Recently, a 15-year-old student at South Fayette High School in Pennsylvania was charged for disorderly conduct after he secretly recorded audio of a classmate bullying him during a special education math class. Instead of getting help from school staff, the student, who is a special needs student with developmental delays and ADHD, was charged with criminal disorderly conduct after his school principal threatened him with illegal wiretapping charges.
During the same timeframe, a student described as shy and quiet at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa., went on a stabbing rampage that injured 20 people. It was later reported that he'd been teased and bullied by students because of his small stature.
These cases, like so many others, are a disturbing wake-up call about the need for more staff, parent and community training on the warning signs of teens in crisis, more knowledge about bullying and more awareness of effective responses.
Students also need help! Both those who are bullied and those subjected to bullying need guidance and assistance in order to address root causes and redirect negative behaviors.
At Special Needs Network (SNN), we are acutely aware of the epidemic of school violence and bullying and, particularly, the impact on special needs students. Disabled students report being bullied two to three times more than typical students.
Earlier this month, in collaboration with Los Angeles County's Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, SNN sponsored a #iStand4Peace summit that provided concrete strategies on ways to stand up against violence and bullies. The summit included 425 students from some of L.A.'s toughest neighborhoods. Professional counselors, youth anti-bullying advocates and hip-hop artists challenged students to become ambassadors for inclusive campuses where all students can flourish without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
At the summit, these kids were empowered with tools of peace. They rallied against bullying, learned compassion for the victims of bullying and found out how to combat bullies when they attack.
This summit is a model for other communities who want to organize and take action against bullying. Autism Awareness Month is a great time to refocus our efforts to continue to educate teachers and parents so that situations like the tragic ones involving these Pennsylvanian teens never ever happen again. There are solutions and ways you can help:
- Sponsor or ask your local school to sponsor a summit similar to SNN's #IStand4Peace summit. Use it to teach students self-confidence, how to recognize bullying and what it does to students both short and long term. Include tips on how to report bullying.
- Encourage and seek out training for parents and educators on what bullying is and how to recognize if their kid is being bullied or is a bully.
- Be a positive role model. Stop using violence and aggression in your own life. Insults, profanity and spankings at home can translate into bullying.
- Encourage sensitivity training for all students in your local schools.
- Demand mental health counseling for bullies and the bullied.