Raising awareness of disability-related bullying

This week is national Anti-Bullying Week, and this year’s theme is disability-related bullying.

Research by the Institute for Education shows that disabled children are twice as likely as other children to experience persistent bullying. This can take many forms including physical abuse, name-calling and cyberbullying.

We’ve teamed up with Ambitious about Autism and the Anti-Bullying Alliance to highlight some of the issues faced by disabled children and young people.

Jack sitting on the edge of a fighting ring
Seventeen year-old MMA fighter Jack

Jack’s story

Jack is doing an apprenticeship and is also possibly the only disabled mixed martial arts fighter in the UK – but part of the reason he took up the sport was as relief from the bullying he experienced at school.

“It started in year eight. Words like ‘spastic’ were thrown around at me and those words got me into trouble at school, because I wouldn’t stand for it.

“It was hard. I don’t want any kids, disabled or not, to go through it, because it was horrible.”

Boxing training helped put things into perspective.

“Over the course of a couple of months, I realised that I just needed to chill out. There are going to be people in the world that are just idiots, they have no idea what they’re on about, they throw the word [spastic] round like it’s funny, and it’s not.

“But then, I’ve got friends and family who support me 100 percent, so I just forget about it.”

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca, a youth ambassador for Ambitious about Autism, says she faced bullying from her first years at primary school.

“I remember people saying mean things to me, and I was always left out of friendship groups because I acted differently,” she says.

“I moved schools several times to try and get away from the hate I received, but it followed me everywhere I went. On the school bus I got hit, pushed and verbally abused so I ended up having to walk, and even then the bullies followed me.

“Other students called me weird, loner, freak, fat and ugly, which was one of the hardest things. People say words don’t hurt but they do, and they can have a long-lasting negative effect.”

What to do

The Anti-Bullying Alliance has put together a list of top tips for parents who find out their child is being bullied. Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t panic. Stay calm, try to listen, and reassure them that you are there to support them, and things will get better once action is taken.
  • Try to establish the facts. It can be helpful to keep a diary of events to share with your child’s school or college.
  • Stress that the bullying is not their fault, and that you will not take any action without discussing it with them first.
  • Don’t encourage retaliation to bullying, such as violence. It’s important to avoid hitting or punching an abusive peer.
  • Discuss the situation with your child’s teacher or Head teacher – or the lead adult wherever the bullying is taking place. Every child has a right to a safe environment in which to learn and play. Schools should have a behaviour policy which sets out the measures that will be taken to prevent all forms of bullying between pupils.

And what if you’re a young person experiencing bullying? Rebecca says: “The most important advice I’d give to other young people with autism who are being bullied is to not let people bring you down.

“Don’t let them hurt you. Speak up and ensure your teachers and parents actually deal with it. It can be hard to confide in someone, but when you do it can release a lot of weight that may be on your shoulders. Bullies are just jealous of how awesome we are!”

Scope’s Trendsetters group, where young disabled people come together to discuss issues that are important to them, have created some information and resources on how to deal with bullying.                      

You can also support the anti-bullying campaign on social media by using #StopBullying4all.