Autistic children are more likely than non-autistic children to be bullied at school. This study therefore explored whether the kind of school setting and the level of personal contact with autistic people can affect children's attitudes towards bullying and autism. Surveys were completed at the beginning and end of the school year by 775 children aged 11-12 years, from six schools: three with specialist centres for autistic children and three without. Participants read stories describing bullying situations, then provided their views in relation to the story and in relation to autism. Children in schools with centres increased their feelings of anger, pity, sadness and shame in response to the bullying situations. In contrast, children in schools with no centre showed less sociable responses to bullying, except in response to a story describing an autistic child, being excluded by classmates. Furthermore, children who increased the time they spent with autistic individuals over the course of the year showed a greater rise in positive attitudes towards autistic people. This highlights the need for both personal contact and an inclusive school environment, to improve attitudes towards autism and reduce tolerance for bullying.
Keywords: adolescents; bullying; inclusion; neurodiversity; peer attitudes; school climate; school-age children; social exclusion; social identity.