Children with disabilities are more likely to respond aggressively when they are bullied, not only to their bullies but also to other children.
This aggressive response often results in these children being labeled as bullies themselves, when that is not an accurate assessment of their behavior, says Chad Rose, assistant professor of special education in the University of Missouri College of Education.
“Because students with disabilities often lack age-appropriate social and communication skills, they may act out aggressively as a response to being bullied,” Rose says. “If a child reaches into their ‘bully response tool box’ and the only tools they have are physical or verbal aggression, they likely will respond aggressively.
“Unfortunately, many of these children are identified as bullies themselves, which means they will receive bully interventions from teachers, rather than what they really need, which is social and communication skill instruction.”
Children with disabilities—particularly those with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders—often are victims of bullying.
For his study, Rose and his research team surveyed nearly 1,200 middle and high-school-aged students with disabilities to determine the mental health outcomes of bullying. They found that students with disabilities, when victimized by bullying, are more likely to respond aggressively either through bullying or fighting. Also, they found that students with higher levels of depression and hostility and lower levels of self-esteem were more likely to be negatively affected by bullying and more likely to react aggressively.
Rose defines bullying as the repeated imbalance of physical or emotional power with the intent to cause either physical or emotional harm.
Rose says that when people are bullied, they can respond in one of two ways: proactively or reactively. Proactive bullying includes behaviors that traditionally are viewed as bullying based on an imbalance of power and intent to cause harm. On the other hand, reactive aggression includes direct and immediate behaviors often that are related to inappropriate regulation of emotion.
Rose says teachers and parents need to do a better job of teaching children proper bully-response skills to prevent proactive and reactive aggression.
“Children with disabilities often lash out physically as a defense mechanism against bullying,” Rose says. “They may not be classified as bullies because they don’t intend harm and often they do not hold an imbalance of power over their peers. It is possible that they don’t possess the appropriate response skills. By intervening with these children and giving them the proper skills and tools, we can not only help prevent future bullying of these children but improve their psychosocial outcomes as well.”
The study appears in Remedial and Special Education. Coauthors are from the University of Missouri and Houston Baptist University.
Source: University of Missouri