by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” Aug. 29, 2015.
(Editor’s Note: Larry P. Johnson is a motivational speaker and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his web site at www.mexicobytouch.com.)
Forty-three percent of blind or visually impaired children are bullied at school by their peers, according to a recent report by Blind Children UK, a leading non-profit organization based in Reading, England. Many people cannot conceive of the idea that a blind or visually impaired child would be the victim of bullying. Actually, children with glasses are traditionally the first individuals to be marked by bullies.
The University of Bristol conducted a 2005 study that showed children with glasses are bullied 35 to 40 percent more than children without glasses. Bullies see those with any amount of visual impairment to be weak and, therefore, a prime target for their aggression.
The Blind Children UK research also revealed that almost half of parents of sighted children admitted that they do not feel comfortable inviting a blind or visually impaired child to their home without a parent or guardian. They said they would not invite the blind child because they would worry that the child might hurt himself or herself, because they didn’t know enough about the blind child’s special needs or because they were concerned that the blind child wouldn’t be able to navigate around their homes. The researchers suggested that this discomfort of sighted parents toward children with visual impairment can be transmitted to their own sighted children and may contribute to the social isolation of visually impaired children. According to the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, a child with visual impairments faces unique challenges trying to keep pace with his/her sighted peers. Add bullying and social exclusion to the mix, and you have a problem that can be overwhelming for the blind student.
Molly Burke, a blind 14-year-old Canadian girl, tells her story. “One day in May my teachers at school assigned several classmates (formerly my closest friends) to help me get to the lunchroom. When it was time for lunch, they told me that they weren’t hungry. Instead of leading me to the cafeteria, they took me outside. I was on crutches because of breaking my foot two weeks earlier from falling down a flight of stairs. I was hungry, but it wasn’t up to me. I figured, ‘Well, at least I’m hanging out with friends.’ It was sunny and warm, and I started to sweat in my heavy school uniform as I struggled to keep up on my crutches. First the girls led me down the hill I’d tobogganed on every winter, then across the field where my brother and I used to play soccer on. When I felt roots underfoot, I knew we had entered the woods at the edge of the field. By then, I was hot and out of breath. I sat down under the trees with my crutches beside me. One of the girls grabbed them. Laughing, my friends ran deeper into the woods. I heard a loud crack. The girls had broken my crutches against a tree. I heard the sound of their laughter fade as they ran back to class, leaving me alone and helpless on the ground.”
Since children with special needs often occupy a lower social standing among their peers, they lack a support system, which the bully recognizes. Bullying may go unreported because children with disabilities often struggle with self-esteem issues. They may fail to report the abuse due to their feelings of intimidation, humiliation or embarrassment. It’s important to speak with your child about bullying. Tell your child in no uncertain terms that bullying should never be tolerated and that there is no shame attached to reporting it. And that’s how I see it.