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Dealing with bullying for parents of children with special needs

Dealing with bullying for parents of children with special needs

There isn’t a parent out there that doesn’t worry that at some stage their child might be the victim of bullying. However, when you’re the parent of a child with special needs who is particularly vulnerable, this worry is tenfold.

Unfortunately, bullying and children with special needs is something that is commonplace. According to the National Children’s Bureau, disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) are more likely to be bullied in school. There are various reasons that children with special needs are an easy target for bullies; children with a learning disability may not understand that they are being bullied, a child’s behaviour or difficulties with social interaction may make them susceptible or perhaps they look different to their peers. Unfortunately, in this modern world, bullying can now happen face-to-face or online. Cyber bullying is becoming increasingly more of a problem for schools and parents. 

The impact of a child being bullied can be huge. It can affect their self-esteem and confidence. It can change the way that they interact with others - at school and at home. It can lead to depression and cause them to feel alone and isolated. 

What are the signs of bullying in special needs children?

It’s especially important to know the tell-tale signs of a special needs child being bullied so that you might be aware if this is happening to your child.

Typical bullying signs include:

  • Changes in behaviour – perhaps your child has become withdrawn, anxious, stressed or depressed. They may even have started to imitate bullying behaviour and repeat this to their siblings. 
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Self-harming.
  • Damage to your child’s property such as torn clothes or missing property.
  • Reluctance to go to school, wanting to leave school early or returning home late.
  • Being upset or withdrawn after using a tablet or computing device.
  • A change in repetitive behaviour, such as an increase in stimming or specific routines.
bullying special needs disabled confidence depression anxious stressed

Strategies to deal with bullying and help bullied special needs children 

So, what can you do as a parent to tackle bullying? Firstly, try to make sure if possible that your child understands what bullying is. A simple social story is a good way of doing this. You should encourage them to speak to an adult that they trust if they feel that they are being bullied. 

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, but they haven’t told you, it’s important that you keep a record of events and speak to your child’s school about your suspicions. They should take the issue very seriously and work with you to tackle the issue so that it’s resolved as quickly as possible. The school will have an anti-bullying policy, which you should ask for a copy of. 

Not only is it important that schools take the issue of bullying seriously, it’s important that they promote inclusion and celebrate any differences that children have. A support system should be set up to help your child if they feel threatened or made to feel uncomfortable in any way. Perhaps this could be a ‘buddy system’ or a specific teacher that they can contact at any point during the school day. 

Throughout this difficult journey, it’s important that you always listen to your child and reassure them that the bullying is not their fault. It may take time to build up their confidence but you should encourage this if you can by getting them involved in activities in and out of school.

Lastly, bullying can be hugely detrimental to your child’s mental health. If your child is in serious distress and is self-harming or showing signs of depression or anxiety, please seek advice from your GP.

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