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Study: Students With Disabilities Often On Both Ends Of Bullying


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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.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. msamericanpatriot says:

    ‘They also said that increased mainstreaming of students with visible disabilities in general education classrooms may help prevent bullying.’

    That is a bunch of bs because the disabled person would be bullied ever MORE in a mainstream classroom. I know this from personal experience here. Idiots.

  2. Darla says:

    While I do not doubt that some students with disabilities become perpetrators of bullying, most likely trying to fit in or be accepted and alleviate some of their own experiences of being bullied; I would be cautious in drawing conclusions “using school data on student involvement”. I have observed a number of times when there is a situation of bullying or other rule infraction when students with disabilities and regular students are involved that if the student with a disability is questioned they tend to “shutdown” faced with authority or become frustrated with their communication difficulty when trying to convey their perspective. The authority tends, whether on purpose or unknownly, to “ride over them” and attribute actions or behavior that are false conclusions to the student with disabilities. Thus the school data is incorrect with the reporting of these false conclusions.

  3. Marsha Katz says:

    I would be curious to know whether the higher rate of students with disabilities doing the bullying has any relation to “learned behavior” as they observe how so-called “typical” students and adults treat other people. With all the articles recently making the news about adult teachers, para-professionals and direct care staff abusing/bullying people with disabilities, I am especially curious about what negative behaviors they may model for students with disabilities, and if those behaviors are then “imitated” by students in their interactions with other students.

    I would also like to know if there are specific disabilities where a student may lack impulse control that also result in them potentially acting in a bullyish fashion before their brain has a chance to filter their behavior.

  4. Vikki Tuck says:

    I know researchers have contemplated this study in terms of disabled students being the perpetrator. In regards to ASD students, I believe there are many reasons this could be. First, an ASD student that has been the victim of bullying, they are more likely to mimic or model after the original bully. Since an ASD child has communication problems to begin with, this could be the reason why they are the perpetrator–lack of communiction skills gets them the attention they seek or have received through inappropriate behaviors. I’ve seen students with Oppositional Deviant Disorder stand up to other students (bullies) and teachers fighting for unfairness and the rights of others in order for them to receive fair justice only to to get labeled as a bully, although, according to many professionals, that kids with ODD typically see the injustices and with interfere where they don’t belong.

  5. Margie says:

    I totally agree. My son has been bullied by the higher functioning special needs kids more than any other group. Thankfully, he has not been bullied by his typical peers.

  6. Jon K. Evans says:

    I was on both ends of the bullying. After I returned to public school in 6th Grade, I knew it was eat or be eaten. Consequently, just as I was being bullied, I would call my bullies by names that were derogatory. It was a self-perpetuating cycle. I was bullied in 7th Grade, but just as I was finally getting my message across that I was not to be messed with, the teacher, a num, would single me out and “hit hard on me” Any little mistake I made was dealt with harshly.

  7. CP_Lady says:

    As an adult with cerebral palsy, I believe mainstreaming is beneficial for all students with or without disabilities because they can learn from each other. I was mainstreamed in regular classrooms in the 1970s & 80s, and I had wonderful classmates who never bullied me. In fact, they were always eager to help me any way they could. Being in a regular classroom made me feel like I was no different than my peers, and I think being around me showed my classmates that there was a regular person behind my physical limitations and speech impairment.

  8. Erin says:

    One thing I found interesting is this snippet ” 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.” I had always thought of people with learning disabilities, language and mental impairments as invisible disabilities. Meaning if one didn’t have the diagnosis documents right there, you wouldn’t know they had a disability. What do you think guys? What does this say about how we think of disability?

  9. Suzy says:

    After being slapped and punched twice my son finally punched back on the 4th assault.

    Do you know what that pricipal said to him ?

    1. Well maybe he didn’t mean to hit you ? He was flailing his arms around ?
    2. No , this is not self defense.

    I instructed them to not counsel my son without my presence ever again.

    It is backwards Darwinism. Stupid and helpless. Public education in America.

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