 2011). The review also noted the rates of victimization tended to vary as a function of the child's particular disability and the severity of the disability (Dawkins, 1996; Whitney, Smith, & Thompson, 1994). For example, children who had compromised social skills and poor social cue reading skills appeared to be at greater risk for victimization when compared with children with other disabilities (Kaukiainen et al. …