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Special Needs Kids And Bullying

No child is immune from bullying. Children with disabilities …such as physical, developmental, emotional, intellectual and sensory disabilities—are at an increased risk of being bullied.

There are a number of factors such as physical vulnerability, social skill challenges, or intolerant environments which could increase the risk. Some children with disabilities may bully others.

Ninety-five percent of 6- to 21-year-old students with disabilities were served in public schools in 2013. When assessing specific types of disabilities, prevalence rates differ: 35.3% of students with behavioral and emotional disorders, 33.9% of students with autism, 24.3% of students with intellectual disabilities, 20.8% of students with health impairments, and 19% of students with specific learning disabilities face high levels of bullying victimization (Rose et al., 2012).

If your child has food allergies or other health conditions such as epilepsy or juvenile diabetes, they may be at higher risk of being bullied. Often kids could make fun of those who have food allergies or special health conditions due to the exposure of these conditions and not understanding them. This type of bullying could cause your child not to take necessary medications and put them at risk.

Parents can help their children by:

  • Be on the lookout for bullying
  • Listen to what your child is telling you
  • Pay attention to your child’s moods
  • Never ignore self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, cutting or talking about suicide Watch your child’s sleeping habits
  • Look deeper if your child’s grades begin to fall
  • Make sure you know your child’s schedule
  • Watch for reports of lost possessions

Know your rights. Learn and understand Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These two Acts protect children with disabilities and make it illegal to be harassed due to a child with a disability.

Talk to your child about bullying. Be sure your child knows what constitutes bullying and encourage him or her to communicate with you about anything that happens. Understand though that kids often don’t report bullying to parents. So you need to ask regularly about school and their interactions with others.

Help your child build a strong support system. Having friends and supportive people around is essential to bullying prevention. Bullies often leave children alone who have a solid group of friends and supportive people. Help your child make friends at school by inviting children to your home. Also provide opportunities to develop friendships by exposing your child to activities he or she enjoys.

Report all bullying and harassment. Contact school officials immediately if you find out your child is being bullied. Ask to meet face-to-face and provide written details of the incidents including the dates, times, places and people involved.

Be sure your child is safe. If your child is being physically harassed or has been threatened, request that the school intervene immediately. Your child’s safety should be your number one priority, so take steps to ensure it is safe for your child to be at school. Contact local police if there has been an assault or if the school does not respond.

Get your child appropriate counseling or assistance

Follow-up on all bullying reports. Because of your child’s special circumstances, it’s important to be diligent in following up with school personnel. Do not make demands, but do ensure that the bullying has stopped and that appropriate steps have been taken to keep your child safe. Although the school may not be able to share what consequences have been implemented due to privacy issues, they should be able to tell you what they have done to ensure your child is safe.

Be willing to move up the chain of command

Safe Environments for Kids with Disabilities

When a child with disabilities is being bullied, special considerations must be taken. Kids with disabilities often have IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs) or Section 504 plans that can be used in taking specific approaches for preventing and responding to bullying. These plans can provide additional services if necessary. Civil rights laws protect students with disabilities against harassment.

Safe Environments for Kids with Special Health Needs

Your child may need special accommodations and consideration at school if they have a special health need such as epilepsy, juvenile diabetes or food allergies. While they would not require an IEP or Section 504 plan, schools can protect students with special health needs from bullying. Educating kids and teachers about students’ special health needs and the dangers associated with certain actions and exposures can help keep kids safe.

Federal Civil Rights Laws and Kids with Disabilities

When bullying is directed at a child because of his or her type of disability and it creates a hostile environment at school. 

If a child is bullied or harassed due to their disability this would be covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 which the school must address.

All fifty states have anti-bullying legislation. And while there is no federal legislation that directly addresses bullying, there are times that bullying and discriminatory harassment overlap when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age,  a type of disability, or religion. When his happens, federally-funded schools (including colleges and universities) have an obligation to resolve the harassment.

Schools are obligated by these laws to address conduct that is:

  • Severe, pervasive or persistent
  • Creates a hostile environment at school. That is, it is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school
  • Based on a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, a type of disability, or religion. The US Department of Justice has jurisdiction over religion under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating one or more civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, including: 

   Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

   Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

   Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

   Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act

   Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 

You can also make reports here:

IDEA Special Education Written State Complaints
IDEA Special Education Mediation
IDEA Special Education Due Process Complaints/Hearing Requests
IDEA Special Education Resolution Meetings 

The U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America's 6.5 million students with disabilities.

The Department issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and, as necessary, take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.

Basic decency and respect demand that our schools ensure that all their students learn in a safe environment.

Since 2009, OCR has received more than 2,000 complaints regarding the bullying of students with disabilities in the nation's public elementary and secondary schools.

Today's guidance builds upon anti-bullying guidance the Department has issued in recent years concerning schools' legal obligations to fix the problem, including:

  • A 2013 dear colleague letter and enclosure by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) clarifying that when bullying of a student with a disability results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit under IDEA, the school must remedy the problem, regardless of whether the bullying was based on the student's type of disability.
  • A 2010 dear colleague letter by the OCR, which elaborated on potential violations when bullying and harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.
  • A 2000 dear colleague letter by the OCR and OSERS, which explained that bullying based on disability may violate civil rights laws enforced by OCR as well as interfere with a student's receipt of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The latest letter makes clear that the protections for students with disabilities who are bullied on any basis extend to the roughly three quarters of a million students who are not eligible for IDEA services but are entitled to services under the broader Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That law bars discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Help is available for those who are either targets of disability bullying or know of someone who might be, such as:

  • A fact sheet for parents on schools' obligations under federal law to address bullying. The fact sheet is also available in Spanish.
  • Asking to meet with the student's team that designs his or her individualized education program—the IEP or Section 504 teams.
  • Asking to meet with the principal or school district's special education coordinators to have the school address bullying concerns.
  • Seeking help from OCR. The office investigates complaints of a disability and discrimination at schools. To learn more about federal civil rights laws or how to file a complaint, contact OCR at 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877-8339), or OCR's Web site is To fill out a complaint form online, go to

To view OCR's guidance detailing public schools' responsibilities regarding the bullying of students with disabilities in Spanish, click here.