August 18, 2014

girl being shunned at school

In addition to providing students with autism and other disabilities the special education services they need, schools must also ensure that students with and without special needs can learn in a safe, welcoming atmosphere, free of harassment, intimidation and bullying. Preventing bullying of students with autism and other disabilities requires awareness and proactive approaches within the school.

The NJ Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention Expert Advisory Group provides an overview of why students with disabilities are at an increased risk for bullying, discusses how positive school climates can decrease the problem and offers strategies for school leaders and staff to prevent and address bullying.

Here are some highlights: Excerpts reprinted with permission. Click here for the complete article>>

Students with Disabilities and Bullying

There are several factors linked to the higher level of victimization for students with disabilities.

  • Students with disabilities may be more socially isolated than students without disabilities and lack relationships which buffer against being bullied.
  • Students with disabilities, and autism in particular, may behave differently or in ways that others do not understand; this “different” behavior may be perceived, incorrectly, by other students – and sometimes staff – as “provoking” or even “deserving” a negative response.
  • Students with disabilities may require support that staff – and sometimes other students – find challenging.
  • Students with disabilities are often excluded from the mainstream social fabric of the school, a situation which limits other students from engaging with and acquiring familiarity with these students.

The aggregate negative impact of these factors is exacerbated when schools do not develop policies and interventions which help protect all students, those with and without disabilities, from being bullied and appropriately address those who bully others.

The Importance of School Climate

In a positive school climate where all members of the school community expect and experience acceptance, the challenges of different populations within the diverse group of students with disabilities may not loom as large. In schools with positive climates, students with and without disabilities benefit from opportunities to interact and to develop friendships. When students with disabilities become less socially isolated, students without disabilities gain understanding about individual differences and the importance of empathy, acceptance, and support for all people. As a general rule, schools should adopt curricula and programs that promote dignity and respect for all students.

Key Actions for School Leaders and Staff

Create an understanding of diversity among all students. Help students to understand ways in which we all are different and that disability is simply one of these differences. (Autism New Jersey’s Ambassador Program can provide helpful resources to achieve this.)

  • Ensure that materials and communications about anti-bullying and climate-strengthening approaches are modified as/if needed so that students with disabilities understand the basic tenets and are engaged.
  • Involve families. Include students with disabilities and their families in the school’s anti-bullying assessment, planning and implementation activities.
  • Include staff and parent/s with special education experience on the school safety (climate) team.
  • Address isolation and moderate exclusion. Be sensitive to the needs of students who are separated out of the mainstream because they receive special services. Establish peer support programs and activities to promote friendships.
  • Address the needs of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. This subgroup may be more involved in bullying (being bullied and bullying others), partly due to disability-related behaviors and deficits such as poor emotional self-regulation and impulse control. Counseling services which focus on prosocial skill development, including anger management training, should be available.
  • When bullying occurs, specific services should be available at school to help students with disabilities.Individualized plans should be developed to help students with disabilities cope with the negative impact of being bullied.
  • School specialists, such as psychologists and social workers, have critical roles. Specialists should consult with teachers to help teachers provide the specific support students with disabilities may need.