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Top 10 Tips on Bullying Prevention by a Parent of a Child with Special Needs

News for 10.31.17
10.31.17
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By Cynthia Hanlon, coordinator, Gatepath's Family Resource Center

Each month, I moderate a support group for caregivers of children with special needs and developmental disabilities in San Mateo County through Gatepath's Family Resource Center.  One of the most common re-occurring topics from parents is bullying.  According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, ten different U.S. studies have found that children with special needs or a disability are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers. It’s something parents will have to face, if they haven’t already, and it’s one of the hardest things to deal with when raising any child, whether the child has special needs, or not.

My son began 6th grade this year. He has some special needs and is visually impaired. He found the transition to middle school difficult as the school encourages the students to be more independent and act on their own, which increased his anxiety levels. In addition to the overwhelming transition to greater independence, he began to mention that other kids excluded him. He can be very persistent on his opinions, which some kids take as pushy. However, he wants friends just like any other kid! Feeling excluded because of how he carried himself or behaved as an individual hurt his feelings. I talked with him about what bullying is, how to be an advocate for himself if he does not like another child's tone or language, and to carry himself with confidence and awareness. I reached out to the school to ensure he was paired up with a buddy to sit with at lunch. I am happy my son brought the issue to my attention so we could problem solve together. Many children are ashamed, embarrassed or fear retaliation from the bully and will hide what is happened from authority figures.  However, every individual's experience is unique.

I have compiled a list of tips and suggestions from personal experience and research to help parents and caregivers support their child with special needs if they experience bullying.

Top 10 Tips and Tricks for Parents of Children With Special Needs Facing Bullying:

1) Talk to your child about bullying

Bring up the topic of bullies with your child. Do they know what a bully is? By starting the conversation, you will make your child more comfortable discussing the topic. Creating a safe space for dialogue with your child is important. Even if they have talked with you about bullies in the past, bullying can occur at any point in their lives and is a good reminder that they can talk to you about it.

2)  Document incidents and information

Gather pertinent information about what the bullies are doing, names, dates, time of incidents, location of incidents, specific actions, physical harm or threats of physical harm, and document it. Listen to your child and patiently encourage them to share as much as they are willing.

3) Examine copy of school’s anti-bullying policy

Determine if the bully has violated a school policy by examining a copy of the school's anti-bullying policy.

4) Contact the school and arrange an in-person meeting with the principal

When you meet with the principal make sure you are prepared with notes and even a tape recorder to help hold the school administration accountable for taking active steps to resolve the situation. Try to leave your emotions at home and convey only the facts. Write down what the school administrator says and agrees to do. After the meeting, send a follow up email to thank the principal, and recap next steps.

5) Gain additional support from other parents

Reach out to the parents of other children with special needs in your school. Find out if their children are experiencing bullying as well.  Come together to form a coalition to make suggestions and recommendations to the PTA, school administration, and the school board on the topic of bullying. You are stronger together, and additional support will help to create lasting change.

6) Seek additional help and support from the Family Resource Center.

If you are a resident of San Mateo County, our team of parents are here to help you along your parenting journey with resource, recommendations and referrals for support.  If you live outside of San Mateo County, we can refer you to other resources near you.  Call our Support Line at 650-259-0189 to talk to one of our coordinators.

7) Follow through with the school to hold them accountable

If a child is bullied or harassed due to their disability it is covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If the schools fails to take action, you can file a Notice of Harassment within six months of the bullying incident to the CA Department of Education and expect a response within 60 days of receipt of the complaint.

8)   Ensure your child has outside support system

Having friends outside of school through extracurricular activities, or other organizations will make a huge difference if facing bullying in at school. However, if the bullying occurs in these spaces, utilize the same tips and tricks above to ensure the situation is addressed properly.

9) Attend anti-bullying workshops

Kid Power workshop are for both parents and their kids.  The workshops provide the tools for carrying oneself with awareness and confidence to minimize the chance they will be targeted for bullying. Workshops can help effectively teach kids how to set boundaries and effectively stand up for oneself in a peaceful manner.

10) Educate Yourself

Download Gatepath’s free bullying prevention report, “Walk a Mile in Our Shoes” as a source of information to further educate yourself on bullying. It comprehensively outlines why children with special needs are frequent victims, and what parents should know about bullying, such as your child’s IEP, and your rights as a parent in the fight against bullies. Feel free to share it with others!

While I know my child may face bullying throughout his life at different stages, I feel more empowered with all of the resources that are available to me, and for successfully creating an open line of communication with my child.  I hope you also find the support you need, and know that other parents, like myself, and those at the Family Resource Center are here to help you.