theebrandenburgs blogspear

This page is designed to share information about our struggle to gain equity for our unique children and their learning styles in a public education system that is designed primarily to teach a single type of learner, and which is increasingly sidelined by fiscal and philosophical issues that challenge the core of its collective existence. We are especially interested in unique learners, and the talented people who teach them, their families, and our shared value as human beings. We seek the end of discrimination, the end of seclusion, separation, and isolation, as well as an end to chemical and physical restraints that are commonly used to assault our children and our unique interpretations of the world.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Thoughts on Bullying and Disability (repost) with comments

By Mary Brandenburg
Originally ran on Sierra Madre Patch, September 21, 2011

In 1970, only one in every five children with disabilities received a public education. Landmark court cases such as PARC v. Pennsylvania (1971), established that the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause required that students with disabilities have the same opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education as students without disabilities and that, wherever possible, placement in a regular public school class should be the preference. 
Both Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, created both a legal and funding supports to help ensure that students with disabilities would access the right to a "free and appropriate public education" in the "least restrictive environment."
Because of this, many more students with disabilities began to attend and be educated in general education schools and classrooms, allowing even more interactions with students without disabilities.
Research has shown that students with disabilities benefit from being included in the same school settings as their non-disabled peers and that segregated programs fail to demonstrate greater effectiveness. Research also suggests that students without disabilities may also benefit from inclusion and that, when properly implemented, inclusion of students with disabilities does not negatively impact student tests scores, grades, the amount of allocated and engaged instructional time or the rate of interruption to planned activities.
While the right policy and legal decision, the increased inclusion of students with disabilities, also requires additional efforts to ensure welcoming school environments for students with disabilities. 
Studies show that students with disabilities (both visible, and invisible) are subject to  bullying more than non-disabled peers. Students with disabilities are more likely to face peer rejection, a significant risk factor for victimization. Many students with disabilities have significant social skills challenges, either as a core trait of their disability or as a result of social isolation due to segregated environments and/or peer rejection. Such students may be at particular risk for bullying and victimization. 
(Information obtained from: A Briefing Paper from the National Council on Disability, 2011-Authors:Dr. Jonathan YoungAri Ne'emanSara Gelser)

What is bullying?

Bullying can be characterized by an imbalance of power, physical power, or social power. It involves intentional, repeated, and hurtful acts.
Bullying can basically be classified into two categories
Direct bullying, and indirect bullying (aka- social aggression).
I’d like to look at the less physical, but more common, act of bullying, social aggression, as I believe that, although more subtle, the damaging and lasting effects may not be recognized fully by all that engage in it. For example, children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum are bullied more often than their typical peers. They have more trouble understanding social cues, sensory issues, and impulse issues, leading to targeting for teasing, jokes, rejection, and social isolation. Social anxiety, and low self-esteem, including from being bullied, can lead to the victim becoming the bully.
Social aggression, or indirect bullying, is characterized by threatening the victim into social isolation
This social isolation is achieved through a wide variety of techniques, including:
  • Exclusion from activities
  • Exclusion from social situations
  • Public shunning
  • Bullying other people who wish to socialize with the victim 
  • Spreading gossip/false gossip, lies, 
  • Spreading rumors/false rumors
  • Staring, giggling, mocking, 
  • Laughing at the person
  • Laughing at the victim's clothes and other significant markers (including the victim's race, religion, disability, sex, or sexual preference, etc.). 
Bullying can also come from teachers and the school system itself: There is an inherent power difference in the system that can easily lead to subtle abuse, humiliation, or exclusion — even while maintaining commitments to anti-bullying policies. 

Damaging effects of bullying?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE, 2010) includes:
  • Lowered academic achievement and aspirations
  • Increased anxiety
  • Loss of self-esteem and confidence, 
  • Depression and post-traumatic stress
  • Deterioration in physical health
  • Self-harm and suicidal thinking, suicide
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Absenteeism and other negative impacts, both educational and health related.

How to Address Bullying?

Establish school-wide: 
  1. Equity/diversity/disability programs
  2. Conflict resolution/peer mediation/anti-bullying programs
  3. Social skills/self-advocacy training
*A Final Thought on the Power of Empathy... Empathy means being with people in their vulnerabilities. We move towards empathy when we are willing to tell our stories even though we feel vulnerable and afraid. We move towards empathy when we are willing to listen and relate to the stories of others. Empathy moves us towards making connections and building meaningful relationships. Empathy is the common thread in bullying prevention for bullies, targets, and bystanders. (Rebekah, Heinrichs, 2003) 


Mary, This is a great piece and a good read for all parents. As the parent of two 6th graders, our family is spending more time this year talking about bullying behavior, what it feels like to be "excluded" by your peers, reaching out to new kids in school, etc. The topic seems to come up in ways it hasn't before. I don't know if it is their age, their grade, or simply the situations my children find themselves in these days - or all 3! What you've written is good information for parents to bring to those conversations.

Kimberly Taylor

Good article and I agree with Tony Baloney, we have to change the culture. It is a societal problem that overlaps into our school system. My son who is also autistic has been bullied his entire school career, but he is now at our home school at John Muir High school and the culture there is much different than at most PUSD campuses. The students are tolerant and accepting of our special kids. They have a wonderful Speical Education program there and a great principal who has a special place in her heart for our students! Check it out!
Kim Taylor


What kind of program do you think would be most effective at Sierra Madre? What would be the first steps to take to implement it?
I have heard from 4 different people that the culture at Webster is a great one to emulate. Have you heard the same? What are they doing over there? Is there a school in particular you've seen that is worth copying? I've said before I like Wonderland Elementary, but honestly, I haven't witnessed their culture first hand.

Mary Brandenburg

Emyi, it sounds like you're committed, and that's a start. It's critical that ALL teachers/staff/volunteers, need to be prepared to actively support/accept all types of learners in the GE classroom, including the steadily increasing number of kids with ASD. The resource below, funded through the US Dept. of Ed. is a start in guiding teachers, includes laws, policies, best practices, such as the Universal Design for Learning (CAST- to support the successful inclusion of diverse learners.
Besides teacher preparation, ongoing curriculum addressing educational equity programs/disability awareness to support respect and acceptance of all learners. Here's a couple of links......but to implement a program, it's going to take the staff, PTA, parents, etc. working together, and committing to inclusive education for all students, not just some.
I don't know much about Webster, beyond the fact that there are fully included kids in most classes, and that the climate sounds welcoming for all learners. I don't what programs they have in place to support inclusion, or in regards to addressing bullying.....

Mary Brandenburg

Maybe to start the process, share the OCR Dear Colleague Letter (attached as a PDF here) addressing bullying/harassment with the principal/staff/PTA to determine the effectiveness of current measures to deal with bullying/harassment, and whether they are in accordance with the law.......


Brilliant article and PDF info... Mary. Thanks

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