By Michael Rock
No parent wants their child to be a victim of bullying. Tragically, bullying is too common an experience for people with disabilities.
According to one poll, as many as 56 percent of students with disabilities have experienced some form of bullying.
Another study suggests that the nature of a victim’s disability can affect the type of bullying that they experience. People with learning disabilities are more likely to be harassed online, while those with physical disabilities are more likely to experience cyberbullying. Those with depression experienced both forms.
Too often, schools discipline bullies and protect their victims inadequately, as in the recent case of a non-verbal eleven year old Durham, North Carolina boy who was assaulted at school by a classmate during lunch. His mother was not notified by school administrators until hours after he got home. Even then, they downplayed it as “kids being kids.” When she met with school officials to discuss the assault, they gave her either the option of keeping her son in the class with his assailant or moving him to a class that didn’t adequately reflect his educational needs.
Making matters worse, children with disabilities need not fear bullying just from peers, but from adults as well. Parents of classmates sometimes demand they are moved out of their classes for being “disruptive.” Staring, rude remarks, and other forms of antagonism from adults in public places are frequent.
When overwhelmed by bullies, it is not uncommon for victims with disabilities to respond in inappropriate ways that lead to them being labeled bullies or aggressors themselves. Instead, they should be taught better coping and response mechanisms.
There are numerous ways that people with disabilities can appropriately address bullying problems. Some keys to combatting it can include annoying teachers until they do something about it and defending other victims of bullying. In more extreme cases, contacting law enforcement for protection can be a solution, as can self-defense tactics. Victims should also remind themselves that is never their fault that they are bullied and thus should never internalize what bullies say.
When these tactics and others as well as greater understanding and empathy for people with disabilities are implemented, much more can be done to combat bullying in all its forms – both for people with disabilities and those without them.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.