Among teen boys with an autism spectrum disorder, those who are considered high-functioning are confronted with a greater degree of bullying behaviour than their "typically developing" peers, new research indicates.
The observation specifically reflects upon boys aged 12 to 18, and refers to the kind of physical aggression, name-calling, intimidation, rumour-mongering and group exclusion that characterise bullying behaviour.
The finding is slated to be reported at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego, by a study team led by Elizabeth A. Kelley, assistant professor in the psychology department at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.
To explore the subject, the investigators focused on 68 adolescent boys, 31 of whom were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Autistic children and bullying
All the study participants completed questionnaires designed to gauge their IQ, language skills, emotional intelligence and prior "peer victimisation" experiences. Parents were also asked to discuss their child's ability to manage social interactions.
Children with autism were found to have lower IQ scores and were less adept at making appropriate judgement calls, the study found.
Judgement skills were not found to have a direct impact on bullying risk. However, for all of the study participants, the ability to manage stress and maintain emotional control did have a bearing on the risk for experiencing peer victimisation, the researchers found.
"Difficulty modulating emotional responses appropriately and a lack of ability to cope with stress appear to place adolescents with and without an autism spectrum disorder at risk for peer victimisation," the study authors concluded.
Because children with autism were less able to manage their emotional responses and stress, and were not skillful at reflecting upon and expressing their own thoughts and feelings or understanding those of their peers, they were therefore at greater risk of being bullied than typically developing boys, the findings suggested.
Experts note that research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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