Bullying and Youth With Special Needs

Recognize Bullying

Bullying is a form of pushy behavior used to cause harm and usually happens over and over. A child is picked on by one or more children with repeated negative actions over a period of time. These are intentional attempts to cause discomfort or injury and can include name-calling, making faces, nasty gesturing, hurtful teasing, being left out, threats, rumors, physical hitting, kicking, pushing, and choking. Cyber-bullying is also a real and growing problem today.


  • Is a form of pushy behavior intended to cause harm
  • Usually happens over and over
  • Can be both direct and indirect
  • A bully and the target do not have equal power

Forms of Bullying

  • Physical (hitting, kicking, shoving)
  • Verbal (offensive remarks, name calling, threats)
  • Relational (ganging up, spreading rumors, gossiping)
  • Cyber (harm caused through social media, cell phones and emails)

Additional Forms of Bullying Faced by Individuals with Special Needs

  • Manipulative bullying (being talked into something and controlled by another person)
  • Conditional bullying (mistaken friendship)
  • Exploitive bullying (using the target’s challenges as part of bullying)

There is a law called The Dignity for All Students Act (2012) that supports schools in creating an environment free of discrimination and harassment.

What Can You Do About Bullying?

Make no mistake, bullying of any kind is a form of violence that should not be allowed. Parents and Educators together should address bullying and social skill development within the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).


  • Be your child’s advocate by being aware and seeking help.
  • Keep the focus on your child.
  • Support your child (do not blame your child or ignore the problem).
  • Encourage your child to talk about what happened.
  • Carefully watch how your child is doing (safety, emotional health and school performance).


  • Create a welcoming and safe environment for all students.
  • Use opportunities in the classroom to:
    1. Teach about the forms of bullying
    2. Discuss how to get help
    3. Promote communication
    4. Teach about disabilities and abilities
  • Provide curricula and resources that value diversity, including disabilities.
  • Modify anti-bullying programs to include youth with special needs.
  • Create school and classroom wide rules and know the school’s anti-bullying policies.

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