With a rising presence of students with autism placed in general education settings, more attention is being focused on the interactions between these children and their typically developing peers. It is well documented that even when students with autism are capable of handling the intellectual demands of a mainstream classroom, they often struggle to build and maintain social relationships.
A team of researchers in the United Kingdom assessed the social relationship experiences of nearly 100 students, ages 10 through 12, with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as reported by parents, teachers, and the children themselves in a 2012 study. This is a brief summary of their results:
- About half of the students with an ASD and their teachers reported being “certainly true” that they had at least one good friend, while only one third of parents believed this to be the case. These rates are lower than those reported not only by the general population, as well as by children who have special education needs but are not on the autism spectrum.
- Three quarters of parents reported that their child with an ASD had experienced some degree of victimization, and 40 percent of students reported that they had felt excluded or rejected. Both are higher rates than those reported by the general population.
These findings not only confirm what we already know about students with special needs being more vulnerable to social isolation, but they suggest that the social challenges associated with autism make students on the spectrum even bigger targets for bullying in the classroom and on the playground.
While the researchers advocate for social skills training and other behavior modification programs to help children with autism develop healthy and meaningful friendships, they also recommend that school communities initiate widespread anti-bullying efforts and educate professionals about autism.
In an effort to increase acceptance of differences and discourage harmful bullying, OAR’s Kit for Kids uses a peer-teaching model to help typically developing students learn about autism. OAR is also in the process of creating a DVD that is designed to help general education teachers support students with autism.
To learn more about these resources or request a Kit for Kids, please contact Ben Kaufman, Director of Programs and Community Outreach, at 703-243-9762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.