Bullying is very much in the news recently, for tragic reasons: five teens (Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, and Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi) committed suicide in the last month. All were victims of anti-gay bullying.
In one Ohio school, bullying is being blamed for the deaths of four teens in two years.
And, now, a study published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health that says children with disabilities or chronic illnesses are more likely to be the target of bullies.
Sentenac and her colleagues used data from the Irish and French 2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children World Health Organization collaborative study. In all, 12,048 students ages 11, 13 and 15 participated. Students responded to items on how frequently they had been bullied at school in the past couple of months. They also answered questions on whether they had a disability or chronic illness such as cerebral palsy, diabetes, arthritis or allergy. Twenty percent of the students in Ireland and 16.6 percent in France reported having one of these conditions. The study showed that students who reported having a disability or chronic illness no matter where they lived were more likely to be bullied by peers than those who did not. For instance, in France, 41 percent of boys with a disability or chronic illness reported being bullied compared with 32 percent of boys without. Gender, however, was not a factor in being bullied; both boys and girls were equally victimized.
You can find an abstract of the study at this link.
The PACER Center, a national parent center that serves youth with a special emphasis on children with disabilities, has compiled resources for children, teens and parents through the National Center for Bullying Prevention. Digging a little further into the site, these publications offer a bit more specific information for children with disabilities and bullying. For example, there’s some information on how parents may be able to talk to the class about their child’s disability, in a bid to foster acceptance. I also liked the document “What if Your Child IS the Bully?” Bullies all come from somewhere, and though parents may think they have the tools to support a bullied child, they may be more at a loss of what to do if their child is the aggressor.
In response to the recent suicides that have been linked to anti-gay bullying, columnist Dan Savage has started the “It Gets Better” project, where hundreds of people have posted messages of support to kids who might be suffering. (Some of which, I should warn, are “PG” rated.) Though the videos are aimed at lesbian, gay, or questioning youth, I think that the same message holds true for all people who are the victims of bullies: it does get better.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.