Bully Abuse

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Research indicates that children with special needs are more likely to be bullied by other children inside and outside of school settings. However, bullying incidents can be decreased by fostering healthy communication, speaking honestly with children, and impelling expectations on educators.

Breaking the bullying cycle

It’s as heartbreaking to parents as it is disheartening to a child when their child is the victim of bullying. Some parents have outgrown the point where they remember the hurt and emotional upheaval bullying and peer pressure can cause a child. But, to a child enduring cruel taunts at the hands of their peers, the resulting anxiety and fear can polarize the child and interfere with self-esteem, health and safety, and ability to engage in positive interactions with others.

In severe cases, bullying has led to physical assaults on children. Even when the physical injuries heal in time, the emotional damage can be impactful.

When it comes to bullying, parents of children with special needs need to be concerned. New research into bullying, its causes, its affects and prevention can show that children with disability are more likely to be physically or verbally abused than other students.
There are many reasons uncovered on why young people with special needs are targeted by bullies. The fact that they often stand out from their classmates seem to be a significant factor at school. Additionally, children with special needs are also perceived as not able to defend themselves – verbally or physically – when bullying occurs.

One positive development is that, as of 2010, 45 out of 50 states adopted laws requiring local school districts to develop and implement an anti-bullying curriculum for all students. While these programs are a step in a positive direction in terms of educating children about bullying and creating a framework to level consequences against offenders, it can’t eliminate every incident that makes a child feel marginalized, isolated or abused. Unfortunately, the provisions can’t prevent every altercation involving physical harm or violence, either.

Despite these issues, parents need not feel powerless when they put their child on a school bus each morning. There are strategies that parents can practice, and preventative measures children can use, to make sure school is a safe, fun, and productive learning environment for all children.

Words hurt

In 2010, an online disabilities hub called Ability Path released a study that focused exclusively on children with special needs and bullying. The first-of-its-kind study is called the “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” report, and its findings were both eye-opening and disturbing.

The report by the California-based non-profit indicated that 60 percent of students with special needs felt they had been bullied, versus 25 percent of children without special needs. Children with disabilities were two to three times more likely than other students to be targeted by bullies, and 97 percent of teachers reported observing an act of bullying against as a student with special needs. Also, the bullying that was reported by the children was directly related to a disability.

The study also reported that 50 percent of parents surveyed indicated that their children were afraid of their peers.

Bullying incidents that involve children with special needs begin much in the same way it does between all children – a hostile child seeks out a child they perceive to be weaker than they are to pick on to make his or herself appear to be stronger or superior to other children.

The study also references incidents that frankly would shock and infuriate parents if it involved their child, including one incident that happened to a child with Cerebral Palsy where classmates thought it would be funny to tie the child to a fence, and post a photo of him trying to break free on Facebook. Other pictures show the child’s classmates had previously forced him to eat dog food, and tied his sweatshirt around his head so he couldn’t see.

Other incidents include students verbally making comments about a child’s intellectual capabilities, physical condition, or the fact that he or she may only spend part of his time in a mainstream classroom. The fact that a child may leave for special instruction, be transported by a special education bus, or attend a service such as speech therapy, can sometimes trigger incidents.

Another way a child can become a target is when they participate in activities or sports in a way that other children are unfamiliar with. Children with special needs may deploy adaptation or modification measures that set them apart from the way others accomplish the same feat.

It’s enough to infuriate parents to think about these possibilities, but today, teachers and professionals that have studied bullying have developed ways that young people who are bullied can decrease the chance of it re-occurring.

Equally noteworthy is that educators have the tools they need to be able to stop socially aggressive or maladjusted students from taking part in such abuse, whether physical or emotional.

Stopping social tyranny

Parents with children with special needs already have so many more worries than the average parent; they have a concern about their child’s ability to thrive emotionally, maintain health, and pursue opportunities for independence. Their children are often struggling with multiple therapies, doctor’s appointments, self-esteem issues, socialization anxiety, and peer pressure even when there is no bully present.

This is why it is imperative that a parent manage the situation as soon as possible to rectify a situation before it spirals out of control.

One strategy that works well is through communication. Parents can explain to their children what the rules of conduct are so their children know what to expect from others. They need to know it’s not okay for others to make rude remarks, push them, or take their lunch money. They also need to know that if anything does happen, it’s okay to inform a teacher or a parent so someone can intervene on their behalf.

Talking to other students also helps. Ask a teacher to explain to students how your child communicates. Talk to the children about what can hurt a child, and what doesn’t, so other children are not afraid to strike a friendship with the child or in dire situations, defend them. Educate the children on bully tactics with particular emphasis on the fact that those who bully are more likely to have low self-esteem if they feel more empowered to harm others.

Make sure they know that a child with a disability is like others – with feelings and concerns and interests and hobbies, and if they give the child a chance, they may even find themselves with a new friend. Also, explain why it’s important for all children in a classroom to try to make that place fun and safe for all students. If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable doing this, ask if you can do it.

Work with other popular children to mentor, pair up with in class projects, team up with in gym class, or interact with a child with special needs so others feel comfortable associating with the child as well – the more time children spend accepted among friends, the less likely a bully will want to bother them.

Parents can also build confidence in their child. If a child knows that they are as bright and as valued as other children, they are likely to come across as confident and capable which, in and of itself, acts as a bully-repellent. Also, this helps children with disabilities develop social skills, which increases their overall well-being.

If an incident of bullying occurs, talk about it with the child so that they can express how they feel. Though all children tend not to want to tell their parents about such an incident, the involvement of an adult is often the only roadmap to a safe classroom.

Don’t be afraid to engage the cooperation of a principal or school board administrator if you feel the teacher is not remedying bullying in their classroom.

If a situation escalates to the point where physical harm comes to pass, consider calling the parents of the other child and school officials, or if you feel it’s warranted, utilize the legal system. Remember that if a child purposefully hurts your child, it’s an assault, and that’s not only unacceptable under any circumstances, it’s also against the law.

Unfortunately, bullying has reached unprecedented levels in schools, and the advent of World Wide Web and social media only exacerbated this problem. As a parent, the first concern is always the health and safety of a child. Don’t be afraid to get involved. Be part of the solution.


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