Did you know that according to research (Disability: Insights from across Fields and Around the World. Marshall, Kendall, Banks & Gover (Eds.), 2009.), kids with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their able-bodied peers? Research was done in the United States, Canada, and Australia that indicates that not only are kids with disabilities more likely to be bullied, but the psychological impact is also more severe. A person can be bullied at any age, but kids with disabilities are especially vulnerable and they often don’t know how to articulate what is happening to them. There are many warning signs that teachers and parents can look for to intervene. It is important for adults to not only advocate for kids with disabilities but more importantly, teach them to self-advocate. You can start by explaining what bullying means.

Definition of bullying.

Lighthearted teasing between friends and siblings is not bullying. Kids play and make fun of each other often. There is no harm done when the teasing is playful and mutual. When the teasing becomes hurtful, unkind, and continuous it starts to meet the definition of bullying. Hitting, shoving, name-calling, and mocking when done repetitively are all forms of bullying.

Here are three definitions of bullying you can refer to when speaking to your child.

1) Unwanted aggressive behavior
2) Observed or perceived power imbalance.
3) Repetition or high likelihood of repetition of the bullying behavior.

How to Recognize Signs of Bullying

One of the most important jobs a parent or teacher is to keep a close eye on the emotional well-being of a child in their care. Looking closely for changes in behavior and mood is a good place to start. If a child that once loved school or spending time with friends all of the sudden wants to stay home that might be a clue that your child is anxious or depressed. Here is a link to the Center for Disease Control that describes how the symptoms of depression present in a child. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child it is time to start asking open-ended questions and find out what’s going on. Kids might not understand that what they are experiencing is bullying. Kids also might be afraid to speak up about hostility or aggression they are experiencing for fear of even worse retaliation.

The Impact of Bullying on Kids
  1. Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn
  2. Bullying can cause school avoidance
  3. The child’s grades suddenly start to drop
  4. Difficulty Concentrating
  5. Loss of Interest in Academic Achievements
  6. Increase in dropout rates

How to Help a Child that is Being Bullied

If you suspect that a child in your care is being bullied it’s time to talk about it. It is important to take what the child tells you about the harassment seriously. Don’t tell them not to be a tattle-tale or to handle it themselves when they confide in you about what is happening. The psychological damage from bullying can be severe and lead to suicide or homicide.  Listen non-judgmentally and without getting angry or upset. Ask open-ended questions to help the child explain everything that is happening to them and how it makes them feel. Make sure to let them know that being bullied is not their fault. Formulate a plan with the child, which should include informing an authority at the child’s school. Assure the child that together you will get help and develop a plan to stop this unwanted behavior. Here is a list of things that you can do when you discover a child is being bullied.
  1. Tell them to remove themselves from the situation and ignore the behavior. People that bully others want a reaction and when they don’t get one they are less likely to continue.
  2. Help your child control their temper and learn some deep breathing exercises. It is never a good idea to react in anger and escalate the situation.
  3. Encourage the child to make new friends and help them get involved in new activities.
  4. Tell the child to find a buddy at school. Teachers can help to organize a “buddy system” where kids can look out for each other at recess or in the lunchroom.
  5. Talk to the school counselor about addressing the bullying during the child’s Individual Education Program (IEP). Kids with disabilities all have an IEP meeting and a special needs counselor that can formulate a plan to prevent and respond to bullying.
  6. Ask the teachers to create group activities that involve both kids with disabilities and those without. This will help to foster friendships between kids of all abilities and teach empathy.
  7. Parents can join the PTA and start an anti-bullying campaign. All schools need involved parents to help create a positive learning environment.

How Analiese Dealt with Bullying due to her Disability

Analiese is an 18-year-old from Leesville Louisiana. She was born with Spina Bifida and is a Numotion customer. In this interview Analiese shares how she was bullied as a child due to her disability.

KR: Were you bullied as a child due to your disability?
Analiese: Yes, as a child I had to use a walker and had difficulty walking. As I got older and it became harder for me to walk I eventually started using a wheelchair for mobility. When I attended public school kids made fun of me and I dealt with a lot of bullying. Usually, one kid would start it and then a few others would join in. The things they would say were very hurtful.

KR: Did you tell an adult what was happening?
Analiese: Yes, I told one of my teachers that I was repeatedly being made fun of and she told me not to be a “tattletale”. When I realized my teacher was not going to help me I went to my Mom and my Aunt. My Aunt worked in the school system, so she went to the principal of my school and they talked to the kids. It was better for a little while, but eventually, my parents took me out of that public school and sent me to private school. I made lots of friends in my new school and I no longer had issues with being the target of bullying.

KR: What advice do you have for other kids with disabilities that are the target of bullies?
Analiese: Tell a teacher at school and if the first one doesn’t care, keep looking until you find one that does. Tell your parents if nobody at school will listen. Find a friend at school, even if it is just one person that will stand by your side.

Kids with all types of disabilities are more than twice as likely to be bullied. Look for the warning signs that your child is having issues with other children repetitively verbally or physically abusing a child in your life. Kids have difficulty articulating what is happening and might be afraid to speak up. Adults need to be very calm when speaking with a child about bullying. It is important to inform a school official about the bullying. Kids can’t always handle these situations alone, so adults must help create a plan and teach kids to self-advocate peacefully. Go to Stompoutbullying.org to find great resources to prevent and deal with bullying.
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Global Administrator