Can social skills training help kids react to bullying?

Kids and teens with disabilities are victimized by bullying at a much higher rate over time than kids without disabilities, a new study finds. Researchers say it’s possible children with disabilities aren’t developing the social skills they need to combat bullying as they grow up.

“This study points out the necessity for special education programs to teach appropriate response skills to children with disabilities,” says Chad Rose, assistant professor of special education at the University of Missouri.

“Schools need to further develop these programs by tailoring social development goals for each individual student to ensure they are learning the social skills that will help them prevent bullying from occurring.

Prior research has shown that children with disabilities, when bullied, may react aggressively when they lack appropriate response skills. Teaching these students how to communicate more effectively with their peers and with teachers can help them react to bullying in more positive ways, as well as prevent it from occurring at all.”

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Over the course of three years, researchers surveyed more than 6,500 children from grades 3-12 about their experiences with bullying; 16 percent of the children surveyed had disabilities, specifically learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

The findings, published in the journal Exceptional Children, show that bullying rates across the board peaked in third grade, were reduced drastically in middle school, and then rose again during high school. However, while mirroring this trend, bullying rates for children with disabilities remained consistently higher than those without disabilities.

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“Studying how individual children are victimized by bullying over time has revealed that children with disabilities are not learning how to effectively respond to victimization,” Rose says. “As children continued to mature, we expected to see that they would slowly develop social skills that would help them combat victimization and close the gap with children without disabilities, but that was not the case.

“Their rates of bullying victimization remained consistently higher, which shows that current intervention approaches are not effectively preparing these children who are most at-risk for bullying involvement.”

Many schools have devoted less and less time over the years to teaching social skills to all students, in exchange for increased focus on common core subjects and standardized test preparation. Schools should refocus some of their efforts on teaching important social skills, especially to children with disabilities.

Source: University of Missouri

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Source: Futurity