Past, Present, and Future Self-Concepts in Undergraduates with ASD and Other Disabilities in Relation to Chronic Bullying and Use of Labels in Disclosure

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
D. DeNigris1, P. J. Brooks2, R. Obeid3, C. Shane-Simpson4, S. Shnaidman5, E. Wawrzonek6, W. Long6, B. Cheriyan6, J. D'Onofrio7 and K. Gillespie-Lynch8, (1)The Graduate Center & College of Staten Island, CUNY, New York, NY, (2)College of Staten Island, Staten Island, NY, (3)CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY, (4)The Graduate Center & College of Staten Island, New York, NY, (5)Staten Island Technical High School, Staten Island, NY, (6)The College of Staten Island, CUNY, Staten Island, NY, (7)Center for Student Accessibility, City University of New York, College of Staten Island, Staten Island, NY, (8)CUNY Graduate Center, Brooklyn, NY
Background:  Although more students with ASD are entering college (Van Bergeijk et al., 2008), they have lower graduation rates than students with other disabilities (Newman et al., 2011). Despite challenges (Van Hees et al., 2014), many undergraduates with ASD do not disclose their disability to obtain accommodations (Newman et al., 2011). A history of bullying may contribute to disclosure decisions. Youth with ASD often experience bullying (Schroeder et al., 2011) and those who are bullied have difficulties trusting others (Humphrey & Symes, 2010). Adolescents with ASD who negatively define themselves and their disabilities may do so due to negative feedback from others (Humphrey & Lewis, 2011). Although emerging evidence suggests that bullying may continue into college (Gelbar et al., 2014), little is known about the degree to which bullying affects undergraduates with ASD in particular.

Objectives:   We examined identity formation in undergraduates with ASD and other disabilities by relating a novel measure of identity (6-word autobiographies) to past and current bullying experiences and disability disclosure. We explored how the valence of 6-word self-descriptions changed over time (past: 5 years before college, present, future: 5 years after college) in relation to bullying and disability.

Methods:  Undergraduates with ASD (n=12) or other disabilities (OD; n=6) were asked to provide six terms describing their past, present, and future selves, and to answer questions about bullying, disclosure, and college-related challenges. Students completed the SRS-2 (Constantino & Gruber, 2012), Spielberger (1983) STAI, and Rosenberg (1965) Self-Esteem Scale. Interviews were coded for valence of self-descriptions, presence and type of bullying, disclosure decisions, and challenges.

Results:  No differences in responses based on disability status (ASD vs. OD) were observed. Most students reported having been bullied (75% ASD; 100% OD), with chronic, repeated bullying common (50% ASD; 83% OD). Bullying at college was reported by 57% of students with ASD and 60% with OD. Most students voluntarily disclosed diagnoses during the interview (58% ASD; 83% OD).  Most reported academic (92% ASD; 67% OD) and non-academic (67% ASD; 67% OD) challenges.

Students self-descriptions shifted from more negative to more positive from past to present to future, F(2,34)=27.307, p<.001. The magnitude of this shift was greater among chronically bullied students, F(2,32)=6.164, p=.005, who described their past-selves more negatively (p=.013) and present-selves more positively (p=.040) than their peers.  Students who were chronically bullied were more likely to label their disability (p=.013). Bullying was not associated with self-reported symptoms, anxiety or self-esteem.  

Conclusions:  Students’ experiences of chronic bullying impacted their perceptions of past and current selves. Findings suggest that negative perceptions of past selves who were chronically bullied give way to more positive self-perceptions when bullying becomes reduced in college.  Students who were chronically bullied may label their disability to increase others’ understanding. Bullying and other challenges were similar across college students with ASD and students with others disabilities, suggesting that a universal-design approach might benefit students with ASD and other disabilities.