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Bullying and Children with Special Needs

This year Anti-violence week was recognized in schools from October 19-23, 2015. Every year the third Monday in October is designated in schools to highlight the critical issue of bullying. However, bullying isn’t new and it does not discriminate. Bullying has been an issue

for generations of young people regardless of race, gender, physicality, intellect, religion, or sexual orientation. Many children and their families have been negatively impacted by the harrowing effects of bullying. Although it was once viewed as “part of growing up,” bullying is not a right

of passage. It is a pervasive problem plaguing schools and communities throughout

the United States.

As Anti violence week comes to an end, I found it very timely to find an article published this week in The Philly Voice about Darren Sproles- a veteran player in the NFL and dynamic running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. At 5 feet 6 inches tall Sproles is revered for his speed and work ethic on the football field, but he was once the target of cruel jokes because of his height and his speech. Darren Sproles has a fluency disorder commonly referred to as stuttering. Stuttering is a communication disorder in which sounds, syllables, or words are repeated or prolonged causing a disruption in the normal flow of speech. It can also be accompanied by secondary behaviors such as eye blinks, tremors, or movements of the head, arms, or legs. In a detailed interview, both Darren and his father recounted memories from a time when the NFL star was terrorized by other students due to his stuttering disorder. He was ignored and misunderstood by teachers who could not see beyond his impairment. As a result, Sproles stated in the article that he “learned to stay quiet and not say much at all.”

Fortunately for Sproles he was able to get love and support from his family while growing up. He also learned techniques to help improve the fluency of his speech and he learned that he was not defined by the taunts of others. Darren Sproles did not let stuttering or the ridicule of others stop him. He has become an advocate for young people and participates in projects to address bullying. He also joined the Stuttering Foundation in an effort to encourage and inspire others who stutter. To read more about Darren Sproles’ story, click here.

Bullying has negative effects on all its victims, but kids with special needs are especially vulnerable, according to Nancy A. Murphy, M.D., FAAP and chair of the AAP Council on Children with Disabilities Executive Committee. “Since these children already struggle with self-esteem issues,” said Dr. Murphy. “Bullying has a greater impact and they desire to fit in, and are less likely to stand up for themselves.” According to researchers, children with special needs often have a lower social standing among the other students in the classroom which may lead to them so frequently becoming the targets of bullying.

(Pepler & Craig, 2000; Dubin, 2007)

Darren Sproles’ story is inspiring, but unfortunately it is not unique. Children with disabilities and special needs are often at an increased risk for being bullied. Many children with speech and language disorders isolate themselves and choose not to participate or even speak in an attempt to avoid bullying. As parents, we want to protect our children from harm and equip them with tools to be successful in life. For more information on speech and language disorders, contact Having Our Say. For tips on how to help your child with bullying, please check the links below.

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