New research from Research Autism reveals that a high percentage of secondary school pupils with Asperger Syndrome are the targets of bullying

News Release Date: 10 April 2008

Research funded by Research Autism and undertaken by the University of Sheffield into bullying and social interaction amongst secondary schools pupils with Asperger Syndrome (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA) has revealed that pupils with AS/HFA are more likely to be the targets of bullying and were likely to be bullied more often than their peers.

Research Autism is the only charity in the UK to fund and promote research into interventional treatments and therapies that enhance the quality of life of those on the autistic spectrum and their families. Identifying risk factors for bullying is considered an important focus of research for Research Autism because bullying is a common experience for many people with autism. Prior to this study, it was estimated that at least 40% of children on the autistic spectrum experience bullying during their school years, results from this study show that bullying could be far more common for people with AS/HFA.

The research project was led by Dr Paul Naylor and Professor Digby Tantam both of the School of Health & Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield. Between April 2006 and November 2007, the research team interviewed 57 children in the Sheffield area - 30 of whom have been diagnosed with AS/HFA. The research showed that 90% of the 30 children with AS/HFA reported being bullied, compared to 56% of other pupils and 87% of children with AS/HFA reported that they were bullied at least once a week, compared to 56% of other pupils. The research also highlighted important behaviour patterns which might be linked to bullying and social isolation, such as the pupils with AS/HFA engaged in fewer social interactions during the school day - inside and outside of lessons - and often spent break and lunch times inside the school in quieter spaces supervised by adults. The pupils with AS/HFA also reported having far few fewer friends and were less physically active.

Upon completion of this study, the research team concluded that social isolation and bullying may be higher amongst pupils with AS/HFA for a variety of reasons, including possessing poor communication skills and being less physically active due to poor motor coordination skills. Ultimately, the research team felt that more research is needed to examine the risk factors for bullying by peers that pupils with AS/HFA face compared to other pupils and how best to intervene to prevent bullying.

As a result of the first stage of this research into bullying amongst young people with AS/HFA, Research Autism hopes that researchers move closer to understanding the key risk factors for this group of people and that the appropriate steps are taken to prevent bullying being such a common experience for those on the autistic spectrum.

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Notes to editors:


Bernard Fleming, Information Manager, Tel. 020 3490 3091, email info@researchautism.net

Research Autism


Research Autism is the only UK charity dedicated to the production of quality, trusted information on autism treatments and other approaches. Its Information Centre is informed by world experts and accredited by the NHS Information Standard, an independent kite-mark of reliability and quality. It guides people through the minefield of interventions on offer, allowing them to make informed decisions based on impartial, factual information, including risks and hazards. Its research programme is derived from the priorities of autistic people and families and addresses areas that affect everyday life. 


Bullying is the systematic, repeated abuse of power and includes physical and verbal abuse, and acts of indirect aggression characterised by gossiping, spreading malicious rumours and social exclusion (deliberately not allowing a person into a group).

Asperger syndrome and higher-functioning autism are forms of autism spectrum disorder. This is a neuro-developmental condition, usually present from early childhood and persisting through life. It is associated with difficulties in social functioning, communication and behaviour.

Many pupils with AS/HFA manage to cope with the academic demands of mainstream schooling since they typically have average or above levels of intelligence. However, they often do not cope well with the social demands of school which include interactions with peers, understanding rules and codes of conduct and what to do at break and lunch times.

Although several previous studies have examined the social integration of adolescent pupils with AS/HFA in mainstream schools, these studies have all been qualitative and small-scale.

*The research team from the University of Sheffield that undertook this research is currently recruiting participants for future research that will follow a group of 18-30 year olds with AS/HFA over the course of a week to understand the relationship between body mass index (BMI), diet, amount of physical activity, and social inclusion in young people (18-25 years) with Asperger syndrome (high-functioning autism) (AS/HFA) compared with other young people.

Methods used in the Bullying of children with AS/HFA in secondary schools study:

  • As far as possible, each child with AS/HFA was matched with a similar child without the condition on the variables of age, gender, academic ability, physical size, lessons attended during the day and, where possible, socio-economic background and ethnicity.
  • Children were recruited into the study using personal contacts.
  • The research was conducted between April and May 2006, between March and June 2007, and again in November 2007.
  • On the research day, each pupil was met for a brief 10-minute period by a researcher before the school day started.
  • The researcher fitted each pupil with a pedometer, outlined the study and obtained verbal consent to continue.
  • Towards the end of the school day, the researcher conducted a face-to-face interview with each pupil for a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • The researcher used this structured interview to ask each pupil about his or her social interactions with his or her peers during that school day.

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