Advice if your disabled child is bullied

bullied for disabilities

This section offers advice for parents of disabled children who are experiencing bullying. This has been written with Contact a Family (CAF) specifically for parents of disabled children. With thanks to all the parents of disabled children who helped us develop this content. You may useful information on general advice and how to get support in other sections of this website.

We know that children are more likely to be bullied when they are vulnerable in some way. Research suggests that disabled children are three times more likely than their peers to be bullied. A survey by Mencap discovered that eight out of ten children with a learning disability have been bullied. People’s assumptions and prejudices about disability can make disabled children more vulnerable to bullying for a number of reasons, such as:

Negative attitudes towards disability

  • A lack of understanding of different disabilities and conditions.
  • Being seen as “different”.
  • Not recognising that they are being bullied.
  • They may be doing different work or have additional support at school.
  • They may be more isolated due to their disability.
  • They may have difficulties in telling people about bullying.
  • They may find it harder to make friends.

As a result of their condition, they may exhibit bullying behaviour; or they may experience lots of transitions which means they have to settle into new environments. Examples of transitions are moving from a special unit to a mainstream school, spending periods of time in hospital and returning to school.

In addition to usual forms of bullying, disabled children may also experience different forms of bullying, like:

  • manipulative bullying: where a person is controlling someone
  • conditional friendship: where a child thinks someone is being their friend but phases of friendliness are alternated with phases of bullying
  • exploitative bullying: where features of a child’s condition are used to bully them

It is understandable to feel anxious about bullying; however it is important to remember that not all disabled children are bullied. Don’t assume your child is going to be bullied but be prepared in case they are. Prepare your child for school. If you’re worried that they’re going to be a target for bullies think how do I prepare them for this? Build their self-confidence, self-esteem.

Tips on talking to your child about bullying

Contact a Family suggests a few things you could try out when talking to your disabled child about bullying. 

  • Draw pictures of your child’s day or ask them to draw what has happened during their day. For example you could draw pictures of them at break, at lunchtime, in the classroom, moving about the school, draw what games they played.
  • Use toys, puppets or pets to encourage your child to talk. You could use them to tell a story of a child being bullied and show how important it is to tell someone. Or your child may feel more comfortable in telling a toy or puppet what is happening.
  • Use a diary system or a box where you can both write comments and questions and then find a quiet time to talk about them together.
  • Use scales to rate how your child is feeling at different times during their day. For example you could use a number scale or traffic light system where the different numbers or colours mean different feelings. If you use the traffic light system, you may use green for feeling good, orange for okay and red for upset.
  • Use pictures of faces showing different expressions to explain feelings. You could draw pictures of happy, sad, angry, crying faces and ask your child to choose one to show how they’re feeling.
  • Use visual prompts such as pictures in books, communication boards (visual symbols organised by topic) and cue cards (cards containing a message in a picture or written format).

“I drew a diagram of a body and asked him to show me what had happened to him. It was horrible when I realised the extent of this.”

Further support

Parents can feel a whole range of emotions when they discover their child is being bullied. While initial feelings may include isolation, anger, sadness and guilt, it is important to remember there is a way forward. 

Contact a Family, has written a guide for parents of disabled children. It contains information about spotting the signs of bullying, the action you can take, your child’s rights and stories and tips from other parents. We hope it will give you ideas about what might work, things you could try and help you feel that you are not alone. 

If your child has special educational needs, you might find it useful to contact your local Parent Partnership Service through the national network. Family Lives runs the SEND Information, Advice and Support Service in Croydon providing independent information, advice and guidance for parents/carers of children and young people with special educational needs. 

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