Bullying and Children With Special Needs
By Amy Kristine Williams
To parents, bullying can seem like one of the more baffling aspects of childhood. Why should one child be singled out so unfairly? The truth of the matter is that there’s no real, justifiable reason. Yet, parents need to know how to deal with bullying, as this is something encountered by many children.
Why Are Children With Special Needs At Risk?
According to Walk A Mile In Their Shoes–Bullying and the Child with Special Needs, a report and guide from AbilityPath.org, children with special needs might have a higher risk for being the target of bullying. Often these factors are completely out of a child’s control. A few traits that might increase the chances of a child becoming a victim are:
- Low frustration tolerances
- Difficulties in carrying out smooth conversations
- An inability to perform age-appropriate skills
- Lacking the ability to differentiate between teasing and friendship
- Assistive technologies that are different and make them stand out
- Physical impairments or conditions (food allergies, ADHD, awkward gaits, etc.) that are perceived as signs of weakness
Furthermore, the risks for bullying can be compounded when children with special needs turn to the internet for solace and support. Many children are lured to technology, because of it’s convenience and it can be easier to communicate when they are hidden behind a screen. This connectivity leaves them vulnerable to online harassment and cyberbullies.
6 Warning Signs Your Child Might Be A Bullying Victim
Some common warning signs that a child is the victim of a bully include:
- A sudden lack of interest in technology (cell phones, video games, social media apps, etc.)
- Beginning to have trouble sleeping
- Starting to complain about stomach problems or frequent headaches
- Wanting to avoid school or friends
- Demonstrating a noticeable change in personality
- Coming home with torn clothing or missing valuable items
Protecting Children From Bullies
- Seek intervention from authorities and school personnel. Bullying can quickly accelerate and lead to serious consequences. Stay on top of the situation and document every menacing message or incident. Inform school personnel and, if needed, add a section to your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) regarding bullying. On occasion, restraining orders might be needed if the aggression continues.
- Teach your child terms to listen for and know that they are not acceptable. Awareness is a great tool that allows your child to understand when someone is being friendly or mean.
- Recruit extra eyes and ears on playgrounds, in school halls, and during extracurricular events. Ask close friends or teachers to pay attention to how other children treat your child. Hopefully, they will intervene, get help, and report the incident to you.
- Provide a safe haven for your child. Bullying can be vicious, especially when our children are exposed to cyberbullying. Consider a family policy that limits electronic usage at home. The home needs to feel secure for a child to escape their tormentors.
- Keep tabs on instant messages. Help your child open and read all his texts or disappearing message apps. This will allow you to act as a buffer to the mean-spirited texts or images.
- Understand the emerging trends of using fake profiles and “cat fishing”. Bullies love the anonymity the Internet provides and often use made-up personas or stolen identities to harm victims. Limit your child’s internet friends to those people your child really knows and set privacy guidelines. Encourage your child by sharing your own bullying experiences. Relate to him or her that things will ultimately get better- it takes time and perseverance.
- Monitor your child’s Internet use. Know the sites they frequent, who their friends are, and be on the lookout for bullying messages. Take advantage of software that allows you convenient access to all of your child’s accounts without compromising the smartphone or devices.
Simply put, bullying is dangerous and detrimental to your child. Children with special needs require parents who are diligent and observant to overcome the hostile situations that often develop. The tips provided here should help you do that. There are other resources available to help parents combat bullying, including StopBullying.gov.