Some consider bullying as a normal and inevitable part of school-something that kids do and considered joking around. Often bullies believe that they are being funny, and fail to realize the harm they are inflicting. But there is new research showing the damage it can really cause. Bullying is an issue that is particularly important to students with exceptionalities. It is possible that it is a side effect of inclusion because when exposed to the general education classrooms, the risk of bullying increases. Students having behavioral, emotional, or developmental issues become a target of bullying, and in some cases become a bully or is both a bully and a victim. Bullies target their peers based on real or perceived differences in appearance, abilities, and behavior. The issue with this is that victims of bullying suffer from embarrassment, fear, and anxiety, which are all emotions that can develop into depression, low academic performance, and in most extreme cases, suicide (CEC, 2012).
As we become more diverse in our school communities, it is important that teachers, administrators, parents, and students work together to create a safe school environment. Not only is it a moral issue, but you have to take legal issues into consideration that protect students with exceptionalities, which include, IDEA, FAPE, ADA, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the importance of participation. Students with exceptionalities have the right to engage in a full range of developmentally appropriate social, recreational, and skill building activities to ensure their quality of life. Quality of life indicators include emotional, material and physical well-being, interpersonal relations, absence of pain and discomfort, self-esteem, self-determination, social inclusion, and individual rights (Cummings, Pepler & Mishna, 2006). I believe that's important because as intervention specialist it is our duty to make our students independent as possible and make sure they develop the skills needed to lead a fulfilling life.
Definition of Bullying
Bullying is defined as any aggressive behavior with the intent to harm that involves real or perceived power imbalance (Raskauskas & Modell, 2011). Bullying behaviors are also repeated over time. Bullying can be physical (e.g hitting, kicking, pushing), verbal (e.g. threats, name calling), relational (e.g. excluding individual, rumors), or sexual (e.g. harassment, molestation).
Prevalence of Bullying and Victimization Problems among Students with Exceptionalities
Students with exceptionalities include children with physical, learning, intellectual, and emotional disabilities. There is evidence that students in special education classes are stigmatized, more socially rejected, and more frequently victimized by their peers, compared to mainstreamed students.
Physical disabilities include sight, hearing, and mobility problems. These conditions may be views by bullies as a sign of weakness, which makes them vulnerable to verbal or physical abuse. A study shows that these disabilities affect peer relationships. One disability that falls into this category is Cerebral Palsy. It was indicated that children with Cerebral Palsy experienced more verbal victimization and some physical victimization. Girls with Cerebral Palsy also have significantly fewer friendships, and to peers were perceived to be socially isolated and show a lack of sociability/leadership traits (Cummings, Pepler & Mishna, 2006). Also students that are hard-of-hearing have issues with social relationships, and reported feeling significantly lonelier than their classmates, because they can often be excluded from conversation. If the hearing impairment is severe enough then students may not know the sign language needed to communicate with them. They are also less aware of the hostel environment around them so they can be easily victimized.
This is concerning to me because students with Cerebral Palsy in this case are indirectly being bullied by being excluded. They are not getting the social opportunities needed to develop to operate independently. They need to know how to express their needs, wants, discomforts, or ask for assistance if needed. Students that are hard-of-hearing are also being excluded. I believe the school should have a call or program that teaches sign language, and the appropriate ways of communicating with someone that is hard-of-hearing.
Students with specific learning disabilities can be identified as bullies, victims, or both. Students with learning disabilities are characterized with poor social skills and because of this they are often ostracized by peers and are more likely to be victimized by bullies; characterized as being less socially skilled, less cooperative, shy, and having few friends. They also have difficulties with processing social information such as the ability to interpret facial express, and verbal and nonverbal communication. Because of their disability, classmates may see themselves as superior when it comes to academics and social skills, and tease students that are lacking in these areas. Students with learning disabilities are often embarrassed because they may need to work on a level that's below their peers and at a shower rate, and receive outside support. They want to fit in with the general education students who are performing on the grade-appropriate level. This is concerning to me because a student shouldn't be ashamed that they need extra help. Every student is different, so you need to deliver the material to fit the student's individual needs. However there is a greater likelihood that students with learning disabilities will have behavior problems that tends to lead to aggressive, and anti-social behavior which will cause them to be the bully. The Learning Disability causes poor self-esteem and frustration at school, which can cause the student to withdraw from peers and behave inappropriately. This is concerning because they are putting up a wall to protect themselves and because of this, they become the bully. They also may be victims and bullies as a result of being bullied because of their disability and to protect themselves, the student becomes a bully as well.
Students with learning disabilities faces a unique challenge because since they physical appearance is like your typical general education student, but they have a neuropsychological defect, that isn't visible to other students. Mainstreamed students expect students with learning disabilities to be just like them when it comes to academic and social skills since they can't physically see the defect. As educators we need to make sure that we inform general education students that everyone learns at their own pace, and we need to take the stigma out of receiving extra support if you're a student with a learning disability. Something we can do in our classroom is grouping students of different ability levels, so that the students who are struggling can receive help from their peers. I think it can help the peers realize they can take on a positive role of being helpful in assisting in the learning of a classmate, rather than becoming a bully or putting a student down because of their learning disability.
Students with intellectual disabilities were found to face disturbing high rates of maltreatment which includes verbal abuse, theft/financial mistreatment, neglect, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse (Cummings, Pepler & Mishna, 2006). They tend to have low self-esteem, and looks to others for cues or guidance. They also lack in the ability to recognize that potentially dangerous situations are developing (Flynt, 2004). Students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities are taken advantage of because of their cognitive defects which affect their motor skills, physical health, and communication skills that make bullies see them as weaker victims. These students have difficulties removing themselves from a situation, or communicating what happened to them.
Emotional and behavioral disorders yield the greatest number of bullies. They may have a genetic proposition towards violence and has to deal with harsh environmental factors such as poor/fewer friendships, negative role models, and a dysfunctional family (Flynt, 2004). However students with emotionally disturbed or behavior disorders are also likely to be the victims of bullying. They are characterized as anxious-withdrawn, have low self-esteem, timid or shy, or described as having a personality disorder. Because of this they are a target for bullies because they think they are socially awkward and looked down upon because general education students will think that I would hurt their reputation to socialize with a student that's ED. This is bullying because it is excluding a student because of their disability when they have the right to be in a school environment where they are not judged because of their disability. I think as educators, we need to teach our students that different people experience different things and come from different backgrounds, and because of that they may struggle educationally and socially, but as their peer they shouldn't be considered an outcast, but focus on school is a place where all students come to learn and to uplift one another. Because something that student's with ED struggle with is the inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers (Carran, 2009). These relationships can increase a student's potential for having a successful school career.
Preventing Bullying Problems among Students with Exceptionalities
School districts should have the responsibility to put programs and policies in place to address bullying and students with disabilities. They should (a) incorporate both school-wide and individual supports; (b) promote cultural competence and diversity awareness, (c) incorporate measures addressing immediate physical safety in disciplinary policies and codes of conduct, and (d) emphasizing collaborative practices among administration, school personnel, students, families, and community agencies (Magg, 2012).
The Whole School Approach
The Whole School Approach has been effective in creating effective school-based bullying prevention programs and policies. The policies are communicated to students, teachers, administration, parents and other school staff such as office personnel, bus drivers, and lunch and playground supervisors. In this method, it is the responsibility of the school administration to make sure that the whole community is educated on bullying. In order for the prevention program to be effective, it must be ongoing and integrated into the curriculum throughout the school year, either formally or informally. This can include formal classroom discussions about bullying at the beginning of the school year, and revisiting it frequently in order to reinforce and broaden the views about students with special needs. To prevent bullying there needs to be a positive social climate across all the students of different abilities, and that's what this method does. It creates a supportive school atmosphere where the ultimate goal is to make students feel safe. However an issue with schools anti-bullying programs and policies is that they often overlook students with disabilities. In order to modify these programs for students with disabilities they need to modify (a) needs assessment, (b) components, and (c) delivery method. The needs assessment is used to survey bullying in the school by having the students participate in filling out questionnaires. Since students with disabilities fall across a spectrum in the severity and type of disability, in order to get accurate responses, the interview method needs to be modified to fit the needs of the student. Just as we would adapt a lesson plan or activity to fit the individual needs of a student.
It is important to make sure that all students are protected against bullying, especially students with disabilities; because they may not be able to communicate their needs with the general population, so we have to make sure we provide the resources for them to express their concerns about bullying. Things that could be used to respond to the needs of students with disabilities is first by building awareness, which consists of creating an environment that is aware of disability needs and sensitive to bullying, through educating the students and staff. Teaching the effects of bullying lays the groundwork for efficacy building, which refers to the ability of students and staff to recognize bullying and stopping bullying. But in order to do that it is important for the school to define bullying and procedures for reporting, and clearly stated the consequences of bullying. For all of this to be successful, proper skill building professional development in place to keep the school up to date on the timely recognition of bullying for staff and students.
Talking to Students about Exceptionalities
Talking to student respectfully about disabilities and differences in general is an effective approach. You should help students develop positive attitudes about diversity when they are young, that way they can contribute to a positive social environment that will transfer from the school and classroom to the workplace and community. An issue with this is the concern on how to address the students in a way that doesn't embarrass or further ostracize the students with exceptionalities. I think this can be done by having an older student or an adult spokesperson with a disability address the school or class on their disability and the social impact it had on their life and any talk about any incidents of bullying if they had any. Also public health officials or a spokesperson from a disability organization address the class or school about the disability. It's important to do this because it will help students understand what they can do to support a peer with an exceptionality and what they could potently do that would make the exceptional student's experiences at school more difficult. These discussions could be done with the whole school with an assembly style delivery, or it can be more private discussion in a classroom setting where students will be able to talk to each other and really express their opinions and concerns.
Students with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities can benefit from social stories. The goal of a social story is to increase ones understanding of different social situations. Students will learn how to display appropriate behaviors, responses and reactions. Social Stories can address a variety of social situations and can be implemented by (a) identifying individual target skills, (b) creating an appropriate and complete scenario, (c) presenting the Social Story, (d) discussing the implications from the Social Story, (e) utilizing self-modeling, and (f) practicing and reinforcing the social skill in normative environment (Rose & Monda-Amaya, 2012).
I think this is a great technique to teach students how to behave because we want our students to develop the functional skills needed to communicate in society. But I don't think this would work only in combination with other strategies I discussed. It's not only up to the students with exceptionalities to change their behavior so that others will be acceptable of them. It's up to everyone in the community to become educated on students with disabilities and make sure they are doing their part in adding to that student's overall quality of life.
Intervening in Bullying Problems among Students with Exceptionalities
Legal and Practice Considerations
It is an issue of basic rights for school administrators and teachers to ensure that students with exceptionalities have equal status within the school community. Often children who don't achieve athletic excellence or academic achievement aren't given an equal opportunity to be recognized. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the American with Disabilities Act, requires schools to provide equal education to all students. It includes the right to learn in an environment that is safe and supportive. Since students that are victimized by their peers are more likely to display physical, behavioral, developmental, and learning disabilities, it is important to we remove all hostility from the environment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, discriminatory peer-on-peer harassment occurs when it is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability and creates a hostile environment in which the school personnel tolerate, ignore, or do not adequately address the harassment (Maag & Katsiyannis, 2012). It is up to the school to carefully examine the nature of the misconduct to see if civil l rights were violated in accordance with the antidiscrimination statutes. They have to make sure it doesn't interfere with student's educational and social opportunities. If so, then it is up to the school to take immediate action to eliminate the hostile environment and prevent it from reoccurring.
This is an issue because if students as result of bullying feel that they can't go to school or it distracts them from their school work, and ruins social relationships, then the students with an exceptionality is being deprived of their educational benefits that they are entitled to under the free appropriate public education under IDEA.
Scaffolding introduced by Brunder and Vgotsky; displayed the adult's role in providing a structure to temporally support children in rise above their normal level of performance. When it's applied to bullying, it is an issue of victimization. Adult scaffolding can allow children to acquire and rehearse valuable relationship skills which include self-calming strategies, ignoring provocation, identifying and joining caring peers, problem solving, and communicating assertively. This method allows students involved in bullying to look at it from the other person's perspective, and develop empathy. It can create a positive environment where students experience gratification from helping others.
Some students with exceptionalities can openly communicate their experiences with victimization. It is important to listen to the student explain the painful story, because it can be therapeutic for the student to have someone attentively listening to them, because with their disability they may already feel inferior to general education students and feel that they have less of an opportunity to express themselves. Since you are dealing with a child with an exceptionally, depending on the severity of their disability, you may have to use scaffolding to help the student with the ability to create a coherent narrative of the event s that took place. By creating a beginning, middle, and end can help the child make sense of the experience.
There is plenty of information out there about bullying, but none of it really gets to the issue of bullying in special education. As research develops, it's starting to show that children with disabilities are often on the receiving end of bullying by their peers, and as a result become involved in the bullying of others. It's important that we put supports in place to build healthy peer relationships, through inclusion. When bullying is brought to the attention of a teacher or administrator, through direct observation, peer reports, or parent reports, it is the responsibility of the school to respond in a way that protects, and ensures the dignity of the child that's been victimized. Students with exceptionalities will often downplay their victimization by saying thing like "I am used to it", but they need to realize that it's unacceptable, and that they have a support they can go to and talk about the incident, and reassured that the proper actions will be taken to prevent the bullying from reoccurring in the future. Students with exceptionalities are a particularly vulnerable population, and it's our duty as educators and administrators to make sure that they have a safe school environment that will enhance their quality of life.
Anti-Bullying Program Resources
Here are some useful resources to help your school develop and anti-bullying program:
Second Step: Skills for Social and Academic Success (Committee for Children) http://www.cfchidren.org
The Bully Around the Corner: Changing Brains-Changing Behavior http://www.brainpowerlearning.com/ALLABOUTBULLIES.html
PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) Program/curriculum http://www.channing-bete.com/prevention-programs/paths/paths.html
Steps to Respect: A Bullying Prevention Program (Committee for Children) http://www.cfchildren.org/steps-to-respect.aspx
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program http://www.clemson.edu/olweus/; http://www.olweus.org/public/index.page