A situation where someone is being bullied because of their disability is called disablist bullying. In today’s schools and society in general, teens and younger children with learning disabilities are facing bullying more than their non-disabled counterparts, called disablist bullying!
Mencap, a website devoted to people with disabilities, found that 82% of children with disabilities are bullied and 79% are scared to leave home because they are afraid of being bullied. They also surveyed more than 500 children who have learning disabilities and found that 58% had been hurt physically by a bully. Also, 27% said that they had been bullied for more than three years. In addition to this, 36% of these children said that the bullying that they were enduring did not stop upon telling an adult. Half of these bullying cases caused the children to stay away from the place where they were bullied, half said they cried as a result of the bullying, and a third of these children hid in their rooms because of the bullying.
Bullying that is done to children with disabilities leads to social exclusion in childhood, then on into adulthood. It does significant damage to the child’s life. This is a huge problem among learning disabled children. Unfortunately, disablist bullying happens everywhere. Children encounter it in the lunchroom, the hallways and the bathrooms at school, and on playgrounds, on the street, in parks, at youth centers, on the bus, and essentially everywhere they go. It is causing a fear of leaving home in these children that are being bullied.
This is causing these children to miss out on opportunities to better themselves by learning, socializing, playing and making friends. These situations will only lead to isolation their whole lives, which is so detrimental to a person with a learning disability.
Disablist bullying can lead to low self-esteem, and most likely will lead to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, it could possibly also lead to helplessness and suicidal tendencies. Children with learning or physical disabilities will also most likely experience anxiety, depression and have other mental health issues. These are often undiagnosed and left untreated in children.
DISABLIST BULLYING STORIES
There are so many disablist bullying stories all over the world. Peter is a child in England with a learning disability.
“I’m Peter and I’m 17 years-old. In my spare time I like horse riding and playing on my computer. When I went to my old school I got bullied really badly. I got bullied at break times by other children at school. They would call me names, spit at me and throw stones and bottles at me. The bullying made me feel very angry and sad. The bullying stopped me going out at home, so I lost all my mates. I don’t have any mates anymore, so I don’t play out any more. I told my teachers at school and they said that I had special needs so I should get used to it as I would be bullied all my life. They also told me to stop playing out at break times then I would not get bullied. The bullying carried on until my mum and dad found out and then I moved schools. I want adults to stop the bullies. And I want people to listen to us when we tell them what’s happening.”
Here is a scenario about a disabled child whose bulling situation is still ongoing.
Victim: Autistic grade school student
Issue: Bullied since kindergarten and bullying has elevated to sexual harassment. School has done nothing to help student. Family is fighting school district.
Result: Currently ongoing.
Here is yet another scenario about disablist bullying:
Victim: 13 year old boy with special needs
Issue: Peers made hate group on Facebook directed at the victim.
Result: Completely resolved. Page has been deleted, creator punished, and victim has safely switched schools.
Disablist bullying stories are very common in our schools today. There are tactics that we can have in place to diminish this from happening.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BULLY A DISABLED CHILD?
Bullying is any time someone is mean to a disabled child on purpose. Usually, someone is bullied because they are different than most people. Bullying includes the following behaviors:
- Calling someone names
- Hitting someone
- Kicking someone
- Stealing and breaking someone’s belongings
- Sending someone mean text messages, emails, instant messages
- Writing mean things on social media about someone
- Forcing someone to do things that they don’t want to do
- Ignoring someone and encouraging others to do the same
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE BULLIED
There are some important things to do if your child with a disability is being bullied. It is very important to their well-being that the bulling stops as quickly as possible. Here is a list of people they can trust:
- A family member
- A friend
- A teacher
- Their social worker
- Their caregiver
- The police, in the event that your child is being physically harmed
Sometimes, the bullying won’t stop even after they have notified someone they can trust. There are laws to protect children that are being bullied. The police may need you to keep track of any evidence of the bullying. Here is a list of what to do in that case:
- Keep a diary of what is happening to your child. This can be either written or recorded.
- Keep all letters, texts, emails, instant messages, and print off anything on social media that will prove your child is being bullied.
It is a good idea to take your child to see a doctor or counselor. They will be able to talk openly, in a safe setting, about their situation in addition to speaking freely about their feelings. The counselor will be able to help your child find ways to deal with the bullying problem. Children and teens with disabilities should always feel safe, wherever they go.
All adults that work with children with disabilities need to know how to always make sure these children are safe. Since children with disabilities are usually an easy target, all schools, faculty and administration, need to make sure all of the cases of disablist bullying are recorded and handled appropriately. Schools, parents, social workers and counselors need to raise awareness of this growing problem in order to make these children feel safe.
It is ideal that all adults involved with the child with the disability that is being bullied be able to talk openly with the child about any situation, including ones that negatively impact them. However, some children are reluctant to speak to anyone about their situation because they fear the bully. He or she may have threatened them and told them not to tell anyone that they are being bullied.
Any adult in the child’s life should always be prepared to speak to the child with the disability about being bullied, and be prepared for any emotion that may come with that conversation. These adults need to be able to listen to the child, and provide a safe place to talk. They need to consider beforehand how to handle any bullying situation they may come across. This adult should also know how to handle the problem, and when to seek a doctor’s advice.
There are several risk factors that will make a child more prone to being bullied by his peers.
- If they do not have normal social and emotional skills.
- If they are disruptive during class.
- If they have a speech impairment.
- If they have a learning disability.
- If they are clumsy.
Everyone has a bad day every once in a while, but when a certain questionable behavior is constant, as a parent, you realize that something else is going on. Here are some warning signs that perhaps you may need to look further into a situation at school.
- Your child talks about feeling helpless, talks about suicide, or tries to run away.
- They show a sudden decline in their grades and schoolwork.
- They suddenly don’t want to be with their normal friends.
- They start to bully someone else, such as a friend or younger sibling. This can be a role reversal; when they feel helpless at school, they could become aggressive at home.
- Difficulty sleeping, bad dreams, crying at bedtime, and even bed wetting.
- They are moody at home for no reason. These emotions could include sadness, anger, depression, and anxiety.
- They suddenly withdraw from everyone and want to always be alone.
- They are afraid of being in certain places, such as a certain hallway at school, the bus, the cafeteria, etc.
- Their belongings start to disappear, such as money, lunches, jackets, hats, school supplies, and the child claims that they lost them. Or they are broken at school and they can’t explain how it happened.
- They have cuts, scrapes, scratches and bruises, and the child cannot explain what happened.
- The child does not want to go to school on a regular basis.
- They are afraid to be alone and they become suddenly clingy.
- They have a noticeable change in behavior, or their personality changes.
- They claim to be sick with headaches, stomachaches, and visit the nurse’s office frequently, and often ask to be picked up early from school.
- Their eating habits change.
- They are in a hurry to use the bathroom as soon as they get home because they did not want to use it at school.
- They are starving when they get home because they apparently did not eat lunch at school.
- They blame themselves for everything, and they don’t think that they are good enough for anything.
Strategies to decrease the cases of disablist bullying in schools are to bring in books, posters, have short skits and use websites that show children the detrimental results of this. Usually, other children in the classroom are made aware of it, which is maximizing the awareness of this kind of bullying. Educating families will encourage this subject to be talked about at home, possible decreasing the number of cases. When children are encouraged to improve their relationships with their peers that may have disabilities, the number of cases greatly decreases. Occasionally, peers can be a support system in encouraging children with disabilities in their learning process.
Other ideas that would prevent disablist bullying are showing children how capable and successful adults with disabilities are by inviting them in to speak about their profession and lifestyle. Older children could help assist younger disabled children in reading books and doing homework, in turn, helping them with social and behavior skills.
Classmates of children with disabilities should always be educated on disablist bullying and what to do if they witness a bullying situation. They should be urged not to participate in the bullying, but to help in any and all situations. When these occurrences happen, there needs to be someone who can clearly give details of the situation to the person in charge.
Children with disabilities are facing challenges in the classroom already. When bullying occurs, it will make it more difficult for them to learn, and results in a negative impact on their education. Here are some ways disablist bullying makes it harder for a child to get their education.
- Disabled students that are bullied have higher rate of absences.
- Their grades often get worse.
- They are not able to concentrate on schoolwork.
- They lose their desire to learn and to get an education.
- The dropout rate is higher among students with disabilities that are bullied.
SELF ADVOCACY & PERSONAL RIGHTS
Children in a bullying situation should always feel comfortable telling an adult about their problem with a bully. Here are a few ways the child can help themselves find a concerned adult when confronted with a problem.
- They need to remember to always speak up for themselves to an adult who they can trust.
- They need to remember that the bullying is not their fault, and that they do not, in any way, deserve to be bullied.
- They need to keep in mind that they have a right to have a safe place to learn, play, and socialize within the school building.
- They should always have a mental list of adults who they can trust. If one does not help, go to the next person until someone will help.
There are several resources for children with disabilities that are being bullied. These children often have an IEP, or an Individualized Education Program, or a Section 504 plan. These should be used to make up special ways to prevent bullying, and ways to respond to a bullying situation. They can also give additional services if deemed necessary. There are also civil rights laws that protect students with disabilities against bullying and harassment, and require the school to immediately address any situation.
Sometimes, you can’t come out and ask your learning disabled child if they are being bullied. If they feel threatened enough, they will most likely lie and say that they aren’t being bullied. If they fear for their own safety or for the safety of their family, they will not admit to being bullied.
Here are some subtle ways to ask your child if they are being bullied by someone because of their disability. Remember to always use your intuition and not to trust that your child is telling the truth.
- You could ask your child about his hunger issues after school. “You’re always so hungry after school! Haven’t you been eating your lunch I packed you? / Haven’t you been buying your lunch?”
- You could mention some missing CDs. “I can’t find your CDs that were in your backpack. Did someone take them from you?”
- You could mention their clothing that may be torn. “I see that your jacket is ripped on the sleeve. Did someone do that to you?”
When you ask your child these questions, you need to look at their face and notice their reaction and response to your questions. Sometimes that can tell you more than an actual answer to the question. Notice their body language or if they are nervous when you ask. Sometimes if they don’t say anything at all, that can be a telling answer to your question.
In the event that your child does not talk to you about something that may be going on at school, you may need to make an appointment during school hours for a conference with a trusted adult, teacher, administrator, or anyone else that works closely with your child at school. Remember that sometimes bullying happens when no one is around; therefore, it is easier for the bully to get away with it. If you think it would help more than hinder, you may want to ask your child’s friend or classmate if given the opportunity.
If your child continues not to talk to you, make yourself aware of any new behaviors, and ask teachers and other adults at school to be aware. Make sure your child knows that they should trust teachers and helpers in their classroom. Emphasize that they may always talk to you, and that they should never be embarrassed to do so. Remind your learning disabled child that bullying is not their fault. Once you learn of a disablist bullying situation, go directly to the teachers and administrators, and remember to get professional help for your child.