Congress May Consider Special Needs Bullying ‘Epidemic’

Kat's Curiosity: A Look at Bullying

In-depth look at Bullying


We need an act of Congress in order to curtail kids being mean to one another now?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not opposed to the measure, which recognizes a significant concern across the nation. I’m opposed to the idea that we need an act of Congress to force the general public, and many in the special needs community, to acknowledge the problem.

If you want to do some heavy reading, you can look at a first-of-its kind study which was reported in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s from 2006, but I found it interesting, both as a parent of special needs children and as a research geek. This particular study was used in the recent report Walk a Mile in Their Shoes, along with a few of the 10 (yes, 10) reports published since then. This newest report doesn’t include all of the statistics I found interesting in the original report, focusing instead on the high number of children with special needs who are bullied.

The simple answer?

In the study from 2006, Kids with significant behavioral, emotional, and developmental problems were almost twice as likely to be bullied – 32.4% of kids without these special health care needs (their parents) responded that they were being bullied, compared to 54.6% of kids with special health care needs.

The statistic not included in the newly published report, which I also found troubling, though:  21.1% of kids without special health care needs’ parents said that they bullied others, compared to 51.1% of kids with special health care needs. Wow – more than double the number.

Why both factors matter

If we, as parents of special needs kids, ignore the fact that our kids are statistically more than twice as likely to bully other kids, whether those kids are also special needs kids or have no problems at all, then we ignore one symptom of the larger problem. We forget, bullying isn’t a sign of aggression so much as it is a sign of inner turmoil, of pain, sometimes even abuse. Until we address the underlying disease, of which bullying is a symptom, we can never help kids on both sides of the equation, the ones who are victims as well as the ones who victimize others.

Here’s one last statistic, which underscores that fact: 8.7% of kids without special health care needs were said to experience both being bullied and bullying others, but more than 3x that number, 28.2%, of children with special health care needs, said they experienced both.


Our kids are crying out for help. These special kids, who are as unique as they are similar in so many respects, already stand out from their peers who don’t have disabilities. Bullying is a real problem, but it is also a symptom of a larger problem.  Behavior difficulties and socialization difficulties are secondary to a diagnosis of many special needs.

What the New Information Stresses

The new report, Walk a Mile in Their Shoes, offers something unique and needed for families with special needs kids, as well as educators who care about them. The report is a fully formed resource, available in PDF form, with the newest information combined with the best information, presented in an easy-to-understand format which makes it a must-use resource for parents of children with special needs.

It also emphasizes the fact that the statistical differences are holding up, and becoming more pronounced, among kids with special needs being bullied, as compared to their typically-developing peers. In this vulnerable population, many factors contribute to kids  being harassed and physically or verbally abused.

These same difficulties aren’t the same as those in the general population, because these are kids who look different, act different, and think differently than their peers. These are kids who are, often-times, separated in self-contained classroom settings much of the day. In this situation, the kid who doesn’t really grow up around their peers is the kid who is more easily made fun of for being different, rather than being supported.

I am not saying self-contained classrooms don’t have their place – my kids have flourished in them. But they have been placed in these classrooms while at the same time having the opportunity to interact with their peers during many classes or activities during the day.  Inclusion isn’t an all-or-nothing prospect.

I digress, though, because inclusion is a topic in and of itself, and this is a post about bullying.

Back to the Point

We know we have a vulnerable population of kids. There have even been stories of extreme abuse and death (yes, even suicide) as a result of bullying kids with special needs. This is sad and sometimes overwhelming for parents to take in.

I think of Logan, and his inability to talk, and wonder how often a peer looks past his easy smile and says something about his inability to talk with them.

I think of Bobby, with his more noticeable rocking and flapping, and worry about the kid who doesn’t give him a high-five, who instead calls him names (it’s already happened before).

I think of Andy, my quirky and curious guy who just has trouble understanding social cues. I remember the neighbor calling to tell me to keep him from knocking on their door, asking to play with their little girl. What I thought was a good social exercise became a sit-down discussion about how not all our friends are as nice as others.

For our kids, we need to make the effort. These are kids who can’t always speak up for themselves, and it is up to us to do so.

Taking the problem of bullying away from what causes it denies the fact that it is a symptom of a larger issue, one that can’t be combated by a sleep poster and a commercial spot. To get at the root of the problem, we have to address the social and emotional differences that are inherent in our children.

How often are these difficulties adequately addressed during IEP meetings (conferences where the parents and the experts come together to decide on the best way to teach a child with special needs)? How often are they ignored until a problem exhibits troubling behavior, instead of preemptively, by educating and social modeling?

We are our kids’ best advocates, and sometimes we are our kids’ only advocates. If we recognize the potential danger inherent in ignoring the disease until the symptoms are hard to treat, we do a disservice to our kids and all the other children in their classes.

Is congressional intervention necessary for parents, advocates, and educators to actually stand up for more than their child’s most basic academic goals?

As a parent, as an advocate, I would love to say no. But the reality is, adults and children alike have to understand the significance of picking on the weak. And if we aren’t stepping up to the challenge, then maybe it’s time for someone else to help us do so.

A California congresswoman says she plans to introduce legislation designed to address the disproportionately high rate of bullying that students with disabilities face.

Citing statistics showing that children with special needs are bullied at twice the rate of other kids, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said on the floor of the House of Representatives this week that she plans to introduce legislation to tackle what she dubbed an “epidemic.” via Congress May Consider Special Needs Bullying ‘Epidemic’ – Disability Scoop.

  • Learn 2 be Buddies – website featuring additional resources to teach kids social skills, including the most recent book on Bullying. Look for my upcoming discussion with Amanda Clements (Gray), B.Ed (SE/EC), and author of “Dave is Brave,” and “Why Don’t You Share?”  Australia implemented legislation a few years back about bullying, and Amanda will share more with us about that, allowing for a meaningful chat about what similar legislation in the US could entail.

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Filed under Advocacy, Autism, Education, Parenting, Special Needs

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