Bullying of children and young people with autism spectrum disorders: an investigation into prevalence, victim role, risk and protective factors

J. S. Hebron

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Being the victim of bullying is a problem for many children and young people, yet challenges in defining the term and methodological issues have made research findings difficult to compare (Pugh & Chitiyo, 2012). Nevertheless, there is agreement that certain factors at different ecological levels can raise or lower the likelihood of being bullied, and that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) tend to be more vulnerable than their peers without ASD. The social impairments at the core of ASD have led to these children being termed ?perfect victims? (Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000, p. 6), although their developmental and behavioural profiles may mean that some bullying research conducted with typically developing peers is inappropriate for this group. Nevertheless, if left unaddressed, the problem of bullying may prevent inclusion in school and have serious negative effects on the child.The aim of the current study was to investigate prevalence, victim role, risk and protective factors for being bullied among children and young people with ASD, using a representative sample taken from the evaluation of Achievement for All (Humphrey et al., 2011). An embedded mixed methods design was used to permit a richer understanding of being bullied. For the risk and protection analyses there were 722 responses from teachers and 119 from parents concerning children with ASD. Teachers and parents completed a survey on bullying and wider outcome areas, with additional contextual data collected. Data were analysed using multiple regression, including a cumulative risk analysis. There were five focus pupils in the qualitative strand, and interviews were conducted with teachers, parents and pupils to investigate issues around being bullied. Thematic analysis was used to explore the interview data.Results indicated that children and young people with ASD were bullied more than other pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, although actual prevalence varied greatly according to the method of measurement. Children with ASD were more likely to be victims, although the proportion of bully-victims was higher than in the general population. A multiple regression analysis with bullying mean score as the dependent variable indicated that 43% of variance was attributable to the predictor variables in the teacher model, and 38% in the parent one. Risk factors were having higher levels of behaviour problems, being in Years 5, 7 and 10 (compared with Year 1), use of public/school transport to get to school, and being at School Action Plus; protective factors were increased positive relationships, attending a special school, and higher levels of parental engagement and confidence. Bullying rose according to the number risks to which a child was exposed, and the rise was exponential in the teacher model. Qualitative results allowed an exploration of the experience of bullying and processes contributing to vulnerability, with transition emerging as an additional concern. Implications and directions for future research are discussed in the context of these findings.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
  • Humphrey, Neil, Supervisor, External person
Award date12 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • ASD
  • ASC
  • bullying
  • victimisation
  • risk
  • protection
  • school


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