Bullying Facts & Figures
Evidence shows over 60% of children and young adults with autism experience bullying. Among them, high schoolers are most likely to be bullied. School-aged children on the autism spectrum who do not need special health care and those from disadvantaged neighborhoods are also more likely to be bullied than other autistic children.
Bullying is a form of youth violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines it as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, that involves an observed or perceived imbalance of power, and either is or likely to be repeated.
Common types of bullying include:
- Damage to personal property
Bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered harassment. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have stated that bullying may also be considered harassment when it is based on a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.
Harassing behaviors may include:
- Unwelcome conduct such as verbal abuse, name-calling, epithets, or slurs
- Graphic or written statements
- Physical assault
- Other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating
Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn
Bullying is not a harmless rite of childhood that everyone experiences. Research shows that bullying can negatively impact a child’s access to education and lead to:
- School avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
- Decrease in grades
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of interest in academic achievement
- Increase in dropout rates
Though no federal law directly addresses bullying, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), age, disability, or religion. Federally-funded schools (including colleges and universities) have an obligation to resolve harassment on these bases.
Disability harassment is a civil rights issue. Parents have legal rights when their child with a disability is the target of bullying or disability harassment. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to as ‘Section 504’) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) are the federal laws that apply if the harassment denies a student with a disability an equal opportunity to education. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. Students with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would qualify for these protections.
State and local lawmakers have taken action to prevent bullying and protect children. Find out how your state refers to bullying in its laws and what they require on the part of schools and districts here.
Many school districts also have individual policies that address how to respond to bullying situations. Contact your local district to request a written copy of the district policy on bullying.
Adults are responsible for stopping bullying
It is the responsibility of parents, educators, and other adults to work together to fix a bullying situation. It is never the responsibility of the child. It is important these adults know the best way to talk with someone in a bullying situation to let them know this.
Use the IEP for bullying protection
An IEP is a direct opportunity to proactively prevent bullying. Parents and other IEP team members should work together to make the IEP reflect the child’s unique needs in school, including the need to be safe from bullying.
Stand Up for Others
More than 50% of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes. Most students don’t like to see bullying but they may not know what to do when it happens.
Peer advocacy – students speaking out on behalf of others – is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying.
Once students learn how to spot bullying when it happens to them, they need to learn the steps to stop it and prevent it from happening again. It is very important to teach students to advocate for themselves to the best of their abilities. Self-advocacy is:
- Speak up for yourself
- Describe your strengths, disability, needs, and wishes
- Take responsibility for yourself
- Learn about your rights
- Obtain help, or know who to ask, if you have a question
You are not alone
When students have been bullied, they often believe they are the only one this is happening to, and that no one else cares. They are not alone. There are individuals, communities, and organizations that do care. It is not up to one person to end the bullying and it is never the responsibility of the child to change what is happening to them. No one deserves to be bullied. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what. Everyone has a responsibility – and a role to play – as schools, parents, students, and the community work together for positive change. Read the experiences and reflections of our autistic community members in 6 Things Autistic People Want Bullies to Know here.
To understand how bullying can affect someone on the autism spectrum and learn about ways to stop or decrease bullying for students, parents and teachers, listen to our podcast Autism POVs: Autism and bullying.
Note: If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. It is free and confidential. Call or text 988 on your phone. Línea de Prevención del Suicidio y Crisis: 1-888-628-9454.