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Understanding bullying and its impact on kids with learning disabilities or AD/HD

Kids with learning or attention problems can be easy prey for bullies. An expert tells you how to recognize the signs that your child is being bullied.

By Marlene Snyder, Ph.D.

Bullies! Every classroom has at least one. Whose name comes to mind when you hear the word "bully" ? Who was the kid who could upset your day with his verbal, physical, or emotional insults? Most adults who were bullied remember such childhood events vividly.

Bullying among elementary school children and teenagers is a growing problem in many schools in the United States. It's happening in urban, suburban, and rural schools. Kids who have learning disabilities (LD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) are especially vulnerable to bullying problems.

While bullying isn't new, professionals today have a new level of understanding of the problem. Bullying is a learned behavior that can be prevented! Effective bullying prevention programs are being used in progressive school systems throughout the country. It's important for parents, students, teachers, and school administrators to understand and learn to manage bullying that occurs at school and elsewhere.

What is Bullying?

"A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative acts on the part of one or more other students. It is a negative action when someone intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another," says Dan Olweus, a prominent researcher on bullying behaviors. Bullying may involve physical aggression such as fighting, shoving, or kicking; verbal aggression such as name calling; or more subtle acts such as socially isolating another child. With the increase in numbers of personal computers at home, youth have also learned to use email and websites to bully or harass others.

It is important for adults and youth to understand the difference* between bullying and normal conflict.

Normal Conflict Bullying
Happens occasionally Happens repeatedly
Accidental Done on purpose
Not serious Serious - threat of physical harm or emotional or psychological hurt
Equal emotional reaction Strong emotional reaction on part of the victim
Not seeking power or attention Seeking power or control
Not trying to get something Trying to gain material things or power
Remorseful - takes responsibility No remorse - blames victim
Effort to solve the problem No effort to solve the problem


Why Focus on Bullying?

Given the rising concern about violent crime among youth, parents, schools, and communities are concerned about reducing "bullying" behaviors because:

  • Persistent bullying can leave long-term scars (e.g., low self-esteem, depression) on victims. Some victims of bullying may turn to violent means of retaliation. Some severely bullied victims have tried suicide as a means to escape their tormentors.
  • Students who bully others are especially likely to engage in other antisocial and delinquent behaviors such as vandalism, shoplifting, truancy, and illicit drug use. This antisocial behavior pattern often will continue into young adulthood.
  • Bullying may contribute to a negative school social climate that is not conducive to good social relationships or learning. Everyone is affected by bullying, even those not directly involved in the conflict. Youth who are "bystanders" often watch bullying but don't intervene, because they don't know what to do and may fear retaliation from the bully.
  • Bullying is a widespread problem among school children. Surveys of 4th-6th graders in several states indicate that 25 percent of all children had been bullied at least "several times" within a two-month period; about 10 percent had been bullied at least once per week. One in five (20 percent) children reported having taken part in bullying other students at least "several times" within the last two months.

Comments from readers

"i have a student in PS MS 219 and she is being bullied over and over again the school does nothing about it. i know it is serious and something needs to be done. when do staff start doing something to protect our children. "
"My daughter is being bullied and the school won't do anything about it, but deny, deny, deny. She gose to Gant in CA. WHAT SHOULD I DO? WHAT CAN I DO? She is ADHD and no one wants to help or even try to stop it. I cant stay at her school all day and watch out for her. It's not like I'm there, what can a perent do to stop something that is happening in an environment they have no control over? Now I'm forest with an ultimatum, to pout her in Bixsby, or have her retained in the same school.???HELP!!! "
"I have found this article very helpfull! Our child was exposed to such a situation "
"Bullying is so horrible. To All the kids who are bulling, Just stop You do realize that your causing kids to suicide themselves because of you.. Kids who are getting bullied just keep reaching for the stars and ignore them...... "
"In my ELA class we have to write a persausive essay about something and I chose bullying.I chose it because its very serious I see it just about everyday at school. "
"this is a vcery god article this article can be for chidern too. I made my oldest daughter read this for her homework and she told me"mom this is a good articl it show me anyone can bully." "
"Eileen Connors Elementary allowed bullying to occur since Kindergarden throughout Fifth grade and to and more insult he would be the one always separated from his class and moved which increase his tormenters to the point of rock throwing and painting our garage doors with chocholate syrup. The sadness is slowly fading but I left Las Vegas Nevada. How can teachers look the other way, or move the injured party constantly as their only true solution. Let's just say my son is smart yet was not learning. It begins at the school level and most be stopped as soon as it starts as it is in NYC. "
"Bullying is a huge issue that effected both me and my child. What I think needs to be addressed is the fact that children whom bully are typically taught by example from their parents. I have found that addressing the issue with the other kids parents frequently validates the attack! It's a no win situation that can only be solved by removal from the environment and legal action. When you tell a bully that you are upset because of somethuing they did, from the bullys point of view 1) They are not the ones with the problem and 2) They think they are entitled .... Good luck to anyone with this problem - and - take it seriously. Bullying has devastating consequences for the victim, and is tolerated way too much. "
"bullying is very serious"