How to Protect Your Child with Disabilities from Bullying

As a parent of a two children with disabilities, I realize that my kids are potentially more susceptible to bullying that other children.  Since my daughter was in kindergarten, we have taken proactive steps to put in place strategies and to arm her with the skills that she will need to understand, recognize, prevent and address bullying situations.  Along the way I have learned a lot and as our children head back to school after the summer, I want to share with other parents some valuable information and strategies to prevent and stop bullying.

Children with disabilities have a higher risk of being bullied. Bullying has become a serious problem in most schools and research supports that children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being bullied.  There are a number of factors like physical vulnerability, social skill challenges and intolerant environments that can increase the risk of a child becoming the target of bullying.  It’s important to know these factors so that you can address them not only by giving your child the right tools but also by educating his peers, his teachers and his school.

It is important to be familiar with these laws and understand how they can protect your child. Make sure that the school personnel, specially your child’s teachers, are also aware of these laws. If the bullying is based on a child’s disability it may violate the child’s federal rights. Federal law prohibits discrimination, including harassment in education programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender, or disability. Every child receiving special education services is entitled, by law, to a  free, appropriate education and bullying can be an obstacle to receiving that education.  Knowing the law will help you protect your child with disabilities from bullying.

For some children bullying can be life threatening. Children with special health needs such as children with diabetes requiring insulin regulation, food allergies or epilepsy are also at higher risk of being bullied.  Bullying can include making fun of them because of their medical condition and in some cases even exposing them to things that may harm them like foods that they are allergic to. Educating kids and teachers about students’ special health needs and the dangers associated with certain actions and exposures can help keep kids safe.

Peers can be your child’s best allies.   Teaching children in the classroom about your child’s special needs may foster acceptance. Discuss why your child may look or behave differently from other children, emphasize the ways in which your child is like his classmates and give the children concrete tools and specific examples of how they can interact with your child and also support your child. When other students get involved and stand up for children that are being bullied, the bullying stops.

You can use your child’s IEP to help prevent bullying. Children with disabilities often have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or Section 504 plans that can be useful tools to implement specialized approaches for preventing and responding to bullying. These plans can help children receive additional services and support that may be necessary to prevent or stop bullying.

Strategies to prevent and stop bullying that can be included in your child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan).

  • Identifying an adult in school that your child can go to for help.
  • Deciding how school staff will report and document bullying incidents.
  • Having a child shadowed by school staff to make sure the child is safe in hallways, playgrounds, etc.
  • Making sure that the school staff reassures the child that he has the “right to be safe” so that the child doesn’t think that the bullying is his fault.
  • Educating school staff and peers about the child’s disability and health needs.
  • Establishing a peer support group.  A group of classmates can receive training on how to prevent bullying and speak on your child’s behalf.
  • Teach the child to recognize bullying and other dangerous situations using different strategies and tools like video, social stories and role playing.
  • Teach the child social skills, assertive skills and problem solving skills.

If you have any other strategies or tools that have worked for your child please share them with us!

Thanks!

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