Keeping Students with Disabilities Safe From Bullying


 width=Bullying continues to be a pressing problem in schools today. In a national survey, one in three teens reported being bullied. Bullying is an even greater problem for students with disabilities. Some reports indicate that nearly 85 percent of students with special needs experience bullying. Studies have concluded that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullying targets than their nondisabled peers.


All students should be safe at school, and everyone involved in the education process must ensure that schools are safe places for learning.


Bullying Prevention Strategies at the School or District Level

While it may sound idealistic to suggest that bullying can be altogether prevented, it should be the goal of every school and district. Some of these topics may seem more appropriate for organization leaders, but it's important that all staff understand the value that this type of systemic change can bring.


  • Research, Collect Data, and Analyze - A great starting point is to collect data regarding where bullying occurs most frequently. The survey or study, while focusing on the entire student population, should include data specifically on special education.
  • Survey Students - Solicit student input to help determine the extent of the problem and to involve students in recommendations to reduce bullying.
  • Get Support and Buy-In - For bullying prevention programs to be effective, you'll need the support of staff, parents, and students, including students with disabilities.
  • Training for Staff - All staff should recognize bullying and understand the appropriate next steps to take according to school and district procedures.
  • Training for Students - The best bullying prevention programs are multi-grade, multi-year and implemented with great consistency with all general and special education students.
  • Partnering with Parents - Actively listen and carefully consider all safety concerns that are presented to you by parents.
  • Social Skills Instruction - A systematic inclusion of social skills and character education programs can have a positive and lasting effect.
  • Increasing Student Supervision - Consistently ensure that students are actively supervised by well-trained staff, especially in places where bullying often occurs, like stairwells, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, and buses.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports - PBIS initiatives continue to show great promise for improving overall student behavior. Replacing control- and punishment-based approaches with regular, frequent, positive acknowledgements helps to disarm students who are perpetrators of bullying behaviors.
  • Partner Students with Peers - When students support each other, it can become a force for good. There are many ways to accomplish this in the classroom, from a buddy system to celebrating acts of kindness class-wide.


These evidence-based classroom level strategies can help better ensure all students' safety, including students with special needs.


To help provide school staff members with a better understanding of bullying and strategies to reduce the risk of bullying for students with disabilities, Exceptional Child offers a Bullying and Students with Special Needs online professional development course written by Dr. Scott Poland.

Click here to view the full course list.

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