Study: Students With Disabilities Often On Both Ends Of Bullying

Special education students are more likely than their typically developing peers to be bullied. But new evidence indicates they’re also often the ones doing the harassing.

A new study looking at over 800 students ages 9 to 16 from nine different schools finds that bullying experiences vary dramatically between special education and general education students.

And even among students with disabilities, the type of special needs a child has can further separate one student’s experience from the next, according to the study published online in the Journal of School Psychology.

Using school data on student involvement in bullying situations, researchers found that kids enrolled in special education were more likely to both perpetrate and be victims of bullying. They were also more likely to be sent to the school office for disciplinary problems than those in general education.

“These results paint a fairly bleak picture for students with disabilities in terms of bullying, victimization and disciplinary actions,” wrote Susan Swearer, a professor of school psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who led the study.

Among special education students, those with language, hearing or mental impairments exhibited the highest levels of involvement in bullying, the study found, while those with less visible conditions like learning disabilities were part of fewer incidents.

Typically developing students often experienced the most bullying in fifth grade before the behavior started to subside, but those with disabilities didn’t appear to get the same relief. Their level of bullying involvement remained constant throughout the grade levels studied, the researchers said.

The study adds to a growing body of research and anecdotal evidence surrounding the experiences of students with disabilities and bullying. A study released last year looking at children with disabilities and special health care needs found such students experienced more bullying and felt less safe at school than other kids.

And, a survey released earlier this year found that children with autism are bullied three times more than other kids and are also frequent perpetrators of bullying themselves.

Swearer and her colleagues said that schools need to do more to emphasize positive socialization among students. They also said that increased mainstreaming of students with visible disabilities in general education classrooms may help prevent bullying.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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