Targeting Students with Disabilities
It is important to recognize frequent targets when addressing bullying with special needs students. Common behaviors and characteristics can lead to the bullying of special needs students as well as bullying tendencies from those children. Special needs children often have low self-esteem, depend on others for social cues or guidance and may fail to realize dangerous circumstances due to a lack of awareness (Flynt & Morton, 2004). Helping special needs children develop their social skills where deficits exist is a protective factor against becoming a victim of bullying. Inherent vulnerabilities must be compensated for so that children realize that impairments do not define who they are. In the year 1999, assistant secretaries from Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the U.S. Department of Education wrote a memorandum stating that disability harassment can have a profound impact on students, raise safety concerns, and erode efforts to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the myriad of benefits that an education offers (Holzbauer, 2008). Students with disabilities already face academic challenges at school and should not be ostracized socially due to peer ignorance and intolerance. The previously cited memorandum concluded by saying that students cannot learn in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation or ridicule (Holzbauer, 2008). Students, regardless of their abilities or needs, have the right to learn and exist in an environment free of bullying.
Students with special needs can also be on the other side of bullying. Flynt and Morton (2004) stated that children with learning disabilities have a greater likelihood of behavior problems than nondisabled peers and if this tendency leads to aggressive, anti-social behavior the learning disabled child may bully others. The referenced behavior problems that lead to anti-social actions are often the manifestation of confusion, frustration and desperation.
In order to help bullies, without consideration of whether or not they have special needs, it is essential to determine what is causing their hostility. Bullies are often defeated victims whose defense mechanism is faulty and harmful to both self and others.