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Parents worry that their children will become a target of bullies.  Parents of children with disabilities face an even more significant challenge than the average family – not only are those children more likely to be the target of bullying, they may also not be aware of what is happening and unable to express it to adults.  Various studies have found that children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience harassment, and that harassment is more likely to be chronic.
While at the end of April last year Gov. Rick Snyder urged the state legislature to pass anti-bullying legislation (currently Michigan is one of only four states that does not have such laws), there are things you can do now to prevent and cope with bullying.
Help your child learn what bullying is and what it looks like. The difference between teasing and bullying is subtle and hard for some children to understand.  Here are some identifiers:  1) Bullying is intentionally cruel, repetitive behavior towards your child over time.  2) There is no balance in the relationship; the bully is always the one in control; your child feels he has no power.  3) The activity is having a negative effect on your child.  He becomes upset, shows sign of physical illness (like stomach aches and headaches) and dreads going to school.  4) The bully accepts no responsibility for his or her behavior; it is somehow your child’s fault.
Help your child increase her ability to self-advocate. She needs to know that it is not only OK, but important, to tell other children mean words and behavior are not acceptable.  She should learn how to say “stop that” or walk away.
Help your child practice social skills. Role play, sign him up for social groups, and set IEP goals around building social skills.  This will help him not only identify and respond to abusive behavior, but also build friendships that can make a real difference.
Help your child feel proud of who she is. Confidence is an important tool in your child’s toolbox – it not only helps her better deal with bullying, it may also reduce her likelihood of being bullied in the first place.
Get together. Teachers, counselors, school administrators, and other parents should all be drafted into the effort to keep students safe.
Bullying can be serious, so if your child is experiencing it, don’t hesitate – address the problem, and get help.  Every child deserves to feel safe.