Are ADHD Students More Likely to Bully, Be Bullied?

In the wake of a number of suicides by adolescents and teenagers, newspapers and online news sites invested significant space to address the devastating impact of bullying on struggling young people.

Once viewed as an unavoidable (and relatively harmless) aspect of growing up, bullying is now being discussed in a more critical light as awareness increases about the prevalence and the impact of this destructive practice.

Though learning differences and behavior disorders do not appear to have played a significant role in the most recent bullying-related suicides, research indicates that students who have been diagnosed with (or exhibit symptoms related to) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be at increased risk for being bullied.

In 2008, Swedish researchers tracked the behavior and experiences of the entire fourth grade of a small Stockholm-area town. Their insights into the 577 young students led these researchers to conclude that children with ADHD are at increased risk for being bullied. These students are also more likely to be bullies themselves.

  • According to the Swedish study, ADHD children are about four times as likely as non-ADHD students to be bullies.
  • Children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies – even prior to the onset of their ADHD symptoms.

A separate study – this one conducted by researchers associated with the Children’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y. – looked at the prevalence of bullying among young people with autism and ADHD. Highlights of this study included the following:

  • The researchers evaluated data on 53,219 children between the ages of 6 and 17.
  • The data that was analyzed had been collected during the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health.
  • The researchers discovered that autistic children did not have higher rates of bullying unless they also had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The researchers offered three reasons why autistic children with ADHD may be more likely to bully other students:

  • Autistic students are more likely to be male (and male students are more likely to bully).
  • Autistic students are more likely to be bullied (and bullying victims are at increased risk for
    bullying other students).
  • Many autistic youth have trouble controlling their aggression (and aggressive children may
    be more likely to bully).