Evaluation of bullying amongst children living with autism
Background of the study 3
Problem statement 4
Research questions 6
Types of bullying behavior 7
Characterizing bullies and victims 8
ASD and bullying 11
Counter strategies 14
Nature of the study 15
Data collection 18
Data analysis 19
Ethical concerns 20
Significance of the study 20
According to Espelage et al. (2004), over the past three decades,cases of bullying in American schools have almost doubled. Given theincreasing number of violent acts perpetrated by learners againsttheir peers, bullying has become a major concern for schooladministrations, parents, and the government. The excessive cases ofviolent acts against students have led to a declaration by thegovernment that bullying is a national disaster, which has to becontained before it gets out of hand. This problem has sparked manyactions, such as, parental interventions and teacher-studentscollaboration, to handle the situation. Scientifically, researchershave conducted studies to assess the nature of bullying, how itaffects the victims and the rationale behind committing the crimeamongst the perpetrators. Research by scholars has established thatbullying affects both the victims and the perpetrators in countlessways. One of the most susceptible demographic includes children withautism, who according to Espalage et al. (2004), suffer some of theworst cases of bullying. This paper proposes a qualitative researchto evaluate bullying amongst children with autism.
Backgroundof the study
Numerous studies conducted by researchers have attempted to assessthe nature of bullying in schools. According to Espalage et al.(2004), the United States is one of the countries with the highestnumber of bullying cases. The numbers have been going up, almostdoubling over the past three decades. Not all children report thebullying incidents, as some always fear further punishment if theyreport their offenders. A report by the Center for Disease andControl Prevention (CDCP) indicated that at least one out of 15 highschool learners missed one or more days a month at school, in fear ofvictimization.
Despite the fact that the United States has made efforts to managethe levels of peer aggression in the schools, the number of bullyingcases has always been on the rise. Bullying manifests in theever-increasing numbers of cases of brutal beatings, high suiciderates amongst the learners and most recently, school shootings. Manyprofessionals blame the lack of proper discipline, and insufficiencyof policies to control the act. As such, there has been an effort byeducation professionals and psychological experts to understand thecauses of bullying and devise solutions to control it. However, mostof the research focuses on generalizing bullying cases, withoutfocusing on any particular group. Given this, this research focuseson assessing the problem by identifying one of the most adverselyaffected groups i.e. children with autism.
Some studies have indicated that children with autism are highlypredisposed to victimization. A research conducted by Carter (2009)revealed that 65% of the parents to children living with Asperger’ssyndrome at one time reported that their children were a victim. 47%more indicated that their children, who were autistic, had suffered aform of physical abuse in one way or the other. Most of the childrenliving with autism grow up living in fear, and regularly withdrawfrom social events like birthday parties, in fear of victimization.These children often spend most of their time alone or with theirfriends, who suffer from similar conditions, as they cannot be in thecompany of their “normal” counterparts.
There are many deleterious impacts of bullying. This social illaffects both victims and perpetrators. Intellectually, bullying ispartially responsible for poor performance. Studies by some scholarshave demonstrated that bullying results to poor academicperformances, both in public and private schools. Glew et al. (2005)conducted a research to assess the academic performance of bullies,victims, and bully-victims. The students responded to two items,which investigated whether or not they had taken part in bullying,and the frequency of the same during their days in school. Accordingto the findings, all the participants were less-achievers in school.Further, it has been established that low achievement is not onlyassociated with bullying others, but also because of recovering frombullying activities.
Researchshows that bullying causes many suicide and homicide incidents in theUnited States. Police investigations into the recent shooting casesin the United States school show that the perpetrators were at onetime victims of bullying in the school. A worrying fact is that theschool administrations were quite aware of what was going on withthese students, but they did nothing to intercede. Having quailedwith the system and lines of justice made available, the victimsoften go ahead to attack their schools in retaliation to the tormentthey underwent.
Besidesaccurately elaborating the extent suffering of the victims andintentions of the perpetrators, there are methodological challengesin practice research. Bullying can be assessed using differentapproaches, such as surveys and interviews, which often yielddifferent results. However, as Garrett (2003) asserts, there is alack of consensus regarding the definition of the bullying continuum.The disagreement is due to lack of a standard metric to measurebullying and its effects. Another issue is the way researchers defineand interpret bullying because of lack of a commonly agreed measureof intimidation. As such, empirical studies often fail to address theissue of policy formulation to curb bullying, based on the findingsof these studies. Given this, there is a need to conduct morecategorized studies to address the issue of bullying at differentlevels.
Are children with autism most likely to be victims of bullying in school?
Do victimized autistic children turn to be bullies themselves?
What are the relationships between victims, bullies, and bully-victims?
Schott & Sondergaard (2014) says that recurring and malicioustreatment of another individual characterizes bullying. The victimsare not in a position to defend themselves, either physically oremotionally. Often, the bully takes advantage of their victim’sweakness, be it physical or mental, to punish them. Other researchershave come forward with definitions of bullying, all with the aim ofexplaining the nature of bullying acts and the way bully relates withtheir victim. According to Cohan (2013), a bully is an individual whotreats others aggressively, with the intention of causing harm to aparticular person. This aggressive behavior is cyclical, and in manytimes, the sufferer or sufferers have no mechanism to defendthemselves from harm. According to Schott & Sondergaard (2014),bullying is an interpersonal relationship, which demonstratesimbalance of power. As such, this definition holds that bullying isan act, which exhibits demonstration of the power of one individualover another. All researchers agree that bullying is an act ofdominance of one individual over the other.
Schott & Sondergaard (2014) explain that not so long ago,bullying appeared to be a normal behavior amongst the youth. Many ofthe acts of harassment seemed to be a typical day-to-day engagementamongst the youths, especially those in high school. The societywidely accepted that bullying was a minor act of cruelty, which waspart of the normal growing up process of boys and girls. According toCohan (2013), about 90% of today’s adults have a memory of beingvictims during their teenage years. The severity of bullying,however, ranges from light to very harsh, which according to Schott &Sondergaard (2014) was the main difference in the bullyingexperiences. However, school administrators, communities, teachers,and parents became more aware of the seriousness of bullying whenmatters began getting out of hand (Cohan, 2013). The awareness is dueto the increased number of suicides, homicides and other relatedincidences at the schools.
While bullying can take place anywhere, the most notorious locationfor bullying actions is schools (Cohan, 2013). Over the years,researchers have noted that bullying is most common in schools, giventhat adults have for a long time perceived to be part of the naturalprocess of growing up. As such, scholars have come to a mutualagreement that bullying is a widespread problem in the schools, whichhas had an adverse impact on the learning and teaching environment ofthe schools. Before, people regarded bullying as a harmless behaviorexhibited by innocently naughty children, but they take it seriouslytoday. Bullying has a negative impact on the academic, physical,emotional and mental development of both the victims and theperpetrators. According to Schott & Sondergaard (2014), in theschools, students become victims when they experience exposure torepeated harassment from their peers for a long time. Likewise, Cohan(2013) asserts that the intention of a bully is to show power anddominance over their victims, without minding their well-being.
Typesof bullying behavior
In the schools, Wang, Iannotti & Luk (2012) say that there aredifferent kinds of bullies. Despite both boys and girls engaging inthis act, their styles of execution are quite different, and to someextent, unique. Gender is a sharp contrasting tool in distinguishingthe type and style of bullies. For instance, boys often use physicalviolence to intimidate their victims. On the other hand, girls oftenuse emotional techniques, for example, abusive language, name-callingand spreading malicious rumors about their victims. Schott &Sondergaard (2014) say that the physical bullying style of boysinvolves kicking, punching and pinching. To some extents, somebullies use weapons, such as sticks and metal rods, to punish theirvictims. Despite the fact that the bullying techniques used by girlsare discrete, the effects on the victims are similarly disastrous.
Schott& Sondergaard (2014) and Wang et al. (2012) identify two otherforms of bullying that occur in high schools i.e. sexual andcyberbullying. The intention of sexual harassment is to demean thevictim based on their sexual orientation. Sexual harassment can beeither direct or indirect. For direct sexual harassment, the bullymay inappropriately touch the victim’s body parts even go as faras harming them. Such sexual harassment is mostly against femalelearners, who socially, are most vulnerable. On the other hand,sexual harassment can be indirect, which may take the form of postingnude pictures of the bullies on the class walls, and name-calling.According to Wang et al. (2012), cyber bullying takes place over theinternet. Cyberbullying involves sending abusive messages over thesocial media such as Facebook and spreading demeaning pictures of thevictims through emails. This type of bullying often violates thevictim’s privacy and self-respect, often leading to theirwithdrawal from the social scene.
Characterizingbullies and victims
According to Schott & Sondergaard (2014), the most commoncharacteristic of the bullies is the general lack of empathy forothers. The bullies are often egoistic individuals with selfishinterests, which often lead to harming of others. The bullies arealso most likely to show dominance over their victims, manifested byan outburst of anger and temper. At the slightest form ofintimidation, the bullies tend to retaliate by punishing theirvictims, often taking advantage of their weak points, be it physicalor mental. Wang et al. (2012) assert that while the bullies mostlypick out on the weaker peers, they tend so show some opposition toothers, for instance, adults and the authorities. The most probablereason for this is that they perceive those they cannot bully as athreat.
Onthe other hand, Schott & Sondergaard (2014) say that children whoare victims of bullying are often quiet and reserved. Most of themare from a background that does not either provide sufficiently formost them or neglects them altogether. The environment from which thechildren hail shapes their social development, ultimately determinethe manner in which they relate to their peers at schools. Childrenwho come from abusive homes lack a sense of connection to thesociety, and as such seen to be reserved and weak. This portrayal iswhat influences their adversaries to pick on them. According toSchott & Sondergaard (2014), some children, especially boys, whohave overprotective mothers, are most likely to fall victim at theschool. The bigger boys tend to think that these children cannotprotect themselves, hence making them suffer from physical abuse.
Bullying,in most cases, involves three characters. These are the bullies,victims, and bully-victims. According to Schott & Sondergaard(2014), “pure bullies" are the most confident aggressors.These characters do not fear confronting other children, and theydish out intimidation and aggression at the slightest provocation.The victims are at the bottom of the chain, as they do nothing toretaliate. On the other hand, the bullies are the most superior ofthe three. The bully-victims are victims of other bullies. Somestudies have demonstrated that the bully victims are at a greaterrisk of developing emotional problems (Kowalsi & Limber, 2013).These characters also have difficulty “fitting-in” to the schoolenvironment, as they are looking for someone to bully, besides hidingfrom the superior bullies. Despite being lonely most of the time,they have difficulty making and keeping friends.
Autism and the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are general terms for agroup of complex brain development disorders. Social impairments,difficulty in maintaining understandable communication, erroneous andrepetitive behaviors characterizes these disorders (Speaks, 2011).There is a varying degree of autism severity, the most severe beingclassical ASD. Milder forms of autism are Asperger’s syndrome andchildhood disintegrative disorder. Autism occurs in all ethnic andsocioeconomic groups. According to the Center for Disease Control andPrevention, 1 in about 88 children are at risk of developing autismby age 8 (Speaks, 2011). However, boys are at higher danger ofdeveloping autistic disorders, with their chances being about fourtimes greater.
Accordingto Speaks (2011), the most outstanding feature of ASD is socialinteraction impairment. For instance, a toddler with ASD may becomeundistracted by people and items, often concentrating on one item foran abnormally long period. These children are also generallyunresponsive to light and sound. At times, these children may appearto be responsive and act normally however, they get back to theirabnormal behavior within a short while. There are many ways ofdiagnosing autism at different ages. These include failure to respondto one’s name, loss of language and social skills, lack of generalhappiness to inflexible adherence to specific routines. Autismadversely affects the lives of children in schools. According toresearch by Speaks (2011), ASD is associated with intellectualinability and lack of performance in schoolwork. The children alsoexhibit a lack of motor coordination and do not respond tostimulations. In some rare cases, the autistic children may excel invisual skills, math, music and art (Speaks, 2011).
Cappadocia, Weiss & Pepler (2012) say that due to the nature oftheir illness, children with ASD are most probable victims. The mainexplanation behind this is that these children lack the coordinationskills and mental abilities of their peers, hence automaticallymaking them an easy target. Additionally, Sterzing et al. (2012)cites communication deficiency as a core cause of the victimization.Furthermore, children with ASD experience difficulty expressingthemselves, making and maintain friends, further worsening theirsituation. There are many ways of telling whether a child has been avictim of bullying at school. According to Cappadocia et al. (2012),the most common sign is the general lack of happiness and inactivity.
Thechildren may also come home with unexplainable injuries, tornclothes, and missing items. Over time, the behavior of the child maychange quite suddenly, and they may develop a lack of interest inactivities they initially enjoyed, especially playing with theirpeers. According to Sterzing et al. (2012), children with ASD, whohave been victims of bullying, may develop worse conditions, whichmay prevent them from feeding regularly and disrupt their sleeping.While studies have indicated that autistic children, have poorlydeveloped social skills, which are worsened by bullying.
According to Cappadocia (2012), about 40% of parents who haveautistic children have reported that their children were victims. Themost affected ones are those suffering from Asperger syndrome. Thesechildren have difficulty in interpreting social situations and do notoften understand how to deal with changing social context. As such,they find it hard to predict their peers’ behavior, body languageand intentions. Given this, the bullies take advantage and make themtheir victims (Sterzing et al., 2012). In other cases, the autisticchildren become victims of backhanded bulling. In this case, thebullies befriend them, and often mislead them to do the dirty jobs ontheir behalf. For instance, the bullies may make their autisticfriends steal on their behalf, or smuggle contraband into the school.In most cases, as Cappadocia (2012) explains, the autistic childrenonly fall into these traps by hoping that it will make them “cool”and accepted by their peers. Some of the bullies directly abuse theirautistic friends, taking advantage of their communicative barriers,to make derogatory comments about them.
Farmer et al. (2015) define as the process of consolidation of ones’beliefs when it comes to socialization. Bullying is a problem thatoccurs along a continuum, meaning that the students can take manyroles along the bullying continuum, which is, being a bully, avictim, or bully-victim. Napolitano et al. (2011) describe thedepression and the bully-victim continuum constructively. Accordingto them, schoolchildren who experience expressive symptoms displayfeelings of annoyance, desperateness, and worthlessness frequently.There is a capricious prevalence rate of depressive disorders,especially among children with autism, which depend on theirbackground, age, sex, physical appearance, and other social factors.These children often display problems in maintaining an interpersonalrelationship. According to Farmer et al. (2015), there is asignificant association between depression and the likelihood ofvictimization, besides bullying others. A research conducted byNapolitano et al. (2011) demonstrated that participants in thebully-victim continuum are most likely to develop worse symptoms ofdepression. Moreover, there are higher rates of depressive disordersamong the bully victims, as compared to the victims and bullies. Thisresearch showed that about 18% of the bully-victims suffered from adepressive disorder. On the other hand, 13% of the bullies and 10% ofthe victims did suffer.
Similarly,Farmer et al. (2015) assessed the issue of anxiety and thebully-victim continuum. Anxiety disorders are most common amongchildren and adolescents. Anxiety negatively affects interpersonalskills, and the children with these disorders are often lonely. Mostvictims are those suffering from anxiety disorders. According toFarmer et al. (2015), individuals suffering from anxiety have somecomorbid problems that relate to their condition. The most common arethe inability to keep a positive relationship with their peers, lowself-esteem and avoiding to participate in school programs. Farmer etal. (2015) adds that this is one of the reasons why bullyingcharacterizes as a peer relationship problem. Extensive documentationof the phenomena has provided a new direction for researchers tostudy the internalization of the problem along the bullyingcontinuum.
A strong hypothesis suggests that victims who suffer from anxietydisorders are most likely to turn into being bullies themselves. Alongitudinal study that used children, parent and teachers assessedthe mental status of bully-victims. It established that victimizedchildren who were suffering from anxiety disorders were most likelyto engage in alcohol and drugs (Napolitano et al. (2011). Theseinfluenced them to attempt bullying others, as an experiment to feelhow their adversaries did. The study classified the children in thebullying continuum by using their anxiety disorders. The childrenclassified as bully-victims were most likely to have antisocialpersonality and anxiety disorders. On the other hand, the bullieswere also, and victims soon developed antisocial behavior, whichadversely affected their characters. According to Napolitano et al.(2011), regardless of the role of the child along the bullyingcontinuum, they suffered from a form of anxiety.
Through the implementation of numerous strategies, many schools havesignificantly attempted to curb the menace of bullying in schools.While some of the strategies are still at the trial stages, some ofthem have received the green light from disciplinary heads. Accordingto Doyle (2014), the most common measure is to ensure clear rulesabout bullying to avoid misconstruction of what constitutes bullying.Such delusion occurs especially in schools that admit autisticchildren because even the slightest provocations are enough to passas acts of intimidation. Additionally, Doyle (2014) advocates for theidentification of risk times and places. Autistic children are mostlikely to come together in quiet places, where most of theiradversaries have learned to corner them. According to Doyle (2014),some schools has implemented staff supervision to protect theautistic children at school. Most parents and teachers have alsoadvised the autistic children choose their peers carefully, as a wayof avoiding the bullies.
Some strategies are unique to high schools, given that they are themost notorious locations for school-based bullying. According toDoyle (2014), introducing mentors for the vulnerable children, suchas the autistic children, is helpful. The mentors often take care ofthe needs of these children and guide them to different places in theschools. Doyle (2014) says that bullying is least likely to occurwhen the autistic children are in accompaniment of their mentors. Thementors are mostly senior students who are in a position to defendthe autistic children from victimization. In many high schools, theadministrators have also increased the levels of supervision wherethe vulnerable children are most likely to experience harassment(Doyle (2014). These places include the fields, gym and locker rooms.
Natureof the study Design
The purpose of the study will be to examine the perception ofbullying amongst the students. The study intends to evaluate theissue of bullying amongst children with autism. It will help theresearcher to assess the bullies, victims, and bully-victims.
As earlier identified, the research will take a qualitative approach.As such, the methodology will involve examining the perception of theautistic high school students in the bullying continuum. According toTurner (2011), a qualitative approach is appropriate for this topicsaying that given since there are few truths that can be broughttogether to constitute universal knowledge, multiple perspectiveshave to be utilized. As such, by exploring the perspectives of thevarious characters in the bullying continuum i.e. victims, bullies,and the bully-victims, the researcher will describe the influencingfactors of their characters. As such, the study will attempt tointerpret the characters’ experiences. According to Camic et al.(2003), the greatest significance in terms of contribution toknowledge in the field of study depends on insightful understandingof the perspectives of the study participants. In this regards, theresearch questions for this particular study focuses on theperspectives and understandings of the issue among the participants.
A biological research will form the basis of the strategy of thestudy. Biological studies often rely on the personal experiences ofthe participants to derive meaningful interpretations. The biologicalresearch will guide the researcher to examine the perceptions of thestudents and their experiences from the past. By using this, theresearcher will be in a position to use literature and existingtheories to interpret the experiences. An underlying postulate isthat the incidences of bullying have proved to be poignant amongstthe research participants, and as such, recollecting the experiencesand forwarding them for the purpose of the study is achievable.
In a qualitative research, a variety of sampling techniques isapplicable. However, Camic et al. (2003) assert that selecting asampling technique is expedient because the researcher will approachand study them according to the purpose of the study. Moreover, ithelps in identifying a particular group of participants guided byinsightful consideration, leading to the selection ofinformation-rich participants who are most likely to give highlyreliable information. For directly addressing the research question,this particular research will study individuals who have beeninvolved in the bullying continuum, taking the role either victim,bully or bully-victim.
Analternate research design would have been a quantitative research.According to Neuman (2005), this research is appropriate for studyinglarge numbers of people and has higher credibility with many personsin power, for instance, administrators, and management. However,these advantages form the basis for its rejection in this study. Theresearcher in this particular study aims to elicit the feelings rightfrom the bottom of the matter, which depend on the participants’roles in the bullying continuum. Moreover, the researcher seeks togather data from a limited pool of participants, for purposes ofaccuracy. There are two more reasons why the research does not applythe quantitative approach. First, the researcher’s categoriesthrough the approach may fail to reflect the understandings of thetarget group. Secondly, the research approach may not adequately usethe underlying theories guiding the research.
As part of a longitudinal investigation, the researcher will collectdata from 200 participants in selected high schools. Half of theparticipants will be “normal” while the rest will be childrensuffering from autism. The number of male students will be equal tothat of the female students. The study will set the attrition rate at7%, mostly due to the movement of student’s from one school toanother. The age range depends on the ability of the students toparticipate in the research, which means that the teachers andparents may be involved to guide the participants through theresearch. There will be a balance of ethnicity among the participantsto balance the background variable.
The Children’s Depression Inventory-Short is a measure thatcontains a set of CDI items (Storch et al., 2007). It has been usedto measure children between seven and seventeen years. All theparticipants will be asked to fill in the severity rate valuedbetween 1 and 3, prior to the actual participation. The high scoreswill be indicative of high severity. Summation of the items will givea total depressive symptom score.
The Children’s Social Behavior Scale is a 15 item self-report usedto assess the children’s engagement in various aggressive behaviors(Malecki & Elliot, 2002). A five point Likert Scale, which rangesbetween “never” and “every time” measures them. Similarly,the summation of the responses will give the total score. For thisparticular study, the internal consistency reliability will be acoefficient alpha of 0.8, which will guide the researcher indeliberating the internal consistency scores. These two measures willguide validity and reliability of the qualitative research tools.
The criterion sampling will involve reviewing the cases that are ofmost relevant to the study. The role that the participant took in thebullying continuum will give direction for the study. One of themajor reasons for taking this approach is that the researcher will beable to identify the participants who are most likely to give usefulinformation, which may reveal weaknesses in the system.
Questionnaires will be the data collection tools used. They willcapture the feelings and perception of the issue among the victims,bullies and the victim bullies. The responses of the participantswill provide insight into the experiences and their effects. Theresearcher shall conduct a pilot study for reviewing thequestionnaire and the validity of the items. The participants of thepilot study will consist of individuals from an institution of higherlearning. Major issues under deliberation include the incidence ofbullying experiences, their severity and any interventions whereapplicable. Semi-structure interviews will guide the participants inthe study. During the interview sessions, the researcher shall posesome questions to help the participants express their feelings andperception on the topic.
For the purpose of data analysis, the researcher opts for SPSSstatistical analysis. Non-parametric and distribution-free techniqueswill test the hypothesis. To determine if there is any difference inbehavior among the three groups of participants i.e. bullies,victims, and bully-victims, there will be the application ofKruskal-Wiallis one-way analysis of variance. Sheskin describes thistechnique (Sheskin, 2003). For statistically significant results(p<0.05), the Mann-Whitney test will be applied to a pair ofindependent variables. Sheskin (2003) identifies this test as one ofthe most powerful nonparametric tests.
There are some technical limitations posing challenges to theresearch. These limitations will particularly affect theinterpretation of findings. Also, they relate to the nature of thedata collection instruments that used to collect the information.Despite the numerous studies that done to highlight the advantages ofthe quantitative approach, one of the outstanding limitations is theparadigm’s inability to determine the severity of the problem inthis study adequately.
The second inadequacy of the research is that collection of the datawill take place within a short period. As such, the researcher willnot capture the transitioning of the participants from occupying adifferent role in the bullying continuum. For instance, it is likelythat some participants will move from being victim to beingbully-victim after the research. A pilot study conducted will helpthe researcher finesse items in the research instruments especiallyin a bid to tackle issues of methodology. As for the change of roles,the research will take a longitudinal approach, hence allowing theresearcher to establish the etiology of transitioning from one roleof the bullying continuum to another.
The study will involve studying children with ASD. Brownlow et al.(2002) assert that there is a possibility of ethical conflict inautistic research, especially when it involves the possibility ofcognitive changes. When dealing with such participants, theresearcher has to obtain informed consent from the participants oftheir guardians because this group consists of people who may divulgesensitive information. For this reason, the researcher will obtainpermission from the institution where the research will take place,besides informing the participants and/or their guardians about thenature and implications of the study.
Significanceof the study
This study will particularly help administrators, teachers andparents of autistic children who may be at risk of victimization atschool. Specifically, the findings of the study will assist theschool administrators to assess the situation of the students andimplement effective strategies to help them. In the modern schoolsetting, the problem of bullying has become quite complicated, paststudies may not be effective in preventing the bullies and assistingthe victims. As such, this study will set a new approach toresearching the topic, giving the policy formulators an opportunityto try out a different methodology in the field.
Additionally,through the research findings, the school administrators and parentswill understand how bullying affects autistic children, more so ininfluencing the role they partake in the bullying continuum. Besideshelping the parents and teachers to understand the changingperceptions of bullying among the autistic children, it will providea guideline for providing support and preventing the victims frombeing bullies. This way, the study addresses the issue ofbully-victims, which will go a long way in reforming the charactersof the learners in the school settings.
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