Parents know that their children with disabilities/special needs are generally at risk of being bullied. Children with learning disabilities, medical conditions, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, paralysis, diabetes, stuttering, and other special needs are more likely to be victimized by their peers, and are often rated as less popular and have fewer friends than other children. The consequences can be serious, ranging from anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms such as stomach aches, and sometimes thoughts of suicide.
What parents may not know is that bullying behavior may cross the line to become "disability harassment," which is illegal under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This behavior can take different forms including verbal harassment, physical threats, or threatening written statements. When a school discovers that this harassment has occurred, the administration must investigate the incident(s) promptly and respond appropriately.
Before assuming that nothing has been done, it's recommended that you do several things:
What Do I Do?
1. Be supportive of your child and encourage him/her to tell you who was involved and how and where the bullying happened. If your child doesn't know names, ask him/her to describe the bully as best he/she can. If your child can draw, have him/her draw a picture of the scene, including the bully, and where the bullying occurred.
2. Assure your child that it is not his/her fault and that nobody deserves to be bullied.
3. Sometimes children with disabilities don't know they are being targeted. Ask your child specific questions about friends and stay alert to possible signs of bullying.
4. If you pick up any signs of bullying, talk with your child's teacher immediately and ask for help to resolve the problem quickly. Complete a Bullying Reporting Form.
5. If the bullying continues or is severe, get administrators involved. Keep a written record of all conversations and communications with the school.
6. Ask for an IEP or 504 team meeting to ensure that the school system is meeting the needs of your child. Tell the team what has happened, review the IEP or 504 Plan and make sure that the school is taking steps to end the bullying.
7. If your child needs counseling from the school counselor or social worker due to the bullying, ask for it.
8. If you feel your child needs additional social/emotional support, talk to your insurance provider and seek outside counseling.