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The Association Between Bullying and the Psychological Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Zablotsky, Benjamin BA*; Bradshaw, Catherine P. PhD, MEd*; Anderson, Connie PhD; Law, Paul A. MD, MPH

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: January 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 1 - p 1–8
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e31827a7c3a
Original Article

Objective: Bullying has become a major national concern, particularly as it affects children with disabilities. The current study aimed to determine the association between psychiatric comorbid conditions, involvement in bullying (victim, bully, or bully–victim), and the immediate psychological correlates of bullying among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Methods: A national sample of 1221 parents completed a survey dedicated to the bullying and school experiences of their child with ASD, reporting on the immediate consequences of bullying involvement, including their child's psychological well-being and any psychiatric comorbidity. Multivariate logistic regressions were performed to determine whether specific psychiatric comorbidities were associated with an increased risk of involvement as victim, bully, or bully–victim. Analyses of variance determined the relationship between bullying frequency and psychological functioning. All models adjusted for child and school covariates.

Results: Children who were frequently victimized were more likely to present with internalizing symptoms, whereas children who frequently bullied others were more likely to exhibit emotion regulation problems. Children who were identified as frequent bully–victims presented with both internalizing symptoms and emotion regulation problems. Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression were more likely to have been victimized, whereas children with conduct disorder (CD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) were more likely to have bullied other children. Children identified as bully–victims were more likely to have ADHD, CD, or ODD.

Conclusions: Children with ASDs who had displayed bullying behaviors in the past month exhibited psychological impairments, including psychiatric comorbidity. The frequency of bullying behaviors was significantly associated with the level of impairment.

*Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD

College of Health Professions, Towson University, Towson, MD

Department of Informatics, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD.

Address for reprints: Benjamin Zablotsky, BA, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 North Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205; e-mail:

This research was supported in part by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (K01CE001333-01 to C.P.B.) and the Wendy Klag Fund for Developmental Disabilities Research (to B.Z.).

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Received June , 2012

Accepted October , 2012

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.