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Bullying because of disabilities

Question:

This is actually for a friend seeking advice…
She has 2 children with disabilities. Recently with her 9 year old son, who has autism, she has been having problems with him being bullied at school because of his disability. The principal has yet to take any sort of action, & says that her son is the bully. Just this week the 9 year old boy has mentioned wanting to kill himself twice. What can we do to stop the bullying & prevent him from becoming another statistic!?

Sincerely,
A concerned friend

Letter submitted by:

Answer:

Hello Concerned Friend,

It sounds like you really care about your friend and her children. Bullying is definitely a tough subject to handle particularly when other issues compound the problem — issues like children on the autism spectrum who might be dealing with bullying and suicidal ideation at the same time as well as administrators who don’t respond carefully and appropriately. Every child should feel safe in school, and no one should ever be bullied or abused.

It’s great that you are there for your friend. Listening to her when she needs to talk might be the most important thing for her as she struggles to find the best way to raise her children. By listening, you validate her feelings of frustration and probably anger at how the situation has been handled so far.

My guess is that your friend has a pediatrician and hopefully mental health professionals that know her children well. I would encourage her to immediately share her son’s recent experiences including the comments about wanting to kill himself with these doctors and mental health professionals.

I also want to share some resources with you that may be helpful. The prevention and response tabs at www.stopbullying.gov have great information and advice on how adults can address bullying.

The Pacer Center has some great resources specific to students with disabilities (http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/) and the adults in their lives.

Your friend should already be aware that there are federal laws (IDEA) that protect children with disabilities. In some cases, a parent can request stronger support systems to address their child’s IEP (individualized education program) which might include scheduled visits to the in-school psychologist or other mental health professionals. There should already be supports and provisions in place to help her child at school, but these provisions might not be meeting her child’s specific needs. It sounds like she has been in close contact with the principal who, unfortunately, didn’t respond to the call for action. She should probably go back to the principal immediately and ask for her child’s IEP Team to convene to revise the IEP to meet her child’s changing needs.

Some principals are more versed in IEPs and helping students with disabilities than others. Your friend should be patient with the principal, but bullying — regardless of whether her child is the victim or the bully — must be addressed by the school. If the bullying is linked to the student’s disability, all of the student’s teachers and support staff (including the principal) must rally to better meet this child’s needs so that things don’t escalate.

Thank you so much for writing to us. I hope this information is helpful.

Best wishes,

The Trevor Project