Objectives: The current study is the first to examine rates of various forms of bullying (physical, verbal, and social) experienced by children and youth with ASD, as well as the impact of victimization on mental health. It is hypothesized that social and verbal forms of bullying will be reported more often than physical forms and that victimization will be associated with internalizing and externalizing mental health problems.
Methods: Participants include 268 parents of children diagnosed with ASD aged 6-18 years old from across Canada (85% boys and 15% girls; mean age = 12.03, SD = 4.64). Participants completed the PREVNet assessment tool (PREVNet Assessment Working Group, 2008) to assess bullying experiences and the Nisonger Child Behaviour Rating Form - Parent Form (NCBRF; Aman, Tasse, Rojahn, & Hammer, 1996) to assess mental health problems among their children.
Results: Roughly 75% of parents reported that their child was bullied at school within the last month, with 45% reporting that bullying has persisted for over one year. Verbal and social bullying were most common; 66% of parents reported one or both of these forms of victimization at least once in the last month and 27% reported occurrence 2-3 times per week. Fewer parents (38%) reported physical victimization at least once in the last month. MANOVA analyses suggest that children with ASD who were bullied in the last month have poorer mental health compared to those who were not bullied [F (7, 208) = 5.130, p < .001], with the dependent variables including NCBRF overall and subscale scores. Children who were bullied, compared to those who were not, exhibited higher scores on the overall NCBRF (p < .001), as well as conduct problems (p < .05), insecure/anxious (p < .001), hyperactive (p < .01), and overly sensitive (p < .001) subscales.
Conclusions: As expected, victimization occurred at higher rates among children with ASD when compared to the general population and was most often verbal or social in nature. Further analyses will explore age and gender differences. As predicted, bullying experiences were related to both internalizing and externalizing mental health problems among children and youth with ASD. Further analyses will explore the relative contributions of additional factors (e.g., parent mental health, ASD symptom severity) to mental health problems among children with ASD who are bullied. The results of this research will inform school-based bullying prevention and intervention programs.