When your special needs child is getting bullied.

Special needs children are almost universally at a greater risk of bullying than their less-needful counterparts — and more than any others, they need their parents to respond appropriately. But what exactly constitutes an ‘appropriate’ response when your special needs child is getting bullied?
Signs of bullying.

When your special needs child is getting bullied.

When your special needs child is getting bullied.

When your special needs child is getting bullied.

Many children don’t ever mention to their parents that they’re being bullied — it’s your business as a parent to know what being bullied looks like after the fact.

If you see your child’s eating or sleeping behavior suddenly change; if they seem jumpy, anxious,  or guilty for no reason; if they go out of their way to avoid a particular predictable part of their day (like asking to be taken to school instead of going on the bus, or asking for a sack lunch to avoid the cafeteria) — ask them directly if someone is being mean to them.

How to fail epically.

If you do learn that your child is being bullied, there are a few ways you can completely fail to respond in your child’s best interests. Do not ever:

  • Be ashamed, disappointed, or angry with your child,
  • Encourage your child to fight back against a bully,
  • Say anything whatsoever about being a ‘tattletale,’ ‘snitch,’ or anything similar, or
  • Tell them to ‘man up’ or otherwise simply accept being bullied.


Listen first.

The most important thing you can show your child is that you’re paying attention, and you care more about their experience than you do about punishing someone (them or the bully). Listen for as long as they want to talk, and ask them open-ended questions to keep them sharing for as long as they’re willing. Not only will you be giving them the kind of support they need the most, but you might learn some details of the story that will be meaningful to teachers or administrators down the line (so write down everything you can!) When they’re done, praise them for being open with you about the experience.

Reassure them it’s not their fault.

One of the most pervasively disturbing aspects about bullying a child with special needs is that the bully is often extremely adept at portraying the incident as something that the victim is responsible for. Communicate clearly and firmly with your child that this is a lie, and that the bully alone caused the incident.

Contact the teacher and administrators.

Get in touch with your teacher and ask for a meeting with the IEP team. Discuss the situation with them, and work out a plan of action to address the situation. Ideally, such a plan will involve three steps: contacting the bully’s parent and asking for their help, changing your child’s schedule to either avoid the bully or ensure that there’s someone to watch, and, if the bullying is severe enough to qualify as disability harassment, involve the law.

By being there for your special needs child on a personal level, and taking action on an administrative level, you have the best chance of keeping your child feeling safe and effective at school.


Expert Author Peter MangiolaPeter Mangiola, RN MSN has been in the health and wellness industry for over three decades. He has served in Emergency, Recovery, Cardiac Care, and Electrophysiology departments, as well as three years as an Oncology Director, three years as director of an adult cystic fibrosis program, eight years as Charge Nurse for a cardiovascular nursing unit, and several years as owner/operator of two well known New Jersey Senior Care agencies.

Peter has been a regular speaker for many groups and organizations over the years covering a wide range of topics. He has also been a consultant, speaker, and educator in areas such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s, cognitive/behavioral issues, disabled children & adults and obesity counseling. Learn more at http://www.petermangiola.com.

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