A very disturbing report was released today documenting that special education children are bullied at a higher rate than non-special education children. The report, Walk a Mile in their Shoes, by Abilitypath.org, shows that disabled children are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. These statistics were combined with the tragic personal stories of some of those students who had experienced bullying.
This report confirms the fears of parents of special needs children who send their children to school but worry that their child will be mistreated. It sometimes feels to these parents that they do not have the ability to protect their children while they are at school. While it is certainly true that effective intervention can seem difficult, there certainly are proactive steps that parents can take to ensure their child’s chances of being bullied are greatly reduced. These same step will also help to ensure that if it does start, that it does not become an on-going problem.
Be a change agent: Last week, schools in San Clemente took part in Kindness Counts, a week-long campaign to encourage kindness and discourage bullying at all San Clemente public schools. Take on the challenge of leading an anti-bullying crusade at your child’s school. The truth is that bullying thrives on being unnoticed. When bullying behavior is spotlighted, it almost always decreases or ceases. By being responsible for creating awareness at your child’s school, you not only make it less likely your child will be bullied, but also that all children will be mistreated by their peers.
Make it a part of your child’s IEP: As noted in Walk a Mile in their Shoes, parents of special needs children should make sure that their child’s IEP includes goal that help protect them from bullies and their unwanted and harmful behaviors. Following are some examples of the types of goals parents who suspect their child is a victim of bullying should insist on in their child’s IEP.
- Social skills goals-Bullies often pick on children who are shy and quiet. If your child fits this description, make social skills a part of their IEP. Through social skills groups and through in-class reinforcement, shy children can be taught communication skills and encouraged to give voice to the wealth of feelings they harbor within.
- Self-esteem goals-Often, disabled children’s self-esteem, particularly in school, is quite low. They may have faced years of failure before their disability was recognized and addressed. That failure can lead to students feeling less than when in school. By having goals around a positive self-image, students are less likely to be bullied and more likely to report it to you as a parent or to officials at the school.
- Teach reporting behavior-All students should be taught to report it when another student is making them uncomfortably or threatened at school. Incorporate into the IEP that your child be taught how to recognized and report bullying on campus.
Watch for signs that your child is being bullied-If your child is being bullied, you will be lucky if your child tells you about it. Being bullied is shameful for most children, and they are reluctant to tell others. Watch for signs that your child is being bullied. Some thing to look for is a sudden and dramatic reluctance to attend school or ride the bus. Frequent unexplained physical complaints can also be a sign of a child who is afraid to go to school. Finally, problems sleeping and/or an unexplained loss of appetite are also tell-tale warning signs.
Advocate for your child-If you find out that your child is being bullied, you must advocate for your child immediately. Go to the school and schedule a conference with your principal and teacher. Make them aware of the situation and together create an action plan of how the problem is going to be addressed. Know that schools have a responsibility to keep your child safe. If the school does not address the problem, you should report the problem to the school district or even possibly consider hiring an educational attorney.
The most important job we all have as parents is keeping our children safe. As all of us who have gone to school can unfortunately attest, young children are not always nice and sometimes they can even act awfully. As a society we too often hear stories of the suicides and tragedies that result when students are repeatedly bullied in schools. Do not let your child be a victim. Be vigilant, proactive, and a part of keeping your child safe at school.