While there is no federal law that directly addresses bullying, schools have the responsibility to deal with any behavior that interferes or limits a student’s capacity to take part in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by the school. Bullying comes in many different forms, including physical threats, verbal harassment, and written statements.
The state of California’s policy is to offer anyone, regardless of his or her disability, opportunities in the educational institutions of the state. To strengthen existing anti-bullying laws, the state has enacted Seth’s Law, which requires all public schools in California to update policies and programs to deal with the issue of students being harassed by other students.
Unfortunately, children with physical, intellectual, emotional, sensory, and developmental disabilities are more likely to experience being bullied than their peers. It is well known that students who are targeted for being bullied are more likely to have higher truancy rates, experience loneliness, and do poorly academically. This makes it especially important that people with special needs are being empowered to reach their full potential.
Support Is Crucial to Creating a Safe School Environment
Support from parents, teachers, students, and administrators are a crucial protective factor against children feeling intimidated by others. Making schools safe and bully-free can be accomplished through team building, peer education, and activities that foster friendships and build empathy. Every student deserves a safe learning environment.
Children with disabilities or special health care needs are often lacking peer support. This could be a result of challenges, such as difficulty getting around school, trouble communicating with peers, or they may present signs of emotional distress. Other students often view those students exhibiting these challenges as being different and this translates into little peer support. Providing general, upfront information to students helping them recognize the kinds of support those children with special needs entail can be a step in the right direction in building peer support.
Creating a School Atmosphere That Promotes Unity
While individualized classroom approaches can be beneficial for children with special needs, it is important that strategies are developed to help them be active participants and interact with their peers. A buddy system and activities that provide a role for everyone can foster peer support. Since we know that all children learn in different ways, it is good practice to try and make every lesson being taught as multi-sensory as possible.
Schools should provide special needs children with opportunities to be successful. This can begin in the classroom with the structuring of lessons and then transition into afternoon activities in the form of planned sporting events and so forth. Special needs children often feel they can’t succeed in certain areas and providing various activities can give them opportunities to develop confidence and build and maintain friendships while also reducing the certain stigma that often surrounds kids with disabilities.
Even though children with special needs may need special accommodations, there should be a balance and teachers should keep this in mind when planning classroom activities. For example, a child with a visual disability should be seated at the front of the classroom. Children with hearing impairment may need special equipment, and in these cases, a teacher may want to include basic sign language to encourage communication. If a child is in a wheelchair, the seating should be arranged to allow easy access for the child to maneuver throughout the classroom and placed at a level that accommodates the child’s needs.
Teaching Children How to Interact With Disabled Children
Not all disabilities are as obvious as others. Seeing someone in a wheelchair obviously implies some sort of disability. Others are often harder to see, such as children with learning disabilities. At one point or another, children attending public school will encounter a classmate with a disability. How they respond or show compassion can be greatly influenced by what they have been taught at home.
Parents can play a crucial role in helping children from an early age to accept others and teach them about peers with special needs. It’s important to encourage children to befriend others regardless of their differences. Teaching them that disabilities are not caught and are most likely the result of an accident or illness can help small children in understanding why a classmate is different.
Talking to children and explaining that a disability is just one characteristic of a person and that every person has strengths and weaknesses, likes, dislikes, talents, and gifts can help children see others in a positive light. Reading books or showing audiovisual materials can be interesting and serve as effective tools for helping young children learn more about disabilities.
Many parents of children with special needs would much rather you ask them directly about their child’s disability than to ignore it all together. Although children may be limited in doing things, try to include activities such as board games and arts and crafts when planning events where special needs children may be. If you are unsure about what a child’s capabilities are, ask the child’s parent. Explain that you want to involve the child and you want to know how to make it work.
Children with special needs can engage in activities with their peers, however, the activities may need to be modified in various ways, but it is important to give every child the same opportunity as others to be successful at school, home, and in the community in which they live. Whether you live in California or across the country in New York, bullying is a problem worldwide that we must all work together to make it stop.