ACCORDING to stopbullying.gov, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children. It involves a real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying comes in many forms: verbal, social, physical, and cyber bullying.
While children may get bullied for many reasons, children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being bullied. Children with physical vulnerabilities, like using crutches or a wheelchair, or children with social skill challenges, like those on the autism spectrum, may seem different from their peers and are often targeted by bullies as they may seem weak and/or unable to defend themselves.
Stopbullying.gov further reports that 1 in 3 students have been bullied and when children are bullied the results may include feelings of depression and anxiety. Signs of these include increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may continue into adulthood.
Creating a safe environment for children with disabilities is not only beneficial to all, but it is also the law. Some children with disabilities are also students who may be enrolled in special education or under a 504 Plan to ensure they are given equal access to education. “When bullying is directed at a child because of his or her established disability and it creates a hostile environment at school, bullying behavior may cross the line and become ‘disability harassment.’ Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the school must address the harassment.”
While our Public School System does have policies in place to address bullying behaviors, we as a community share in the responsibility for keeping our children safe. Adults who witness bullying have the ability to prevent future occurrences by telling kids who bully that their behavior is unacceptable and by reporting the incidents to school officials.
Please visit stopbullying.gov for more information about bullying and how to prevent it. For information about protections for students with disabilities, please contact NMPASI at 235-7273/4 or online at www.nmpasi.org.