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Bullying and Disabilities in the School System – What We Learned from the CDDC and DPS Lunch & Learn

“Children with disabilities- such as physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, and sensory disabilities – are at an increased risk of being bullied.  Any number of factors – physical vulnerability, social skill challenges, or intolerant environments – may increase the risk.” (, 2014)panel 1done

There’s good news for those who were unable to attend the “Bullying and Disabilities in the School System” lunch and learn hosted by the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and Denver Public Schools yesterday – the event was recorded and will be available on the CDDC website soon.

The panel which consisted of school administrators, a psychologist, a school suicide prevention expert, and a parent of a child with autism convened to share their knowledge and experience with concerned parents, community members, and advocates in the disability community.

It’s common knowledge that bullying is and has been a problem in the school system. We also know that children with disabilities are challenged with an added layer of complexity in the bullying scenario – hurdles that may prevent them from even being able to articulate their experience with teachers and parents.

Here are three things we learned parents, teachers, and advocates can do to keep students with disabilities safe from bullying:

  1. Help students with disabilities identify the different forms of bullying and recognize when they are victims. Generally speaking, bullying may be verbal, physical, social, or cyber.  It is important that parents have candid conversations with their children about the ways in which they may be affected by bullying so that if and when a problem arises they are able to recognize that they need help.  For example, a child may not fully grasp that the isolation they feel from being left out of conversations or social gatherings with peers is a form of bullying (i.e., social bullying) and they should not feel embarrassed about venting to an adult about the situation.
  2. Learn where they can find support (teachers, adults, and friends).  A child with an intellectual disability may not readily catch on to the fact the he or she is being manipulated.  It’s important for parents to establish a discreet safety net of support for their student so that if and when an incident occurs-the student has a place to find refuge and share their experience without judgment.
  3. Encourage school administrators to talk openly about disability with all students.  A parent of a child with autism and a speaker on the panel shared that if administrators don’t know how to communicate with children who have an autism disorder–bullying is inevitable. And bullying may come in the form of intimidation from teachers who are not able to fully comprehend the way a child with autism thinks, speaks and sees the world.  The panel discussed that it is important for administrators and students to discuss disability openly so that students with disabilities don’t feel ostracized and students without disabilities learn empathy and how to respect their peers no matter what their differences may be.

What are your thoughts and experiences about bullying and children with disabilities in our school systems?  It’s obvious there’s a lot of work to be done.  We’d like to hear your feedback on where administrators and advocates should start?

written by: Kelie Kyser

Disclaimer: The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties does not endorse or recommend any service, therapy, provider, etc., discussed in this post. This blog is for information purposes only and reflects the opinion of the author.




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