A new study from the University of Missouri shows children with disabilities are bullied at much higher rates over time than their peers without such conditions.  The study also shows those levels remain consistent as children age.

University of Missouri Special Education Professor Chad Rose – Photo courtesy University of Missouri

MU Special Education Professor Chad Rose says the research points to a need for schools to craft intervention methods to protect children with disabilities.

“Schools need to make sure that they have an appropriate protocol for responding” said Rose.  “Schools need to make sure that they have a protocol for supporting the victim, a protocol for investigating the alleged perpetration, and also a protocol for supporting anyone that may be a bystander, or a secondary reporter.”

Rose says Missouri schools need to be aware of a new law requiring them to implement interventions for cases where students with disabilities are bullied.

As an assistant professor of special education in the MU College of Education, Rose conducted the study with Nicholas Gage, an assistant professor from the University of Florida.

It found bullying rates among all students peaked in third grade, became drastically reduced in middle school and then rose again during high school.  Although bullying of students with disabilities reflected the same pattern, those kids were consistently 20 percent more likely to be bullied than students without those conditions.

Rose thinks schools have contributed to the problem by sacrificing social training in favor of common core subjects and standardized test preparation.  He says students with disabilities would be better served if they received more social and communication skills training.

“Bullying is couched within some of these deficits that kids have with disabilities related to social skills and communication skills, that are arguably two of the most critical needs that they have for leaving and becoming gainfully employed, making sure that they’re successful post high school.”

Rose contends the new study is the first to use self-reported data from students who’ve been bullied rather than reports of parents or teachers.  He notes the research reflects experiences of disabled kids who are in normal classroom settings, and doesn’t include students with more severe disabilities.  Rose thinks the research points to the need for schools to focus on teaching social skills such as simple conversation.

“We never really think about how complex holding or having or maintaining a conversation is” said Rose.  “We don’t teach it in our schools.  But it’s critically important to the foundation of social skills.  So if a kid can’t engage in conversation, then it’s likely that kid is going to appear different, and going more likely to be victimized.”

The research was conducted over three years and included 6,500 children in grades 3-through-12.