Researchers have known that being bullied has been shown to increase students’ risk for academic and emotional problems. However, research is sparse on how being a victim of bullying affects youths with special needs.
In the new study, researchers led by Margaret Ellis McKenna, M.D., investigated the impact of bullying, ostracism and diagnosis of a chronic medical condition on the emotional well-being of special needs children.
Researchers followed participants ages 8-17 years who were recruited from a children’s hospital during routine visits with their physicians. A total of 109 and their parents/guardians completed questionnaires that screen for symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Youths also completed a screening tool that assessed whether they had been bullied or excluded by their peers.
There were a variety of diagnoses including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (39 percent), cystic fibrosis (22 percent), type 1 or 2 diabetes (19 percent), sickle cell disease (11 percent), obesity (11 percent), learning disability (11 percent), autism spectrum disorder (9 percent) and short stature (6 percent).
Several children had a combination of these diagnoses.
Results of the youths’ answers on the questionnaires showed that being bullied and/or ostracized were the strongest predictors of increased symptoms of depression or anxiety. When looking at both parent and child reports, ostracism was the strongest indicator of these symptoms.
“What is notable about these findings is that despite all the many challenges these children face in relation to their chronic medical or developmental diagnosis, being bullied or excluded by their peers were the factors most likely to predict whether or not they reported symptoms of depression,” McKenna said.
“Professionals need to be particularly alert in screening for the presence of being bullied or ostracized in this already vulnerable group of students,” she added.
Researchers believe that schools should also have clear policies to prevent and address bullying and ostracism, as well as programs that promote a culture of inclusion and sense of belonging for all students.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics