How bullying affects those living with a disability.

We are all sensitive as humans despite our tough outward appearances. Bullies tend to prey on those who might seem the most sensitive or vulnerable, and that means people with disabilities are commonly targeted. Those that are living with a disability are striving to achieve independence like anyone else. Bullying they encounter along the way can have lasting damaging effects on their wellbeing. The good news is, there are some things that can help keep them lifted.

Disproportionately targeted

Although bullying knows no true bounds, those with disabilities are targeted at a disproportionate rate. One Australian study surveyed nearly 4,000 12- to 13-year-olds and discovered that bullying was witnessed far more among those with disabilities than those without.1

Those with emotional and behavioural disabilities are at the highest risk of experiencing bullying, both in regular school and special schools. In Australia, this group makes up for a quarter of all disabilities.

On a world stage, the statistics remain consistent. UNESCO’s World Anti-Bullying Forum found that, of all children and young people who are victims of bullying, those with disabilities are most likely to be targeted.2 But UNESCO also found that some groups within disabled communities can encounter this behaviour more than others. Those who had borderline intellectual functioning or intellectual disability were at the highest risk of experiencing bullying from their peers.

In Australia, over 4.4 million people are living with disabilities, a quarter of which are mental or behavioural. From what we’ve seen from UNESCO’s report, this large percentage are at a particularly high risk of being bullied in their early formative years.

Indiscriminate of what sort of disability they have, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that one in 10 people living with disabilities experienced discrimination within the past year, a number they report is on the rise.3


Students can be bullied no matter what, but students who think, act, and socialise differently are the most common to experience it. This is based solely on their differences, which bullies can look at and see as a vulnerability.

Autistic students are not so outwardly different but may have certain differences to students in social settings or physical aptitude. For instance, studies show that having orthopedic impairments in children with autism puts students at a higher risk of being bullied.4

This risk factor does indeed seem to correlate with the experience of people living with a disability. In one study from Queensland, more than 62% of autistic students report being bullied at least once a week. The prevalence, again, shows that those between ages 5 and 19 are at the highest risk of encountering bullying.5

The effects of bullying

When you look at people with disabilities as a whole, you realise just how impactful bullying can be. Not only are disabled children more likely to be bullied, but studies show that the majority of them are.

Bullying can be defined as a “systemic abuse of power.” For people living with a disability, the aggressive behaviour can be particularly malicious because the effects linger long past the time spent with these peers, leaving lasting marks on mental health.

Children who are bullied are seen to be at a higher risk of depression.Depression alone may be hard to deal with, as it can become a detriment to forming nurturing relationships and having the self-esteem to meet goals and enter the workplace.

General poor health is also regarded as a consequence of being bullied. Some instances may go as far as to trigger psychotic episodes, and at its worst bullying can push some to suicide attempts.7

There is no reason why some people in the population should look down on the quarter of the community who live with a disability just for being different. To live with a disability is not to live with a lesser life. If these bullies can be quieted or, better yet, defeated, those living with disabilities can live the full and prosperous life they deserve.

How to overcome bullying

The disproportionate rates that people with disabilities are bullied can make them feel isolated and like outcasts. People with disabilities should be reminded, not dissuaded, that they are valued in social groups. Healthy doses of care and attention from others can have a profound ability to overturn the negative experiences of bullying.

Strong family and social support can offer particularly steadying support when young people are victimised by bullying. In a study of Australian school children aged 8 to 10, children with disabilities were both physically and psychologically bullied. While this is regrettably common, the study noted the positive effects of the situation when these students had support from friends, parents, and teachers.8

Community support doesn’t just inspire love, but also life purpose and self-esteem. One major factor in feeling your life has purpose is having family units and friendships.9

This reveals a way forward for these individuals living with disabilities who have been victims of bullying. The benefits of having a social structure are undeniable, and that is the community we build at Raise Your Spirit. We are committed to giving different age groups the support they need. One on One Support is available to all. Day programs, which present a greater opportunity for developing social relationships, are available to 18 to 35-year-olds.

Living with a disability is a gift to experience life differently. Though bullying can be an often encountered hardship, finding community support to feel seen, heard, and accepted, is a treasure and an essential element to living a full life.

1. A. Kavanaugh, et al., 16 January 2018, Gender, parental education, and experiences of bullying victimization by Australian adolescents with and without a disability, Wiley Online Library, 9 Nov 2021, <>

2. UNESCO. Violence and Bullying in education settings. The experience of young people with disabilities., viewed 8 Nov 2021, <>

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 24 Oct 2019, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 8 Nov 2021, <>

4. Blake., Lund, Zhou, Kwok, Benz., 2012. National prevalence rates of bully victimization among students with disabilities in the United States. Sch. Psychol. Q. 8 Nov 2021, <>

5. AHRC, 26 October 2016, Bullying, disability and mental health, viewed 9 Nov 2021, Queensland Government,


6.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 2012, Focus on children’s mental health research at the NICHD. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved 9 Nov 2021, <>

7. Copeland WE, Wolke D, Angold A, et al. JAMA Psychiatry, 2013, Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence, <>

8. George G. Bear, et al. 27 Dec 2019, Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review, viewed 10 Nov 2021, <

9. Boyle, Buchman, and Bennett, 2011 Dec 1, Purpose in Life is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Incident Disability Among Community-Dwelling Older Persons, Am J Geriatr Psychiatry, 9 Nov 2021, <>

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