Use Positive Strategies to Protect Your Child with a Disability from Bullying

By Holmquist, Julie | The Exceptional Parent, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Use Positive Strategies to Protect Your Child with a Disability from Bullying


Holmquist, Julie, The Exceptional Parent


While any child can be a target of bullying, children with disabilities like Jane can be especially vulnerable. Research concerning children with disabilities and bullying indicates an increased risk for children with special needs. According to the AbilityPath.org report, "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and the Child with Special Needs," the statistics are wide ranging:

* A 2008 study in the British Journal of Learning Support found that 60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied compared to 25 percent of the general student population;

* In 2009, researchers Wall, Wheaton and Zuver reported that only 10 studies have been conducted in the United States on bullying and developmental disabilities, yet all the studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers;

* A survey of nearly 400 parents of children with autism conducted by Massachusetts Advocates for Children in 2009 found that 88 percent of children with autism have been bullied at school.

* PACER Center, a National Parent Center serving families of children with disabilities, noted in early 2000 that calls from parents of children with disabilities about bullying situations were increasing. One parent of a boy with cognitive disabilities told Paula Goldberg, PACER's Executive Director, about how several teenage boys were slamming his son's head into the school lockers on a daily basis. Because of these alarming reports, PACER took action and began developing bullying prevention resources.

PACER created its National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006, which offers free resources for all children and others through three websites: PACERKidsAgainstBullying.org (for elementary-age children), PACERTeens AgainstBullying.org (for middle and high school students), and PACER.org/Bullying (for schools, parents, and communities).

PACER also founded National Bullying Prevention Month in October, which raises awareness about how bullying affects children. Like other children, a child with disabilities who is bullied may grow angry, resentful, frightened, or apathetic at school, and is at risk for low self-esteem, school avoidance, depression, lower grades, and increased violence.

Parents can help protect their children with disabilities from bullying and its devastating effects if they promote effective strategies such as PACER's Peer Advocacy Program, use the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as a tool, work with the school, and know their child's rights under the law.

Promote Peer Advocacy

Before Julie Hertzog became the director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, she was a concerned parent. Because her son, David, was born with Down syndrome, was nonverbal, had a Pacemaker and a feeding tube, she was worried that he would be vulnerable to bullying. As she advocated for her son with school staff, she realized how much student interaction happens outside the view of adults, and that David's classmates could be powerful allies for her son in bullying situations.

When David was in sixth grade, Hertzog worked with the school to create a unique support for him. A group of his classmates received training on how to prevent bullying and speak out on David's behalf. They called these students peer advocates. If they see bullying, they intervene, ask the bully to stop, or report the situation to an adult.

The idea worked for David. Now, what started as four kids in sixth grade has evolved to a schoolwide project with more than 40 students volunteering to become peer advocates so they can help David and other students who are different. It's a strategy that any parent can explore and discuss with their child's school staff.

"Peer advocacy--students speaking out on the behalf of others--is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying," says Hertzog. …

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