Special Education in Connecticut: Students with Disabilities Vulnerable to Bullying

Article excerpt

Students with disabilities are more frequently the targets of bullies, according to education experts.

Children identified as having special needs are three to five times more at risk for being the targets of bullies than other children, according to the state Department of Education's web site.

"Often, it takes shape in a way that presents the least resistance to being held accountable, and often occurs when adults are not paying attention," department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said. "Bullying often occurs when an aggressor is presented with the opportunity to tease, taunt, threaten, exclude, or even cause physical harm and there is a low likelihood of being caught in the act."

When asked whether bullying happens more or less often in a setting in which special needs students are in classes with non- disabled peers or in a segregated setting, Donnelly said, "The prevalence of bullying depends on the school climate cultivated by the adults in the school community. If they understand the issues and uphold ethical treatment of others, then treatment will be appropriate. So, it's not about inclusion or segregation; it's about how well adults manage the school and class environments."

Walter Glomb of Vernon, whose son Nicholas has Down Syndrome, said his son has friends and got tremendous support from his peers.

"There were bullying incidents, but only a few. I was pleased to see his fellow classmates stuck up for him, and there wasn't much need for adult intervention," Glomb said. "The other kids would set the bullies straight."

According to Charlyne Olko of Enfield, other students would stick up for and protect her son Zeb, now 20, who also has Down Syndrome.

"Any adversity he encountered made him a stronger person, and the other kids learned that all people have differences," Olko said.

Lisa Weisinger-Roland of West Hartford said her son, Jamie, who has Down Syndrome, was treated like any other peer.

"We are very blessed and lucky," she said. "They look out for him. He has never felt picked on, and I have never worried that it would be the case."

Judy Itzkowitz of South Windsor, an educational consultant who works with many families, said she knows bullying does occur, but she isn't sure if it is happening more or less than before the push for inclusion.

"Each of us has to experience situations, like bullying or someone who is mean to us. Instead of protecting them, I want to help them learn to face that challenge and learn to be more resilient," Itzkowitz said.

Hildegard Szokol of Shelton, a retired special education teacher, said children are friendlier to their peers with disabilities in the younger grades. …