The Truth About Bullying and Learning Disabilities (page 2)
Whether you read countless stories about teens targeted on the Internet, or watch your little boy struggle to fit in at elementary school, it’s clear that these days, the prevalence of bullying is staggering. While it’s hard to assign a number to describe the incidence of bullying—data from different sources report different findings—research suggests that kids from every social group are potential targets.
In fact, 10 percent of children report having been the victims of severe bullying at least once during the school year, 75 percent reveal they’ve been bullied at least once during the past 10 months, and 25-50 percent report being bullied at some point during their school years. Feeling out of options, more than 160,000 students skip school every day because they’re afraid of being bullied. Despite the fact that adults monitoring school grounds are in a position to intervene, 40-75 percent of bullying incidents in school take place during class breaks, in the lunchroom, bathroom, or hallways.
Students at Risk
While every child has qualities that could land them on the radar of a bullying peer, children in niche groups—including those diagnosed with a learning disability—are more at risk for being harassed, bullied or intimidated. These victimized students include the second grader with dyslexia, whose difficulties with decoding unfamiliar words results in giggling and name calling whenever he’s called upon to read aloud or write on the board in class, and the ninth grader with LD and ADHD who is told not to climb on the new gym equipment but is egged on by his peers until he succumbs and breaks the rules, resulting in punishment and further victimization by his peers.
Some might agree that these are examples of bullying behavior, and others might say that they describe how individuals with LD often suffer from the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The reality is that all students are vulnerable to the negative impact of bullying, and students with dyslexia and specific learning disabilities, ADHD and other disorders that impact learning and behavior, are indeed at special risk. They’re often vulnerable due to having low self-esteem triggered by low achievement. They might see themselves as outsiders in their peer groups, and often have trouble making and keeping friends because their need for special types of intervention, accommodations and support are misunderstood.
How to Diffuse Bullying
Don’t wait for bullying to present as a problem. Assume it’s happening, assume that students are at risk, that teachers and other school personnel are either unaware or incapable of dealing with this problem alone, and that it’s just a matter of time before someone close to you is effected by bullying. Parents need to know that their comments and complaints about bullying (to children, other parents, and school personnel) are taken seriously, and they shouldn’t hold back sharing information in fear of retribution or ostracism.
Punishing the bully isn’t the answer. Pointing a finger at the perpetrator doing the bullying may seem like a feel-good answer to the problem, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg and likely won’t change the person’s behavior. The underlying problem has much more to do with how each person, in school, at home, and in the community appreciates diversity. Whether a person has big ears or long legs, whether they have light skin or dark features, whether they are athletic or klutzy, outgoing or reserved, or whether they are accelerated learners or have special learning needs, the ways that we talk about these differences and the underlying value we place upon these individuals needs to be clear: everyone is deserving of respect. Period. No exceptions.
Provide support for everyone involved. No single approach to preventing or stopping bullying is recommended for all situations, but a number of options have been found to be effective. They include:
- Implementing school-wide anti-bullying awareness programs that include all members of the school community, setting clear expectations and acknowledging and rewarding positive behaviors and acceptance of diversity in ways that are visible and recognized.
- Offering social skills training and other such interventions for students who are likely to be perpetrators or victims of bullying.
- Creating safe and confidential ways for students to report bullying.
- Conducting parent awareness and training programs that link to school policies and practices regarding reporting bullying and resolving conflicts in ways that minimize stigma to the children involved.
- Improving vigilance by school faculty and student leaders (especially in often unsupervised areas) so that bullying behavior is recognized and stopped.
If bullying behavior isn’t challenged, students who are teased, harassed or victimized often feel that they have nowhere to turn—which can lead to drastic actions. Thirty percent of children who report having been bullied said they sometimes brought weapons to school. Bullying is widespread, often goes unnoticed, and can have immediate and long-lasting consequences. By working together with school faculty, fellow parents and community members, you can have a positive impact on children involved in bullying—intervene now, and potential bullying aggressors, victims and bystanders can avoid the long-lasting consequences stemming from aggressive incidents.
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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