The Effects of Bullying on Children with Special Needs


As a parent or a teacher, it’s probable that you have heard something about bullying, which is understood as the practice of the maltreatment of an individual, mainly by someone who views themselves as more powerful or superior than the others.

It’s obvious that bullying has damaging effects on the victim, regardless of the reason why s/he is being bullied. All the same, some children are more susceptible to bullying and its effects compared to others. Apparently, the effect of these experiencing are disparaging and may have long-lasting detriments, given that the victim may be defenseless due to being smaller in stature, a minority or somewhat marginalized. The situation is more extreme for children with disabilities.

In many cases, bullying may include making fun of kids based on their incapacities. For instance, bullying may involve exposing a child who has food allergies to the allergens. Bullying can also involve making fun of a crippled child who walks in limps. For children with disabilities, bullying may not be only lead to serious effects; it can amount to life or death situations.

The common effects

Bullying children with special needs may expose them to a variety of effects including the following:

Self-Concept

Self-concept is perhaps one of the most important areas that bullying may stir up among children with special needs or disabilities. Self-concept refers to how an individual understands or thinks about himself/herself and is subject to factors like upbringing and the environment of their existence. Children who have a stable upbringing and who receive positive remarks about themselves may not see themselves as different or weaker. This is, however, not until they encounter a bully who might overtly harass them by uttering harsh words or making hurtful actions. The obvious outcome is that this will elicit negative reactions, such as self-pity, loss of esteem, and arouse other senses of inferiority, weakness and despise. Suddenly, a child who has accepted his/her situation and abilities will start seeing himself/herself as indeed disabled.

Negative self-concept may in turn lead to:

  • Trouble concentrating and focusing- the affected child may constantly delve in thoughts about himself, which might divert his/her attention most times at school and out of school.
  • Withdrawal from social situations- self-pity may cause the child to feel unequal and inferior to other children, especially those without disabilities or special needs. S/he may thus be unwilling to mingle or associate with others in fear of being hurt further. Most of them may use self-deprecating language as their defense whenever requested to join other children.
  • Changes in personality- after enduring bullying, a change in personality may ensue. For instance, a child who has been previously happy and friendly may turn around and become sad and aggressive. In this case, aggression may become his/her source of defense, especially at the least sense of an attempt to attack him/her or at any type of displeasure. For instance

Mental health

Bullying is a common source of emotional torture among children with special needs. This torture interferes with their personal view, and the mental suffering may develop into mental health illness, including:

  • Insomnia – the disparaging feelings of why the child was peaked at or bullied leads to disheartening the child. S/he is likely to be confounded in thoughts, which flow freely in his/her mind especially at night when s/he is alone in bed. It may take longer to heal, especially when the disabled child finds it his/her fault that s/he was bullied, and before healing, the child might endure sleepless nights.
  • Eating disorders – the torment and stress that comes with bullying leads the child to feel uninterested in everything. S/he is likely to have low moods and poor appetite for any food.
  • Anxiety and depression – the pressure of enduring bullying come with distress, which may grow into depression. The child might also experience anxiety, especially when in class, due to the fear that s/he might go through the same experience once again.
  • Suicidal thoughts/attempts – issues with body image elicit suicidal thoughts, especially when a disabled child feels defenseless and vulnerable. Being aware that s/he has no ability to change his/her situation makes them believe that s/he might be a victim of bullying forever. At this point, s/he might consider death as the only definitive solution to his/her situation.  The Anti-Bullying Alliance reports that children with the likelihood of having special needs children to self-harm are three times more likely to occur when bullied than those without special needs.
  • Difficulties in school life or going home – once a child with special needs is bullied, s/he is likely to develop a firm attitude against the school or home. Some may opt to drop out of school completely. For those who brave it and continue going to school, the academic outcomes might drop, due to low motivation, poor concentration, and dizziness due to poor sleep patterns.

What Can You Do to Help?

Many people even today fail to recognize the seriousness in bullying. Some parents will just comfort their child to “just ignore them”.  However, bullying might lead to costly and irreversible results, which might lead you into regrets later. Therefore, if you happen to witness or believe that your child with special needs is being bullied, there are a number of steps you can take to help.

  • Get the facts and take a step- it’s important to talk to your bullied child and find the details of the perpetrator. Afterward, report to the school and the bully’s parent/guardian, and solicit for action.      Be supportive, ask for details, and tell them it’s not their fault.
  • Talk to the school’s authority or take legal action if the problem persists even after reporting to the child’s teacher. There are always legal frameworks protecting children with disabilities and their rights.
  • Raise the issue during school meetings. This will invite the input of other parents who have had no opportunity or audacity to talk about it. This will also assist in finding a comprehensive solution as it will invite the attention of all school/community stakeholders.

Last Updated on September 22, 2021