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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bullying Report and Legislation

Last month, said that special-needs kids face a "nationwide silent epidemic of bullying." The assertion came in a report titled "Walk a Mile in Their Shoes.” Some passages:
“Because of difficulties with social interaction and the inability to read social cues, children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome have higher rates of peer rejection and higher frequencies of verbal and physical attacks,” said Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

In 2009, the Massachusetts Advocates for Children in a survey of nearly 400 parents of children with autism across the state found that 88 percent of children with autism have been bullied at school ranging from verbal abuse to physical contact. [The report was titled "Targeted, Taunted, Tormented: The Bullying of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder."]

Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University says that, in some cases, the use of computers and technology may be a child with special needs only social outlet.... We also need to realize that what may seem normal to us – in terms of social interaction – is not normal to children with special needs, especially children on the autism spectrum."

Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, will introduce a bill that would require schools to report incidents of bullying against children diagnosed with conditions like Down syndrome and Aspergers to the federal government. It would also mandate that any federal dollars that promote anti-bullying programs focus partially on that group.
“There is [currently] no requirement that as part of the anti-bullying curriculum, that there be made specific reference to children with special needs. That’s particularly dumb,” Speier said during a briefing on school bullying on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “What I want to do is create an environment where there is zero tolerance. I think that starts first with education and awareness. Then, when behavior is egregious, then people have to be called out on that.”

But highlighting one group could put local schools working to curb the practice in a tough place, warned Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute.

According to McCluskey, singling out specific groups for special consideration could occur at the expense of other victims not on a list of protected students.

“The federal government does have legitimate role to play in ensuring that schools do not allow systematic discrimination to occur in schools and certainly perpetrated by schools,” McCluskey said. “The problem starts when the federal government identifies specific groups that are somehow going to be more protected or identified for protection to the exclusion of other groups. So the person who’s just a ‘nerd’ doesn’t get the same level of protection because ‘nerds’ are not identified as a specific group in federal legislation.”

For weeks this year, anti-bullying advocates have lobbied at the U.S. Capitol, teaming up with parents and children to push Congress to address the issue. On Wednesday, the group, an online network of families with children who have mental and physical disabilities, sponsored the forum where Speier announced her intention to introduce the bill.

Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who has a child of her own with Down syndrome, joined Speier, along with “Glee” actress Lauren Potter, who has become a national celebrity spokesman for the group.