Do children with SEND experience more bullying?

25th January 2024 | News

Guest blog by the Anti-Bullying Alliance

Disabled young people and those with SEN (SEND), are significantly more likely to experience bullying - including online bullying - than their peers. Children who have learning disabilities and autism are particularly at risk. This page explores what the research says.

Our research shows that 36% of pupils with SEND experience frequent bullying compared to 25% of those without SEND. ABA has worked to help schools reduce this bullying, often referred to as disablist bullying, since 2013 working with disabled young people to develop strategies and approaches that help to reduce disablist bullying.

Video from the University of Warwick called 'Bullying Experiences of Disabled Children and Young People in England'

Research conducted by Stella Chatzitheochari (University of Warwick) in collaboration with Sam Parsons (University College London) and Lucinda Platt (London School of Economics and Political Science) suggests that children and young people with disabilities are more likely to be bullied at school compared to those students with no known disabilities.

The researchers analysed nationally representative data from two renowned longitudinal studies: the Millennium Cohort Study and Next Steps (formerly known as Longitudinal Study of Young People in England). These studies allowed them to examine the prevalence of school bullying in early childhood (age 7) and adolescence (age 15). Results underlined that children and young people with long-standing limiting conditions such as muscular dystrophy or mobility difficulties, as well as those with Special Educational Needs were at a higher risk of bullying. These associations between disability and bullying remained even when other characteristics known to influence bullying were taken into account. You can find out more about this research here.

Key statistics 

  • Primary school pupils with special educational needs are twice as likely as other children to suffer from persistent bullying. At age 7, 12% of children with special needs and 11% of those with a statement said they were bullied all of the time by other pupils, compared to just 6% of their non-disabled peers. (Institute of Education 2014)

  • Fifteen-year-olds with statements of special educational needs were significantly more likely to be frequent victims of threats or acts of physical violence and theft, even when other factors that increase the risk of bullying were taken into account. They were also more likely to be excluded by a group of schoolmates or called names - a form of victimisation that is often referred to as "relational bullying". (Institute of Education 2014)

  • 83% (or roughly eight out of ten) of young people with learning difficulties reported experiencing bullying (Luciano and Savage 2007, and Mencap 2007), Mencap's 'Living in Fear' 2019 research showed that:

    • almost 9 in 10 people with a learning disability surveyed had experienced bullying or harassment in the past year

    • one in 3 said that bullying was the thing they worried about most when going out

  • 82% of young people who are disfluent (those with a stammer), 59% of them at least once a week, and 91% by name-calling have experienced bullying (Mooney and Smith 1995)
  • 70% of children with autistic spectrum disorders combined with other characteristics (for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have experienced bullying (Bejerot and Mortberg 2009)

  • Young people with speech difficulties are three times more likely to be bullied than their peers (Savage 2005)

  • 56% of children with a learning disability said they cried because of bullying, and 33% hid away in their bedroom. Nearly half of children with a learning disability had been bullied for over a year, and many were bullied for even longer. (Mencap 2007 - Bullying wrecks lives: the experiences of children and young people with a learning disability)

  • Children and young people receiving special education services in schools were more likely to report receiving an online interpersonal victimization in the past year, even after adjusting for other explanatory factors. (Wells, M. and Mitchell, K.J. 2013)

  • Over 90% of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome reported that their child had been bullied in the previous 12 months. (L. Little, 'Middle-Class Mothers' Perceptions of Peer and Sibling Victimisation among Children with Asperger's Syndrome and Non-Verbal Learning Disorders' - 2002 - 25(1) Issues in Comprehensive Paediatric Nursing pp. 43 - 57.)

  • There is a growing evidence base linking bullying to mental health problems which has changed both government and societal attitudes to bullying. Findings showed that 61.5% of participants reported being bullied, with 62.5% of bullied participants reporting that being bullied was an important reason for their attendance at the CAMH service. (Dyer, K. and Teggart, T. 2007 Bullying experiences of child and adolescent mental health service-users: a pilot survey. Child Care in Practice, vol.13, no.4 Oct. pp351-365)

  • Children bullied during their early years are up to three times more likely to self harm than their classmates when they reach adolescence. It found that half of 12-year-olds who harm themselves were frequently bullied. The research also showed that victimised children with mental health problems were at greater risk of self-harming in later life. The authors suggest that efforts should focus on improving the ways in which children cope with emotional distress. They also call for more effective programmes to prevent bullying in schools. (Bullying victimisation and risk of self harm in early adolescence: longitudinal cohort study Helen L Fisher and others. BMJ Online, 26 April 2011)

  • Young people with autism or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties were more likely (71%) to report having experienced bullying than those with other SEND needs. (The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study 2022)

  • Having experienced bullying in the last year was associated with lower levels of wellbeing - 17% of young people who reported being bullied reported being unhappy with their life as a whole compared with 6% of those who had not experienced bullying. (The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study 2022)

Free anti-bullying resources

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