A new study shows bullying affects kids with disabilities more as they get older because of a lack of social skills. Now the question is: What can we do to prevent that?

By Jamie Pacton
December 06, 2016
boy being bullied in school
Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Bullying is a huge problem in many schools, and it's a heartbreaking fact that kids with disabilities are bullied much more than their peers. Bullying—and its impact on a child with disabilities over time—is the focus of a new study by Dr. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education at the University of Missouri. In the study, "Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students With Disabilities Over Time," which was published in Exceptional Children, Dr. Rose talked to 6,500 kids in grades 3-12 over a three-year period. Sixteen percent of those kids had disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and emotional disabilities. Dr. Rose concluded from this research that kids with disabilities continue to be bullied at a higher rate than peers, which he says points to a lack of social skills that would help them deal with such treatment.

"This study points out the necessity for special education programs to teach appropriate response skills to children with disabilities," Dr. Rose said. "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.... 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."

Important stuff, this, but how can it be enacted? How will teachers—who are already stretched thin by trying to teach Core materials and prepping students for test—find ways to help kids with disabilities learn to stand up to bullies? I'm not sure, but it's clear there is a need.

Perhaps a two-pronged approach is the right one here: Continue to build a culture of supportive, kind inclusion in schools and classrooms (which includes supporting diversity and difference) AND teach kids with disabilities more social skills. This should come from teachers, support staff, peers, parents, and there are even fun computer programs that can help kids learn social skills. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a robust website full of suggestions for how to create safe environments for kids with special needs.

We'd love to hear from you: How are you helping your kids with disabilities deal with bullies now, and what steps are you taking to ensure the can handle bullying in the future?

Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan, where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook, and Twitter @jamiepacton.