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