Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Peer Victimization among Young Children with Disabilities: Early Risk and Protective Factors

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Peer Victimization among Young Children with Disabilities: Early Risk and Protective Factors

Article excerpt

Peer victimization is a serious social problem that negatively affects children's psychosocial development and adjustment in schools, and may have lasting effects for victims. Peer victimization typically be comes increasingly stable over time, with the same children enduring persistently negative experiences into adulthood (Gladstone, Parker, & Malhi, 2006; Scholte, Engels, Overbeek, de Kemp, & Haselager, 2007). The consequences of peer victimization vary, but they are uniformly deleterious to children's well-being. Victimized children are more likely to develop depression and/or experience low self-esteem, physical health problems, alcohol or drug abuse, school absences and avoidance, self-harm, and suicidal ideation as compared to children who have not been victimized (Brunstein, Marrocco, Kleinman, Schonfeld, & Gould, 2007; Fekkes, Pijpers, & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2006).

The limited existing research suggests children with disabilities are more frequent targets of peer victimization and more vulnerable to victimization by typically developing peers who have higher status and more social power (Conti-Ramsden & Botting, 2004; Rose, Espelage, & Monda-Amaya, 2009; Rose, Monda-Amaya, & Espelage, 2010; Son, Parish, & Peterson, 2012; Wiener & Mak, 2009). Many children with disabilities have social interaction difficulties, either as a core trait of their disability or as a result of social isolation due to segregated environments or peer rejection (Young, Ne'eman, & Gelser, 2011). Studies of peer victimization among youth with a range of disabilities consistently report vastly elevated risk of victimization in comparison to nondisabled peers (Baumeister, Storch, & Geffken, 2008; Knox & Conti-Ramsden, 2003; Van Cleave & Davis, 2006; Wiener & Mak, 2009).

Although it is often noted that children with disabilities are more frequent targets of peer victimization than children without disabilities, little is known about the mechanisms through which risk and protective factors influence their peer-relation difficulties and peer victimization experiences. Specifically, studies have described the individual characteristics of victimized children and, to a lesser extent, described environmental factors including family, peers, and school to identify early risk and protective factors for peer victimization. To this end, the purpose of the present research was to examine the independent, correlated, and mediated pathways between the child and environment factors, peer-relation difficulties, and peer victimization and to subsequently test potential mechanisms through which these factors might operate among children with disabilities. These three hypotheses were tested: (1) there will be a direct effect of developmental factors on children's peer victimization experiences, (2) distal child-level or environmental-level factors will be associated with children's peer victimization and with children's proximal factors representing school adjustment and development, and (3) children's proximal factors representing school adjustment and development mediates the effect of distal child-level or environmental-level factors on peer victimization. It is imperative to identify risk and protective factors of peer victimization in order to design successful prevention interventions for children with disabilities.

The use of path analysis within the framework of structural equation modeling (SEM) is appropriate for the identification of risk and protective factors and their interaction. Bryan, Schmiege, and Broaddus (2007) noted that path analysis represents a special case of SEM in which every variable in the model is directly measured or observed. One important advantage is that path analysis can parsimoniously test the fit of complex multicomponent models to data from a sample of participants. Path analysis allows researchers to examine direct, indirect, and total effects; multiple mediators; and complex meditational chains simultaneously in one model rather than a series of regression analyses (Bryan et al. …

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