How Does Bullying Affect Children with Developmental Disabilities?
Bullying is commonly defined as aggressive behavior and/or words between two or more people, often unprovoked or unwanted in its nature.
When an individual is picking on another child or children, they are considered the bully in the situation. When a child is the victim of bullying, he or she has become the target for other children to pick on them or make fun of them. Bullying can range from physical, verbal or social. The different types of bullying are as follows:
- Verbal bullying is when the bully says mean, hurtful or degrading things to their victims. This can range from name calling to threats being made against their well-being.
- Physical bullying is when the bully physically injures their victim and hurts them, often causing bodily harm. This type of bullying ranges from hitting, scratching and punching to breaking someone’s possessions such as their eyeglasses.
- Social bullying happens when the bully’s sole intention is to harm their victim’s social life and cause them embarrassment in a public or social setting, excluding them or making rude comments in front of a larger group of people with the sole intent to cause harm.
Bullying can take on several different forms, but often happens in the school yard or in a school environment, as that is the time where the bully is around their victim the longest. It has been stated that a bully will find their victim in the schoolyard, but the bullying may start to happen outside of school such as on the Internet or during after school activities.
Why are Children with Disabilities Targeted?
When children with disabilities are put into a school environment, they are more likely to be picked on and victims of bullying due to the differences they have from the other children. For children with disabilities, they may not have been fully aware of the extent of their differences until they were exposed to different types of children in the school yard, leaving them vulnerable and shocked that they stand out from among the rest. For example, for a child with a mild form of Autism, he or she may enjoy sitting and reading books rather than playing at recess. For them, this may have never caused an issue in the past, but in their new environment of a school yard, they suddenly stand out like a sore thumb.
Children with disabilities are put at a higher risk for bullying because they are different from their peers. When children are faced with people of a different race, origin or even different personalities, they may not know how to respond. In the eyes of the bully, an individual with disabilities is ‘weird’ and is not fitting in with the other children in the classroom. This causes them to pick on the child with disabilities because he or she is different from the others.
How to Detect Bullying in Children
Unfortunately, bullying is incredibly common in the modern day school environments, as reports have stated roughly 20% of students from ages 12-18 has experienced bullying and roughly 19% of students in high school has experienced bullying on school property in the past calendar year (12 months). Although that is a staggering and sobering statistic, that does not mean that it has to be a widely accepted part of school yard culture. Children and their parents alike should never turn a blind eye from the problem, as it is best faced head on and early in the issue. Knowing the signs of a bullied child can allow a child’s support system to offer them care and support when dealing with bullies.
There are several different signs that can point to a child being bullied, most of which are easily detected by their loved ones and especially their parents. Depending on the type of bullying the individual is facing, they may be exerting different signs that they are falling victim to a bully at school or in their neighborhood. These warning signs of bullying not only can trigger their loved ones to take action, but it is important to recognize that they impact the child’s daily life as they are dealing with the issue of bullying. Common warning signs of a child being bullied includes:
- Trouble sleeping or bad dreams through out the nighttime.
- Grades slipping or bad reports coming home from the teachers in their school.
- Unexplained or mysterious injuries such as cuts, bruises, scratches and tender parts of their body that hurt to the touch.
- Anxious behavior, especially right before they are supposed to go to school.
- Afraid of socialization with their peers or meeting new people.
- Shift in their mood, including increased anger or depression or moodiness.
Each of these warnings’ signs of bullying impact their daily life and can fester into long term effects of being bullied. The more a child with developmental disabilities is bullied throughout their time in school, especially in their pivotal years as a growing child, the more it will impact them in negative ways in the long run. There are several long term side effects and issues that victims of bullying may experience. These long-term effects include:
- Higher risk of suicidal tendencies
- Higher risk of depression
- Higher risk of anxiety
- Higher risk of social disorders
- Struggles in an academic environment
- Trouble dealing with intimate and personal relationships/friendships
- Low self-esteem
- Low confidence and self-worth
Unfortunately, bullying can bring about several psychological issues that can stay with a child in the long run. For those with developmental disabilities, bullying may haunt them and scar them more, as they may not fully understand why they are being bullied and why they are such easy targets for the bully. Not only will the child with developmental disabilities face the long-term side effects but they may also suffer from short term setbacks as well, especially when it comes to their education. These hindrances include:
- Decrease in their grades
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of interest in their social activities
- Dropping out of school all together.
It is important to note that children with developmental disabilities are more susceptible to being bullied and to be a target for children their age, as they often stand out amongst the crowd. In order to prevent these children from feeling the psychological long-term effects from bullying, it is important for parents and educators to keep their eyes and ears open so that they can catch any signs of bullying in it’s earliest forms. Bullying does not have to be the norm for children with disabilities and they can break free of the cycle and grow into successful young adults, branching away from their past experiences in the school yard.