Bullying in the Pediatric Special Needs Population

Posted on November 16th, 2012 by Denise | No Comments

Bullying in the Pediatric Special Needs Population


Denise Koonce OTR

Bullying incidents among children have frequently made headlines across the nation over the last few years.  Many of these incidents have resulted in severe harm to the victim, up to and including, the child taking their own life.   Due to the significant rise in bullying incidents, the concern over bullying has risen to the national level.  As part of a national effort to bring attention to bullying, President Obama held a bullying summit at the White House in March 2011. I realize that bullying has been a part of growing up for many and has been inappropriately coined “a rite of passage” or something that will eventually ”go away”.  No matter how you package it, it is harmful and wrong.  Webster defines a bully as “an overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people”.   Several educational and medical journals describe bullying as involving an imbalance of physical or psychological power.  Due to the apparent rise in bullying and the consequential results of those bullied, there has been a heightened level of discussion, data collection and research in recent years.  Most of this research has been focused on the general school aged population.  This research shows that bullying occurs in about 25% of the general school aged population.  Alarming as that may seem, it is significantly less than what occurs in the special needs population.  Research shows that bullying occurs 2 to 3 times more in the special needs population than in the general population.  This percentage is staggering and saddening.  One survey report done in Massachusetts in 2009, reported that up to 88% of children with autism have experienced bullying.  Due to these alarming numbers, AbilityPath.org was created by Community Gatepath which is a non-profit organization in California which provides services to individuals with special needs and their families.  AbilityPath.org completed an enormous report compiling information regarding bullying and its effects on the special needs population.  The report and guide is titled “Walk a Mile in My Shoes:  Bullying and Special Needs.”  The website also provides a video of an introspective view of how bullying affects someone with special needs.  Sheryl Young, CEO of Community Gatepath stated, “Bullying is every parent’s fear.”  “For parents of children with special needs that fear is exacerbated.  This report and guide were developed to include children with special needs in the national dialogue and to raise the level of awareness about bullying, cyber bullying and the devastating developmental effects it can have upon children with special needs.”  Abilitypath.org also partnered with Special Olympics, Best Buddies International, and Lauren Potter of the TV series “Glee” to launch a “Disable Bullying” campaign and spread the word about bullying in the special needs population.  In regards to that, Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics stated “Hundreds of thousands of children with differences are being subjected to humiliation and isolation week in and week out around the country and it is time to bring this problem to light and to marshal a call to action to our young people to put an end to it.”  

 As a therapist we are in a unique position at times to listen and talk with our school aged patients.  It is important that we listen intently when they speak so not to miss their attempt in letting an adult know bullying is happening to them.  It is equally important to explain to them that their parents need to be notified so appropriate actions can be taken to make a change.  In order to provide parents with appropriate resources I have included some helpful websites.   In particular, AbilityPath.org provides toolkits and resources for parents and teachers including:  links to current laws and legislation, tips on how to best utilize a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), information on Social and Emotional Learning, social skills for making friends, and information on how to protect a child from cyber bullying.

Ability Path     www.abilitypath.org

National Center for Bullying Prevention     www.pacer.org/bullying

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services     www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov

Be proactive and speak with your patients and their families regarding bullying so they can empower their children to face bullying and be better equipped to deal with it.  If there are additional resources or programs that are not listed please share them with us.  So join us and help AbilityPath.org, Special Olympics, and Best Buddies International by taking a stand and “Disable Bullying”!

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