Keena Ballard, 10, is a poster child for excellent care at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Her mom couldn't be more proud. Kameena is her daughter's biggest fan and supporter. But as a child with autism, Keena often fell victim to bullies.
"She would come home with marks on her and her hair would be different," said Kameena. "Her clothes would be different. She would hold these emotions, having that deficit, and then lash out. She would act out."
So a new Archives of Pediatric Medicine study that reveals how bad bullying is among adolescents with autism is no surprise to parents like Kameena.
"Forty-six percent of children with autism in the adolescent age group at schools have been the victims of bullying," said Dr. Douglas Vanderbilt, a behavioral specialist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
That's high compared to the 30 percent bullying rate in the general population.
Vanderbilt adds that 15 percent of kids with autism become bullies themselves because they don't know how to react to social norms. Depression and anxiety often accompany bullying.
We know what the negative effects are of bullying in typically developing children, but experts say it could be much worse in kids with autism.
Vanderbilt says the study reveals the need for more effective anti-bullying strategies. Besides correcting bullies and supporting victims, Vanderbilt believes bystanders need to take action.
"Get them involved. Tell them that it's their responsibility to stop this kind of behavior from going on," said Vanderbilt.
Keena is now in a more supportive environment. Kameena says keeping an open line with teachers helps her stay more in touch with what's happening with Keena.
"When you advocate for your child you advocate for yourself and your family," said Kameena.
This study also shows there is a high rate of bullying among other kids, like those with ADHD.
As a parent advocate, Kameena recommends parents seek out programs that address bullying and help kids with autism cope.