Free «Bullying against Special need Children in American Schools» Essay Sample


Bullying involves physical aggression which entails hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing and cornering (Goldman, 2004). Besides that verbal aggression involves hate ideology, name calling, verbal threats, swearing and mean jokes. Goldman (2004) continues to say that bullying in schools could also involve social alienation of separating into cliques, ostracizing or ignoring someone, actively rejecting a peer, talking behind the backs of special needs students, gossiping and spreading rumors and malicious lies. Bullying of these students can also involve intimidation which is threatening to reveal their personal information, playing a dirty trick, extortion, taking  possession, sexual or racial taunting, threatening harm (Goldman, 2004).  

In many cases, educationalists and researches agree that students with special needs are at particular risk from bullying at school. Rivers, Duncan & Besag (2007) says that within the public school system, students who are disabled, or those who are perceptibly different from the mainstream. This type of students with special needs include those who are overweight, those students who require particular educational support or those students who have behavioral and emotional difficulties (Rivers, Duncan & Besag, 2007).  Research shows that some students with special needs are also more likely to be perpetrators of bullying behavior and especially where the needs of these students relate to emotional and behavioral difficulties (Rivers, Duncan & Besag, 2007).

Definition of bullying

Bullying refers to a form of aggression in which one or more students physically, psychologically or sexually harass another student repeatedly over time (Heath & Sheen, 2005). They continues to say that in comparison  to female students male students are three to four times more likely to physically assault their target hence 60% of bullying is perpetrated by males (Heath & Sheen, 2005).

Goldman (2004) says that bullying happens when someone hurts someone else on purpose to make them look weak or bad or embarrassed and make oneself look tough or cool or right. He continues to say that it is characterized by cowardly, aggressive behavior whether with fist, words, confrontation or lies. According to Goldman (2004) bullying in school is a form of aggressive behavior towards other students and cowardly peer abuse. It is considered that bullying occurs when one or more students harm another by using power over them and appearing to enjoy it. Goldman (2004) also indicated that bullying behavior can range from a little spreading of painful rumors about a classmate to beating up other students who cannot defend themselves.

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Bullying refers to repeated negative actions intended to harm or distress a target and is mostly characterized by a power imbalance which can either be social, psychological or physical in nature (Myles, 2007). Myles (2007) says that bullying can take many forms including physical, verbal, social or educational. Educational bullying is when adults who perform as members of the school staff in some function use their power to either intentionally or unintentionally harm students causing them distress (Myles, 2007). Students and children with special needs are more frequent targets of bullying in American schools. For example Myles (2007) says that students who talk, act, or think differently tend to suffer more bullying and exclusion than does someone with a physical challenge.

In his studies, Olweus (1993) established that it is natural to regard bulling from a single student and from a group as closely related phenomena even if there may be some differences between them. Olweus (1993) thus defines “bullying or victimization  as a situation whereby a student being bullied is exposed, repeatedly and overtime to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (p. 9). In this context negative actions to students can be carried out by words verbally for instance by threatening, taunting, teasing and calling names. Olweus (1993) also says that it is a negative action when a student with a special need is hit, pushed, kicked, pinched or restrained by others through physical contact.

A study of bullying behavior noted that 75% of those students identified as victims of bullying had motor coordination problems (Rivers, Duncan & Besag, 2007). Rivers, Duncan & Besag (2007) indicated that “overall 30% of students in mainstream public schools said that they were teased as a result of their motor difficulties” (p. 94). Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) on the other hand indicated that children with special needs stand out in a classroom and school as result of physical or psychological differences such as Asperser’s, autism, blindness or deafness. The students may not be able to defend themselves or may act in ways that make them vulnerable to the predations of an intolerant peer group hence they may be singled out and intentionally humiliated and ridiculed Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004).

The most important consideration is that management in these schools should ensure that students understand what bullying means, what behaviors it includes, how the victims feel and what students should do when other students are being bullied (Garrett, 2003). In the same context Garrett (2003) indicated that teachers should encourage students to discuss bullying behavior and teach them positive ways to interact with others. Steps to ensure students and staff are familiar with school policy that addresses bullying (Garrett, 2003).

Causes of bullying against special need children

In the American schools Macklem (2003) noted that bullying occurs frequently in grades kindergarten through three. He also noted that bullying is a part of what goes on typically everyday in elementary schools. Macklem (2003) also says that “studies have determined that middle school students do not feel safe in some schools particularly those in urban areas” (p. 9). Up to 80% of middle school students with special needs reported to be involved in bullying behavior. Macklem (2003) also says that another study indicated that by fifth grade almost 50% of special need students reported to have been bullied.

Rigby (2002) says that disablement bullying is defined as the unwelcome bothering, tormenting, troubling, ridiculing or coercing of another person related to the disability of that person and may be composed of verbal, non-verbal as in gestures, physical which involves pushing or striking or else indirect behavior as in exclusion from activities in which the disabled person could take part. In most schools Rigby (2002) says that the bullying behavior is typically repeated and often takes place in a social context with the bully attempting to gain power over the student with special need.

In relation to the above argument Rigby (2002) says that much of the research on the connection between students with special needs and bullying in American schools has been done with children. He continues to say that the large majority of cases concern students with congenital impairment. Rigby (2002) also says that “it has been estimated that up to 2% of all children have some degree of such disability” (p. 186). The most common is cerebral palsy, a condition that is often associated with epilepsy and severe problems related to hearing, seeing, learning and feeding.

Bullying may take several different forms which include direct physical attacks to students with special needs and also spreading hurtful rumors or excluding someone from a social group. Westwood (2003) says that “boys are more likely to be physically violent while girls tend to use more indirect ways to make life unpleasant for their victims” (p. 78). He also noted that when bullying is carried out by gangs of students to students with special needs it means that student’s factors come into play such as the importance of roles and status within the group (Westwood, 2003).

Another major cause of bullying to these students with special needs is other common physical disabilities which include spine bifida and muscular dystrophy. Bullying also occurs mostly to students with learning difficulties associated with chromosomal abnormalities or defects in the central nervous system Rigby (2002). An example of this includes students with Down’s syndrome Rigby (2002). In some cases the bullying of disabled children may take the form of teasing and mocking. This is often so with children with speech impediment. Rigby (2002) says that the main form of bullying is usually ridicule and name calling and also be ascertained that in 97% of cases the stammering preceded the bullying. He continues to say that children with more severe stammering were bullied more often and especially when they had few if any friends. Westwood (2003) says that much of the bullying occurs in the schoolyard, particularly if supervision is poor. 

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Beane (2008) indicated that bullying often occurs in areas where there is no adult supervision and enough adult supervision or poor quality of adult supervision especially in schools. This means that quality supervision in schools is critical. In support of this Beane (2008) noted that “schools with low levels of supervision and lack of structure experience more bullying” (p. 40).

In his studies Rigby (2002) indicated that most of the respondents believed that as a result of the bullying to the students with special needs have lost confidence in themselves, their self esteem had suffered; they become shy, nervous and depressed. It has been established that some felt ashamed of them and experienced difficulty in making relationships with anyone (Rigby, 2002). 


According to Rigby (2002) the reactions of disabled people in American schools being bullied may sometimes lead to an intense desire for revenge. After being bullied it has been suggested that some disabled people may end up being bullies and they may at sometimes engage in bullying more than others do, despite their opportunities being more limited (Rigby, 2002). In other cases McGrath (2006) says that the majority of children who are bullied at school do not commit homicide or even suicide. Instead studies show that they internalize their suffering and victimization which in most cases leads to traumatic stress.

Students with special needs are mostly the victims of bullying respond in many ways as some of these students suffer self doubt and drop in self esteem and confidence (McGrath, 2006). It has also been noted that others become bullies themselves in an attempt to compensate for their suffering undergone as victims of bully behaviors and peers. McGrath (2006) says that bullying is particularly harmful because it is a series of repeated acts hence the effects are cumulative and in extreme cases bullying is life threatening and can drive a victim to suicide.

Some of the common effects of bullying to students with special needs are physical, emotional and academic effects. McGrath (2006) says that “physical effects include increased illnesses, especially stress related disorders, physical injuries that are the result of bullying incidents and attempted and completed suicides” (p. 17). McGrath (2006) also indicated that some of the emotional effects include feeling of isolation, exclusion or alienation, difficulty in forming deep friendships, increased fear and anxiety, depression and feelings of incompetence and powerlessness. These students with special needs are also affected academically. McGrath (2006) says that these “students academically experience truancy as the victim seeks to avoid the bully, increased absences due to illness and specifically stress related disorders” (p. 17). Also lower academic achievement, including decreased in class participation and lower grades. According to McGrath (2006) they also find difficulty in concentrating in schoolwork.

Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) noted that victims of bullying tend to have low levels of self-esteem, can be depressed, insecure, anxious, oversensitive, cautious and quiet. It has been noted that they are usually more withdrawn, worried and fearful of new situations and end up showing extreme introversion. For special needs students who have been victims of bully are less happy at school, more lonely and have fewer good friends (Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny, 2004). Some also says that they are likely to drop out of school. In this view victim particularly girls are very badly affected by being avoided socially or being negatively evaluated by their peers.

Bullying for students with special needs is linked with psychosomatic symptoms, depression and psychiatric referral. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) continues to say that those involved in bullying show the highest risk for suicide ideation, which is thinking about suicide. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) argues that there is a casual relationship between peer victimization and poor mental health and the students who are often have no effective way of dealing with the problem of bullying. They also indicated that these types of students have no effective way of dealing with the problem of bullying. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) also noted that “special needs students who reported high levels of bullying in their first two years of high school also reported relatively low levels of personal well being after a period of three years” (p. 21). 

The long term effects of bullying in special needs people is that the victims feelings can continues into adulthood, with young adults exhibiting more symptoms of depression and lower self esteem (Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny, 2004). This means that bullying in this type of students has repercussions for many people throughout their lives. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) says that “bullying in adolescence stunts growth towards individuation and is like a disease that distorts the development of self and the formation of healthy relationships to these students who need special attention” (p. 21). In the social context bullying does not only affect those being bullied but it has also some serious ripple effects.

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The effects of bullying to students with special needs can at the same time occur in different levels. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) says that firstly the “bullied student is usually subjected to humiliation and feels the brunt of the bullying not only when it occurs but beyond” (p. 22). At the second level of bullying the parents and families are the secondary victims of bullying. Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) says that the parents are the second victims to feel the effects because they “often feel anger that their child has been bullied simply because of his or her deformity and want to know why it was not handled earlier” (p. 23). On the other hand the bystanders will have played a role in the act of bullying and will have various feeling about what occurred. In this context Sullivan, Cleary & Ginny (2004) says that what a school does in response to the bullying is a symbolic statement for the group of bystanders.


Researchers have found out that there are several ways of providing solutions to the bullying behavior. Garrett (2003) says that “finding out how a school stands in relation to bullying is an important first step” (p. 133). In some times the school staff is generally unaware of the extent of bullying problems hence there is a need of increased awareness will increase the staff’s recognition of bullying and willingness to intervene. Garrett (2003) continues to indicate that “the school staff should be educated about the definitions of bullying, nature of bullying, the secrecy surrounding bullying and special needs students’ reluctance to report bullying” (p. 133). The teachers in schools should be helped to develop strategies to detect and intervene in bullying. They should also be able to differentiate between rough and tumble play and bullying (Garrett, 2003).

In addition it is important to understand that bullying is less prevalent in schools where there are supportive relations among schools staff, warm relations between staff and students and shared decision making among staff and students (Garrett, 2003). Garrett (2003) further noted that “schools should emphasize academics and respect children’s individual strengths and weaknesses tend to have more bullying” (p. 133). The leadership of schools should move first to recognize the problem of bullying and their central role in reducing it; they supervise actively and intervene to stop bullying.

The second solution is that parents meetings and newsletter should inform parent about the problems of bullying (Garrett, 2003). Besides that, parents should talk to their children about bullying and be aware of signs of potential victimization. Garrett (2003) also noted that “peer’s play a critical role in bullying hence interventions must aim to change attitudes, behaviors and norms around bullying for all children in a school” (p. 134). Well under the teachers guidance students can recognize the problem of bullying and their potential contributions. As a result promoting attitudes in the peer group which support empathy for the victims and condemn aggression will reduce bullying (Garrett, 2003).

The solution which may be implemented should be looked at from the perspectives of both the bullies and the victims of bullying (Vahid, Harwood & Brown, 1998). One way is to know and establish the causes and circumstances of bullying. This will help in establishing ways of countering bullying because sometimes it can be as a result of trauma such as divorce or bereavement (Vahid, Harwood & Brown, 1998). The school should also keep accurate records of bullying incidents which can be useful as a record of improving behavior or to help parents accept unpalatable truths about their pupils.

Students with special needs involved in bullying usually require individual attention. Garrett (2003) mentions that talks with bullies should emphasize that bullying is not acceptable and point out the consequences in the code of conduct. Talks with bullying victims should encourage them to speak up and confirm the school intention to ensure that they are protected from further harassment (Garrett, 2003). The schools should establish a common philosophy on bullying among your staff members and teachers and that counselors and psychologists are in agreement with possible standards and consequences.

To end bullying of special needs students in schools, the management must send a clear message for zero tolerance for harassment, and bullying. Garrett (2003) says that it is not possible for schools to “eliminate cliques and differences among students and at the same time demand that students respect one another despite their differences and treat each student with dignity” (p. 140). Within a school’s behavior management policy there should be agreed procedures for handling incident of bullying so that all staff approach the problem with similar strategies.

In addition the counselors can work with students who bully and victimize others, individually and in small groups. Garrett (2003) says that “counselors should help communicate the message that bullying is not acceptable and all of the staff will help make it come to an end” (p. 141). They can also help teachers establish and enforce specific rules against bullying and at the same time hold regular classroom meetings with students to discuss bullying and related behavior. Garrett (2003) says that teachers and other school personnel need to introduce and enforce classroom rules against bullying, hold regular classroom meeting with students to discuss bullying and meet with parents to encourage participation.

Another major consideration is to promote a school-wide anti-bully environment. Garrett (2003) says that schools should implement an anti-bully campaign that involves the entire community, parents, students, teachers and administrators. Discussions should be held with students about what bullying is, identify bullying and share personal stories and facts about bullying. Garrett (2003) also indicated that they should work with students especially those affected to develop classroom rules or procedures about bullying.

Schools should be fast to establish bully busters program. This program according to Espelage & Swearer (2004) should “increase awareness of bullying in order to differentiate between bullying and aggression, identify the types of bullying problems in the classroom and school, and examine the role teachers can play in creating a safe bully free school” (p. 307). The school leadership should explain how to nourish the development assets of students in of students in order to prevent bullying interactions.

Bullying can be prevented at class room levels. Espelage & Swearer (2004) says that it is a viable solution to understand the role of prevention in eliminating school bullying, become familiar with teacher characteristics that maintain bullying, identify school characteristics that affect bullying and develop methods to prevent bullying and victimization in the classroom.

On the other hand Myles (2007) says that successful bullying prevention program must include a strong emphasis on awareness, understanding and willingness on the part of all adults to be proactive and do what is necessary to provide a safe environment for all students. Besides this Myles (2007) say that effective bullying prevention needs to involve the entire community of the school, class and even at individual levels. Also special attention and modifications must be considered when dealing with students with exceptionalities so they can be safe and continue to learn.

According to Khalsa (2007) a major step toward “creating a safe school community will make bullying behavior the exception and therefore quickly highlight its inappropriateness so school personnel can take action to stop it from reoccurring. Khalsa (2007) also argued that “it is important to indicate that all adult students who is part of a victims or bully’s life needs to an expectation of open communication for the purpose of responding effectively to stop bullying behavior” (p. 14).


In conclusion it is important to note that understanding exactly what causes bullying can help us and teachers better address the problem especially in situations where students with special needs are highly affected. Both bullies and victims are considered to be products of our society and are therefore reflections of the quality of our family settings, schools and communities. In this context, a small number of bullies should not alter learning process of students with special needs. It is also important ot articulate that the bullying behavior will never change unless students, teachers, administrators and parents become active partners in the process of preventing this behavior in American schools.

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