Bullying is a serious threat to our contemporary educational system today. Whether in the form of verbal or physical abuse, bullying undermines a school’s authority and sense of order, making it difficult for teachers and staff to maintain control. When schools lose control over their classrooms or school environment, the academic standard falls and students suffer from an inferior education. But what about bullying a child with special needs?
In addition to adverse effects on the educational standard, bullying threatens the mental, emotional and physical well being of students who fall prey to these actions. Students that fear for their health and safety cannot properly concentrate on their studies. Bullying can also have serious mental and emotional effects on children, ranging from fear and depression to anger, anxiety, loss of confidence and low self esteem.
Bullying can be experienced in a number of different ways and to different degrees. In a small, suburban school setting, for example, children may be subjected to verbal abuse such as name calling, teasing, gossip or being put down by their peers. Students that attend urban middle and high schools may experience bullying in the form of physical abuse to include fist fights, knife fights, gang fights, etc. Because this problem is so rampant on school campuses today, many institutions have initiated anti-bullying campaigns to help resolve the situation. These campaigns focus on uncovering the root of bullying, helping students cope with abusive behavior and seeking long term solutions to reduce or eliminate this threat altogether.
Bullying a Child with Special Needs: What Provokes Bullying in our Schools?
Bullying can be provoked by any number of causes. However, case studies on the subject have revealed that this problem can generally be classified under four categories as follows:
· Discrimination against race, nationality or ethnic origin
· Prejudice against religion or religious beliefs
· Discrimination against sexual beliefs such as lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders
· Discrimination against children with physical or mental disabilities
Although bullying may occur for other reasons other than these, many students can testify that they have been victims of abuse due to one or more of these causes.
No school should allow any form of bullying on their premises, but this is especially true when it comes to bullying children with special needs. Special needs children deserve the same respect and courtesy extended any other student in a school environment. As they may have more difficulty standing up for their rights, teachers and parents should ensure they are well protected from the discriminatory attacks of their peers.
A Look at Bullying a Child with Special Needs
By definition, bullying can be described as the expression of aggressive behavior towards others with the intent of purposely causing them harm. In most all cases of bullying, the perpetrator of this action carries a greater amount of authority, strength or power over their victim. This is especially true when it comes to bullying children with disabilities. Disabled children are often at greater risk of being bullied due to their physical, mental or emotional differences and weaknesses. Although no child is totally exempt from bullying, the prospect of bullying greatly increases when a child has special needs. According to one study conducted on disabled students and bullying, 60% of disabled students reported that they were being bullied on a regular basis as opposed to 25% of students without disabilities.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a common problem with Bullying a Child with Special Needs. Students suffering from physical disorders such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy or hemiplagia (partial paralysis of the body) are often persecuted by their peers due to the obvious differences in appearance. Slow learners and those suffering from autism or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are often picked on for what other students perceive to be lack of intelligence. Even students with minor disabilities such as diabetes and obesity draw undue criticism from the wrong crowd and suffer verbal or physical abuse.
One reason children are quick to criticize special needs students is because they are ignorant of the disabilities that make them different. It’s very easy for children that are unfamiliar with disabilities to form misconceptions about these afflictions, leading to wrong impressions about those that are afflicted. These misconceptions and wrong impressions often result in special needs students being ridiculed or scorned for their lacks. Teachers can help avoid this scenario by educating their classroom about these disabilities and discussing the challenges their fellow students face. They can also answer any questions children may have about these conditions to clarify misunderstandings. Ignorance can often cause a breach between disabled children and their non-disabled peers. By helping children understand more about the afflictions they see in others, teachers can help break down any walls between their students and promote a more inclusive environment.
Dangers of Bullying a Child with Special Needs
The dangers of bullying are great for both disabled and non-disabled students. Many non-disabled students, however, have a greater tolerance against bullying and can better handle themselves when this situation arises. In contrast, when special needs children are bullied, the consequences could be more serious, due to the difficulties they’re already experiencing with their disability.
Special needs children face a great deal of physical and academic challenges in their schooling. Their disabilities often make it more difficult for them to keep up with their education. In addition, they often have difficulty making friends and establishing a social life in their school environment. Being bullied can have a devastating effect on a disabled child, physically, mentally and emotionally. Bullying not only makes it harder for him to achieve his academic goals, it can cause him to lose heart and spirit in his studies.
Many disabled children live solitary lives in a world of their own. Bullying can cause them to withdraw even deeper into their own little world and lose interest altogether in attending school, making new friendships or progressing in their educational objectives. Sadly enough, there have been many intelligent and talented students with disabilities who have dropped out of school due to not being accepted by their peers.
Schools that accept children with special needs should ensure these students get the care and attention they need to receive a quality education. Teachers should make every effort to protect their disabled students from being subject to verbal or physical abuse in the classroom or other areas of the school environment. Depending on the child’s disability, special programs can be incorporated into their studies to teach them how to handle bullying and build friendships among their peers.
Parental involvement is a must when it comes to helping disabled children combat bullying. When selecting a school for their disabled children, parents should research their options carefully and choose an environment conducive to their children’s needs. Schools that are serious about fighting bullying will have anti-bullying policies in place to discourage abusive behavior among their students. School teachers and staff will be prepared to handle incidents involving bullying quickly and decisively so as to keep these incidents to a minimum and well under control.
As a parent, you should not be ignorant of the dangers of bullying. When you have special needs kids, you will need to be even more on top of their surroundings to ensure your kids are in a safe and secure environment that will meet their educational needs. Before enrolling your children in a new school, you should take time to visit the school, talk to prospective teachers and get a feel for the environment. The more you learn about a school in advance, the better choice you will make for your children’s future.
Parents and educators should also be aware that students with disabilities are protected from discriminatory behavior from other students by law. Any behavior that is abusive or intimidating to disabled children within a school environment can be classified by law as “disability harassment” which constitutes an illegal act in most all states. Examples of harassing behavior include name calling, verbal insults, slurs, written threats, physical assault, humiliating comments, etc. Parents of special needs children should be well informed of their children’s legal rights when it comes to receiving a quality education. Laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 were designed to protect special needs kids from bullying behavior in a school setting so that they can benefit from a safe and secure educational environment.
Disabled children need the love and support of their parents to face the challenges of their situation and overcome obstacles in their path. This support can be manifested in a number of ways. However, most disabled children appreciate the time parents spend with them, listening as they share experiences, thoughts, feelings and needs. As children become school age, they will need extra time and attention from their parents to adjust to this new period in their lives.
School brings with it many new challenges and experiences for the disabled child. Some of these experiences will be happy and positive ones; others such as bullying may be more difficult for special needs kids to handle, especially if they are not used to such treatment and abuse. Depending on a child’s age and disability, parents may need to prepare their kids in advance for difficulties they may face within a new school environment. These difficulties could include instances of being bullied or ostracized by their peers. Parents can help their children adjust better by working closely with their teachers as their kids integrate into their new schools. They will also need to provide encouragement and positive support so their children stay optimistic about their learning.
As with any other child, parents should encourage their special needs children to talk about negative experiences they face at school, especially instances where they are being bullied by their peers. Sometimes disabled children develop wrong concepts about bullying, feeling they deserve this treatment because they are different and don’t meet up to the expectations of their peers. Talking about these incidents can dispel these wrong notions and clarify misunderstandings that may arise.
Talking about bullying also gives parents the opportunity to inform teachers and staff so these incidents can be looked into right away. It’s important these incidents are taken care of quickly before others pick up on the negative actions and the harassment spreads. As a parent, you have every right to be concerned about the safety and welfare of your children. Of course, it’s always better to present your views in a positive and constructive manner and offer your help in finding solutions to problems with bullying rather than complain or criticize the school for its lacks.
As a parent, you will need to cultivate a close relationship with your disabled child or teen in order to discuss experiences with bullying openly and honestly. Children with mental disabilities may have a difficult time understanding the concept of bullying and will need a great deal of encouragement and support. Older children with physical disabilities may be reluctant to talk about bullying due to fear of retaliation by their peers. Parents and teachers will need to help their students overcome any fears that hinder them from receiving the support they need.
By cultivating a relationship of friendship and trust, parents can help their special needs kids resolve problems with bullying and abuse in their school. When it comes to bullying, children respond in different ways. Outgoing children sometimes become reticent and quiet; quiet children may suddenly develop phobias and fears. By being sensitive to your children’s needs, you can help them sort out any bad feelings, anxieties or fears they have developed due to negative experiences with bullying. You should also be prepared to answer difficult questions your children may ask or help them make difficult decisions that will affect their future.
Some special needs children are not mature enough to handle the emotional stress that bullying may cause. They will need parental guidance and support to see them through this trying time. Teachers also can play a key role in encouraging and supporting disabled students that are suffering from abusive behavior. By showing genuine interest and concern for their student’s welfare, teachers can help rebuild their student’s confidence and self esteem and put them back on the road to recovery.
Teachers and parents alike look forward to the time when bullying can be eradicated from schools and their children can enjoy a safe and secure learning environment. Every year, more middle schools and high schools across the country adopt anti-bullying campaigns or develop new strategies to combat bullying on their campus. These programs in conjunction with parental support and active involvement from local community groups provide a means by which schools can reduce bullying, so fewer students have to cope with these negative experiences.
The combined effort of parents, teachers and community leaders can completely transform a school environment, enabling students to enjoy an atmosphere free of discrimination and pain. All students deserve to study within a setting that is free of criticism and abuse. Creating such an environment is a challenge that school administrators, teachers and staff face every year. Through the cooperation of parents and the local community to help stamp out bullying in all its forms, educators can rise up to that challenge and make it a reality.
Bullying has no place in our educational system and should never be accepted as part of our educational structure. In the past, it may have been considered a normal and natural part of “growing up.” But today’s parents and educators are no longer ignorant of how harmful bullying can be and are determined to protect future students from its devastating effects. To this end, 41 states have currently adopted anti-bullying laws in an effort to formulate policies that will prevent and eliminate bullying altogether from our educational system. With this kind of commitment to actively combat bullying and abusive behavior in today’s schools, modern educators will eventually get the positive results they seek.