Peer victimization, also referred to as bullying, is a serious social problem that can negatively affect children's psychosocial development and adjustment in schools, and may have lasting effects for bullies and victims, alike. Research suggests that children with disabilities are likely to be more frequent targets of peer victimization, and more vulnerable to victimization by peers who have higher status and more social power. School social workers are in a key position to initiate peer victimization interventions. Despite a sizeable body of literature and research on peer victimization, however, the subject has received little attention in the social work literature. Focusing on children with disabilities in preschool and kindergarten, this study examined the prevalence and types of the peer victimization among children with disabilities, and the association among types of peer victimization and problem behaviors.
This study uses the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study (PEELS) secondary data set, collected from more than 3,000 children with disabilities nationwide by the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). It surveyed the characteristics of children receiving preschool special education, services received, transitions across educational levels, peer victimization, and performance over time on academic and adaptive skills assessments. The PEELS study includes three waves of data collection—school year 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2005-06. In addition, the study includes a longitudinal parent/assessment/teacher sample for waves 1-3 (N=1,268). Focusing on children with disabilities in preschool and kindergarten years, this paper examines the prevalence and types of the peer victimization among children with disabilities across waves 1-3, the associations among each type of peer victimization (including physical attack, bullying, and teased by peers), and the associations between peer victimization and problem behaviors of children with disabilities at wave 1-2. Statistical analyses include chi-square and weighted least squares regression.
Overall prevalence of peer victimization increased across the three waves, except for wave 3 for preschoolers (Mean rate for 3 waves: 22.3 % for preschoolers, 30.1% for Kindergarteners). Most children with disabilities experienced only one type of peer victimization (either physical attack, bullying, or teasing). From 1.6 to 3.5 % of preschoolers and from 2% to 4% of kindergarten students experienced all three types of peer victimization in schools. In addition, the experience of one type of peer victimization (e.g. attacked, bullied, teased) led to a statistically significantly higher rate of experiencing another type of peer victimization compared to that of a non-experience of peer victimization for most groups across all the 3 waves. There were also significant positive associations between those who were attacked by peers and problem behaviors of preschoolers at wave 1, and at wave 2 for preschoolers and kindergarten, when controlling other types of peer victimization such as bullying and teasing.
The findings build an empirical base regarding the nature and prevalence of peer victimization among young children with disabilities in school settings, and can inform the practice of social workers, teachers, and mental health professionals who are addressing both the prevention and effects of peer victimization.