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Bullying Does More Short & Long-Term Damage to Those with Special Needs

In the book, "Bullies Suck", I go into detail about the psychological and physiological impact that the stress of bullying has on victims.

We hear countless stories in the media of both children and adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, loss of income or jobs and even suicide due to bullying. I think we can safely say that we know the effects that bullying has on someone mentally, emotionally and physically is damaging, both in the short and long-term. Here is something I hadn't heard or thought of: what about people who already have mental, emotional, physical or developmental issues? A child like my youngest nephew, Tommy, who has autism. Tommy is a sweet, beautiful boy who wouldn't harm a fly; because of his autism, is he more or less susceptible to the damaging effects of bullying?

It turns out that a study, reported on ScienceDaily.com and published by the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics shows that almost "70% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience emotional trauma as the result of being bullied." This study also showed that children with special needs, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and depression are at a much higher risk of being bullied. The study also talks about how "Short term consequences of bullying include poor mental and physical health outcomes" and "In many cases, they effects of bullying can extend into adulthood with an increased risk of later psychiatric illness."

The study goes on to list statistics on injuries, illnesses and more. The take away that should jump out at us is this; the damaging effects of bullying are even more pronounced in those with pre-existing mental, physical and emotional issues. As damaging as bullying is on people like you and I, it is even worse for those with special needs.

Guess what the study recommends to do to address the problem? You guessed it – "More Awareness". Parents are urged to talk with their child, the teachers and anyone else involved with their special needs child on how to handle bullying if it comes up. That is a smart move and a good start, but not enough.

I would want to teach the child the same things that I teach in the book, "Bullies Suck" and in the Ultimate Bullying Solution Society Newsletter. More so than others, someone with special needs simply must have the understanding and tools to protect against the effects of bullying. The only difference would be HOW I taught someone with special needs. While I have not personally done any work with special needs children when it comes to bullying, I have worked with special needs children in the martial arts and I know what works when trying to teach them something new.

I would keep everything short, and in bite-sized chunks. I would relate the concepts for taking back your power from bullies to something they were already familiar with and a part of their daily routine. I would give them simple exercises to do, disguised as a game, that they could practice on their own. From the kids with special needs that I worked with, there was always something physically, mentally and emotionally where they were exceptional; one boy I worked with who was moderately to severely autistic was one of the strongest kids I had ever trained. Another boy I worked with had a speaking and singing voice that sounded exactly like Rod Stewart. Another child I worked with that had severe ADHD was amazing in his ability become laser-focused on a project and stay that way for long periods of time. (Of course, when he wasn't "on an assignment", he was running around like a hyperactive Chihuahua.)

With each of them, I taught them to value themselves for their gifts and to ignore any "perceived" differences. I taught them the concepts that they were just as special as everyone else and anyone who treated them "not nicely" were the people with problems, not them personally. I also taught them what to do if someone physically pushed or tried to hit, slap or choke them, too. I am proud to say for the time we worked together, none of my students had any problems with bullies. More importantly , those kids taught me as much as I taught them, if not more.

One of the things I was taught when I started the martial arts – and tried to pass on to all my students – is that as martial artists, we have a responsibility to stand up for those who aren't strong enough or know how to stand up for themselves. Never is that more true than for the targets of bullying, especially those with special needs.

Stay Strong,


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