You want to protect your child from life’s bumps and bruises, especially from being singled out by other children because of a disability. It can be heartbreaking to learn that your child is being bullied – or to see it firsthand. But there are things you should know and do to help the situation. Your child has rights that protect them and can even put a stop to a bad situation. And, as always, you can be their strongest advocate.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior where one child has (or thinks they have) more power than another. Children with disabilities are at a higher risk for bullying because of their physical and intellectual vulnerabilities and social skills differences.
Bullying happens in person or online in many different ways, including:
If your child is being bullied, you might notice changes in them, such as:
If your child is able to talk, they might tell you about the bullying directly but not know what to call it. For example, a child might share with you that they have a new friend at school, but when you hear about how the “friend” treats your child, you know something is wrong. You can help your child figure out who is and isn’t a friend. If your child is nonverbal, you might notice fear or other negative reactions to school – or to certain other children.
If you believe your child is being bullied, there are a number of things you can do to help. The first is to pay attention to the situation and decide to take action. Many people, even today, don’t understand bullying and tell you or your child: “it will just go away,” “ignore it,” or “just stand up for yourself.” But in your gut you know there is more that you and your child’s school can do.
If you believe your child is being bullied, you can:
Your child has legal rights that can help if you get stuck. In Texas public schools, you have the right to ask that your child or the bully be transferred to another classroom or school because of bullying. Disability Rights Texas offers a handout how to apply for your child’s transfer. If you want to ask that the child who is doing the bullying be the one transferred, you can use the Texas Education Code for support, especially the section that says the school district may transfer the student who engaged in bullying to another classroom or school campus.
Sometimes it is difficult for schools to figure out who the bully is and who is being bullied. If your child is accused of bullying and receives special education services, know that they cannot be disciplined until a committee has reviewed what happened.
Also, individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and bullying can be a kind of discrimination. If your school isn’t doing enough to stop the bullying, you can go further – call or email Disability Rights Texas for help understanding your child’s rights. You can also contact these federal offices to file a complaint:
The U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
The U.S. Department of Education: online complaint form
The U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education Programs
The U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice online complaint form
“Like the bully, you may have to be relentless. Report each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason to ever put up with bullying.”
“Having trusted people you and your child can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience. Reach out to connect with family and real friends.”
“Remember, it is the school’s responsibility to stop bullying.”
“Last but not least, find a teacher or administrator at your child’s school who will help.”