Monday, 16 September 2013

Bullying and Students with a Disability

Did you know that students who have a disability are significantly more likely than their peers without disabilities to be bullied during their school years?  They are also at risk of being cyber-bullied if they spend large amounts of time on a computer.

This blog will focus on bullying and students who have an intellectual disability.  It is important to note that many of the students we support may not always be able to tell us if they are being bullied at school.  This is mostly due to the fact that many may not be able to relay the information to us verbally.  The student may also not know that what is happening is actually bullying.

It is very important to deal with this issue as early as possible or to be proactive to prevent it from happening at all.  Students who are bullied are at risk of being depressed, suffer from anxiety and have a lower self-esteem than peers who are not bullied.  They may develop medical issues that may cause them to miss school (stomach aches, headaches, fatigue), and may refuse to go to school and have thoughts of suicide.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where bullying is commonplace.  Bullying occurs every 7 minutes on the playground and every 25 minutes in the classroom.  It is important to educate children on what to do if they are victims of bullying or if they see someone being bullied.  Research shows that most of the time, a bully will stop his/her actions within 10 seconds if a peer intervenes or no audience is encouraging him/her. 

So, what is bullying?  Bullying can be anything from physical to emotional pain being inflicted on another.  This can be seen in the form of punching, teasing, spreading rumours, keeping students out of a certain group, “ganging up” on someone, shoving and more.  The five most common types of bullying according to Stop A Bully is:
  • -          Shoving/Hitting
  • -          Threats/Intimidation
  • -          Spreading Rumours
  • -          Cyberbullying

What can we as parents, teachers and support people do when a student we know is a victim of bullying?  It all starts with education.

Educate the student about his/her disability.  The more he/she knows, the better he/she can advocate for
himself/herself.  Education does not stop with the individual.  It is important to educate other students in the classroom and in the school about differences and disabilities.  The more students know, the more empathetic they will be.  Instead of having bystanders looking in on the situation, we will have bystanders who step in and stick up for the child who is being bullied.  One way of doing this is getting the student to present his/her disability to his/her own peers.  If a student is not able to do this himself/herself, a parent or someone close to the student can present on their behalf.  The younger we begin educating students about differences, the more respectful and empathetic they will grow to be.

It’s also important to raise the students’ self-esteem and confidence so they can defend themselves.  We can do this by practicing appropriate responses to different types of bullying.  If the student becomes confident at home, these skills can transfer on to school and to different social situations.

We cannot forget about educating the students who engage in bullying behavior.  They need to understand what impact their actions have on the children they are bullying and understand that there are consequences for their actions.  These students continuously need to be monitored.  ‘Bully,’ a documentary following five students who are victims of bullying, is a great resource to use for students, parents and teachers.  This powerful documentary is accompanied by a book to combat the bullying crisis.

Parents can speak to the school and inform themselves of prevention programs the school has adopted.  If the school has yet to adopt a program, parents may suggest programs to the school (see below for programs).  It is also important for schools to provide a designated person who can be there for the student when he/she feels threatened or is being bullied. 

Other important points to remember:

-          Recognize the signs: Always look for signs that your child is being bullied.  This may not mean bruises; you may notice a change in mood, eating habits and sleeping patterns.  Ask your child if he/she is being bullied.  If he/she cannot communicate this to you verbally, ask students you know who attend the same school or the classroom teacher.

-          Implement rules: Children should be safe at home and know what to do if they are being bullied.  If your child has siblings, teach them to say a loud ‘STOP’ or put his hand in front of his/her body if he/she does not communicate with words when the other child becomes too rough.  These skills learned at home can transfer to school when it is happening with a bully.

-          Get support: It can be difficult to deal with these issues on your own.  Make sure you have someone to talk to about it, they may have great ideas to share with you!

If bullying is happening to your son or daughter at school, you should familiarize yourself with the Department of Education’s Policy 703 (Positive Learning and Working Environments).  This policy provides schools with a framework to create environments that are positive for all students.

You should also ask the school if they have properly investigated your child’s complaints.  This is important as your child may not have shared the issue with an adult at the school.  That way, you can inform the school your child is being bullied and the issue can move toward a resolution.

You can also ask the school what specific actions they have taken to address the bullying problem to ensure something is being done about it.  It is important for you and the school to know where and when the bullying takes place so that the proper supports can be given to your child at the appropriate time and place.  If the bullying was taking place on the school bus, the school may want to put an adult on the bus while this issue is being resolved.

Remember that the school has a “duty of care” to all students.  By not taking appropriate actions, they can be held liable, especially if there is a negative impact on the student.  A negative impact could be anything from an effect on mental health, grades or school attendance.

The school’s duty is to provide appropriate supports to the student who is being bullied.  The school should create a network of support that would be available to the student during school hours.  If this problem persists, the school should also keep moving forward by getting different leaders from the community to come to the school to intervene and talk to the students.  A bullying expert, police officer, or probation officer could be contacted, along with other relevant community members.

Here is a small list of programs you might want to suggest to the school your child is attending.  These programs can help with bullying situations or can also be used as a prevention method.

Stop a Bully: Stop a Bully is a Canada-wide national non-profit organization that provides schools and students with a safe and anonymous bullying reporting system.  Along with increasing awareness and accountability when it comes to bullying, it allows schools to be proactive in addressing bullying before it happens.

Roots of Empathy: Their mission is, “to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.”

Beyond the Hurt: A Canadian Red Cross program that provides workshops to youth, adults who work with youth and parents.

Circle of Friends: A proactive program for elementary school students who have a harder time than others making friends.  (If interested in the Circle of Friends program, please contact NBACL for training.)

Best Buddies: A national non-profit organization which partners students who have a disability with students who do not have a disability based on shared interests.

Interested in learning more?  Barbara Coloroso, international best-selling author and speaker will be in Fredericton on October 9th. She will be holding two workshops: one for teachers: “Teaching with Wit and Wisdom,”and one for parents: “Parenting with Wit and Wisdom.” To register or for more information, please click on the following link:

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