Bullying and Children with Disabilities

Article excerpt

According to a 2001 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development about 3 in 10 children are affected as bully, victim, or both. However, the knowledge base pertaining to the relationship between bullying and students with disabilities is relatively new and somewhat sparse. This paper defines the terms bully and bullying and discusses the bully/disability dyad. Commercial programs and school interventions designed to decrease bullying in the schools are also addressed. Inference to an interagency collaboration of various stakeholders is suggested as a means of addressing the concerns presented by this pervasive threat to the safety and well-being of all children.

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In recent years the general public has become increasingly aware of school violence, in large part because of intense media coverage of high profile, sensationalized tragedies that have occurred in public schools across the nation. One result of this focus on school violence has been increased attention on bullies and their victims. Recent statistics reveal that 160,000 children skip school in the United States each day because of intimidation by their peers (Coy, 2001; Lumsden, 2002). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2003) approximately 25% of elementary and high school students and 40% of middle school students report being bullied at least once per week.

Research pertaining to school bullies in general is not a recent phenomenon (Olweus, 1978). It is understandably viewed as a growing public health concern (Feller, 2004). According to a 2001 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development about 3 in 10 children are affected as bully, victim, or both. However, the knowledge base pertaining to the relationship between bullying and students with disabilities is relatively new and somewhat sparse.

According to Whitney, Smith, and Thompson (1994) students with disabilities have a greater likelihood of being bullied than non-disabled students. At the same time, Olweus (1993) notes that bullies may have bad tempers and come from distressed family situations where parents are distant, exhibit inconsistent discipline and use physical violence as punishment. Characteristics such as these are indicative of children with conduct-disordered patterns of behavior. In cases of this nature, the student with a disability is more likely to be a bully, or both bully and victim.

Definition(s)

Before looking more closely at the bully/disability dyad a working definition of the terms bully and bullying should be established. Areview of the related literature reveals several descriptions of a bully or bullying behavior. Craig, Henderson, & Murphy (2000), point out that different cultures have varying terms to describe bullying, and at the individual level there is much subjectivity in characterizing this behavior.

One definition of the term bully is "a blustering browbeating person; especially, one habitually cruel to others who are weaker" (Merriam-Webster On-Line, 2004). According to Olweus, a noted expert on the topic of bullying, "bullying exists when students are 'exposed repeatedly or over time to a negative action on the part of one or more students'" (as cited in Berthold & Hoover, 2000, p.65). Smith (2000, p. 295) defines a bully as a person who demonstrates repetitive aggressive behavior that purposefully hurts another person and ultimately results in a "systematic abuse of power." Regardless of the source, most definitions of the term "bully" incorporate three distinct attributes (Coy, 2001; Hoover & Oliver, 1996; Simanton, Burthwick, & Hoover, 2000). First, the harassment of the victim occurs over an extended period of time. Second, the intent behind the harassment is meant to cause harm either mentally or physically to the victim. And finally, an imbalance of power is apparent.

Profile

Numerous studies have recognized characteristic behaviors associated with bullies, enabling a generalized profile to be developed. …

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