Bullying Prevention Month: Bullying and Students with Special Needs

Bullying and Students with Special NeedsOur mission is to help make schools safer and more inclusive. During Bullying Prevention Month, we're sharing some intervention strategies that your teachers can use in their classrooms today to help prevent bullying, especially for students with special needs.

The National Education Association estimates that every day 160,000 students miss school because of fear of attack or intimidation. In a national survey, one in three teens reported being bullied, and one in ten reported being bullied daily or several times a week. Bullying is an even greater problem for students with disabilities. Nearly a dozen studies have concluded that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullying targets than their nondisabled peers.

Students with special needs are at a greater risk of being a bully’s target for a variety of reasons:

  • Perpetrators of bullying behaviors often seek out targets that are perceived as weaker.
  • Many students with special needs struggle with self-esteem issues.
  • Students who are unable to participate in some activities are more likely to be made fun of.
  • Students with disabilities are often perceived to have a lower social standing.
  • Some students, because of intellectual, developmental, or even speech disabilities, can’t advocate for themselves.
  • Students with autism spectrum disorder often have deficits in communication and social skills.

All students should be safe at school, and everyone involved in the education process must ensure that schools are safe places for learning and achievement.

Intervention Strategies for Individual Educators

These evidence-based classroom level strategies can help better ensure all students’ safety, including students with special needs.

  • Training – to help recognize bullying and understand the appropriate next steps.
  • Partnering with parents – actively listen and carefully consider all safety concerns that are presented to you by parents.
  • Social skills instruction – taking time to incorporate social skills into instructional plans can have a great payoff.
  • Increasing student supervision – ensure that students are supervised, especially in places where bullying often occurs, like stairwells, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, and buses.
  • Positive behavior supports – develop a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) team and plan for the school, or even for your classroom.
  • Survey students – solicit student input to help determine the extent of the problem and involve students in ideas to reduce bullying.
  • Partner students with peers – when students support each other, it can become a force for good. There are many ways to accomplish this in the classroom, from a buddy system to celebrating acts of kindness class-wide.

Download the latest Tip Sheet for more details on these strategies and to share this helpful resource with your educators. These tips come from our Bullying and Students with Special Needs course, written by nationally recognized bullying and suicide prevention expert, Dr. Scott Poland.

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