Disability Type and Severity

Given the Least Restrictive Environment mandate (i.e., continuum of placements) for students with disabilities, the discrepancy between perpetration and victimization among students in inclusive or restrictive settings could partially be explained by the disability type and severity. For example, current educational trends and national mandates are placing a strong emphasis on Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Supports, defined by a multi-tiered framework for providing academic interventions and behavioral accommodations for all students. Based on this framework, as a student’s academic or behavioral needs increase the level of support also increases. Therefore, once a student’s needs exceed pre-set criterion, their supports and classroom placement become more individualized in order to provide the most appropriate curriculum.

Often, the restrictiveness of this placement, which is based on the severity of the student’s disability, causes the student to be removed from the general education classroom for an extended period of time. Based on the aforementioned framework, with the general assumption that students have been placed in their Least Restrictive Environment, an argument can be made that the discrepancy in victimization and perpetration rates among students in inclusive and self-contained settings may more likely be due to the severity of the disability as opposed to the actual classroom placement. Therefore, attention must be paid to the overall severity and overt nature of the disability. For example, a recent study by Dawes investigated the difference between victimization rates of students with observable and unobservable disabilities.78.79

The researchers documented that 50% of the students with observable disabilities reported being victimized at least once during the current term, with 30% victimized on a regular basis. Conversely, 21% of students with unobservable disabilities reported being victimized at least once during the current term, and 14% on a regular basis. Therefore, students with unobservable disabilities reported victimization rates similar to the United States average, where students with observable disabilities reported significantly higher victimization rates.

While empirical research supports other studies, it is important to note that visibility of disabilities also fall upon a continuum. For example, one report noted that students with mild to moderate learning difficulties were two to three times more likely to be victimized, whereas students with physical disabilities and hearing impairments were two to four times more likely to be victimized than their general education peers. Similarly, students with language impairments and psychiatric disorders reported being victimized 20% more, and students with emotional/behavioral disorder reported being victimized 30% more than students without disabilities. Additionally, recent reports suggest that students with Asperger’s syndrome or autistic traits are victimized as much as, if not more than, any other subgroup of students.

Interestingly, all of the aforementioned disability labels account for a significant proportion of students who are educated in self-contained settings.16,80

While evidence suggests that the observable nature and severity of a disability predicts escalated victimization, bully perpetration follows a much different pattern. Presumably, the social nature of bullying, which is reinforced by peers and peer groups, dictates the difference between

victimization and perpetration among students with disabilities. For example, students with high-incidence disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, emotional- behavioral disorders (EBD)) engage in bullying behaviors twice as often as the United States average. Additionally, students with EBD demonstrate the highest level of bully perpetration when compared to any other subgroup of students. However, students with low-incidence disabilities (i.e., severe cognitive disabilities) report much lower rates of perpetration when compared to students with high-incidence disabilities and students without disabilities.

This discrepancy may be attributed to minimal interaction opportunities with chronically aged peer groups, social skills development, and cognitive understanding of bully perpetration. While these factors could be limited for all students with disabilities, students with high incidence disabilities have a higher likelihood of being included within the typical school structure.10,81