While more and more schools are developing anti-bullying programs and policies, there’s still a great deal of work to be done, particularly for kids with special needs. For many of these kids, their parents will always remain their primary advocate.
The good news is, there are proactive steps that parents can take to protect their kids and create a healthier, more accepting environment in their schools and communities.
How Do You Know If It’s Bullying?
In the past, bullying issues were, at best, addressed haphazardly, and at worst, swept under the rug. Now, it’s taken more seriously, which is good. However, it’s also created confusion, because “bullying” has become a catch-all phrase for all kinds of peer conflicts, such as teasing and other relationship issues. In addition, since a child with special needs may not be able explain exactly what’s happening, how do you know if it’s a bullying situation or just “kids being kids?”
Bullying is defined as behavior that is intentional, aggressive and negative, carried out repeatedly against one or more targets. Bullying occurs in relationships where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved.
Evaluating the balance of power in a conflict is often the best way to identify bullying versus teasing. If one party is afraid of the other, it’s more likely to be a bullying situation. When a child has special needs, it can be especially hard to tell what is really going on.
Why Kids with Special Needs Are Targeted
Kids with physical, developmental, intellectual, behavioral, sensory disabilities and even allergies are more likely to be bullied than others. Studies indicate that when kids have visible physical disabilities, they are more likely to be victimized.
In addition, children with special needs often have a lower baseline social standing than their fellow students, which makes them more vulnerable from the start. When part of a child’s condition includes social challenges, such as autism, Social Communication Disorder (formerly Asperger’s syndrome), and ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the problem is intensified. Kids who have trouble holding conversations or making friends, or who have a low frustration threshold, are prime targets.
Ironically, the recent inclusion movement in schools may have actually made students with special needs more vulnerable. Special classes, aides, and technological equipment highlight the fact that these students are “different.” And being “different” can set kids up not only for social ostracism, but as the go-to target of bullies.
How to Spot if Your Child Is Being Bullied
The first indication of a bullying problem is often a change in a child’s behavior. Often, kids who are being victimized:
- Become reluctant to go to school.
- Start eating or sleeping poorly, or too much.
- Lose interest in classwork and slip academically.
- Lose interest in friends and favorite activities.
- Become moody or get upset easily.
- Regress in toileting and other skills.
- Complain of headaches or stomach aches.
In addition, look for physical signs, including:
- Cuts, bruises, or injuries that weren’t there in the morning.
- Torn or dirty clothing.
- Damaged or missing belongings.
If you suspect your child may be the target of bullying, document the situation and bring it to the attention of their teacher(s) and Principal. For more tips about how to handle bullying situations, visit www.tarafishler.com.