When Students with Disabilities Become Bullying Targets

A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests students with disabilities are more likely to become bullying targets.

The study published back in 2006 examines the chances of a student with a disability being bullied compared to his/her peers. Researchers found the rate to be about twice as often.

Researchers measured associations between having a special health care need and being a victim of bullying, bullying other children, and being a bully/victim in children and adolescents aged 6 to 17. Multiple logistic regression models were used to examine the association of children with special health care needs overall, and of particular special needs, with the bullying measure.

Secondary data analysis was performed using the National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationally representative telephone survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of >102000 US households.

The results of the study suggested children with special health care needs were 21% of the population studied. They note being a child with special health care needs was associated with being bullied but not with bullying or being a bully/victim. Having a chronic behavioral, emotional, or developmental problem was associated with bullying others and with being a bully/victim.

Researchers then concluded that the findings of the study may help pediatricians, mental health providers, and schools use targeted screening and interventions to address bullying for children with special health care needs.

Stopbullying.gov also provided the following suggestions when deciding what to do when bullying occurs and how to prevent it.

Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning teaches kids at a young age how to name and recognize their feelings and builds skills to manage emotions. This approach provides students the opportunity to work together, understand each other, take responsibility, and resolve disagreements peacefully. By understanding each other personally, kids are less likely to bully or do other unkind acts to each other. SEL helps kids to see how a classmate with a disability might be different because of an illness or another challenge. If bullying does occur, SEL approaches can be helpful (by naming?) what is happening, identifying the feelings behind the actions, and finding a resolution.

In addition to a school-wide focus on SEL, two interventions specifically designed to support students with disabilities have proven successful in Delaware.

PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills)

The PEERS program uses a very different approach to learning for teens with disabilities. Instead of directly teaching teens important social skills, it looks at what socially engaged teens do to make and keep friends. Some students may not know the difference between friendly teasing or sarcasm and bullying, so they learn what each scenario looks like. They are taught specific steps to follow if bullying occurs. They also build relational skills to make friends, which can help prevent bullying, as it happens more often when students are alone.

The No Bully System® Pilot

Delaware also uses the No Bully System to prevent bullying and provide student-based supports to intervene when bullying occurs. Rather than discipline students, a team of peers (the Solution Team®), led by a trained in-house Solution Coach®, come together to discuss and use group empathy. The Solution Team consists of the person who is doing the bullying, any peer followers, and positive peer leaders (not necessarily associated with the incident). The model ensures that everyone knows from the start that no one is or will be in trouble. The Solution Coach® then leads the group to discuss what happened, how it might feel, and what the Solution Team® can do to stop the bullying and what can be done to prevent it in the future. Although this program is new to Delaware, early findings are positive and the intervention has helped to reduce the intensity and frequency of bullying.

These programs effectively create a positive school climate by nurturing healthy relationships and developing specific skills so kids know how to address bullying., For all students, learning relationship skills, building friendships, and thinking about how others feel are all critical tools that help in school and beyond. And for kids with special needs and disabilities, healthy relationships can help to protect against bullying. The biggest win, however, is that these programs are ideal for preventing bullying for students with and without disabilities. The programs used in Delaware are collaborative and inclusive, which allows for a more consistent path to preventing bullying for all students. Schools and youth programs can benefit by considering ways to improve school climate to have similar positive outcomes.


(Photo- Stopbullying.org)

Michaela Madison Reporting

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