Graduation Year

2016

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Eric Storch, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jack Darkes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tiina Ojanen, Ph.D.

Keywords

ASD, Bully, Child Psychopathology, Parental Stress, Social Support

Abstract

Peer victimization is a serious national concern affecting as many as 54% of typically developing children and adolescents. Although an extensive body of literature on peer victimization in typically developing youth exists, few studies have focused on how this problem affects youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who may be at a higher risk to experience peer victimization due to ASD symptomology and other common comorbid characteristics (e.g., anxiety and depressive symptoms) that may invite peer aggression. In this study, 81 school-aged youth between the ages of 9 and 17 years (M= 11.91, SD= 2.32) who were diagnosed with ASD and had a full scale intelligence quotient (IQ) equal to or greater than 70 (M= 104.10, SD= 14.24) and their parents completed questionnaires examining the frequency of peer victimization and clinical characteristics of the youth. Parents (n= 81) and their children (n= 78) reported that peer victimization occurred on average a few times in the past year, and frequency did not significantly differ across gender. Parent and child reports of victimization had a significant positive relationship with child’s report of loneliness (r(78)= .46, p< .001; r(78)= .61, p< .001, respectively), anxiety and depressive symptoms (r(78)= .22, p< 0.05; r(78)= .61, p< .001, respectively), and a significant negative relationship with social skills (r(78)= -.38, p= .001; r(78)= -.30, p< .01, respectively). The relationship between child’s and parent’s report of peer victimization and child’s anxiety/depressive symptoms (b= -.01, SE= .01, p= .55; b= .01, SE= .01, p= .34, respectively) and loneliness (b= .001, SE= .01, p= .88; b= .01, SE= .01, p= .48, respectively) did not significantly vary as a function of the overall amount of social support received. Parent and child report of peer victimization did not significantly predict parent reported parental stress above and beyond ASD symptom severity (p= .37, R2 change= .01 and p= .09, R2 change= .03, respectively). Lastly, the relationship between the child’s and parent’s report of peer victimization and parent reported social avoidance was not mediated by a fear of negative evaluation. The results indicate significant predictors of peer victimizations that may assist school staff, parents and healthcare providers identify youth with ASD who may be at risk for peer victimization and may help to shape treatment protocols by targeting the associated factors of peer victimization (e.g., anxiety and depressive symptoms, social skill deficits).

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