School Climate & Safety

Students With Disabilities Often Targeted by Bullies

By Nirvi Shah — February 22, 2011 1 min read
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A new report based on interviews and statistics concludes that children who are especially vulnerable to bullies, kids with disabilities, have few resources to deal with the problem.

The report, which includes testimonials from parents and students, provides a few heart-breaking glimpses into the taunts and terrors faced by children with a variety of exceptionalities. In one case, classmates of a boy with cerebral palsy tied the arms of his sweatshirt to a fence. They watched as he struggled to break free and put pictures of the episode on Facebook.

While 45 states have adopted laws related to bullying in the last five years, the report notes, few address the bullying of students with special needs in particular. California schools chief Tom Torlakson told the Bay Area News Group he wants to work with legislators on ways to incorporate special-needs concerns into existing anti-bullying legislation.

Compiling research from a number of sources, the report concludes that children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied for a variety of reasons, but in particular, they may become easily frustrated, which makes them stand out; students with developmental disabilities may have difficulty paying attention to more than one piece of information and may get “stuck” in a conversation, making it difficult to make friends; children with motor skill difficulties may be the target of teasing on the playground or classroom because they can’t do the same age-appropriate things—like kicking a ball or coloring in the lines—as peers; they carry special devices that make other kids view them as “weird.”

The report said that all studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their nondisabled peers. It offers steps parents can take, and recommends Social and Emotional Learning curricula, like one used in Illinois schools, to address the problem., which provides an online community for professionals and parents of children with special needs and is led by a California nonprofit that provides services for people with disabilities, offers several ways to address the issue, including sharing your stories at the blog, joining a campaign to end use of the R word—retard—and posting a video of Glee actor Lauren Potter, who has Down syndrome, on Facebook.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.