Parents should familiarize themselves with the different forms of bullying that a child with special needs may experience:
Manipulative bullying: This form of bullying occurs when a child with special needs is actually being coerced and controlled by another student.
Conditional friendship: This form of bullying occurs when a child thinks that someone is being their friend, but the times of “friendship” are alternated with times of bullying.
Exploitative bullying: This form of bullying occurs when the features of the child’s condition are used to bully them either by other classmates or via technology and social media networks.
The Matrix Parents Network, a nonprofit in Marin County, Calif., serves as a resource to parents in the education and prevention of bullying. It was founded in 1983 when three mothers gathered around a kitchen table to share the challenges, heartbreak and frustrations of raising children with special needs. At that time, no organizations existed for a family in crisis to turn to for compassion, encouragement, support or information. Forming a network of parents , they decided to educate, support and encourage families who were facing the same challenges that they had faced alone.
Stephanie Steiner, the director of The Matrix Parents Network stated that “without timely and appropriate intervention, students with disabilities who experience bullying will have increased problems that will likely make it more difficult to meet their special needs. Parents must always intervene.”
Matrix was founded upon the belief that parents can and must be the primary managers and advocates of their child with special needs. It is one of 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) nationwide, which provide training and information to parents of infants, toddlers, children and youth with all types of disabilities – physical, cognitive, emotional and learning.
The following are best practices for parents recommended by The Matrix Parents Network:
- Be aware that students often feel that adult intervention is infrequent and unhelpful and, as such, fear that telling adults will only bring more harassment from bullies.
- Be observant of a child’s behavior, appearance and moods, particularly if one thinks that a child is ‘at risk’ for being bullied. If a child is reluctant to attend school, investigate why and consider a negative social experience as one reason.
- If a parent suspects something is wrong, talk with the child. Children can be reluctant to speak up for fear of retaliation or because they don’t want to “tattletale.” Whether it’s a parent or the child who initiates the conversation, speak openly and honestly – and listen! Keep the conversation at a level a child can understand. Remember that every child is different, what may not bother one child, might be extremely detrimental to another.
- Don’t blame the child. Be supportive, loving and patient. Take his/her story seriously. Let him/her know that it’s not his/her fault and that appropriate action will be taken.
- Get details from the child about the incident(s). Try not to direct his/her responses, but ask pertinent questions about what happened and how he/she felt/feels. Let the child know that appropriate confidentiality will be kept, but that keeping bullying a secret is not good for anyone. Tell the child that he/she has the right to be safe.
- Stay focused on the child and the issue. Though a parent will likely be upset and/or angry for the child, over reacting (or under reacting) can make things more stressful for a child. Allowing emotions to ‘take over’ can also make an objective assessment of the situation more difficult. Keeping an emotional response in check will help one better support and advocate for the child.
- If appropriate, problem solve or brainstorm intervention strategies with the child. Giving him/her relevant information, such as the definition of bullying, at a level he/she can understand, can be helpful as well.
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