Bullying can of course affect anyone, often leaving young people feeling vulnerable and isolated. This is particularly true for young people with SEN&D (Special Educational Needs and Disability) who may already be experiencing this, thereby creating a double disadvantage.
What the Stats Tell Us
While we shouldn’t assume that all SEN&D young people will be bullied, the facts make for worrying reading. Each year Ditch the Label produces an in-depth bullying survey and from this we know that:
63% of those with a physical disability are far more likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion.
67% have self-harmed and 40% have tried to take their own lives.
74% of those with Asperger Syndrome or Autism experience bullying, with verbal bullying being particularly severe.
That this is happening at all should be enough for us to sit up and take notice but considering these figures are significantly above the national average means intervention, action and education is vital and that current approaches are not working.
Bullying can happen in any environment, including special schools, but with many SEN&D young people spending much of their school life in mainstream education, the risks are increased. There are many valuable benefits for inclusion in terms of personal and educational development for all pupils, but it can leave SEN&D pupils vulnerable to the prejudices surrounding disability.
Schools must ensure that they encourage a ‘whole school’ culture of education and respect, which includes the wider community, parents and carers. Negative attitudes towards disability and other conditions need to be addressed from very early on in education and then reinforced as standard throughout school life. SEN&D children may already be treated differently by the adults around them and be doing different schoolwork, so it is vital that this is incorporated into the classroom as smoothly as possible.
Many young people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism can experience huge problems with communication, which makes forming and maintaining friendships difficult. They may not recognize when they are being bullied and additionally, their ability to communicate concerns or to report bullying will be considerably more difficult.
Parents, guardian, teachers and other staff members need to be tuned in to the communication style of SEN&D children and young people and the things that they, and their peers are saying. They must be ready to take action where appropriate without stereotyping anyone as a victim.
It is vital to keep an open dialogue with all children around subjects like bullying so that it is never a taboo or awkward conversation. It may be necessary to take a different approach if you suspect someone with SEN&D is being bullied due to their age and level of understanding. For example a direct question may not be the best approach; rather a general chat around the subject giving them the opportunity to voice concerns. If vocal communication is extremely difficult or impossible, then a useful approach can be drawing or using visual prompts like facial expressions.
Every school and college has a legal obligation to safeguard children and young people and this covers the entire day, including breaks and lunch, which can be particularly problematic. But we each have a responsibility to assist in the prevention of bullying.
Parents and guardians can maintain good communication with schools, especially with class teachers and SENCO staff so any issues can be responded to swiftly and dealt with appropriately. This may need to be more than just using a home/school diary.
Ensure that your child knows you are listening and taking it seriously and take the time to reassure them that you will do all you can to sort out any problems. If you feel you need extra support approaching a parents support group that is specific to your child’s condition can be extremely useful.
Ditch the Label are committed to working for a future that is free from bullying and discrimination for ALL young people.
If you would like to find out more or need advice or support please contact us.