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 indicates that the general education population or public school attendees had a higher risk of mistreating children diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder. Individuals with elevated levels of autistic traits were the most likely to be either victims, bullies, or bully-victims. The study also concluded that full inclusion classrooms victimized children more compared to the ones spending most of their time in special education environments.

Experts recommend conducting additional research studies to uncover suitable and supportive efforts for children with 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 indicates that students most often report bullying for reasons such as physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and 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 promote social awareness and adopt proper intervention programs that provide individualized interventions for those 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.

Ways to Avoid your Child with Special Needs from Bullying

Children with special needs may face unique challenges when it comes to social interactions, making them more susceptible to bullying. As parents, caregivers, and educators, it is crucial to implement strategies that foster a supportive and inclusive environment for these children. By taking proactive steps, we can empower our children with special needs and reduce the risk of bullying. In order to achieve that, here are some effective ways to consider:

Build a Strong Support Network

Encourage the development of strong connections between your child and their peers. Foster friendships by organizing playdates, joining clubs, or participating in inclusive activities where children can learn about and appreciate each other’s differences.

Teach and Promote Inclusion

Educate your child’s classmates about diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. Work with teachers to implement inclusive curriculum and activities that promote empathy and understanding. Furthermore, this can help create a culture of acceptance within the school community.

Communication is Key

Establish open lines of communication with your child. Encourage them to share their experiences, feelings, and concerns. By maintaining a supportive dialogue, you can identify potential issues early on and address them collaboratively.

Educate School Staff

Work closely with teachers, school staff, and administrators to ensure they are well-informed about your child’s needs. Provide information on their unique challenges and strengths, and collaborate on strategies to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

Promote Self-Advocacy

Teach your child to express their needs and preferences assertively. Developing self-advocacy skills empowers them to communicate effectively, reducing the likelihood of becoming a target for bullying. Role-play scenarios to help them practice responding to challenging situations.

Monitor Online Activity

In today’s digital age, children and adolescents increasingly participate in online communities, making it crucial for parents to vigilantly monitor their child’s online activity. This includes not only keeping an eye on the content they are accessing but also understanding with whom they are interacting. Parents should have open and ongoing conversations with their children about the risks associated with online environments, such as exposure to inappropriate content, privacy concerns, and the potential for cyberbullying.

It’s important to establish clear rules for internet use, including setting boundaries on screen time, and making use of parental controls where necessary. Regularly checking in on your child’s online experiences allows you to intervene early if problems arise, ensuring that their online activities remain safe and positive. In situations where you encounter cyberbullying, you must address it immediately, support your child, and take actions such as reporting the abuse to the relevant platforms or authorities.

Establish a Bullying Prevention Plan

Bullying can have detrimental effects on any child, especially those with special needs, which makes the establishment of a robust bullying prevention plan a critical step for parents. Collaborating directly with your child’s school is essential in creating a plan that is not only preemptive but is also responsive to any incidents of special education bullying. This partnership should aim to develop strategies tailored specifically to your child’s requirements and situation. Strategies could involve arranging closer supervision during identified high-risk times, such as recess or lunch breaks, and introducing a buddy system to ensure your child constantly has the companionship of trustworthy peers. Regular meetings with school staff to review the effectiveness of the plan and make necessary adjustments are key to maintaining a safe educational environment for your child.

Encourage Empathy in Siblings

Raising siblings to be understanding and empathetic towards a brother or sister with special needs is an invaluable component of fostering a supportive family environment. This not only benefits the child with special needs by providing them with a built-in support system at home but also enriches the siblings’ lives by teaching them compassion, patience, and inclusivity from a young age. Parents can encourage empathy by promoting open discussions about special needs, highlighting the importance of recognizing and celebrating differences, and facilitating opportunities for siblings to play and learn together. By doing this, siblings become advocates for their brother or sister, helping to extend this attitude of inclusion beyond the family circle and into their broader social circles and school environments.

Collaborate with Support Groups

Navigating the journey of raising a child with special needs can sometimes feel isolating, but finding a community of people who understand your experiences can be immensely comforting and beneficial. Whether through local face-to-face meetings or through digital platforms that connect people globally, support groups offer a rich source of knowledge, coping strategies, and emotional solace. Engaging with these groups allows parents to share their own challenges and successes, gain insights from others’ experiences, and access resources that might not be readily available elsewhere. Such communities foster a sense of belonging and understanding, providing a network of support that can help parents navigate the complexities of raising a child with special needs, ensuring they never have to feel they are going through their journey alone.

Stay Informed and Proactive

Keep yourself informed about your child’s school environment and any changes in their social dynamics. Stay proactive in addressing potential issues. Be ready to collaborate with educators and other parents to maintain a safe and inclusive atmosphere for all children.

By implementing these proactive measures, parents can significantly reduce the risk of special needs bullying for their children with special needs. Fostering a culture of acceptance, communication, and understanding benefits not only the child. It also contributes to a more inclusive and compassionate community for everyone involved. Moreover, we can empower our children to thrive and build lasting connections with their peers.

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