MSU scholar uses federal grant to study bullying in autistic youth

Posted at 3:08 PM, Jul 28, 2017

A Michigan State University education scholar will use a $400,000 federal grant to study friendship and bullying in middle school students with and without autism and intellectual disability.

“Studies say that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their typically developing peers. Is this true? If so, why?” said Marisa Fisher, assistant professor of special education.

Fisher developed a four-year study with these questions in mind, and with the ultimate goal of creating an intervention to help reduce bullying of students with disabilities in schools.

“In order to find a way to help these students and reduce bullying, we need to be able to see and describe the problem. We need to know what bullying looks like to these students,” said Fisher.

The grant is from the Institute of Education Sciences’ Early Career Development and Mentoring in Special Education Program, which supports researchers as they develop their own line of research. The institute is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

During the first year, Fisher will review current literature to examine ways in which bullying is usually measured. Based on these findings, she aims to create a self-report questionnaire that students with autism and intellectual disability can understand.

The questionnaire will be reviewed by parents, scholars and schools before being administered to 100 sixth- through eighth-graders in public schools around Michigan to identify when they have been bullied or teased.

If the questionnaire works, she will then start data collection for the next three years of the study, enrolling up to 75 sixth-graders to follow throughout their time in middle school.

When the questionnaire is handed out, Fisher will also collect data from teachers and parents to learn more about the students’ behavior. This will help indicate how the students are interacting in school separately from the self-report measures.

She hopes the study will illuminate why students with autism and intellectual disability are targets for bullying—are they exhibiting behaviors that lead them to be bullied? Or are they being bullied regardless of their behaviors? She hopes to better understand the impact bullying has on these students.

“Do students with disabilities even know they’re being bullied? If not, do we tell them? I hope this research will provide an avenue for students with disabilities to better protect and advocate for themselves.”