How can I keep my child safe?
It’s one of the first questions a parent asks. It’s a question a parent never stops asking. One of most significant threats to a child’s safety and well-being is also the most difficult to combat: bullying. Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable.
How can a parent respond? Being informed is a good place to start.
A recent article on PACER’s (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) National Bullying Prevention Center’s website provides a “Top 10 List” of facts parents should know:
“Students with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.”
According to the British Journal of Learning Support (2008), students with disabilities were roughly twice as likely to be bullied as students with no reported disabilities.
“Role models – The adult response is important.”
According to PACER, “Parents, educators, and other adults are the most important advocates that a student with disabilities can have.” Undoubtedly some children learn to handle bullying on their own (or with help from peers), but at-risk children still need all the support they can get from the adults in their lives. PACER emphasizes that a key component of responding is listening—something that may be more difficult than it sounds. Children are often reluctant or afraid to open up. The adult who learns what is happening must be able to manage his or her own emotional reaction in a constructive manner. He or she may, for example, experience the urge to jump in and “fix things.” However, this approach takes all control away from the child. PACER recommends making sure that the child feels safe in all interactions with the adult role model. The student should be a partner in forming a resolution to the bullying situation.
“The Power of Bystanders – More than 50 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes.”
Action from classmates, friends, or siblings can deter a bully as well. In fact, PACER explains, “[m]ost students don’t like to see bullying.” Bullying does not occur in a vacuum, and working solely with the victim (and only after the fact) is not enough. All students should be prepared to act in the event of witnessing an attack. You wouldn’t wait until after a fire to show a child how to dial 911, would you? Coach students ahead of time. Work with your child’s school to plan special assemblies or role-playing opportunities. PACER offers detailed information and a 32-page booklet on fostering Peer Advocacy. The goal is to make young bystanders aware that they have the power to influence the outcome of such situations.
Knowing that the above interventions are sometimes not enough, PACER helps parents understand their legal options. Jennifer Lukach Bradley, Esquire (McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.) also seeks to empower and educate parents in her article, “Bullying in Schools—What Parents Can Do to Protect their Child with a Disability.” Lukach Bradley states unequivocally, “[D]isability harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited by federal law and state laws.” She reminds parents that a school has a legal responsibility to protect children, which parents should insist that the school fulfill. If the student has an IEP team, she says, request a meeting about the problem. If that doesn’t work, don’t stop. Take it higher. Keep advocating! As Lukach Bradley emphasizes, this is a question of your child’s civil rights.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our focus is always on you. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing goals or achievement in any other school subject. If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.