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Children With Autism Frequent Victims of Bullying

Hello, blog readers! My name is Christina Samuels, and I'm happy to be returning to the blog as its regular writer. I was the original blogger for On Special Education when it was created in January 2008, and I then handed the reins to my friend and colleague, Nirvi Shah, who has done an excellent job continuing Education Week's coverage of students with disabilities.

I'm now returning to the special education beat, but you can continue reading Nirvi's work on school climate, student behavior, and student engagement in the newspaper and at the Rules for Engagement blog.

So let's just start, with a conversation about bullying: It's at the top of list of concerns for many educators these days, and a recent article in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics shows that the topic should be of particular concern when it comes to students with autism. The study surveyed 1,221 families of children with autism spectrum disorders, and 38 percent of them reported being bullied in the past month. Twenty-eight percent said they were bullied frequently. The study also found that about 9 percent of children with autism were perpetrators of bullying, with about 5 percent described as "frequent" perpetrators. Close to 70 percent of the victims of bullying reported having experienced emotional trauma as a result of their treatment.

Those rates are higher than what had been noted in a 2001 study on American youth in general, the authors noted. In that earlier report, about 30 percent of children reported "moderate or frequent" involvement in bullying, either as a victim or as a perpetrator.

The study was conducted through the Interactive Autism Network, a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The network maintains a rich and extensive set of data on its members, and serves as a vehicle for disseminating information as well as a way to connect researchers to families—for example, if a researcher is looking for a specific group to study, such as middle school students with Asperger's syndrome, he or she can go to the network and be connected to the appropriate families, said Paul Law, the senior study author and director of the Interactive Autism Network. (The network is still looking for families if you're interested in signing up.)

For this study, the network sought out families to fill out a questionnaire on bullying. Some of the study participants got an incentive to fill out the survey, to avoid tilting the results only towards families who had experienced bullying.

Most of the students are in elementary and middle school, and the survey also noted that students with other conditions such as attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder or depression were more likely to be bullied.

In an interview, Dr. Law said one takeaway for educators is that concerns about bullying need to be brought up frequently, perhaps more often than at a yearly individualized education program meeting.

"If there's bullying, it really needs to be a top priority," he said. "Teachers are the solution to the problem as much as anybody is."

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