By CS Staff · February 14, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO—Children with special needs are victims of a nationwide silent epidemic of bullying, according to the “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” report and guide released today by AbilityPath.org, an online hub and special needs community for parents and professionals of children with disabilities.
“Bullying is every parent’s fear,” said Sheryl Young, CEO of Community Gatepath, the nonprofit organization which created AbilityPath.org. “For parents of children with special needs that fear is exacerbated. This report and guide were developed to include children with special needs in the national dialogue and to raise the level of awareness about bullying, cyberbullying and the devastating developmental effects it can have upon children with special needs.”
In collaboration with Special Olympics and Best Buddies International, Young announced that AbilityPath.org is launching a nationwide “Disable Bullying” campaign that will engage a broad coalition of parents, educators, activists and policymakers to prevent and combat behavior that is widespread but has until now not been clearly documented in the United States. Glee actress Lauren Potter, a 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome, will represent the campaign as a celebrity spokesperson and be featured in its online public service announcement available at www.youtube.com/abilitypathchannel.
Over the course of several months, staff from AbilityPath.org interviewed experts, educators and parents regarding this escalating issue facing children with special needs. The result, “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,” is one of few U.S. reports to focus exclusively on the bullying of children with special needs or disabilities. The authors discovered behavior that included children with special needs being isolated, ridiculed, verbally abused, cyber bullied, subjected to physical violence such as being tied to flag poles, being tripped and kicked, forced to consume alcohol, force fed dog food by their peers and in some cases even driven to suicide.
According to the report:
- 60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied compared to 25 percent of the general student population
- Children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers.
- The bullying experienced by these children was more chronic and usually directly related to their disability
- Students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by peers, compared to students without a disability
- One study reports that 88 percent of children with autism have been bullied at school, ranging from verbal abuse to physical contact
- Nearly 97 percent of teachers reported observing more than one incident of school-related disability harassment conduct
- 65 percent of the parents reported that their children with Asperger’s syndrome had been victimized by peers in some way within the past year
- 47 percent of parents reported their children had been hit by peers or siblings
- 50 of parents reported their children were scared by their peers
“This important report confirms the presence of a silent epidemic in our schools and communities,” said Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics “Hundreds of thousands of children with differences are being subjected to humiliation and isolation week in and week out around the country and it is time to bring this problem to light and to marshal a call to action to our young people to put an end to it.” Shriver called on young people to join and help lead Special Olympics and Best Buddies “Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign,” on March 2, 2011, a nationwide drive to end use of the “R” word in reference to those with intellectual disabilities.
In response to the abuses detailed in the report, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), announced plans to brief members of Congress. “Lawmakers, parents and educators need to be made aware of the resources contained in this valuable report ” said Speier. “We have to explore every option to protect children with special needs, indeed all children from bullying.” According to the report’s authors, the U.S. is nearly a decade behind other nations in tracking, researching, implementing, and legislating policies regarding bullying and children with special needs.
The report has also prompted action at the state level. California Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson announced that the Department of Education would call on all California schools to raise the level of awareness about the bullying of children with special needs.
In addition to creating a national dialogue and voice for families with special needs, “Walk A Mile in Their Shoes” and its online components on www.abilitypath.org provide parents and teachers with toolkits and resources including: links to current laws and legislation, tips on how to best utilize a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), information on Social and Emotional Learning, social skills for making friends, and information on how to protect a child from cyberbullying. A special video message from Lauren Potter and her mother Robin Sinkhorn is also available on the site for users to share and repost.
- 7 Ways You Can Address Bullying at Your School
- Video: Impact of Bullying in Schools
- Don’t Call Severe Assaults ‘Bullying’
- Understanding Children With Autism
Photo via Flickr, Ozvoldjj