Long-time readers of this blog know that Nigel unfortunately has a history of being bullied (click here and scroll down). So far, at his new school, he has not encountered any bullying or harassment, which is a welcome relief for both of us. But I am not one to sit back and take things for granted. No, not I. I am a planner, a preparer. A what-if-it-happens-againer.
And so, last week I attended a seminar on bullying intervention strategies hosted by ORPTI. They are a fantastic organization that presents parent training workshops throughout the state of Oregon. Last year, I attended their incredibly helpful and informative Autism & Puberty seminar. Other workshop topics include IEPs, early intervention, transitions, behavior, and many more. I highly encourage any Oregon residents to sign up for ORPTI’s e-mail mailing list, and you will receive notifications of upcoming workshops in your area, which is exactly how I found out about the one on bullying.
Being the seasoned parent of a child who’s experienced every type of bullying known to bullydom, the information in the first half of the seminar was not new to me. But parents of younger special needs kids would definitely benefit from the topics that had been presented, including how to recognize the different types of bullying, the difference between teasing and bullying and when teasing is not teasing, the myths surrounding bullying, the causes, how to help your child to not be a target, how to talk to your child about bullying, school policies on bullying, dealing with parent reactions to bullying, how to decide appropriate strategies to address bullying, and being involved at school. These are all things that I have years of experience in doing, unfortunately.
But what I don’t know enough about – and the main reason why I attended this seminar – is what to do when you’ve tried every single strategy and your child is still being bullied and the school is doing nothing about it. I can tell you this – it does not feel good. That much I know. I’ve been there. Like a cornered cat, I hissed for a while and then summoned all my strength and jumped the wall behind me to get out of that situation, and I took my son with me. That was when we started homeschooling, which was almost two years ago. I knew that it would be temporary (thank God – as a single parent, my bank account couldn’t take it for very long), but it was what we both needed. My son begged for help, I could no longer fight the school, and I didn’t know what else to do. Now, after attending the bullying seminar, I do.
In my opinion, schools focus far too much on “fixing” the ASD kid and not enough, if any, on the bullies. They put the ASD kids in social skills class, role-play with them, and teach them how to respond when bullied. But do they teach disability awareness to their peers? They teach Internet safety, birth control, recycling, and other non-academic subjects. So why not awareness? I kept asking and pleading for the school to teach my son’s peers about autism, the Regional Autism Consultant was more than willing to do it, and the school never scheduled it. At the seminar I attended last week, I learned how to make that happen: you write it into the IEP. “Where?” I asked, wondering why I hadn’t thought of that before. In the “related services” section. Just like that.
Of course, it’s rarely that simple. So I was very glad when the workshop presented some helpful forms on taking things to the next level – notifying school administrators and then the district offices, higher if you need to. I found the online versions of information that all special needs parents should have. Click here for 10 Steps to Notifying School Administrators of Harassment Concerns, scroll down to the Handouts section, and click “Notifying School Administrators” to get the PDF. For another helpful PDF on disabilities and harassment, click here and scroll down to the Special Education section. Click “What Can You Do If Your Child with a Disability Is Being Harassed by Other Students?” for the PDF.
The bottom line is that when bullying is targeted at someone with a disability, it’s not only mean, it’s discrimination. And the more we know about what we can do, the better we will be able to advocate for our kids.