A new study has found that children with both autism and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) are four times more likely to bully than children in the general population.
However, researchers are cautioning against labelling kids with autism and ADHD as bullies, for they feel that they may only be trying to let out pent up energy.
"These children may have pent up energy that needs to be properly channeled, or they may have other underlying behavioral or medical issues that have not been addressed," said Guillermo Montes, Ph.D., senior researcher at Rochester, N.Y. based Children's Institute.
As a part of the study the researchers looked at data from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The sample included 53,219 children ages 6 to 17.
The researchers were interested in finding out whether children with autism were more likely to bully other children. They hypothesized that that children with autism may bully more often because they are more often male (who are more likely to bully); they are more likely to be bullied (and victims are more likely to bully); and many children with autism require treatment for aggression (which potentially includes bullying).
But the researchers did not find that children with autism had a higher rate of bullying - unless they also had ADD or ADHD. Those with both disorders showed a rate four times higher than children with just autism and with children overall.
They also had a higher rate of bullying than children with ADD or ADHD but no autism. This poses an important opportunity for health care providers who see children with autism and ADD or ADHD, which occurs in about half of children with autism spectrum disorders.
"It would be helpful for clinicians to be aware that so many parents of children with both autism and ADHD are describing bullying behaviors," said Jill Halterman, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and second author of the paper.
"These children may benefit from additional support services, such as from a behavioral or mental health specialist, depending on the severity of symptoms. These services may be available through community based organizations or from the broader health care system," she added.
The study is published in the journal, Ambulatory Pediatrics.