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Prevalence rates for bullying victimization among children with disabilities have varied greatly in the research literature. Two reasons for such variability–rates vary as a function of disability type, and rates vary based on the bullying measure and criteria used to classify students as bullying victims–were selected as the focus of a study by UD researchers, George G. Bear, Lindsey S. Mantz, Joseph J. Glutting, and Chunyan Yang, School of Education, and Deborah E. Boyer, Center for Disabilities Studies.

Study Overview

The study, conducted in Delaware schools, examined bullying victimization among children with disabilities and compared the rates with those of children without disabilities.

Differences in measuring bullying victimization and especially in the cutoff criteria used by researchers to define bullying victimization have major implications for the magnitude of prevalence rates. To demonstrate this point, the team used multiple criteria to determine the odds of children with disabilities being bullied compared with children without disabilities. In assessing bullying victimization, they surveyed parents of children with and without disabilities, including parents of children with 10 different types of disabilities. The study was part of a larger study of school climate and bullying as perceived by students, teachers, and parents.

The Delaware Department of Education sent an invitation letter to all public schools. The study sample consisted of 1,027 parents or guardians of children with disabilities and 11,500 parents or guardians of children without disabilities. They were asked to report the frequency with which their children experienced bullying in general and 12 specific behaviors commonly associated with verbal, physical, and social–relational bullying.


The researchers found that children with disabilities are generally at greater risk of bullying victimization than children without disabilities. However, prevalence rates vary greatly as a function of disability type and the measure used to identify victimization (i.e., global item vs. multiple items).

Children with emotional disturbance were at greatest risk of being bullied, and children with other health impairments (e.g., ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder were also at much higher risk than children without disabilities. However children with speech or language impairment were at no greater risk.

With respect to identifying children who are victims of bullying, the researchers recommend that bullying victims be considered those who experience bullying-related behaviors frequently and repetitively as opposed to only sometimes.

As shown in their data, identifying students as victims of bullying based on experiencing one or more bullying behaviors “sometimes” or more, led to substantially higher prevalence rates than when based on parents perceiving their children as being “bullied” more than “sometimes.” Indeed, about half of parents of students with and without reported that their child experienced one or more bullying behaviors at least sometimes, but about half of those consider their child as being “bullied.”

Results were published in School psychology review (Impact Factor: 1.85).  03/2015; 44(1):98-116. DOI: 10.17105/SPR44-1.98-116 Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities – ResearchGate


 UD Research Team

George G. Bear, PhD, is a professor of school psychology. His recent research has centered on school climate, including its assessment, relations with important student outcomes, and cross-cultural comparisons.
Lindsey Mantz, MA, is a doctoral candidate for a PhD in Education, with specialization in school psychology. Her research interests are in the areas of school climate and children’s social and emotional development. Her dissertation will focus on how students’ self-discipline is related to their perceptions of school climate.
Joseph J. Glutting, PhD, is a professor of evaluation, measurement, and statistics. He has published over 100 juried-journal articles, as well as multiple book chapters and five psychological tests.
Chunyan Yang, Ph.D. received her PhD in Education, with specialization in school psychology, from the School of Education in 2015. Her dissertation focused on the relations between bullying victimization, student engagement, and the social–emotional learning approach. She is currently a school psychologist at Poudre School District in Fort Collins, CO.
Deborah Boyer, MS, is the director of the School-Age Services Unit at UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies and the codirector of the statewide Delaware Positive Behavior Support Initiative. Her research interests include school climate, bullying prevention, and implementation of Tier 2 and 3 evidence-based interventions in schools.