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A Report and Guide on Bullying and the Child with Special Needs

The journey addressing the issue of bullying and children with special needs began when AbiltyPath.org staff and writers identified the need to provide information to parents who all too often struggle to find ways to help their child with bullying. Over the course of several months, AbilityPath.org interviewed experts, educators and parents regarding this escalating issue facing children with special needs. It became apparent that the demographic most vulnerable to bullying also had the fewest resources. These children and parents are desperate for resources, advocates and awareness so the physical and emotional toll their children experience may be prevented. They need their childrens classmates, teachers and community to walk a mile in their shoes. In order to start the conversation and provide a collective voice for these families, AbilityPath.org will release the report and guide, Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, on February 15, 2011 THE STORIES My daughter is a wonderful, adorable, sweet child with Down syndrome. The bullying she encountered started in elementary school and has followed her to middle school. Everyone makes a big deal about their children being bullied at school and it is a big deal. However, it is always the normal children that you hear about. Who stands up for the children who are like my daughter? Mother of 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome This is just one example of the numerous interviews, testimonials and media reports related to children with special needs and bullying. These stories range from children being intentionally tripped in the schoolyard, tied to flag poles, or force fed dog food by their peers. For parents, a growing concern is how to protect their child as well as educate others. In an article featuring Nancy A. Murphy, M.D., FAAP and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities Executive Committee, she stated these children already struggle with self-esteem issues. Bullying only creates a greater impact because of their desire to fit in. Some students with special needs dont even realize they are being bullied. You almost must become Sherlock Holmes, said parent Kim Stagliano. In our case, the bullying had gone on for a long time, and the only sign that we had (of the bullying) was when one child had bruises.

THE NUMBERS The issue is reaching silent epidemic proportions in the United States, although very few studies exist to document it. The following statistics or research do exist and they shed light on this increasingly important issue: A study in the British Journal of Learning Support found much higher rates of bullying in children with special needs. The researchers indicated that 60 percent of students with special needs reported being bullied compared to 25 percent of the general student population. Researchers have discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without a disability (Saylor & Leach, 2009). In a report in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, children with special needs or a disability are ten times more likely to be bullied than the neurotypical student. Current federal statistics show that 15percent to 25 percent of neurotypical school age children are bullied with some frequency. The National Autistic Society reports that 40 percent of children with autism and 60 percent of those with Aspergers syndrome have experienced bullying. THE ONLINE BULLY In an age of Facebook, YouTube and mobile devices, the embarrassment and humiliation a child receives from a bully on the schoolyard can extend beyond the schools fences. Cyberbullying occurs when an individual uses the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text messages intended to hurt or embarrass another person, according to The National Crime Prevention Council. As many as 43 percent of teens have experienced bullying while online, based on a 2006 study by Harris Interactive Inc. for the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). Children with special needs use the Internet as much as, if not more than, other students. While the technology provides a more fluid means of interacting with peers and opens up a new potential pool of social contacts, researchers also know that it provides a completely unfiltered method for bullies to attack and harass children with special needs outside of the classroom. More research is necessary to gauge what kind of a threat cyber-bullying is to children with special needs. Many (children with special needs) are easily manipulated by mischievous bullies who goad them to cyber bully others, download child pornography or hack into other computers and they agree to do it, simply because they want to fit in and be well-liked, said Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University.

THE RESOURCES Currently, no federal legislation exists to specifically protect students with special needs from bullies. Numerous states have proposed or passed state legislation to ensure this most vulnerable group of children are protected. The U.S. Department of Educations Office of Civil Rights did issue a letter to colleagues on October 26, 2010 informing all public schools in the U.S. that bullying and harassment, including harassment of one student by another, can be a form of prohibited discrimination. Schools that know about, but fail to stop such harassment, may be in violation of federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender or disability. But school districts are limited in their resources and training of both administrators and teachers to identify when bullying occurs and prevent it from happening. As state budget cuts increase, students receiving special education at private schools are also being placed back into the public school population. More importantly, is the lack of awareness and education for parents, students and educators. AbilityPath.org will be offering the following free resources online to assist these various audiences in tackling this epidemic: Parent Toolkit: Signs that your child with special needs may be a victim of a bully Parent Toolkit: Five steps parents can take to protect their child with special needs from bullies Parent Toolkit: Protecting your child with special needs online Parent Toolkit: Social skills and helping your child make friends Social Stories for Your Child: How to make friends Teacher Toolkit: Bullying and your classroom Links to organizations and resources for parents and teachers Online forums and groups for parents to share their experiences CALL TO ACTION: DISABLE BULLYING This report and guide is an effort to be a voice and spur further research on the issue. It will also provide parents with knowledge on the best practices, tools and resources available. Education and awareness leads to empowerment and hope. Children with special needs can become less of a statistic in bullying research when their classmates, teachers, and community walk a mile in their shoes. AbilityPath.orgs five actions steps to disable bullying include: Educate. Change starts with each individual. Stereotypes and misconceptions about disabilities and special needs still exist in our classrooms and communities. Parents, educators and community leaders should lead by example so others can follow in demystifying myths which perpetuate the problem. Ask Questions. Many youth with special needs sometimes arent aware they are being bullied. Or because of their language and speech delays, it may be difficult for them to communicate when a bullying incident occurs. Caregivers and educators need to frame questions to children that allow insight into schoolyard or online activity.

Speak Up. If one suspects or witnesses a child with special needs being bullied, speak up, notify educators, parents, politicians or community leaders. Dont be a bystander. A zero tolerance for bullies should exist in our communities. Build CommUNITY. Children with special needs and their families are important member of each community. Invite them or their parents to participate in book clubs, PTA meetings, church groups, block parties, play dates and birthday parties. Get to know the neighbors regardless of their ability; it benefits the family, child with special needs AND the entire neighborhood as well. Disable Bullying. Share the possibilities and successes of people with special needs through each persons social network. Examples include raising funds for AbilityPath.orgs awareness and support programs, joining Special Olympics and Best Buddies Spread the Word to End the Word petition or posting Glees Lauren Potters Disable Bullying video on Facebook. Video featuring Glees Lauren Potter will be released February 15, 2011 and available at www.youtube.com/abilitypathchannel.
is an online hub and special needs community for parents and professionals to learn, connect and live a more balanced life - through all phases of a child's growth and development. The website combines social networking features with expert content from AbilityPath.orgs team of educators, parents, therapists and medical professionals. AbilityPath.org was created by Community Gatepath, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit with over 90 years of experience serving children and young adults with special needs and supporting their families through lifes key transition points. Content is available in English and Spanish and features advice, tool kits and other practical day-to-day living tips so families can learn, laugh and live a more balanced life. Learn more at www.abilitypath.org. Contact: Erika Bjork, Community Gatepath, ebjork@gatepath.com or 650.259.8506