Part 1 : Bullying of Kids and Teens with Disabilities
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An issue of epidemic proportions is affecting kids and teens with disabilities around the world; the bullying of kids and teens with disabilities. Per a WHO survey, Canada ranked a dismal 27th in its anti-bullying efforts. Bullying morphs into many forms – acts of physical bullying/abuse, cyber-bullying – online harassment, and bullying, According to the National Bullying Prevent Center, @PACER_NBPC:
- Students with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers
- Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn
- The adult response is important
- Bystanders have power – more than 50% of bullying stops when peers intervene
As we explore this issue, it is vital to recognize that some individuals with disabilities are fully capable of standing up for themselves and ‘fighting back’ if necessary – even in a physical confrontation. But, that is not the case for all kids and teens with disabilities. Bullying is often defined as:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children. It involves a real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.Read more
Some of the factors which lead to situations where kids and teens can be bullied are:
- Level of emotional or physical vulnerability of the individual with the disability
- Environmental situations which foster intolerant attitudes and beliefs
- Social skills of the kids and teens involved
- Kids with conditions such as ADHD, ADD and those on the Autism Spectrum are often more at risk
- Kids with serious allergies are often made fun of and harassed by other kids who perceive them as weak and vulnerable
- Kids and teens with obvious physical issues such as Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy
- More bullying occurs in primary than secondary schools
In-person bullying will take many forms:
- Physical and/or verbal bullying and harassment
- Taunting an individual – making fun of their ‘differences’ or ‘challenges’
- Ostracizing/excluding/shunning them from social activities
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Name calling
- Rumour spreading
- Racial slurs
- Stealing food such as snacks and lunches
Kids and teens with disabilities face these dangers each day, and although a tremendous amount of public awareness, information and education exists around bullying, the problem persists. In one Australian report , families reported that schools made excuses for the students who bullied others claiming that they were “just being teenagers”, or “they were provoked”, or “it’s not such a big problem”, “it’s a really difficult problem and we’re doing our best”.
A Canadian report produced by the McMaster University-based Center for Childhood Disability Research @canchild_ca states that bullying has become such a prevalent problem here in Canada that The Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) was established. This is a national network of researchers, community organizations, and governments that aims to prevent and stop bullying in Canada. The network has become Canada’s national authority on bullying.
One of the first steps parents must take is to familiarize themselves with the signs of bullying. A few of these signs are:
- Fearful of going to school
- Complaints of feeling unwell – constant headaches
- Difficulty sleeping – nightmares
- Lonely, isolated, few friends
- Bossy and manipulative behaviour
- Acting out at home with anger and frustration
- Easily frustrated and quick to anger
- Injuries, bruising or damaged clothing/articles
Bullying should not be misinterpreted as simply a ‘problem at school’. It is a major health problem. Children who are bullied are at greater risk for a high degree of serious health problems and consequences:
- Children who are bullied suffer with a higher degree of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies
- Children who are bullied tend to miss more school, show less interest in their studies and even earn lower grades
- Children who are bullied are often highly traumatized which can last well into their teens and adult years
- Children who are bullied often suffer with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and often live more isolated, lonely lives
- Children who are bullied often develop a series of eating and other disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, poor eating habits,
Bullying is rarely a one-time situation. In fact, bullies rely on their ability to continue bullying others over a period of time. It is a form of abuse and will also likely escalate. If a bully begins by insulting a fellow student with a disability and faces no repercussions, they are more likely to bully again. Over time the incidents will intensify and possibly transform into physical violence. As the bully realizes they can get away with this dysfunctional behaviour they will continue the negative pattern.
Kids and teens with disabilities require specific education around bullying. They need to know how to recognize it, how to respond to it, how to shut it down, and how to report. Above all, they need to learn not to allow themselves to become victimized. If an individual has communication or language issues, they may be especially at risk because of the challenge of standing up for themselves and communicating the risk to others. Bullies usually select weaker and relatively defenseless students as their targets. This is why they will often target peers with disabilities. The bully understands the individual is perhaps less able to fight back or stand up for themselves. They their profile as a stronger student to gather other students to engage in group bullying which can be especially dangerous. Group bullying can quickly escalate into a situation where someone can be seriously hurt or even hospitalized for injuries.
Kid and teens with disabilities often attract the attention of students and others who view them as an easy target for the person’s anger and frustration. The longer the situation persists, the greater the likelihood there will be serious repercussions for both students/individuals. Bullying needs to be reported as quickly as possible so that teachers, parents, and others can implement a positive solution. If not, both the bully and the victim will suffer. The victim is at risk for serious injuries and even suicide (which is explored in the next article in this series), and the bully is at risk for becoming a life-long criminal.