Bullying Children with Special Needs
Special health care needs due to neurological, developmental, physical, intellectual, emotional, sensory, and mental health conditions can act as obstructions for children as they learn to navigate through life. Several factors like physical vulnerability, poor social skills, or intolerant environments may increase the risk of them being targeted by their peers. When the bullying is directed at a child because of their established disability, it may even become “disability harassment”.
Children with disabilities/special needs do not always have high levels of social competence, self-esteem, and robust friendship bonds. They are more often targeted by bullying, less able to tackle it, and more likely to suffer irrevocable harm. They frequently yearn for acceptance, thus they may avoid telling teachers and parents about the situation as they fear becoming even more isolated.
Having conditions that affect their appearance (e.g. cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, etc.), speech impairment, being clumsy, ‘off task' and disruptive, not showing normal distress reactions, can make a child more likely to be a victim of bullying, frequently being called names related to their disability. Children with special needs may have difficulty navigating around the school, trouble interacting with peers, or may show signs of emotional distress and vulnerability. These challenges can make them be perceived as different, thus increasing the risk of aggression and alienation from peers. Bright kids—especially those who have trouble communicating and navigating social interactions—may cause bullies to be jealous of them, provoking behavior aimed at diminishing their sense of self-worth. This may spawn irreparable damage and further impair an already withdrawn child’s social skills.
Another reason children with special needs might be at higher risk for bullying is the lack of peer support. Kids with behavior and conduct problems are more likely to experience physical aggression because others can become frustrated by the child’s difficult behavior and respond harshly. Those who have problems speaking, hearing, rely highly on adults for their care, or who don’t understand social situations very well, are likely to be ignored and excluded, and maybe more likely to experience sexual abuse.
Some children with disabilities have low self-esteem or feel depressed, lonely, or anxious because of their disability, and bullying makes this even worse. Some of them may not even know when they are bullied. They might feel grim and awful, but don’t know how to bring the topic to light. If they have disabilities that affect how they think, learn, or interact with others, they might need very detailed and specific explanations that are tailored to them, about how to recognize bullying.
Bullying can result in long-lasting damage, but a multi-faceted approach and involving students in adaptive strategies so that they assist and understand the needs of others, can reduce, or even put a halt to bullying. By working together, teachers, parents, and students can develop peer education, team-building, interactive and leadership activities in which everyone has a role to play in designing, executing, or participating in the activity. This can foster friendships, build up empathy, and prevent bullying to make schools a safer and more inclusive space. Parents and schools must give students with disabilities all the necessary support and tools they need to have fulfilling educational and social experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pursing an Honors degree in Economics and a minor degree in commerce; I'm an ardent cynophilist and a plant parent who's a child at heart. An ambivert who's always seeking adventures or just staying cooped up inside her room with a soft drink in her hand and a screen in front of her face, there's no in between. You can find me humming and swaying my body along to anything from 90s rock music to K-pop. I'm an avid reader with a diverse range of interests. You can always find me with a pencil in hand sketching or doodling a lil' something, just going about my daily life, viewing the world through rose tinted glasses.