Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln say special education students with behavioral disorders and "observable" disabilities are more prone to be bullied and to bully other students.
The report was released in late June and published in the Journal of School Psychology.
The findings reiterate what many student transporters as well as special education teachers have known for some time. Kevin Jennings, former deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools (now Safe and Healthy Schools), made similar comments during a presentation at the 2010 NAPT Summit in Portland, Ore. The Department of Education partnered with NAPT to complete and offer the free training modules for school bus drivers on responding to and preventing bullying
"These results paint a fairly bleak picture for students with disabilities in terms of bullying, victimization and disciplinary actions," said Susan Swearer, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska a national expert on school bullying. "Sadly, these are the students who most need to display prosocial behavior and receive support from their peers."
Swearer has consulted with both the White House and Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation on anti-bullying initiatives.
The research followed more than 800 special-ed and general-ed students between the ages of 9 and 16 at nine different elementary, middle and high schools over time. Two-thirds of the students said they were bullying victims, while 38 percent said they had bullied other students. The study also found that special ed students are more likely to be sent to the school office to be disciplined as well as to exhibit anti-social behavior, especially those with language or hearing impairments and "mild mental handicaps."
Other findings include:
- Students with non-observable disabilities, such as a learning disability, weren't affected as much. They reported similar levels of bullying and victimization as students without disabilities, and reported significantly less victimization compared with students with more outward behavioral disabilities.
- As general-education students who bullied others progressed through middle school, their bullying behaviors increased through and peaked at seventh grade — and then steadily decreased.
- Both boys and girls engaged in bullying. Gender differences in both general-education and special-education students were statistically insignificant when it came to the behavior.
- For students in general education, there was a major difference by grade level in their experience with victimization. Fifth-graders reported much more victimization than sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. But for students in special education, there was no difference by grade level.
"Programming should be consistently implemented across general and special education, should occur in each grade and should be part of an inclusive curriculum," according to the study. "A culture of respect, tolerance and acceptance is our only hope for reducing bullying among all school-aged youth."