How Bullying Impacts Special Needs Students

A recently published study shows that students with special needs are at a greater risk of being exposed to bullying.'s Education Insider takes a look at the impact bullying can have on how these students do in school.

By Jessica Lyons


Report Findings

The study 'School Outcomes of Children With Special Health Care Needs' was published in the journal Pediatrics on July 25, 2011. It surveyed 1,457 fourth to sixth grade students who attended one of 34 different schools. The schools fell in three districts - two in Maryland and one in West Virginia.

Of the students surveyed, 33% were found to have special health care needs related to having a chronic illness or behavioral problems. The study also found that, among other things, these children were more likely to be exposed to bullying.

The Impact on School Performance

In order for students to be interested in learning at school, the report says, they must feel engaged and motivated. Students with special needs might already have a difficult time engaging with their classmates and teachers. Being bullied could mean they just withdraw even further and have an even harder time focusing on their coursework.

Additionally, the report explains that it is important for students to feel like they belong when they're at school, which is also hard to make happen when the students are bullied. Children who already have a difficult time fitting in because of their special needs and might even feel self-conscious will only feel even more ostracized when they are bullied. As these students continue to become isolated, their performances on schoolwork could suffer when they don't pay as much attention in class and don't feel as motivated to do well on their assignments.

The authors write that this isn't a problem that will only hurt the students during their younger years. The impact of having been bullied could also cause problems as these students become adults. Performing poorly in school could limit the future possibilities for these students because their grades might not be high enough to go onto college and enter the career fields they're interested in. They could also have difficulties interacting with other adults because of the isolation to which they have grown accustomed.

How to Help the Problem

One way to help with this issue, the report's authors note, is by having anti-bullying programs at schools. By educating students about the lasting impacts of bullying and having a zero tolerance policy to address bullying when it does occur, schools can help put a stop to it before it becomes a larger and more damaging problem. It's also important for schools to make sure teachers remain vigilant of any bullying and address it immediately so that all students will feel comfortable with their learning environments and like they are a part of their school communities.

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