Many adults have experienced how stress affects our ability to concentrate, work or learn. Whatever the stress is, if it is bothering us enough, we find it hard to focus.
Imagine what it’s like when children are being bullied. This can be a major stress for them and can go on day after day, week after week. It’s chronic stress.
If it’s hard for an adult to work under stress, it’s not surprising that a student who is being bullied will find attending to schoolwork tough.
Now a recent study has shown how the effects of the stress from bullying are even greater for students with disabilities. This is because they often lack a repertoire of emotionally appropriate responses to bullying and may instead respond with physical or verbal aggression.
The study of almost 1,200 students with disabilities, by University of Missouri, USA was published in the Journal Remedial and Special Education. The students’ disabilities included autism, emotional and behavioural disorders, and learning disabilities.
It found that bullying often led disabled students to fight or victimise other kids.
“Because students with disabilities often lack age-appropriate social and communication skills, they may act out aggressively as a response to being bullied,” said Dr Chad Rose, the study’s lead author.
Since kids with disabilities are more likely to respond aggressively when they are victimized, they often end up being labelled bullies themselves, Rose said. But that may mean they don’t get the social and communication assistance they need.
“Children with disabilities often lash out physically as a defence mechanism against bullying,” Dr Rose said. “By intervening with these children and giving them the proper skills and tools, we can not only help prevent future bullying of these children but improve their psychosocial outcomes as well.”
Schools can incorporate targeted interventions to address skill development, social and emotional learning, and emotion regulation to reduce the impact of bullying for all students, and especially for students with disabilities.