Children and teens with developmental disabilities and other special needs are bullied more often than their typically developing peers, according to a new study from the Medical University of South Carolina.

Researchers looked at individuals ages eight to 17 with autism, cystic fibrosis, learning disabilities and other behavioral and mental health diagnoses. They compared this group’s experiences to those of a control group of same-age individuals with no diagnosis by using the Reynolds Bullying and Victimization Scale. The findings indicate that those with disabilities were ostracized or purposely ignored more often than their typically developing peers.

“It is essential that parents, educators, and clinicians regularly ask children with special needs about their social experiences and reassure them that any problems will be effectively addressed,” said lead author Dr. Kimberly Twyman, of the Medical University of South Carolina Department of Pediatrics. “Most importantly, we should take steps to ensure that these children feel like they ‘matter.’ Parents often underreported bullying and ostracism concerns. Therefore the child or adolescent needs to be asked directly about these problems.”

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