Kids with Disabilities More Vulnerable to Bullying Over Time

Young girl being bullied by older girlPrevious research has determined students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their peers. A new study published in the journal Exceptional Children found overall bullying rates typically remain stable, but children with disabilities often continue to experience a high rate of bullying over time. The discrepancy in bullying rates for children with disabilities compared to those without disabilities is consistent as children grow up.

Bullying Among Children with Disabilities

For the study, researchers followed 6,531 students in grades 3-12 for three years. Sixteen percent of participants had a disability. The overall bullying rate peaked around third grade, decreased in middle school, and then increased again in high school. Children with disabilities were more likely to experience bullying in all grades and age groups, and while their rate of bullying followed the same general pattern, it remained significantly higher than that of children without disabilities.

An earlier study by the lead authors of the current study suggests bullying can trigger aggressive behavior in children with disabilities. Drawing upon a survey of nearly 1,200 middle and high schoolers, researchers concluded that children with disabilities were more likely to become aggressive in response to bullying. Bullied children targeted both bullies and non-bullies. Children with depression and low self-esteem were particularly vulnerable to the effects of bullying.

Both studies, the authors suggest, point to the need for increased communication and social skills training for children with disabilities. They theorize children with disabilities may lash out in self-defense because they do not know how else to respond to bullying.

The Effects of Bullying

Twenty-two percent of children ages 12-18 report being bullied at school during the past month. Both bullies and their victims can experience negative mental health outcomes, including a heightened risk of depression. Bullying can damage self-esteem, contribute to anxiety, trigger academic and social difficulties, and even cause physical health issues such as headaches. Bullying is also linked to risk of suicide.

Research suggests even just observing bullying can harm mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who observe bullying report more feelings of helplessness and disconnection. They are also less likely to feel supported by adults, including parents and teachers.


  1. Bullying likely to result in aggressive responses by children with disabilities. (2016, October 3). Retrieved from
  2. Bullying rates remain higher for children with disabilities, even as they mature. (2016, November 28). Retrieved from
  3. How does bullying affect health & well-being? (n.d.). Retrieved from
  4. Rose, C. A., & Gage, N. A. (2016). Exploring the involvement of bullying among students with disabilities over time. Exceptional Children. doi:10.1177/0014402916667587
  5. The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools[PDF]. (2014, April). Chamblee: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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  • Dalton


    December 5th, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    Sadly enough this does not surprise me mainly because those who are bullies are always looking for someone to exert power over. So if there is someone whom they see as being weak, not that someone is because of a disability but that this is the bully’s perception, then this is likely going to be who they will go after.

  • Sharon


    December 5th, 2016 at 12:37 PM

    Over time? No I would say that if someone is going to bully them then they are immediately going to strike when they feel that someone is their most vulnerable.

  • GloriaR


    December 6th, 2016 at 7:23 AM

    Kindness and tolerance can be learned from songs like,“Be a Buddy, not a Bully,” a popular song on YouTube
    with over 8300 hits.
    Another song that could help is, “Positivity”:
    Also, you can hear part of a unique new story about a non-violent superhero who wants to work with Aladdin’s son to help make the world better:

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