Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Addressing Bullying of Students With Disabilities

Keeping kids with disabilities safe

January 12, 2012

The Expert Advisory Group of the NJ Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention recently developed guidance for schools concerning bullying prevention for students with disabilities. This is an important area because these are students who are disproportionately targets of bullying and they sometimes exhibit bullying-related behaviors that are also part of their disabilities. The latter makes it hard to know how to apply more general school rules regarding bullying.

The guidance document is available at the Coalition web site and contains many specific recommendations. Here, I want to summarize the key overall issue identified in the document by the primary author, Dr. Millicent Kellner of Rutgers University.

The term "disability" covers a range of conditions from the highly "visible," (e.g., a student with cerebral palsy who is in a wheelchair) to the more "invisible," (e.g., a student with a learning disability). Students with disabilities are more often targeted for bullying than other students and understanding the reasons why is the first step toward generating effective prevention efforts.

Think of students that you know as you consider each of these reasons:

  1. Their appearance is different.
  2. They may be more socially isolated than students without disabilities and lack relationships which buffer against being bullied.
  3. Their disability may make it less likely that they can defend themselves, verbally or physically.
  4. They may behave differently or in ways that others do not understand.
  5. The extra support they require may pose challenges to staff, as well as other students.
  6. Opportunities for engaging with, becoming familiar with, and better understanding students with disabilities are often limited.

These reasons are not unrelated to one another and all connect to the climate of the school and the priority given to seeing school as a place where all members of the school community expect and experience acceptance and where students with and without disabilities have, and benefit from, opportunities to interact and to develop friendships.

Schools should be places where everyone's dignity is both respected and upheld, and where everyone is an upstander for decency and helpfulness. This is not only possible, it's essential for genuine learning and social-emotional and character development.

At the end of January, look for a recording on the Coalition site of a teleseminar featuring Dr. Kellner, and Dr. Stuart Green, the Coalition Director, fielding questions about this topic and related bully prevention and response issues.

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Bullying Prevention
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
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