Guess Who Bullies at School Target the Most

Sure, nerds are harassed, but they’re not the only ones.
Student with Down syndrome. (Photo: Robin Bartholick/Getty Images)
Dec 9, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Sophia Lepore is an editorial intern at TakePart.

When it comes to bullies, stereotypes perpetuated by movies and television shows would have us believe the band geeks and mathletes are usually their targets. What the media fails to reflect, and what we often don’t realize, is that the group most likely to experience bullying is the “short-bus kids.”

Despite various kindness campaigns and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a new study from the University of Missouri showed that about 22 percent of children ages 12 to 18 have experienced bullying in school within the last month—and children diagnosed with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied and harassed.

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The study, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students With Disabilities Over Time, found children with a disability experience bullying at a higher rate than children without one. For the report, more than 6,500 children from grades three to 12 were surveyed over the course of three years, 16 percent of whom were identified as having learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

“Two of the biggest predictors of bullying involvement for youth with disabilities are social and communicational skill deficits,” Chad Rose, a researcher involved in the study, told TakePart. “We recommend that schools screen for these deficits for both students with and without disabilities and provide targeted instruction in social and communication skills.”

The researchers also found that bullying tends to peak in third grade, decreases in middle school, and increases in high school. Although bullying of children with and without disabilities follows that trend, the rates for children with disabilities were consistently higher. Anti-bullying campaigns are often found on campuses, but the study suggests that children with disabilities are not developing the social skills needed to combat harassment as they progress in higher education.

“The difference between students with and without disabilities on victimization never changed,” Rose said. “What that tells me is we’re not providing students with adequate response skills, especially students with disabilities. Every school, every parent, and every educator needs to work with their kids on three things: Kids need to know what to say, what to do, and who to tell.”

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The challenges students with disabilities face from bullying don’t stop in the classroom. Only 46 percent of adults with learning disabilities report being employed, with 67 percent earning $25,000 or less per year, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Their probability of being incarcerated is also higher: As many as 70 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system are reported to have learning disabilities, a similar number to what the U.S. Department of Justice has found in the state prison population.

“These students need more support, but also schools need to do a better job in terms of establishing a climate that reduces bullying for all students,” Rose said.