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Dealing with Bullying when your child has a disability

advocate autism disability parenting iep markeisha hall parent coach special education special needs Jan 31, 2023

Dealing with Bullying When Your Child Has Autism

As parents, it can be heartbreaking to discover that your child is being bullied at school. Unfortunately, bullying of kids with disabilities is a reality that many families have to face. If your child has a disability the stress and anxiety caused by bullying can have far-reaching consequences on their wellbeing and development. In this blog post, we will discuss some strategies for dealing with bullying.

1. Talk to your child's teacher
When your child has a disability, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with their teacher. If your child is experiencing bullying at school, their teacher should be the first person you talk to. If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 plan, their teacher should have knowledge of their disability and the accommodations they need. Ask the teacher if they are aware of any incidents of bullying and what action they have taken. Ask what strategies they can put in place to help your child feel safe at school. It is also important to talk about how to help prevent bullying in the future.

2. Speak to the principal
It is important to speak to the principal when your child has been the victim of bullying. The principal can take action to help stop the bullying and provide a safe environment for your child. Make sure you are aware of your child's rights and that they are being respected. Be sure to share any documentation, such as Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), that may be relevant in helping the principal understand your child's special needs.
During the meeting, discuss any concerns you have about bullying and any changes that need to be made. This may include speaking with the parents of the child who is bullying or providing additional support or resources for your child in the classroom. You should also make sure to stay informed on all school policies related to bullying and how it is dealt with.
The principal should also be aware of your child's needs and take into consideration how these may impact them if they are being bullied. If there is a need for special education services or accommodations, the principal should work with you to ensure these are in place and available. 
Finally, make sure the principal is aware of any services that may be available to help your child cope with being bullied and ensure they are able to access these if needed. It is important that both you and the principal work together to ensure your child is safe at school.

3. Teach your child how to cope
When your child has a disability, they may be more vulnerable to bullying at school. It’s important to equip them with the necessary tools and knowledge to help them cope in such a situation. Here are some tips on how you can teach your child to handle bullying.
1. Identify the problem. Talk to your child and make sure they understand what bullying is, and how it can make them feel. Emphasize that no matter what their disability is, bullying is never okay.
2. Encourage them to speak out. Let them know that it’s okay to stand up for themselves, but also teach them to not overreact. Remind them to tell an adult if the bullying continues or gets worse.
4. Developing social skills can be challenging for children with disabilities. They may need extra help learning how to interact with others. Special education students may benefit from social skills classes or other activities designed specifically for them.
5. Find ways to make them feel safe. Ask their teachers if there are any accommodations that can be made for them, such as a buddy system or preferential seating. Make sure your child has a safe place where they can go when they feel overwhelmed or stressed out by the bullying.
By teaching your child how to cope with bullying, you can help them build their resilience and ensure they feel safe at school. In addition to these tips, be sure to provide plenty of emotional support for your child and seek professional help if needed.

4. Seek professional/ legal help
Sometimes the bullying your child is experiencing due to their special needs or special education may be too severe for you to handle alone. It’s important to seek professional help in this situation. Talk to a school counselor, psychologist, or social worker about your concerns. They can help to develop an intervention plan to address the bullying, as well as provide additional support for your child. It’s also beneficial to seek out support for yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed and need extra guidance.
Above all, know that you are not alone. There are resources available and professionals ready to help you create a safe and nurturing environment for your child. Youth with disabilities such as autism, who experience bullying, require special considerations when addressing the bullying and may benefit from the support of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a school must take action to address the harassment, and protect the rights of the disabled student. It is important to contact your pediatrician if your child is being bullied and seek the appropriate resources and professional help needed to protect your child.

5. Add self advocacy goal to the IEP
When a child with disabilities experiences bullying, it’s important to create an individualized education plan (IEP) that includes a self-advocacy goal. This goal should focus on teaching your child how to identify, prevent, and respond to bullying in the school setting. By establishing this goal in the IEP, your child can gain the confidence to advocate for themselves, express their feelings and learn strategies to manage their emotions.
When creating the self-advocacy goal for your child's IEP, it’s important to include specific objectives. For example, you might want your child to understand the difference between teasing and bullying, be able to identify when they are being bullied or teased, learn appropriate coping strategies and practice using their voice to report bullying. These objectives will provide guidance for the school staff who are working with your child on a daily basis.
In addition to including a self-advocacy goal in the IEP, you should work closely with the special education teacher and school administrators to ensure that the goal is met. It’s also important to monitor the school environment and provide regular feedback to the teachers. By doing so, you can ensure that their child is receiving the support they need in order to feel safe and secure at school.

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