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Vulnerability to bullying of children with autism spectrum conditions in mainstream education: a multi-informant qualitative exploration

Hebron, J and Humphrey, N and Oldfield, J (2015) Vulnerability to bullying of children with autism spectrum conditions in mainstream education: a multi-informant qualitative exploration. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 15. ISSN 1471-3802

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Abstract

Young people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are widely reported by parents and teachers to be bullied by peers during their school years. Research in this area is still in its relative infancy with the majority of studies quantitative in nature. The aim of the current study was therefore to investigate vulnerability to bullying of young people with ASC in mainstream schools in England. Five pupils aged 5–13 (three male, two female) were selected. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the children (where possible), their parents and teachers to explore vulnerability to being bullied in the context of school. Although none of the pupils were being seriously bullied, they were all recognised as vulnerable, especially as they grew older. Difficulties in conceptualising bullying emerged among the children, along with challenges forming and maintaining peer relationships. Behaviour difficulties risked isolating the pupils, potentially making them more vulnerable to bullies. However, school emerged as having a powerful protective role to play, with a positive ethos and zero tolerance of bullying, promotion of good relationships and communication with parents crucial in mitigating the risk of being bullied. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to research and practice.

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