September 17th, 2018
Today marks the first day of Anti Bullying Week 2018 in the Netherlands, which runs from September 17th – 21st 2018 - read more here (in Dutch). In keeping with this theme, a new longitudinal study by Sheida, Carolien and Evelien Broekhof has shed more light on the role of emotions in bullying in adolescent boys with and without autism. While boys from both groups show very similar patterns overall, boys with autism feel angrier than others after experiencing bullying, which actually makes them more likely targets for future bullying.
As might be expected, youngsters who often felt angry and rarely experienced guilt were more likely culprits of bullying behaviour. But not only that, engaging in bullying actually increased their anger over time and further reduced their feelings of guilt. In other words, bullies seem to become more insensitive towards their victims and feel more justified regarding their actions.
On the other hand, teens who were targets of bullying felt more fear and anger. In turn, being bullied led to an increase in these kinds of emotional reactions, as well as feelings of shame, creating an endless vicious cycle for these teens. This was true for boys both with and without autism. However, over time, boys with autism became even angrier than others when they were bullied, perhaps indicating an increased need for anger management interventions for these boys. This emotional reaction may also tell us something else about these teens, as anger implies the desire to express themselves and an intention to set things right, as opposed to withdrawing from social situations.
As well as giving us new information about teenage boys with autism, this paper also clarifies what we know about teen boys without autism. We now have seen that bullying and certain emotions can create a vicious cycle, further strengthening each other. These new insights may allow teachers and parents to take preventative action against bullying. Read more on the Leiden University website here (in Dutch) or here (in English) and access the full article here, now in press in Autism.