Unless you've been living under a rock for 30 years, chances are you've experienced an episode of teasing or bullying at least once in your life. Bullying sucks rocks, plain and simple. Bullied children tend to be more depressed and socially withdrawn. They tend to be lonelier and more anxious. No parent wants to see their child become a victim of bullying, especially with the recent rash of suicides and violence.
But what about children with disabilities and other special needs?
While there hasn't been a high level of research in this area, according to the FindYouthInfo.gov website, we DO know that children with a variety of needs are often victims of some type of teasing or bullying. Children with obvious physical impairments or medical problems are more likely to be victims of bullying. And while the studies that have been done do not indicate whether or not bullying among the special needs population is any more prevalent than their typical peers, one thing is very clear: Kids who are "different" are very easy targets.
In our own personal situation, we have no idea whether or not our younger, non-verbal child is being victimized in any way. In fact, when our school-bus-loving son suddenly became afraid to get on the school bus in the morning, we knew something odd was happening. Never in a million years did we think that a bus aide would be responsible for daily teasing and mistreatment and encouraging other children to do the same. If it wasn't for a little angel on the bus coming to us and telling us one afternoon, we probably never would have known about it. And our situation isn't unique. All over the Internet, magazines, and newspapers are stories relating similar events, except angels never come forward for them. And it makes me want to cry. As if bullying isn't cruel enough, intentionally targeting a child with a special need or disability has to be just about the cruelest thing on earth. Deliberately picking on someone when you know they cannot fight back? You suck at being a human being, my friend.
What can be done? How would you know if your child was being bullied? If your child is coming home with unexplainable bruises, scratches, cuts, or torn clothing, they might be a victim. If they have a sudden change in behavior, begin having trouble sleeping, or suddenly don't want to go to school, you probably want to check that out. Here are some tips from FindYouthInfo.gov about what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied:
- Do NOT tell your child to "toughen up" or "ignore it." I'd like to see you ignore it if someone harassed you for six hours a day about your hair, eyes, eyeglasses, limp, stutter, or pimples. I'm pretty sure that if someone called you fat you'd give them a piece of your mind or at least The Hairy Eyeball.
- Do NOT encourage them to hit back. This is like slapping your child if they hit or bite you to "teach them a lesson." Violence begets violence and all that, y'all.
- Contact your child's school (assuming it happened at school). If they aren't aware of the problem they aren't going to help. Many schools (like my son's) now have Bully Prevention Programs which include parent trainings.
- Do NOT contact the parents of the child(ren) bullying your child. It could make matters worse. And no doubt you'll get the response we did ("Our Johnny would NEVER call someone a mental retard! Honest!") when we met with them with the teacher. Like my kid is the liar. I have news for you: AUTISTIC KIDS RARELY LIE because it's against the rules! SO THERE!
- Take steps to bully-proof your child. Do what you can to lessen them from being an easy target. We drove our son to school for an entire year to give the bullies less opportunity to pick on him. We also read tons of books on the subject and attempt to help him improve in the areas that make him an easy target (i.e., crying at school when the wind blows the wrong direction).
- Most importantly, make your home as loving and safe as possible for your child. Above all else, communicate with your child! Be there for them.
Has your special needs child been bullied?