It is an unfortunate reality that in our schools there is a segment of the student body that displays behavior that is aggressive, cruel, and hurtful. This is what is commonly known as bullying. In a special needs classroom or environment this can have a disturbing effect. A special needs student, most of the time, has esteem issues working against them. Perception is much of what a child will draw from in developing a personality. Actions of a negative nature create impressions associated to self-worth and can impede the development process if not bring it to a halt. Bullying is a major issue with these children.

“He goes to class with the retarded kids”, “She rides on the short bus”, “What’s happening dummy?” are some of the least harmful things told to special needs students. The extent to which this is tolerated is directly the responsibility of the educator. It is hard enough for the students to learn with the disability they live with routinely without the added stress and annoyance of having to submit to a bully’s will and derision.

Addressing the topic of bullying with any child who is experiencing it can be rough. Many times the student is ashamed to tell the adult or fearful of retribution from the bully. The school and the parent have an obligation to deal with this issue. Actually dealing with it, unfortunately, can be difficult without proper identification and information.

In dealing with this situation it might be helpful to learn the different types of bullying children victims encounter, and the best way to deal with them in the classroom. These categories, drawn from the Oracle Education Foundation, represent a good foundation for what the educator might encounter: Physical bullying, Emotional bullying, Verbal bullying, Cyber-bullying, Sexual bullying, and homophobic bullying.

There are other forms of bullying as seen by varying sources, but this list covers what is most prevalent. Identification is only the first step in planning and implementing a solution to the bullying issue in any given school.

  1. Physical bullying which is any unwanted physical contact between the bully and the victim is probably the easiest to spot. While it is not realistic to expect the teacher to see everything happening in a classroom, sharp attention, and immediate action will aid is preventing this form of abuse.
  2. Emotional bullying is any form of bullying that causes damage to a victim’s psyche and/or emotional well-being. The hurtful statements as to the disability a student has, the “Little bus” thing and other ways that a bully can attack a student in a manner targeted at causing negative feelings in the special needs kid might be demoralizing, and damaging. Again, the educator must be vigilant and attempt to “hear” everything, and act decisively and proactively.
  3. Verbal bullying concerns any statements or accusations of a derogatory, disparaging, or offensive nature that produce excessive emotional anguish. Encouraging and developing a school policy detailing proper and improper communication is one avenue to pursue, but it once more falls on the educator and the parent. Keeping your eyes and ears open all the time, coupled with swift action, is the best defense.
  4. Cyber-bullying bullying primarily occurs through the use of technology. Text messages, internet chat rooms, YouTube, e-mail, and a myriad of telecommunications devices and programs are available to kids today, so much so that it might be said that a subculture has been born “out there in cyberspace. Strict monitoring of all electronic technology and access to such is but the first step in the process. This is an ever expanding area that has little or no regulation to it. The educator and the parent face huge roadblocks in this area based on the expansive nature of the medium. Bullying is out there in this cyber-cosmos also. As time goes on, perhaps this can be contained but for now, open eyes and ears will have to do.
  5. Sexual bullying is “any bullying behavior, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person’s sexuality or gender.” Most commonly directed at girls. It is multi-layered in that it can be conveyed right to a person’s face, behind their back through gossip, or through the use of technology bringing it into close relation with cyber-bullying. The educator should have and maintain, as with all bullying, a zero tolerance for this behavior. The one advantage to this type of bullying and the prevention thereof is that much of this behavior is illegal and prosecutable. That would be where the zero tolerance becomes a vital practice.
  6. Homophobic bullying being the verbal or physical abuse of a person who is perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). This is a particularly difficult area in that society has conflicting views on the LGBT community and dealing with it in the classroom is a particular challenge given the other issues a special needs student will encounter. Once more, zero tolerance is best as much of this type of bullying also contain elements both physical and sexual components to it. Also, once more, there are legal avenues that can aid in dispensing behavioral consequences for bullying.

Knowing the types of bullying and attempting to prevent it might best be served by the educator and the parent becoming more aware of the phenomenon and understanding how a bully thinks. Bullies generally display the same general personality traits, but there are conflicting ideas on the root causes. Understanding why a person does something might be helpful to know. This is not to say that the behavior should be accepted based on some psychological revelation, but it might help to teach the bully to stop the abhorrent behavior.

Time Magazine reported that bullies often will have high self-esteem, but they “tend to be victims of physical damage as well.” Many bullies come from families in which discipline is applied “inconsistently or through physical means.” There are a myriad of ideas and paradigms about this but, in general, the most common reasons are:

  1. They find their victims inferior
  2. They want to make themselves look good by comparison
  3. It makes them feel powerful
  4. There is a lack of empathy
  5. There is a lack of compassion
  6. They want to be domineering
  7. They are impulsive
  8. They are attention-craving
  9. It’s just “the cool thing to do,”

Knowing the reason a bully is acting in a certain way might help, if the educator has the time to possibly deal with the bully. However, it is still contingent on the educator to dole out the appropriate consequence to the perpetrator when discovered. The parents and the educator should act cohesively in the event of an act of bullying occurs, the educator taking onsite actions, and the parents providing support at home to alleviate the fear and stigma a student might feel. It is particularly imperative that this issue be addressed in a special needs classroom where distraction can seriously hinder the educational process.

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