Children with Disabilities that are Bullied

Bullying at school is increasingly becoming a nightmare for scholars and parents across the country, threatening a child’s physical and emotional safety, in addition to having a negative impact on their ability to learn.  The situation is further exacerbated in the case of a child with a disability, affecting their self-esteem and ostracising them socially even more than they were before.

According to a South African study that was completed by Pondering Panda in 2013 comprising of 2 064 learners aged 13 – 24; a staggering 57% of children in South African schools are bullied, with 52% of respondents saying that they were teased and insulted.  A further 26% were physically abused by being pushed, hit or beaten and 16% were cyber bullied via their phone, e-mail or on social network platforms.  When asked whether learners at their school brought guns, knives and other dangerous weapons to school, 45% of respondents said yes.

“It is one of the hardest things to bear, to see your child being bullied and in pain. You want to lash out at the school, the teachers, the bullies and their parents. You feel like you are in a wilderness, walking blindly,” says Laura*, a mother whose child was being teased and assaulted at school.

At age 5, Laura’s son, David*, was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which is a processing disorder that affects a child’s ability to listen.  “The ears hear, but the brain does not translate or interpret that information correctly,” explains Tally Sherban, an audiologist at Oticon, a leading manufacturer of hearing solutions.  “It is the equivalent of listening to a conversation through a glass pane or a radio filled with static.  Only parts of the words get through, clouding a child’s understanding of a conversation.”

For nine years, David worked with an audiologist who assisted him with his APD and it was in 2011 when he was moved from a private remedial school to a government remedial school that the bullying nightmare started, at age 14.

David’s nose deviated to the right, which afforded him the nickname ‘skewe neus’ or ‘scew nose’ in English.  Laura contacted the head of the department who talked to the children about how hurtful it is to call people names.  It stopped some of the kids, but not all of them.

“David begged us to correct his nose,” says Laura.  “His self-esteem was very low and he hated his nose.  We crumbled, and at the end of 2011 David underwent a procedure to straighten his septum,” she adds.  Although the operation was a success, it did very little to alleviate the situation at school, as the name-calling continued.

In March of 2012, Laura received a phone call that every parent dreads.  “David was hurt, and when I arrived at school I found my child covered in blood, with a swollen nose and a black eye,” describes Lauren.  David and another boy apparently had an altercation over a ball during their physical education class.  The boy, who was trained in karate, attacked David and hit him on his left ear, his cheek and his nose.

Laura took David to an ENT who confirmed that his nose had been damaged, causing his nose deviate to the left and leaving a bump on his nose.  It is cumbersome at night when he tries to sleep as it inhibits proper breathing and complicates matters during an asthma attack.  The name ‘skewe neus’ remained.  “David will only be able to undergo reconstructive surgery on his nose, once he turns 21,” says Laura.

The most devastating result however was a temporary hearing loss that was confirmed by David’s audiologist in his left ear as a result of the attack.   “We had to adapt to David’s hearing loss, which further complicated his APD,” explains Laura.  “If he wanted to talk to us, we switched off all TVs and radios.  Thankfully he regained his hearing after a six month period, but the internal scars remained,” Laura says.

At the time of the attack, Laura sought out the advice of a lawyer who advised her to put the incident in writing and to request a formal investigation as to what happened and how the school will handle it.  A board meeting was convened in the presence of the child who harmed David and it was decided to send the child for anger management therapy in addition to community service.

“The most surprising development that came out of this whole ordeal is that the boy who harmed David, became one of his best friends,” says Laura.  “At the time he wrote me a note and apologised profusely, but he also promised to look after David, which he has done.”

A lot of tears and frustration later, David decided to fight back.  “I had told David that life is sometimes very cruel and that it was up to him to decide whether he chose to be the victim or whether he was going to overcome the situation, which he has done, very bravely.  Once he stood up for himself, the others left him alone,” says Laura.

There are signs to look out for, that may indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • They act out by losing their temper over something insignificant
  • They don’t want to go to school and actively look for reasons not to go
  • They don’t want to talk about school
  • They say things like:  ‘I hate my life’; ‘I wish I had never been born’
  • They retreat into their own angry world
  • Their ability to concentrate and learn is reduced
  • They have unexplained cuts or bruises
  • Incidences of stolen or damaged possessions and clothing

What to do if your child is being bullied: From

  • Listen to what your child has to say
  • If you were bullied as a child, try not to personalise what is happening
  • Don’t retaliateagainst the bully or his family
  • Coach your child on how to react
  • Find a teacher or administrator at your child’s school who will help
  • Take your child’s side
  • Get support
  • Teach your child to name what is happening
  • Find something your child is really good at doing

“I know that I am probably the world’s most irritating mom,” says Laura.  “I basically hover around and chat and cross question, and offer made up scenario’s until I manage to get David to open up and talk about it.  It is so important to break the silence and to let your child know that they have the right to feel safe and that you are there to support them,” concludes Laura.

*The case study is based on actual events and the names of the people in this article have been changed to protect their identity

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