Interpersonal Violence Experience in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Mixed Methods Approach
Fardella, Michelle Antoinette
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Aims: The aim of this dissertation was to understand violence victimization and perpetration as it relates to the deficits associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Methods: Three studies were conducted. An online community sample of 434 adults without ASD was used to examine how the social, communication, and behavioural deficits found in the Broader Autism Phenotype, and other known risk factors for victimization, predict interpersonal violence victimization and perpetration experiences (Study 1). Subsequently, a clinical sample of 45 adults with ASD and 42 adults without ASD completed questionnaires in order to explore whether those with ASD experience or perpetrate more interpersonal violence than those without ASD, and whether key impairments in ASD serve to explain rates of interpersonal violence perpetration and victimization (Study 2). Finally, 22 individuals with ASD from Study 2 participated in structured interviews that further explored perceived risk and protective factors for interpersonal violence victimization in those with ASD (Study 3). Results: Study 1 demonstrated that, among the variables examined, childhood polyvictimization was associated with adulthood polyvictimization and polyperpetration in men and women. For men, emotion regulation was associated with polyvictimization, and for women, emotion regulation was associated with polyperpetration. The Broader Autism Phenotype was not a significant predictor of either victimization or perpetration. Study 2 demonstrated that adults with ASD report experiencing, in childhood, more victimization overall, and specifically more property crime, childhood maltreatment, teasing/emotional bullying, and sexual assault by peers than adults without ASD. Adults with ASD did not report experiencing more overall polyvictimization in adulthood compared to adults without ASD, though they did report experiencing more teasing/emotional bullying, assault with a weapon, and greater sexual contact victimization. Study 3 elucidated individual and contextual themes that may reduce the risk of victimization (e.g., support from others and building safety skills) in adults with ASD. Discussion: Adults with ASD have an increased vulnerability to violence victimization, and this speaks to the need for intervention and proactive prevention strategies to decrease their vulnerability to, and the impact of, violence victimization. Interventions are needed to support skill development and address environmental components of risk.