Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Truth about Bullying and LD

The issue of bullying is getting a lot of attention this month, thanks to the release of the report by the cyberbullying task force in Nova Scotia, Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App For That, and the premiere of The Bully Movie.

Kids with learning disabilities and other special needs are especially vulnerable to bullying.  That's usually because their differences - academic struggles, social skills deficits, etc. - make them different, and being different makes them a target.  Is it any wonder that kids with LDs are also more susceptible to anxiety and depression?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities is currently focusing on bullying and its impact on kids with LDs.  Here's a great article they recently published looking at bullying and LD.

The Bridgeway team

The Truth about Bullying and LD

By Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D.
Published: February 17 2012

It’s hard to assign a number to describe the incidence of bullying — data from different sources report different findings — but one thing is certain; the deeper you dig, the clearer it becomes that the prevalence of bullying is staggering. *


  • 10% of children report having been the victims of severe bullying at least once during the school year
  • 75% report being bullied at least once during the past 10 months
  • 25-50% report being bullied at some point during their school years
  • Every day, more than 160,000 students skip school because they are fearful of being bullied
  • 40-75% of bullying incidents in school take place during class breaks, in the lunchroom, bathroom, or hallways

And how about these findings?

  • 30% of children who suffer from food allergies report being bullied at school (sometimes by verbal taunting but more often, by having the allergen thrown or waved at them!)
  • 30% of children who report having been bullied said they sometimes brought weapons to school
  • 60% of boys who engaged in bullying behavior during grades 1-9 were convicted of at least one crime by age 24
  • The average bullying episode lasts only 37 seconds, and school personnel are reported to notice or intervene in only one in 25 incidents (in contrast to another report where teachers said they intervened 71% of the time and students reported teachers taking action only 25% of the time)

Whether the number is 10% or 75%, the message is clear: bullying is widespread, often goes unnoticed, and can have immediate and long-lasting consequences.

And what about students with learning disabilities?

Are children with LD at special risk for being harassed, bullied, or intimidated? Consider the following:

  • A second grader with dyslexia whose difficulties with decoding unfamiliar words results in giggling and name calling whenever he is called upon to read aloud or write on the board in class (with this taunting more often than not carrying over into other setting, such as the cafeteria and school yard, and leaving an indelible impression about this child that will mark him as different for years to come)
  • A fifth grader with LD and AD/HD who, despite her enthusiasm, creativity, and deep knowledge of the subject matter, is always the last to be chosen by peers for group projects because of her disorganized approach to work and her need for initial modeling and structure when working on assignments
  • A ninth grader with LD and AD/HD 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
  • An eleventh grader with LD who struggles with rapid reading and short-term memory and comprehension deficits whose guidance counselor is discouraging him from setting his sights on enrollment in a competitive college physics and robotics program (when math and science are areas in which he excels academically)

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, AD/HD and other disorders that impact learning and behavior are indeed at special risk. They are often vulnerable by virtue of their 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.

What can parents and other concerned adults do to diffuse the powerful negative impact of bullying?

Don’t wait for bullying to present as a problem. Assume it is 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 should not hold back sharing information in fear of retribution or ostracism.

Punishing the bully is not the answer. Pointing a finger at the perpetrator doing the bullying may seem like a feel-good answer to the problem, but it is only the tip of the iceberg and will likely not 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 of 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

What can parents do? The best advice is to follow your heart…. and stop bullying from claiming your child as its next victim.

*The statistics cited come from a variety of sources:
55 Facts about Bullying; References and Resources from; Walk a Mile in their Shoes: Bullying and the Child with Special Needs; and Bullying Statistics.

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