Modifying Anti-Bullying Programs to Include Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Most of us have seen or experienced bullying at some point in our schooling and we know that some students are more at risk of being targeted. Bullying is defined as any aggressive behavior with the intent to harm that involves a real or perceived power irûbàlance (Olweus, 1993). Bullying is identified as one of the most predominant problems faced by children in the United States education system (Cantu & Heumann, 2000), as well as one of the most significant health risks to children (Cantu & Heumann, 2000; Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Rigby, Smith, & Pepler, 2004). Exactly how prevalent this issue is among students with disabilities is unclear because research focusing on this cohort is limited. However, most experts agree that children with disabilities are harassed by peers at higher rates than their peers without disabilities (Modell, 2005; Modell, Mak, & Jackson, 2004; Rose, Espelage, Stein, & Elliot, 2009; Sullivan & Knutson, 2000). Bullying can have a profound impact on students' performance, emotional health, and ability to reach their potential (e.g. Espelage & Swearer, 2003). Victimization can hinder a student's capacity to learn in the school environment and can interfere with the ability of students with disabilities to receive the education critical to their advancement.

Bullying and Students With Disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1975, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require schools to provide equal educational opportunity to all students. This responsibility includes the right to learn in a safe and supportive environment. The limited research on bullying among students with disabilities shows that they have a greater likelihood of being bullied than their classmates without disabilities (Pivik, McComas, & LaFlamme, 2002; Rose et al., 2009; Saylor & Leach, 2009; Whitney, Smith, & Thompson, 1994). Children who are victimized or rejected by their peers are more likely to display physical, behavioral, developmental, and learning disabilities than matched control groups (Doren, Bullís, & Benz, 1996; Marini, Fairbairn, & Zuber, 2001). Morrison and Furlong (1994) examined violence at school with 554 high school students, of whom 30 were students with special needs. They found that students in special day classes were victimized more often man those in more inclusive settings (Kaukiainen et al., 2002; Morrison & Furlong, 1994). This outcome may be because isolation from the general education students can limit opportunities to learn social skills (Mishna, 2003) and develop a protective group of peers (Morrison & Furlong, 1994; Whitney et al., 1994).

Saylor and Leach (2009) recently examined bullying among students with disabilities and matched general education students who were part of the Peer EXPRESS Inclusion Program. Of the 48 participants, students with disabilities were significantly more likely than those without disabilities to report being bullied and were more anxious about the possibility of being harassed.

Whereas some studies have examined the relative risk of students with disabilities, others have compared different categories of special needs. In one convenience sample, over 50% of students diagnosed as having learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, speech-language disability, or autism reported that they had been teased, harassed, stolen from, hit, or beaten up by peers at school (Doren et al., 1996). Whitney and colleagues (1994) found with 93 students with disabilities (matched with peers in their inclusion classroom) that 55% of students with mild learning disabilities and 78% of students with moderate learning disabilities experienced bullying, compared to only 25% of their matched peers.

Although studies, in general, have not compared bullying of students diagnosed with different disabilities, children with learning disabilities have been found to be more likely to be identified by peers as victims of bullying than those without learning disabilities (Baumeister, Storch, & Geffken, 20Q8; Humphrey, Storch, & Geffken, 2007; Nabuzoka, 2003; Nabuzoka & Smith, 1993). …