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Effects of Bullying on Children with Disabilities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Bullying can have a profound impact on any student, but it can be especially detrimental for children with disabilities. This lesson helps you understand the effect bullying can have.

Struggles with Bullying

As a teacher, you probably hear a lot about bullying, understood as the persecution of a person or group of people by someone who sees themselves as superior or more powerful. You know that bullying can have a damaging impact on students regardless of the reason why it is happening. However, some students are more vulnerable than others to bullying, and the effect can be especially long-lasting and damaging because of these vulnerabilities.

This lesson helps you understand how bullying can affect students with disabilities. It is of course important to understand that not every student with disabilities will face bullying. Further, no two students with disabilities are alike, and you will not really know how bullying will impact a student until it happens. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to understand some generalities about the effects bullying has. Knowing these impacts will help you keep a lookout and understand what is happening for some students.

Self-Concept

Perhaps the most profound area that bullying has an effect on students with disabilities is on their self-concept, or how they see, understand and think about themselves. Depending on their upbringing and the specific nature of their disabilities, children may not see themselves as different until they face harsh words or actions from a bully. Bullying can make children with disabilities feel weak, disliked, and inferior to their peers. Suddenly, they may see themselves as disabled. Effects on self-concept can lead to:

  • issues with body image
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • sleep difficulties
  • eating disorders
  • trouble focusing in and out of school
  • withdrawal from social situations
  • refusal to accept help
  • changes in personal appearance
  • self-deprecating language
  • fall in academic achievement

If you see any of these changes in a child with disabilities, it might be a red flag indicating that they are being bullied.

Learning and Seeking Help

When children with disabilities are bullied, it can also have a profound impact on their ability to learn and their willingness to seek help. While this is generally related to self-concept, it can be a unique consequence of bullying in this particular population and thus requires specific attention. First of all, children who are being bullied often struggle to maintain their focus and attention because they are worried and preoccupied. If a student already has a disability that interferes with focus or learning, this added distraction can be overwhelming and make school even more challenging.

Furthermore, children who are being bullied because of their disabilities may feel compelled to assimilate, or do everything they can to look more like their typically developing peers. This means that they can be reluctant to ask for help in learning situations, and they might avoid the scaffolds or differentiated supports you try to offer them. If you notice that a student is acting especially reluctant to seek or accept help, try to investigate what is going on for them.

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