July 30, 2012
2 min read

Children in special education more likely to be bullied, and to bully

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Special education students with behavioral disorders and observable disabilities reported bullying others more and being victims of bullying more than their general education counterparts, according to study results.

“Intolerance and a lack of respect for individual differences are the roots of bullying behaviors,” study researcher Susan M. Swearer, PhD, told Healio.com. “Acceptance of all individuals, regardless of disability status, is the key to acceptance for all and ending bullying in our schools.”

Swearer and colleagues from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln analyzed data collected on 816 students aged 9 to 16 years. The students were part of a larger longitudinal study that included Midwestern elementary and middle schools from one school district. None of the participating schools had fully contained special education programs, and all students with disabilities were likely to spend time in special education services and in the regular education classroom.

The Pacific-Rim Bullying Measure was used to assess students’ experiences with bullying and victimization. The measure did not contain the word “bullying,” which has been found to reflect different meanings across countries and languages. The Children’s Social Behavior Scale was used to assess how often children engage in aggressive and prosocial behaviors. The researchers also analyzed office referral data for each student. For each of the nine schools included in the study, office referrals were the primary intervention when teachers and staff witnessed bullying behaviors or when students reported bullying behaviors.

Based on their responses on the Pacific-Rim Bullying Measure, students were grouped according to four statuses: bully, bully-victim, victim or not involved.

When provided specific examples of bullying, such as pushing, hitting or kicking, 38.1% of all students reported bullying others, and 61.9% reported no bullying behavior. Again, when provided with specific examples, 67% of all students reported victimization, while 33% reported no victimization. Post hoc analyses showed that students verified with a behavioral disorder reported that they were victimized more often than students in general education (P=.001) and students who had no observable disorders (P=.03). Students with observable disorders reported being victimized more, compared with students in general education (P=.02). Students with observable disorders and students with behavioral disorders reported that they bullied others more often than students in general education (P=.04 and P<.001, respectively).

Results also showed that among those who received office referrals, 22.2% were students who had observable disorders, 23.5% had non-observable disorders, 48.9% had behavioral disorders and 12.4% were students in general education.

“It is imperative that educators consider the potential risk of bullying for both students with and without disabilities,” the researchers wrote. “Bullying has been shown to decrease learning outcomes for the students who are being bullied. This finding is particularly detrimental to students with special needs who may already have a difficult learning history and prognosis.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.