Bullying and special needs: A silent epidemic

One child was tied to a fence with a sweatshirt while classmates watched in the schoolyard, another ended up in the hospital due to alcohol being slipped into a drink at lunch, and a third was force-fed dog food by peers. They all had a form of special needs and they were all victims of bullying.

These are just some of the tragic testimonials included in the "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes" report, released today to help raise awareness and take action against the bullying of children with special needs and disabilities.

AbilityPath.org partnered with Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and "Glee"'s Lauren Potter, introduced the report along with the launch of a nationwide "Disable Bullying" campaign to give voice to this "silent epidemic."

"Hundreds of thousands of children with differences are being subjected to humiliation and isolation week in and week out around the country and it is time to bring this problem to light and to marshal a call to action to our young people to put an end to it," reported Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics.

The topic of bullying has been no stranger to press these days, but the alarming findings included in "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes" represents one of the few U.S. reports to focus exclusively on the bullying of children with special needs despite that they are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied than other children.

"Glee" actress Lauren Potter, a 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome, can relate. She brought the issue to life when she shared her story of the "immature" boys at her school that followed her and teased her until she told them to "just grow up." Potter, who plays a cheerleader on the wildly popular show, will represent the campaign as a celebrity spokesperson and be featured in its online PSA.

Representative Jackie Speier, phoned in from the floor U.S. House of Representatives to endorse the campaign, vowing that she is "absolutely committed to doing everything [she] can on a federal level to make sure that this issue is elevated."

The campaign ultimately seeks to engage a broad coalition of parents, educators, activists, and policymakers to help prevent this widespread and damaging issue.

Here are some additional findings from the report:

- Children with special needs or a disability are ten times more likely to be bullied than the neurotypical student. Current federal statistics show that 15% to 25% of neurotypical school age children are bullied with some frequency.

- A study in the British Journal of Learning Support found much higher rates of bullying in children with special needs. The researchers indicated that 60% of students with special needs reported being bullied compared to 25% of the general student population

- Researchers have discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without a disability

- The National Autistic Society reports that 40% of autistic children and 60% of those with Asperger's syndrome have experienced bullying.

Let us know what you think -- has your special needs child ever been a victim of bullying? Is there a line to be drawn between teasing and bullying and if so, what is that line?

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