Autistic children more likely to be bullied, finds survey

By Gabriella Jozwiak, Tuesday 02 April 2013

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More than 97 per cent of parents with autistic children say the disability makes them more vulnerable to bullying at school

Young people playing football

The Anti-Bullying Alliance said structured play would help reduce bullying of autistic children. Image: Paul Carter

The Anti-Bullying Alliance survey also found that 70 per cent of parents believe their child’s condition made their peers act negatively towards them.

The online poll collected more than 200 responses from parents of children with Asperger Syndrome or autism spectrum conditions. More than 80 per cent of the children referred to in the study were aged up to 16.

Many of the parents raised concerns about school play times and lunch breaks, with 73.5 per cent saying these were “difficult or frightening” periods in the school day.

Luke Roberts, senior development officer for bullying and equalities at the alliance, said it was important for schools to offer structured play to give reassurance to parents.

“The key issue is to give children with autism organised and structured play – for example, with activity supervisors or sports coaches, so that there are clear rules and boundaries,” said Roberts.

“That would definitely help to reduce the amount of bullying that happens, because it takes away some of the ambiguity of what’s happening and gives children with autism more certainty.

“During unstructured play, the anxiety levels of young people with autism can rise. Leaving them to their own devices can make them a target of bullying in the playground.

“But structured play gives them focused attention and a protective factor.”

According to the survey, 42.4 per cent of parents say their children were often bullied and 32.3 per cent say their children were occasionally bullied.

Roberts said these rates were much higher than for children without a disability, which were between 20 and 25 per cent.

The poll marked the launch of the alliance's Give us a Break campaign, which aims to raise awareness of bullying experienced by children with autism.

Owen Cordwell, a 10-year-old who is supporting the campaign, said he hoped it would change attitudes.

"I have been bullied just because I was in special provision. I never want anyone else to go through that,” he said.

“It doesn't matter if you are autistic or not, you should not be bullied, as we are all people with feelings and no child deserves to be bullied.”

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