Bullying & Students with Special Needs – Defend the Defenseless
There have been so many horrible stories about bullying in the news lately. It makes me wonder why there was no media coverage when it happened to me and my friends back in the day. I hope it is a sign that our civilization is becoming more aware of the issue.
Individuals with special-needs are especially vulnerable to bullying, according to Starr Taxman of Starr Taxman Children’s Advocacy and Investigative Services. She is also a mother of three, and two of her children have special needs. Starr is also a sought-after speaker on the topic of bullying and interventions that help stop it.
Evidence supports Starr’s position: A 2008 report in the British Journal of Support holds that while 25% of the general student population reported being bullied, the number among students with special needs was 60% – and remember, that is only accounting for what the students reported – or were able to report!
Often people with special needs are unable to communicate traditionally, so they may not be able to explain what is happening. This was the case with Kathy Coleman’s 31-year-old non-verbal son with autism. He was able to communicate that he feared his caregiver, and his observant mom saw bruises on him, so she put hidden cameras in his room at the care facility. She was shocked at what she captured on film, and also at the facility’s reaction – to try to destroy the evidence! Naturally she is suing, and her son is no longer living there.
Even in paradise, bullying rears its ugly head. Recently at a school in Hawaii a 5-year-old boy with autism was being beaten up by a group of 5th graders. The young boy was reportedly down on the ground in a fetal position! A super-brave 2nd grade girl named Eileen Parkman stepped up and told the boys what they were doing wasn’t right. She was then beaten herself, and also became a target at the school. After several bullying incidents she transferred, but she has won the Maui Autism Center’s bravery award for being a “Defender of the defenseless.” On his Facebook page, Eileen’s father has thanked everyone for their support of Eileen because it helps her to hear that she did the right thing. As if that was ever a question??? What kind of world has this become???
The Bully Project has some great resources, including a special section about students with special needs. Their website includes clips from the award-winning film Bully and there are downloadable materials available. Students with disabilities have legal rights, and many situations go beyond bullying and into the legal area of harassment.
Peer advocacy is a great deterrent to bullying, so be sure to teach all your children – typical and those with special needs – to stand up for themselves and for each other.