Resilience to Bullying Victimization Among Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
10:00 AM
J. A. Weiss1, M. C. Cappadocia2 and D. Pepler2, (1)Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are at risk for experiencing peer victimization (i.e., being bullied), as well as for a range of internalizing and externalizing mental health problems, particularly anxiety. Despite the negative mental health outcomes associated with victimization, however, some children who experience bullying are resilient, and it is important to examine protective factors that can contribute to resilience in children with ASD.

Objectives: The current study assessed the relation among frequency of peer victimization and symptoms of anxiety in children with ASD, and the role of parental positive affect as a moderator of that relation.

Methods: Participants included 227 parents of children diagnosed with ASD. All children were enrolled in elementary, middle, or high school (i.e., grades 1-12) and were 5-21 years of age (83% boys; M age = 11.41, SD = 3.42). Parents reported the following formal diagnoses for their children: Asperger syndrome (52%), high functioning autism (14%), PDD-NOS (14%), and autism (20%). Parents completed a measure of parenting affect (Parenting Stress Scale; Bonds, Gondoli, Sturge-Apple & Salem, 2002), child anxiety (Anxiety subscale of the Nisonger Child Behavior Rating Form; Aman, Tasse, Rojahn, & Hammer, 1996), ASD symptomatology (Autism-Spectrum Quotient: Child Version; Auyeung, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Allison, 2008), and bullying perpetration and victimization via online survey (PREVNet tool; PREVNet Assessment Working Group, 2008).

Results: While the frequency of victimization was predictive of anxiety for all children, it had the greatest impact on children of highly distressed parents, and parental positive affect was found to act as a significant moderator in the process. Regression using simple slopes (i.e., < 1 SD below the moderator mean, at the moderator mean, and > 1 SD above the moderator mean) indicated that bullying was significant at all three levels of the moderator, such that regardless of the level of the moderator, as the frequency of victimization increases, child anxiety increases. At the same time, at low levels of positive parenting affect, the relationship between victimization and child anxiety is strongest, and at high levels of positive affect, the relationship is at its weakest.

Conclusions: This is the first study to examine variables that may serve to protect children with ASD when they are faced with peer victimization. Consistent with the literature on resilience to bullying victimization in typically developing youth, parent affect may play a role in buffering the negative consequences of bullying. Interventions to assist parents in coping and to address peer victimization are discussed.

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