Bullying Prevention: Teaching Our Youth To Embrace Their Differences
October was anti-bullying month, so naturally we at DirectCourse thought this would be a good time to talk about this issue, and how it may affect people with disabilities. Research suggests that children with physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, and sensory disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their peers. According to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network, 63% of individuals with autism ages 6 to 15 have been bullied at some point in their lives. Sadly, this is the world we live in.
Bullying can take many forms but in its most basic form, it is any type of behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates; a type of malicious behavior that makes you feel less about who you are as a person. Whether it is physical or emotional, it can happen while at school, in the community, and online. In many cases, bullying begins with words like “odd,” “different,” and even the dreaded ‘r’ word we have all come to dislike, “retarded.”
Many people have strong reactions when they hear the ‘r’ word, a part of a deep desire to defend our children or anyone we know that has an intellectual disability. There is great ongoing campaign dedicated to ending the use of the word: http://www.r-word.org/. This isn’t a matter of free speech, nor is it a matter of being overly sensitive. In fact, many people, including many hospitals, doctors, and schools, have quit using it altogether since it has become pejorative.
We do have the power to change the meaning of words such as these. Asking people to reconsider the word and what it signifies is a way to spark conversation about how we view people with intellectual disability, and to respect them more along the way.
We are all different, all unique. However, feeling different among peers can have a lasting effect, especially with adolescents. Words like weird, odd, or strange used in a hurtful or derogatory context can have a devastating impact on children with disabilities. This is especially concerning, because bullying typically occurs when kids are at a very critical age in their overall development.
On the DirectCourse Facebook page in October, we posted a link to a beautifully written poem by a young man with autism, Benjamin Giroux. Ben writes: “I am odd, I am new/I wonder if you are too/I hear voices in the air/I see you don’t, and that’s not fair.” You can read the full poem here. In this poem, the young author really captures the essence of what it feels like to be different, to be “odd.” Everyone has a desire to be accepted. People with disabilities are no different.
So what is the take away from all of this? We must continue to promote inclusion and acceptance, cultivating a world filled with compassion and inclusiveness. Empowering kids early on not only build their confidence and leadership skills, but also reinforces the notion that the world needs all types of minds and people from all walks of life.
After all, at the end of day, aren’t we all different and unique in our own ways?
DirectCourse curricula is all about living life in community. We have a number of courses available that help DSPs and others understand best practices and strategies for community inclusion. Courses in The College of Direct Support that can help reduce the likelihood of bullying include:
- Person-Centered Planning
- Community Inclusion
- Maltreatment Prevention and Response