Children with disabilities are more likely than other kids to respond aggressively to bullying, researchers say, and they often attack not only those picking on them, but others as well.

In a study looking at survey responses from nearly 1,200 middle and high school students with disabilities, researchers found that bullying often led these youngsters to fight or victimize other kids.

“Because students with disabilities often lack age-appropriate social and communication skills, they may act out aggressively as a response to being bullied,” said Chad Rose of the University of Missouri who led the study published in the journal Remedial and Special Education.

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“If a child reaches into their ‘bully response toolbox’ and the only tools they have are physical or verbal aggression, they likely will respond aggressively,” Rose said.

The survey included students in grades 6 through 12 from 25 different schools across five districts with conditions ranging from intellectual disability to autism, emotional and behavioral disorders as well as learning disabilities.

Since kids with disabilities are more likely to respond aggressively when they are victimized, they often end up being labeled bullies themselves, Rose said. But that may mean they don’t get the social and communication assistance they need.

“Children with disabilities often lash out physically as a defense mechanism against bullying,” Rose said. “By intervening with these children and giving them the proper skills and tools, we can not only help prevent future bullying of these children but improve their psychosocial outcomes as well.”

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