All too often, children with special needs are bullied at school. Many of these children are unable to defend themselves. Instead, they suffer. Some children refuse to go to school in order to avoid the taunting they experience by their classmates.
Much has been written about bullying. In its fact sheet on juvenile bullying, the U.S. Department of Justice describes bullying as “a form of violence among children" that is common on school playgrounds, in neighborhoods, and in homes throughout the United States and around the world. "Often occurring out of the presence of adults or in front of adults who fail to intercede, bullying has long been considered an inevitable and, in some ways, uncontrollable part of growing up.”
The California Department of Education publication: Bullying at School, descibes bullying among children is intentional aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power that is often carried out repeatedly over time. We have all seen bullying in many of its forms: hitting, kicking, shoving, grabbing, spitting (physical bullying); name calling, or teasing (verbal bullying); intimidation through gestures or social exclusion (nonverbal bulling or emotional bullying); and sending insulting messages by text messaging or email (cyber bullying).
A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that bullying has both long-term and short-term psychological effects. Victims experienced loneliness and reported having difficulty making friends and poor relationships with school mates. Victims of bullying often suffer humiliation, insecurity, and a loss of self-esteem. The child may totally withdraw from family and friends and believe he or she is personally to blame for what has happened. Victims may eventually retaliate and begin to bully other children or become violent. Victims may feel the impact of frequent bullying long into adulthood in the form of depression and other mental health problems. In rare cases, victims may commit suicide.
A student who has been the target of bullying and those who have witnessed a bullying incident often fail to report it to anyone. Students fail to report bullying because they dread being perceived as tattlers. Adults fail to intervene because they believe bullying is just a part of childhood.
Children with disabilities are often the target of bullying
According to an article by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, research shows:
Children with learning disabilities are at greater risk of being teased and physically bullied.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely than other children to be bullied and more likely to bully their peers.
Children with medical conditions that affect their appearance, such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, are more likely to be victimized by name calling.
Diabetic children who are dependent on insulin are especially vulnerable to bullying.
Children who stutter are likely to be bullied at least once a week.
In more serious instances, bullying violates the law. In particular, bullying can amount to unlawful discrimination and be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. According to the U.S. Department of Education, bullying also can constitute a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
What can be done about bullying?
In its publication, Bullying at School, the California Department of Education notes that bullying behavior does not lend itself to the same interventions that may be effective in other types of conflict. Both the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence find that the most effective way to address bullying is through a comprehensive program using a combination of interventions—school-wide, at the classroom level, and at the individual level.
An effective anti-bulling program implemented in Norway in the 1980s that is still considered one of the most effective programs, found that to prevent or reduce aggressive behavior, schools are to develop a an environment characterized by warmth, positive interest, and involved adults. At the same time the program calls for establishing firm limits to unacceptable behavior. Non-hostile, nonphysical negative consequences are consistently applied, and adults act as authorities and positive role models.
The U.S. Department of Justice recommends the following in order to address the problem of bullying:
Faculty and staff are to survey students anonymously to determine the nature and prevalence of the school’s bullying problem, increase supervision of students during breaks, and conduct school-wide assemblies to discuss the issue. Teachers are to receive in-service training on how to implement the program.
Teachers and aides are to introduce and enforce classroom rules against bullying, hold regular classroom meetings with students to discuss bullying, and meet with parents to encourage their participation. Teachers and aides must intervene and inform parents of the bullying to ensure that the bullying stops.
What you can do about bullying
If you suspect that your child is being bullied or is engaging in bullying, talk about this problem with your child's teacher and the administrators at the school and ask them to intervene. If the bullying continues, consider seeking legal advice.
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