Bullying and the special needs child

Bullying and the special needs child

JCC will host interactive workshop

While bullying is a growing problem for children in the general population, people with special needs have even more reason to be concerned.

Stephanie Shapiro — program coordinator at J-ADD and a clinical social worker/therapist at the Psychotherapy Center of New Jersey in West Orange — notes that bullying rates for children with disabilities are two to three times higher than those for other children.

“Sixty percent of people with disabilities — whether physical or mental — report being bullied on a regular basis,” Ms. Shapiro said.

08-2-L-Bullying-Screen-shotAdd to that the fact that “people with disabilities are already coming to the table with challenges. It’s harder for them across the board. They may not know how to act and may feel more peer pressure to fit in. And when there’s a physical aspect to the disability, people, especially those who are younger, may make fun of that.”

New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights defines harassment, intimidation, or bullying as “any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic” and requires that “all school employees and contracted service providers are required to report such incidents.”

“I hear that it is making somewhat of a difference,” Ms. Shapiro said, citing the state law. “Schools are mandated to pay attention.” And if schools do not follow up as required, parents are advised “to go higher and higher. They want you to take action. Keep calling.” In addition, she said, “research shows that more than half the incidents stop when other peers intervene. Help your friends. This is something you need to know now and throughout your entire life. “

Stephanie Shapiro
Stephanie Shapiro

On February 2 and February 9, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades will host a program addressing this issue. Working directly with special needs children and acquainting their parents with resources available to them, staff members from the Psychotherapy Center will offer an interactive bullying workshop “to teach special needs children the skills they need to deal with and prevent bullying.”

The workshops, for people 16 and older, will focus on “concrete skill-building to address these issues and prevent further occurrences.” In addition, Ms. Shapiro said, participants will learn to self-advocate and “how to ask for help.”

The program, she said, is in response to requests by parents of special needs children who report that bullying is very prevalent. Participants will be paired up with other attendees and therapists according to their needs and category of disability. Organizers will take into account, for example, whether an attendee can write, or requires special accommodations. The workshops will adopt an “intimate approach, not lecture-style,” Ms. Shapiro said. “They will be interactive,” taking place in small groups. “They will share experiences; other group members may say something that will help. It’s a total group [situation], to show you’re not alone. Everyone has felt similar at some point.”

“We’ll talk to the families that sign up so we’re prepared for them to come,” she added, noting that the first program will be directed “either to bullies or those bullied.”

She explained that bullying is a learned behavior.

“When we experience things, we may find an opportunity to do the same thing without realizing it. We may transfer it in other ways. We want people to know this is wrong. We’ll remind them of how they felt [when they were bullied] and remind them that this is not something they should be doing.”

Special needs participants also will be told how to take action and who to go to for help. By making them more aware — “whether they are being actively bullied or suspect they might be” — Ms. Shapiro hopes not only to prevent this type of behavior but to forestall its lifelong emotional effects — victims often come to avoid social situations or to hate school.

Part 2 of the program will focus on supplying families with pre-printed materials, such as notices to fill out to send to schools or group homes. “They’re formal notifications,” Ms. Shapiro said. “Families don’t have to think of what to say. They can take action now.”


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