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What is Bullying?

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This article talks about what bullying is, who is at risk, signs and effects of bullying, and how you can help.  Print the supporter article "What is bullying?" here

What is bullying?

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior towards a person that often happens again and again. Bullying includes teasing, name calling, written and verbal abuse, threats, physical assault, and other hurtful behavior. Bullying is meant to threaten or intimidate the victim.

Dealing with bullying or a bully can be extremely difficult for people of any age. Bullies are found in schools, where people work, and in the community. Bullying can make a person’s life miserable.

Who is at risk of bullying?

While everyone is at risk of bullying, people with developmental disabilities are at higher risk. For example, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than nondisabled children. In the workplace, up to a third of all workers are at some point victims of bullying. People with disabilities are more likely to be victims than others, including those who have

  • autism
  • epilepsy
  • intellectual disabilities
  • a stutter or have difficulty speaking
  • diabetes and are dependent on insulin
  • medical conditions that can be seen by others (like cerebral palsy)

What are the effects of bullying?

Bullying can cause serious harm and should not be taken lightly. It can result in physical injury, emotional distress, and even death. Individuals who are victims of bullying are at increased risk for depression and anxiety, resulting in poor performance both at school and at work.

What are some signs that a person is being bullied?

Many victims of bullying are afraid to talk about what is happening to them. Look for changes in the person’s behavior. If you see unexplained changes, talk to the person about what is going on. Some signs to look for that may point to bullying are

  • unexplained injuries
  • loss or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • complaints of frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • showing signs of being sick or pretending to be sick
  • changes in eating habits
  • difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • not wanting to go to school or work
  • loss of friends
  • self-destructive behavior such as running away or harming themselves.

If you know someone who has signs that they are being bullied don’t ignore the signs.

How can you help?

First, talk to the person who is being bullied about what is happening. How big is the problem? Where is it happening? How does it affect the person?

Be supportive of the person. Encourage them to tell you who are involved and how and where the bullying happens. Reassure the person that it is not their fault. No one deserves to be bullied.

Ask questions about their friendships. Children and adults with disabilities do not always realize that they are being bullied. For example, they may think they have a new friend even though the “friend” calls them names and makes fun of them.

If someone is a victim of bullying, talk to them about ways to be safe. Go over this list of do’s and don’ts.  Make a plan for what to do if they are bullied again.

  • Don’t ignore the bullying.
  • Don’t get into a fight with the bully.
  • Don’t try to get even with the bully.
  • Don’t believe you deserve to get picked on.
  • Don’t believe what the person says about you.
  • Don’t hang around places where the bully might be.
  • Do talk to someone you trust.
  • Do speak confidently to the bully.
  • Do write down or talk about how you feel.
  • Do walk or run away if a bully tries to hurt you.
  • Do learn to say and believe good things about yourself.

As a supporter, you can provide a safe place for someone to get help and learn how to deal with bullying. You could role-play what to do. For example, if a person is being bullied, show them how to walk away or to find a teacher or supervisor to help. The person will feel more confident when they know what to do and how to react. It’s important when they ask you for help with a bully that you think it through with them so they can develop a plan.

A good support system is important to help prevent bullying. Going places in groups with trusted friends can help keep a person safe.

Who else can help?

When someone you support is being bullied, get the regional center involved. Talk to the person’s service coordinator about the situation and get their help. Include the person who is being bullied in these discussions. Getting everyone together in an individual program planning (IPP) meeting can help with problem-solving solutions.

If bullying is happening at school, discuss the problem with the teacher, principal, or counselor and come up with a plan. This may include holding an individual educational program (IEP) meeting. When bullying is directed at a student because of their disability, under Federal law, schools are required to take action to both protect the student and prevent bullying.

If the bullying occurs at work, help the individual to clearly describe the “who, what, where, and when.” Encourage them to talk to their supervisor or other support persons at their job. Companies are required to take actions to protect employees from this type of behavior. There are legal and civil remedies for harassment, abuse, and other forms of bullying at work.

Bullying has become a concern across the country. As U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says, “We must do more. Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us. We are all responsible. No one can afford to be a bystander.”

Be more than a bystander.

  • Be a friend to the person being bullied.
  • Help the person stay away from the situation.
  • Tell others who can help.
  • Go for help when you see someone being bullied.


Bullying and Youth with Disabilities and Special Health Needs.

Special Needs Anti-Bullying Toolkit.

Questions and Answers about Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.



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Last updated on Wed, 11/14/2012 - 16:03