Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Exploring the Involvement of Bullying among Students with Disabilities over Time

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Exploring the Involvement of Bullying among Students with Disabilities over Time

Article excerpt


Students with disabilities are disproportionately involved within the bullying dynamic. Few studies have investigated the bullying involvement of youth with disabilities over time. The current study evaluated the victimization and perpetration rates of 6,531 students in Grades 3 through 12, including 16% with disabilities, over the course of 3 years. Results revealed that students with disabilities experienced greater rates of victimization and engaged in higher levels of perpetration than their peers without disabilities over time. In addition, the discrepancy in victimization and perpetration rates between youth with and without disabilities remained consistent longitudinally. Results from this study support the recommendation that students with disabilities should receive direct instruction in social and communication skills to buffer these adverse experiences.

Bullying has been defined as pervasive peer aggression that is grounded in an imbalance of power and intent to cause physical or emotional harm (Olweus, 1995). Although the pervasiveness of bullying extends beyond one subgroup of students (Farmer et al., 2012), evidence suggests that some students are at escalated risk (Espelage et al., 2013). Specifically, a growing body of evidence suggests that students with disabilities are disproportionately represented within the bullying dynamic as perpetrators, victims, and bully-victims (Farmer et al., 2012; Rose, Monda-Amaya, & Espelage, 2011). However, few studies have examined the variability of bullying involvement among individuals with disabilities longitudinally.

Understanding Bullying and Students With Disabilities

Bullying is a complex phenomenon that is grounded in various topographies of behaviors (Ostrov, Murray-Close, Godleski, & Hart, 2013) and associated with myriad adverse outcomes (Espelage et al., 2013). Recently, the social-ecological framework of bullying and victimization has been used to encapsulate the complexity of bullying, whereby individual factors are directly and indirectly influenced by family, peer group, school, community, and societal factors (Hong & Espelage, 2012). Although bullying involvement among students with disabilities may be partially attributed to these complex social environments and factors, individual factors are especially germane for youth with disabilities. Rose and Espelage (2012) argued that although students with disabilities are overrepresented within the bullying dynamic, it is likely due to developmental patterns, whereby individual characteristics associated with a specific disability place these students at escalated risk, which may deviate at a noticeable rate as students progress in age. This overrepresentation may include discrepancies in students' academic, behavioral, social, or functional skill deficits that require special education services via an individualized education program (IEP).

The IEP is designed to provide students with disabilities meaningful educational benefit (Yell, 2012) and ensure access to the general curriculum (Ruppar & Gaffney, 2011). If inclusive education is used as a proxy for access to the general curriculum, the percentage of students with disabilities ages 3 to 21 who spend a majority of their educational time in general education settings (i.e., greater than 80%) has increased from 33% in 1990-1991 to 61% in 2012-2013. including approximately two thirds of youth who are identified with specific learning disabilities (LD; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). Although this push for increased inclusive services provides students with disabilities greater access to the general curriculum, it also poses unique risks for bullying involvement. Zablotsky, Bradshaw, Anderson, and Law (2013) found that students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in full inclusive educational environments experienced higher rates of victimization than those in more restrictive settings. …

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