Top Ten Facts Parents, Educators and Students Need to Know about Bullying

School Community Tool Kit

September 1, 2018

When it comes to the critical issue of bullying in schools, there are many important things to be aware of. 

1. The Facts

Students with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.

One study shows that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students.

2. Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn.

Bullying is not a harmless rite of childhood that everyone experiences. Research shows that bullying can negatively impact a child’s access to education and lead to:

  • School avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
  • Decrease in grades
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in academic achievement
  • Increase in dropout rates

3. The Definition

Bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered harassment. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have stated that bullying may also be considered harassment when it is based on a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

Harassing behaviors may include:

  • Unwelcome conduct such as verbal abuse, name-calling, epithets, or slurs
  • Graphic or written statements
  • Threats
  • Physical assault
  • Other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating

4. The Federal Laws

Disability harassment is a civil rights issue. Parents have legal rights when their child with a disability is the target of bullying or disability harassment. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to as ‘Section 504’) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) are the federal laws that apply if the harassment denies a student with a disability an equal opportunity to education. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. Students with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would qualify for these protections.

5. The State Laws

Students with disabilities have legal rights when they are a target of bullying.

Most states have laws that address bullying. Some have information specific to students with disabilities. For a complete overview of state laws, visit Olweus.org.

Many school districts also have individual policies that address how to respond to bullying situations. Contact your local district to request a written copy of the district policy on bullying.

6. The adult response is important

Parents, educators, and other adults are the most important advocates that a student with disabilities can have. It is important that adults know the best way to talk with someone in a bullying situation.

It is never the responsibility of the child to fix a bullying situation. If children could do that, they wouldn’t be seeking the help of an adult in the first place.

7. The Resources

Students with disabilities have resources that are specifically designed for their situation.

IEP – Students with disabilities, who are eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

The IEP can be a helpful tool in a bullying prevention plan. Remember, every child receiving special education is entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and bullying can become an obstacle to that education.

8. The Power of Bystanders

More than 50% of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes. Most students don’t like to see bullying but they may not know what to do when it happens.

Peer advocacy – students speaking out on behalf of others – is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying.

9. The importance of self-advocacy

Self-advocacy means the student with a disability is responsible for telling people what they want and need in a straightforward way. Students need to be involved in the steps taken to address a bullying situation.

Self-advocacy is knowing how to:

  • Speak up for yourself
  • Describe your strengths, disability, needs, and wishes
  • Take responsibility for yourself
  • Learn about your rights
  • Obtain help, or know who to ask, if you have a question

10. You are not alone

When students have been bullied, they often believe they are the only one this is happening to, and that no one else cares. In fact, they are not alone. There are individuals, communities, and organizations that do care. It is not up to one person to end the bullying and it is never the responsibility of the child to change what is happening to them. No one deserves to be bullied. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what. Everyone has a responsibility – and a role to play – as schools, parents, students, and the community work together for positive change.

Learn more about bullying and supporting students with autism in the Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit.