Since the early days of my now two-year-old daughter's diagnosis with cystic fibrosis, I have had on ongoing inner battle over whether or not to homeschool her. One of the reasons I consider homeschooling is that it will allow her to avoid any teasing by school bullies who might notice and make fun of her differences. I am not alone or amiss in my fears.
66% of students with special needs report being bullied in school compared to 25% of students in the general population, according to the Disable Bullying campaign's Walk a Mile in Their Shoes report. In fact, students with special needs are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied than their "normal" peers.
Fighting the Bullies
Disable Bullying is a collaborative of AbilityPath, Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and Glee's Lauren Potter. It is a nationwide campaign to engage parents, educators, activists, and policymakers in educating the world about the bullying of children with special needs. The harassment these children face occurs anywhere from a one-time event to a daily occurrence, and it surfaces in the form of insults, threats, privacy violations, and cyber bullying. Some students have been kicked. Some have had their crutches knocked out from under them. And some have been tormented by photos of the abuse placed online for the world to see. One child even had to be rushed to the hospital from school. He had a high blood alcohol level and other children reported that the child was being "poisoned" by other kids on a regular basis. That's scary stuff.
How You Can Stop the Bullies Right Now
To help combat this serious situation, Disable Bullying has put together multiple resources, including a parent toolkit which highlights five ways to protect your special needs child from bullying.
1. Reach out to the parents of other children with special needs at your child's school. Together, you can form a coalition and support one another through the sharing of ideas. You can work together to bring recommendations to the school board and your local legislature on the topic of bullying and children with special needs.
2. Become familiar with the statistics on bullying and children with special needs. Educate your school district, including the teachers and the community. Bring in speakers to address the topic.
3. Take part in community functions and activities and figure out how to give visibility to your children as well. Research shows that when children with a disability or chronic condition are restricted from participating in school activities, their risk of being bullied jumps by 30%.
4. Demand that your school district adopt anti-bullying projects that address the issues of children with special needs. Advocating for your special needs child will benefit all children in the district. Win-win!
5. Write letters to policy-makers regarding bullying and children with special needs. Request that federal and state funds be used to expand the research in this area. Ask that anti-bullying programs used in the schools be effective in reducing the vulnerabilities of children with special needs.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes offers additional tips for parents and teachers to help protect students with special needs, including how to help students make friends and how to keep your child safe and bully-free online.