Bullying of Autistic Children in Our School Systems

Bullying an autistic child in a school

The bullying of disabled children is a genuine crisis. “It wrecks disabled children’s lives and leads to social exclusion in childhood and adulthood.” While students with disabilities have the added protection of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides individualized education plans (IEPs.) They are also protected by FAPE (a free and appropriate education) in America. This still does not prevent bullying. It only gives added measures in which a district can go to defend the disabled child in the case of bullying.

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A little about IDEA for you that do not know. Unless you are submerged in the special needs community you may not know too much about it. IDEA was first enacted in Congress in 1975, following years of disability discrimination and systematic bullying by schools in America. IDEA is an important civil rights law that “ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”

I have found that the way that disabled people were treated prior to IDEA is slowly being forgotten by current generations. The fact is that only around one in five children with disabilities obtained an education prior to 1975. We are seeming to forget that not all people with disabilities had equal rights in the past. In fact, prior to IDEA, there were many states that had enacted laws that excluded students who were deaf, blind, and emotionally or mentally retarded from enrolling in school.

Inclusive Classrooms

Right from the beginning of IDEA it became apparent that bullying was going to be a significant issue among the disabled community in our school systems. At first, special needs children were kept in “self-contained” rooms together. It is argued that during this time bullying was not as prevalent as it is now. The main difference being the enactment of “No Child Left Behind Act” by the Bush Administration in 2002. With this change classrooms were switched to an “inclusive classroom” model of teaching. Many parents of special needs children believe that “No Child Left Behind” does, in fact, leave many children behind.

The argument by officials being that special needs children learn social queues and behaviors from being in class with “neurotypical” students. This call is for the “least restrictive environment” in which to learn has not only taught social queues, it has widened the field of opportunities for which bullies have to act in such a manner. A major target is that students with disabilities tend to disrupt the classroom with behavioral issues, calling attention to them from the bullies.

Another major target being the increased practice of doing therapies in class, with other children present. Many schools now send an Occupational Therapist into the special needs child’s general education classrooms and do their OT with them during class, in front of the other students. Again, marking them for later harassment. Of course, this last point is just my opinion. Many parents are in support of doing therapies in the classroom instead of pulling the child out, as it decreases the amount of class time the child misses for said therapies.

In my opinion, not only is the government looking for the cheapest and fastest way out where our children’s educations are concerned; they aren’t making proper decisions regarding bullying. It is reported that as of 2007 there had only been around 10 studies completed on bullying of disabled children in the United States school system, yet it is apparent that we have a growing issue at hand. This isn’t just issue in the United States, this is an international issue as well.

Bullying of Disabled Children Worldwide

Per a study out of Wales, Northern Ireland and England of 500 kids found significant instances of bullying among the disabled children interviewed. Of the 500 kids, 82 percent reported being bullied, of that 82 percent-27 percent reported that they had been bullied for 3 years or more. As much as 36 percent also reported that the bullying they faced didn’t stop once they reported it to a teacher or someone in power. These numbers are way to high and show a distinct problem that we must tackle as soon as possible. Just because our children are different, doesn’t mean they are worthless.

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Per the same report, of the 82 percent of disabled children bullied, 79 percent reported being scared to go outside out of fear of bullies. A percentage of those children also did not report the bullying to their parents. How unacceptable is it that our most vulnerable citizens live in fear, starting from childhood? With the numbers of physical violence accompanying bullying reaching as high as 58 percent, it is no wonder that these children are scared.

Government Responsibility

Despite constant reminders that it’s the schools’ responsibility to protect their disabled students from bullying, programs still lack effort and adequate response. Since 2000 the US Department of Education has sent out at least 4 “Dear Colleague” letters detailing the schools’ responsibility to their students.

A “Dear Colleague letter” from 2014, postmarked from the Office of Civil Rights, stated that “bullying of any kind, not just on the basis of a student’s disability, may result in a violation of FAPE, and reiterates schools’ responsibilities to address behavior that may result in violations of FAPE or disability-related harassment.” Resources also recall like letters being sent out in 2013, 2010, and the end of 2000. This does not include any letters that DeVos has sent out since President Trump took office.

BEING PREPARED

So, not only do we know that disabled children are at and increased risk of being bullied over their “neurotypical” peers, we know that there are reasons for this bullying. An added challenge that parents of Autistic children have as opposed to other disabled children is our child’s ability to recognize bullying as it happens. Often times reconciling any attention as friendly attention. So, not only do we have a widespread problem that is growing, we have children that, in part, do not understand all the implications of what is happening to them.

The two best steps for preparing your child is teaching self-advocacy and encouraging them to report instances of bullying to their teachers. Though 36 percent of bullied children report that nothing happened once it was reported, that is not necessarily indicative of how your child’s school would respond. All children should be taught to take a stance against bullying, not be a bystander. Also teach them to be diligent in their reporting. The need to understand that reporting it once may not eliminate the problem. They must know that it may need to be reported more than once.

It is also important to teach them that telling on a bully is not “tattle telling” or being a “snitch.” Many bullied children are told these things by their bullies in an effort to keep out of trouble and continue their actions in secrecy.

Aside from understanding the responsibilities of our government and the reasons that bullying happens, it is important to know how to educate our children about it. One of the best ways we can combat against the bullying of our disabled children is through education. It is also essential to explain what bullying is to them, and that it isn’t their fault.

As it was said by C.K. Lewis, “It takes courage to live through suffering, and it takes honesty to observe it.”

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