Bullying Among Children and Youth with Disabilities and Special Needs

— Stop Bullying Now! U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HRSA
Updated on Sep 29, 2010

What is bullying?

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time. Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting, kicking, or shoving (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling(verbal bullying), intimidation through gestures or social exclusion (nonverbal bullying or emotional bullying), and sending insulting messages by text messaging or e-mail (cyberbullying).

What is known about bullying among children with disabilities and special needs?

There is a small but growing amount of research literature on bullying among children with disabilities and special needs. This research indicates that these children may be at particular risk of being bullied by their peers. For example, research tells us that: 

  • Although little research has been conducted on the relation between learning disabilities (LD) and bullying, available information indicates that children with LD are at greater risk of being teased and physically bullied (Martlew & Hodson, 1991; Mishna, 2003; Nabuzoka & Smith, 1993; Thompson, Whitney, & Smith, 1994).
  • Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are more likely than other children to be bullied. They also are somewhat more likely than others to bully their peers (Unnever & Cornell, 2003).
  • Children with medical conditions that affect their appearance (e.g., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifida) are more likely to be victimized by peers. Frequently, these children being called names related to their disability (Dawkins, 1996).
  • Obesity also may place children at higher risk of being bullied. In a study of children aged 11–16 researchers found that overweight and obese girls aged 11–16) and boys (aged 11–12) were more likely than normal-weight peers to be teased or to be made fun of and to experience relational bullying (e.g., to be socially excluded). Overweight and obese girls were also more likely to be physically bullied (Janssen, Craig, Boyce, & Pickett, 2004).
  • Children with hemiplagia (paralysis of one side of their body) are more likely than other children their age to be victimized by peers, to be rated as less popular than their peers, and to have fewer friends than other children (Yude, Goodman, &McConachie, 1998).
  • Children who have diabetes and who are dependent on insulin may be especially vulnerable to peer bullying (Storch et al., 2004).
  • Children who stutter may be more likely than their peers to be bullied. In one study, 83 percent of adults who had problems with stammering as children said that they had been teased or bullied;

How does bullying affect children?

Bullying can have serious consequences. Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to:

  • Be depressed, lonely, anxious;
  • Have low self-esteem;
  • Experience headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, poor appetites;
  • Be absent from school and dislike school; and
  • Think about suicide.
View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.