Children and teens with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied in school, compared to their peers without disabilities, and this victimization tends to persist into high school, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of Missouri (MU).
The findings suggest that youth with disabilities are not developing adequate social skills to help protect themselves from bullying as they get older.
“This study points out the necessity for special education programs to teach appropriate response skills to children with disabilities,” said Dr. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education in the MU College of Education.
“Schools need to further develop these programs by tailoring social development goals for each individual student to ensure they are learning the social skills that will help them prevent bullying from occurring.”
“Prior research has shown that children with disabilities, when bullied, may react aggressively when they lack appropriate response skills. Teaching these students how to communicate more effectively with their peers and with teachers can help them react to bullying in more positive ways, as well as prevent it from occurring at all.”
During the three-year study, more than 6,500 children from grades three to 12 were surveyed about their experiences with bullying. A total of 16 percent of the children surveyed had disabilities, specifically learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.
Rose and Dr. Nicholas Gage, an assistant professor from the University of Florida, discovered that bullying rates for all children peaked in third grade, were reduced significantly in middle school and then rose again during high school. However, while mirroring this trend, bullying rates for students with disabilities remained consistently higher than those without disabilities.
“Studying how individual children are victimized by bullying over time has revealed that children with disabilities are not learning how to effectively respond to victimization,” Rose said.
“As children continued to mature, we expected to see that they would slowly develop social skills that would help them combat victimization and close the gap with children without disabilities, but that was not the case.”
“Their rates of bullying victimization remained consistently higher, which shows that current intervention approaches are not effectively preparing these children who are most at-risk for bullying involvement,” said Rose.
Rose explains that since many schools have been devoting more and more time to common core subjects and standardized test preparation, there has been less available time to focus on teaching students important social skills. He believes that schools should put more emphasis on helping children develop better social skills, especially kids with disabilities.
The study was published in the journal Exceptional Children.
Source: University of Missouri-Columbia