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Disabled Children Bullied in School

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This item is reprinted with permission from the University of Edinborough website:

Bullying is the main reason that disabled children move from inclusive schooling to special schools, according to an ESRC-funded study at the University of Edinburgh. It also highlights the fact that many of the problems encountered by disabled children are the result of social barriers rather than their disability.

This study is the first of its kind to take on board the views of disabled children themselves rather than the opinions of parents and professionals.

Many children spoke about their experiences of bullying which was the one thing that all disabled children had in common. "Disabled children were not always the victims either. Some children were bullies themselves and others hit back when harassed by non-disabled peers", says Nick Watson, co-author of the report. The research took place in mainstream and special schools as well as in homes and leisure settings in the North of England and Scotland. Children were interviewed both individually and in groups and were asked to provide stories, poems and other creative work. Over 300 children took part in the study all of whom had a wide range of disabilities including physical impairments, visual and hearing impairments and learning disabilities.

"The children brought their own unique understanding of what it means to be disabled", says Nick Watson. "A common theme was that being disabled meant they could not gain access to buildings and some outside areas", he adds. Some children were keen to deny their disability whilst attributing the label to others.

Some children described how being disabled meant not being able to do what you wanted to do. "Most children were determined to show that their disability did not define them as people", says Nick Watson. "One child told us to go beyond the disability and just look at the person inside", he adds. At school most disabled children had few opportunities for autonomy but were surrounded by adults for most of the day. "Their schooldays are dominated by interaction with adults rather than their peer group", says Nick Watson. "Where a child had a support worker this isolated them, particularly from their peers", he adds.

The report highlighted the fact that almost all support staff were female which left disabled boys lacking male role models. "Dimensions of ethnicity were also often ignored. In one case a special unit for children with a particular impairment was located on an estate with a history of racial violence. Consequently

Black and Asian families were reluctant to allow their children to use this facility", says Nick Watson.

"We found most disabled children wanted to be within the world of other children but there were various barriers to full participation. These included physical barriers such as access to playgrounds and other facilities and the attitudes of other children who did not want to play with them", says Nick Watson.

Most disabled children were well aware of the way adults try to structure their lives. They often spoke of how they felt more capable and independent than they were given credit for.

"Disabled children are not powerless individuals. Indeed most were happy and successful despite the difficulties they encountered. We need to listen to disabled children more and encourage them to put forward their own solutions to problems. If given the opportunity they are capable of

empowering themselves in their encounters with teachers and other adults and peers", says Nick Watson.

Note: The "Lives of Disabled Children" research project was carried out by Colin Barnes, Marian Corker, Sarah Cunningham-Burley, John Davis, Mark Priestley,

Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson. It is part of the ESRC's Research Program on Children 5-16: Growing into the 21st Century.

Further information on the program can be found at

For further information, please contact: Nick Watson, Department of Nursing Studies, tel 0131 650 3895 Email

Maintained by Communications & Public Affairs, The University of Edinburgh Centre, 7-11 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 9BE. Tel (University Switchboard): +44 (0)131 650 1000.


This is so sad...

This is so sad...