Bullying is a serious
problem affecting many children and teens, but it is not likely that most children, especially those
with special needs, will walk up to their parents and tell them,
“I’m being bullied.” Bullying can involve name-calling, exclusion, or violence
and should be identified and addressed as soon as possible. The ability to
pinpoint the signs of bullying and take preventative measures against future incidents
can make all the difference in the life and academic progress of a child with
Signs for Parents that
Signal Incidents of Bullying
Observation of daily
routines, such as changes in the child’s appetite or diet or difficulty
sleeping will help to alert parents to possible emotional or physical stress at
school. These could be common occurrences due to the child’s disability, but
they are worth investigating to determine if changes are related to problems at
If a child asks to
take “sick” days with increased frequency, there may be an underlying reason
for his or her reluctance to attend classes.
Ask questions about your
child’s friends. Name-calling, such as the term “retard,” is all too common in
schools, but some children with special needs may not even be aware that they
are being called offensive terms. Parents can ask what nicknames their child’s friends
call each other. Do the friends hit or push them? This can help to pinpoint the
problem when emotional or physical signs aren’t as obvious.
Examine your child for
physical signs, such as cuts, bruises and torn clothing. Also consider whether injuries
result from the child hurting herself. Self-mutilation can be symptomatic of a
For boys, a common sign of
bullying could be if they race into the bathroom at home every day after school.
Boys who are teased about being “abnormal” are often scared to go into school
bathrooms. With usually only one way in and one way out, bathrooms can be the
ideal place for children to get cornered and made fun of. Boys who are bullied
like this will often avoid the bathroom all day, which can have a lasting effect
on their health.
Another symptom of bullying
can be a sudden decline in academic performance. Talking to the child’s teacher
will help make certain it is not due to teasing from the other children.
How Teachers Can Protect
Students with Special Needs from Bullying
Teachers can monitor the
use of cameras and cell phones in the classroom. With the increased use of cell
phones by students, the number of cyber bullying incidents has grown. Be aware
of how students with special needs and typically developing students use social
media networks if they log in while at school. Keep close watch on what they
post and view so that if an incident occurs, parents and school officials can
be notified immediately.
Create opportunities for
peer mentoring between neurotypical students and students with special needs.
This can result in a decrease in bullying of children with disabilities.
Consider seating the student
with special needs away from students who tend to bully. Proactive measures
such as this can often prevent bullying incidents from occurring at all.
Foster understanding among
students by building awareness that everyone has different abilities. Help
students focus on the strengths of their classmates with special needs.
Teachers are often “first responders”
to incidents of bullying in the classroom. It is essential that they are also
aware of the physical and behavioral special needs of students, such as
sensitivity to being touched or difficulty in expressing emotions.
Designate a “peer buddy” or encourage
a friendship with someone “safe” for the child. Bullies tend avoid targeting
children who have someone to defend them.
How IEP Goals Can Address
Students with special needs
who have the opportunity to practice social situations and role-playing with
peers, under adult supervision, may be able to better identify bullying
situations when they occur.
Focus on improving self-advocacy skills so that a child feels empowered to tell the bully “stop
that” or walk away in difficult situations.
Have the child learn and
practice a non-confrontational response to a bully. Also consider both direct
and indirect ways to handle bullies, including avoidance.
Work on building
interpersonal skills, such as sharing and thinking before acting. This can help
to improve social understanding.
Develop a special signal
system with the child to use when he or she feels threatened or needs help.
Increase self-awareness of a
child’s disability by helping him appreciate his strengths while also understanding
how his disability may affect him in social situations.
If it becomes evident that
social situations are interfering with the child’s academic performance, a new
assessment of goals may be necessary.