Is My Special Needs Child Being Bullied?

Is My Special Needs Child Being Bullied?

Studies, although limited, have shown the many predictors of bullying involving children with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders. Individuals with disabilities, particularly children are at an increased risk of becoming victims of bullying. “Disability harassment,” is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and schools are required to investigate and respond to reports of potential harassment.  A recent study shows that children diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder, attending a public school or a school with a general education population, were at higher risks of being mistreated. Individuals with elevated levels of autistic traits were the most likely to be either victims, bullies, or bully-victims. The study also found that children in full inclusion classrooms were the most likely to be victimized compared to those who spend much of their time in special education environments.

Experts suggest that additional research studies should be conducted to discover suitable and supportive efforts for children with an autism spectrum disorder.

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Nearly 30% of school-aged children are involved in bullying, either as bullies, victims, or bully-victims. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 30% of students who reported being bullied at school, indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year. The study also shows that the reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.

Students with disabilities have faced quite a bit of bullying in recent years, which include:  More than 35% of students with behavioral and emotional disorders; over 33% of students with autism, nearly 25% of students with intellectual disabilities; just over 20% of students with health impairments, and close to 20% of students with specific learning disabilities.

So, what are some of the successful strategies that parents, caregivers, friends, family, and school administrators can provide to prevent bullying among special needs children?

  • Teachers and peers should engage in meaningful and appropriate conversations that provoke fun, productive and healthy social interactions.
  • Parents should make efforts to create opportunities that will strengthen and encourage social competence and positive interactions.
  • Encourage schools and other public or private organizations to adopt proper intervention programs that promote social awareness and provide individualized interventions for those who are targeted.

Some critics argue that it is not about obtaining “special” treatment for those with special needs, but it is about being treated fairly, and with respect.  According to the British Journal of Special Education, children with special educational needs are generally less accepted, more rejected and more likely to be victims of bullying than their stereo-typically developing classmates.  The journal argues that schools are occasionally reluctant to discuss the special needs of these students because of concerns of labeling. Yet, labels can sometimes serve as a protective function, allowing the opportunity for positive interactions.

How do you determine if your child is being bullied?

One of the most effective ways to detect bullying in its early stage is to make a habit of starting daily conversations with your child. Encourage him or her to talk to you about his or her day.  In fact, some kids with special needs may not realize they are being bullied.

  • Ask questions about their friends – and get names.
  • Find out if friends are playing rough with them or asking them for their lunch or personal belongings.
  • Create an environment where your child is comfortable talking to you by making the conversation pleasant and natural. (If you come across as though you are badgering them with a million questions, he or she may shut down and become afraid to open up to you.)
  • Look for unusual changes in your child’s behavior or physical appearance, and never be afraid to report suspicions to the appropriate authorities.



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