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Personal victimization experiences of autistic and non-autistic children.

Molecular Autism 2022 December 25
BACKGROUND: Autistic children report higher levels of bullying victimization than their non-autistic peers. However, autistic children with fewer social difficulties, as measured on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), are more likely to report being bullied. Autistic children with stronger social skills may not only be more likely to identify and report incidents of bullying, but they may also be more likely to interact with their non-autistic peers, increasing their likelihood of being victimized. Autistic girls may be especially at-risk of experiencing bullying victimization, as a growing body of research suggests that autistic girls demonstrate fewer social difficulties and are more socially motivated than autistic boys. Here, we explored reported problems with peers and bullying victimization among a carefully matched sample of autistic and non-autistic boys and girls. Qualitative methods were further implemented to gain a more holistic understanding of the social experiences of autistic boys and girls.

METHODS: This mixed-methods study analyzed the transcribed clinical evaluations of 58 autistic children (29 girls) matched to 42 non-autistic children (21 girls) on age and IQ. Within each diagnostic group, boys and girls were matched on ADOS severity score. We compared reported problems with peers and bullying victimization across sex and diagnosis. Among autistic children, we further examined whether ADOS social affect (SA), restricted repetitive behaviors, and severity scores predicted problems with peers and bullying victimization. We then identified themes related to personal experiences of victimization.

RESULTS: Autistic children were more likely than non-autistic children to have experienced bullying victimization, and autistic children with lower ADOS severity and SA scores were more likely to report having been bullied. While autistic boys and girls reported similar levels of bullying victimization, qualitative analyses revealed sex differences in the underlying causes of peer conflict.

LIMITATIONS: This study was a secondary data analysis. The standardized set of questions on the ADOS limited the amount of information that children provided about their peer relationships, and variations in follow-up questions may have influenced children's responses.

CONCLUSIONS: Although autism symptomatology places autistic children at greater risk for bullying victimization compared to their non-autistic peers, greater social challenges among autistic children are associated with lower rates of victimization. This study further highlights the importance of using mixed-methods approaches to discover nuances in the social experiences of autistic girls and boys that may become opportunities for support.

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