Children with physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional and sensory disabilities are at an increased risk of experiencing bullying at school and in other public places where they spend time, such as playgrounds and parks.
A child with disabilities may not have the verbal skills to speak up for himself or herself and may be more physically vulnerable to aggressive actions performed by bullies. In addition, some types of disabilities cause a child to become a bully.
Teachers, parents and other important adults in the lives of children with disabilities can come together to identify problem behaviors and work towards a solution.
Types of Bullying That Affect Children With Special Needs
Bullying is a power imbalance that occurs between two or more people. In most cases, bullying takes place over a duration of time and often progresses to a worsening level of behavior and actions.
There are many forms of bullying that affect children with special needs, including spreading rumors, cyber bullying, teasing, verbal harassment, racial slurs, taunting, making obscene gestures, threats, spitting, kicking, slapping, punching and hitting. Any of these can happen to a child with special needs who may not understand the context or even why people are doing that to him or her.
Rights of Children With Special Needs Who Are Bullied
Children with special needs are protected against bullying, harassment and other forms of intimidation. Under federal law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, school systems must address any bullying or threatening behavior exhibited towards children with special needs.
This is true for Head Start all the way through college.
Creating a Safe Environment for Children With Disabilities
Schools must provide accommodations for children with special needs.
When bullying takes place, the child must first and foremost be kept safe. Once any medical needs are addressed, the bullying behavior can be considered. Creating a safe environment for children with disabilities may require actions such as amending the IEP, having a meeting with the school counselor and principal, or scheduling supportive services such as psychotherapy or meetings with social workers.
School-wide programs about anti-bullying topics can also be performed as a way to educate the entire school community about this important issue.