Yes! Bullying Can Be Addressed through the IEP By Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson and Attorney Jennifer Laviano Today’s
headlines are filled with news about bullying at school. The latest
phenomenon “bullicide” is when kids who are being bullied commit
suicide. Let’s face it, bullying can be pretty scary and should
concern most any parent who has a child attending school. However, it
is especially worrisome for parents who have children with disabilities,
because research shows that kids with disabilities are more likely to
be targeted. This is especially so for kids with developmental
disabilities like autism, because they are less likely to be a ble to
navigate their way around social situations by the very nature of their
professionals who represent children with special needs, we help
parents obtain appropriate special education services for their children
with disabilities. Both of us have a particular interest in the rights
of children with autism spectrum disorders. Julie is not only a special
education advocate, but the parent of a 14 year child with autism whose
practice is largely devoted this disability. Jennifer has dedicated
her law practice entirely to the representation of children and
adolescents with disabilities whose families are in disagreement with
their public school districts, and the majority are families whose
children have autism spectrum disorders.
every family we work with that includes a child with ASD reports that
their child has been affected by bullying. Unfortunately, we both work
with parents who tell us that their school team tells them that
bullying can’t be addressed through the special education IEP
(Individualized Education Plan). We are here to say it most certainly can! Here are a few practical tips as you tackle the problem:
Ask for your school district's bullying policy and procedures.
your child at home. Talk to him or her and explore what’s happening at
school and with peers. Set up a data collection system at home that
tracks any changes in behavior.
your child at school. Have a team meeting with your child’s special
education team (examples: the special ed teacher, regular ed teacher,
case manager, social worker, guidance counselor, school psychologist,
speech pathologist, principal) and make them aware of the situation. Ask
the school team to monitor your child over a period of time and set up a
data collection system among the team to track any changes. Make sure
that monitoring takes place across all structured and non-structured
school settings (the classroom, hallways, lunch room, bathroom, school
bus and at recess).
Document the issue and request that the documentation be placed in your child’s educational file.
Determine if what is happening is a reportable offense in accordance with school policies.
Put a (written) plan in place with the school team.
the difference between a school-wide approach to bullying and a
child-centered approach. School-wide approaches include getting other
kids involved in resolving the bullying issue like pairing the student
with an ASD with a peer buddy. A child-centered approach involves the
child with an ASD gaining a skill or learning to change their own
behavior like recognizing a bully or having a bank of responses to say
to a bully.
what is making your child vulnerable to being bullied. If you don’t
identify the specific problem your child is having then it is more
difficult to address it and help remediate it through the IEP. For
example, is it your child’s Inability to read / recognize social cues
(shunning, teasing, gesturing, etc.), inability to respond effectively
(lack of a strategy bank), or inability to self-advocate. Once you’ve
identified these type of issues, you can argue that these social skill
deficits should be addressed as social skillgoals and objectives in the IEP.
Develop a plan targeting your child’s level of ability. Set up a buddy system in unstructured set tings (schoo l-wide). Develop incentives for other kids to participate as buddies (school-wide).
Develop classroom lessons to raise awareness of bullying, that will be
taken seriously and there will be consequences when students bully (school-wide).
Develop IEP goals to address each individual social skill deficit (student-centered). Develop IEP goals to address each individual pragmatic language deficit (student-centered.)
a legal perspective, one of the most difficult challenges in addressing
bullying in our public schools is that, while many states do have laws
on the books regarding bullying, they generally do not include what is
called a "private right of action." In Engli sh, and summarizing a very
complicated legal premise, this means that while the law exists, there
is no right to sue someone who violates it under that specific statute.
Therefore, parents whose children are being routinely tormented at
school who are faced with an administration who elects not to properly
address the situation are left to utilize other state or federal laws if
they want to find justice in our courts.
when a parent is considering what rights their child has if their child
with autism is being bullied, first and foremost they should ask
themselves whether changes need to be made in the IEP. Be prepared to
hear your IEP Team grumble that bullying is "not a special education
issue," but indeed it is. If a student's disability is causing them to
exhibit behaviors which are making them particularly vulnerable to
harassment by their peers, or to fail to understand appropriate social
interaction in the "mainstream" (as is often the case with autism
spectrum disorders), then absolutely this needs to be addressed in the
student's special education program.
appropriate special education support and instruction for students with
disabilities within our public school settings, we are setting our kids
with autism up for being targeted, humiliated and excluded within the
regular education environment, in direct contravention of one of the key
purposes of the IDEA, which is to include children with disabilities in
their public schools. Wh at is happening as a result of our failure to
adequately scaffold special education programs and instruction for
students whose autism spectrum disorder places them at even greater risk
for bullying is that we are returning to the days of segregation of
children with disabilities, as a matter of fact, if not as a matter of
Swanson is in private practice as a special education advocate in
Connecticut. Her practice is almost exclusively dedicated to helping
parents of children with autism spectrum disorders obtain appropriate
special education services. Ms. Swanson’s website www.yourspecialchild.com is dedicated to the everyday needs of children who have autism spectrum disorders.Attorney
Jennifer Laviano is in private practice in Connecticut. Her
representation of children with special needs encompasses the full
spectrum of advocacy under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act ), from attendance at IEP Team meetings and Mediation, to
zealous and experienced litigation in Due Process Hearings and Federal
Court. Ms. Laviano is a regular presenter, both locally and nationally,
on the subject of the special legal rights of children with
disabilities and their entitlement to receive a Free and Appropriate
Education, and authors the popular special education blog www.SpecialEdJustice.com Ms.
Swanson and Attorney Laviano co-host of the weekly radio show “Your
Special Education Rights with Jen and Julie” on Autism One Radio.