Special Needs Kids ‘Disable Bullying’ and Why Adults Need to Step Up

 
Lauren Potter from "Glee" and
 Mom Robin Sinkhorn in
"Disable Bullying" PSA
Geneva Biggus says that her 8-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, Shaniya Boyd, tried to jump out of a window at school. Shaniya told her that “she just wanted to get away” after she was teased, kicked in the forehead by a boy and knocked off of the crutches she needs to walk.
“Three people were fighting me; two girls and one boy. The boy kicked me in my forehead for no reason, and then they hit me,” Shaniya said. The abuse had been going on for some time and Geneva stated that “the school did little to stop it.”


--from Walk A Mile in Their Shoes Report

Last week I listened in on a press conference held by AbilityPath.org, an online resource for families and educators of special needs children. They are partnering with the Special Olympics and Best Buddies International to launch a campaign that brings awareness about special need kids being bullied. "Glee’s" Lauren Potter is the celebrity spokesperson for the campaign and has battled bullies herself. View her PSA video below.

I read Ability Path’s “Walk A Mile In Their Shoes” report, and the quote above is just one example of the cruel things these vulnerable kids endure. According to the report, special-needs children are two times more likely to be bullied then non-disabled kids. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m passionate about anti-bullying. Kids picked on me in elementary school and I had my bouts with “mean girls.” Also I was an elementary school TA.  Sometimes I worked with kids with disabilities and I have relatives with special needs. Something is wrong in our society where you have kids beating up a child on crutches. The report also cites an incident where children forced a boy to eat dog food. Then there’s the story of how  a 14-year-old boy with a developmental disability was taken to the hospital for intoxication. Bullies were spiking his drink behind his back. What’s happening in classrooms now pales to my era where a bully took the nerd’s lunch money and pushed him against the lockers. I call it Bullying 2.0. Add to that the use of social media as a form of attack. Bullying 2.0 is extremely violent. Like California Superintendent Tom Torlakson said, “We really have child abuse by other kids and that has to be recognized by all responsible adults.” Sadly, some children can’t handle it and they take their lives.

Best Buddies International Founder Anthony Shriver made a comment that struck me. “One of the problem groups is the adults...who are denying the problem and are users of degrading language,” said Shriver. One of the “degrading” terms he referred to is “retarded.” Shriver’s point is valid because kids do follow examples from home. And if teachers aren’t stepping up to stop the bullying, it keeps going. I remember when I was TA and noticed how some parents of kids with behavior issues were in denial about their children’s actions. “No, not my child.” Or the parents vowed to work on their kid, but you could sense in their voice, they didn’t mean it.

I asked the panel how they expect this campaign to reach adults who are old-school in their thinking. You know those parents who see bullying as a part of childhood and people should just get over it. Shriver replied that once students learn that special-needs children are kids too, then they can influence their parents to think differently. Timothy Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics added that bullying takes away from both the bullies’ and victims’ education and socialization. He urged adults to step up “…if they want children to learn, if they want children to come out differently than the 50 percent of kids today who are chronically disengaged; meaning they don’t belong to any student organization. They don’t feel any strong affinity to family, church, school or community organizations.”

CocoaFly.com will keep following this story. If we allow kids to bully and ridicule others because of their disability, sexual orientation, race, etc, imagine what kind of society we will have in the next 20 years. Sure bullying is not new, but when kids are killing themselves and each other (Remember Columbine?) things have gotten out of hand. For those with special needs children, friends, students, or relatives, read the “Walk in Their Shoes” report for information. It features tips on how to monitor your kids’ use on Facebook, signs of bullying, legal steps you can take if you feel your school didn’t fulfill its duty of protecting your child. I also think it’s a good source for parents whose children are bullies.

Are you the parent or teacher of a special-needs child? As I cover this topic throughout the year, what kind of coverage would you like to see on Cocoa Fly that has been missing in the mainstream?

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