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Is My Child with Special Needs Being Bullied?

April 27th, 2015

Our guest blogger this week is Tara Fishler, CEO of Customized Training Solutions.  Tara Fishler founded Customized Training Solutions in 2003. She and COO Leiat Klarfeld, have provided training to thousands of parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, and students in schools and organizations on topics including anti-bullying, anger management, special needs, diversity and mediation among many other topics. Ms. Fishler currently serves as President of the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NYSDRA).

One in four kids in the U.S. is bullied on a regular basis. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that according to several studies, the rates are usually two to three times higher, for children with special needs. In nearby Connecticut, more than 50 percent of tracked bullying reports involved a student with a disability or an IEP.

 

While more and more schools are developing anti-bullying programs and policies, there’s still a great deal of work to be done, particularly for kids with special needs. For many of these kids, their parents will always remain their primary advocate.

The good news is, there are proactive steps that parents can take to protect their kids and create a healthier, more accepting environment in their schools and communities.Littman Krooks Special Education Advocacy

How Do You Know If It’s Bullying?

In the past, bullying issues were, at best, addressed haphazardly, and at worst, swept under the rug. Now, it’s taken more seriously, which is good. However, it’s also created confusion, because “bullying” has become a catch-all phrase for all kinds of peer conflicts, such as teasing and other relationship issues. In addition, since a child with special needs may not be able explain exactly what’s happening, how do you know if it’s a bullying situation or just “kids being kids?”

Bullying is defined as behavior that is intentional, aggressive and negative, carried out repeatedly against one or more targets. Bullying occurs in relationships where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved.

Evaluating the balance of power in a conflict is often the best way to identify bullying versus teasing. If one party is afraid of the other, it’s more likely to be a bullying situation. When a child has special needs, it can be especially hard to tell what is really going on. (Look for my personal experience on this issue in a future post.)

Why Kids with Special Needs Are Targeted

Littman Krooks Special Education AdvocacyKids with physical, developmental, intellectual, behavioral, sensory disabilities and even allergies are more likely to be bullied than others. Studies indicate that when kids have visible physical disabilities, they are more likely to be victimized.

In addition, children with special needs often have a lower baseline social standing than their fellow students, which makes them more vulnerable from the start. When part of a child’s condition includes social challenges, such as autism, Social Communication Disorder (formerly Asperger’s syndrome), and ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the problem is intensified. Kids who have trouble holding conversations or making friends, or who have a low frustration threshold, are prime targets.

Ironically, the recent inclusion movement in schools may have actually made students with special needs more vulnerable. Special classes, aides, and technological equipment highlight the fact that these students are “different.” And being “different” can set kids up not only for social ostracism, but as the go-to target of bullies.

How to Spot if Your Child Is Being Bullied

The first indication of a bullying problem is often a change in a child’s behavior. Often, kids who are being victimized:

  • Become reluctant to go to school.
  • Start eating or sleeping poorly, or too much.
  • Lose interest in classwork and slip academically.
  • Lose interest in friends and favorite activities.
  • Become moody or get upset easily.
  • Regress in toileting and other skills.
  • Complain of headaches or stomach aches.

In addition, look for physical signs, including:

  • Cuts, bruises, or injuries that weren’t there in the morning.
  • Torn or dirty clothing.
  • Damaged or missing belongings.

If you suspect your child may be the target of bullying, document the situation and bring it to the attention of their teacher(s) and Principal. For more tips about how to handle bullying situations, visit www.tarafishler.com.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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How to Use College Savings to Pay for Classes Not Covered by Financial Aid

March 12th, 2014

Young people with special needs may be looking forward to becoming full-time college students, or they may wish to take just a course or two for a specific purpose or to see whether college is the right choice for them. However, non-degree-seeking students are not eligible for federal student aid, so students and their parents may need to consider other methods of paying for college expenses. A 529 plan can be a good option.

New York’s 529 College Savings Program allows one to save for oneself or for a child, grandchild or friend. Funds can be used at eligible two- or four-year colleges or vocational schools anywhere in the country, for tuition, books and certain housing and food expenses. Qualified withdrawals are federally tax-free and earnings grow federally tax-deferred. Additionally, up to $5,000 (or $10,000 for married couples filing jointly) in contributions may be deducted from one’s New York state tax return. A range of stock investments is available, managed by Vanguard.

The additional benefit of 529 plans is that the funds may be used by students who are only taking a class or two and therefore not eligible for federal student aid. Students should check to be sure the institution where they plan to study qualifies as one where students can use 529 funds, and they should check with the school about their status: institutions may have different rules regarding undeclared majors or half-time status that affect eligibility for student aid.

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Funding Helps Inclusion Education For Special Needs Students

October 11th, 2012

As part of the overhaul process of special education in New York City public schools, one of the goals is increased student inclusion, both in individual schools and system-wide. Though inclusive classroom placement for students with disabilities has been the national education policy for some ten years, in New York City public schools, of the approximately 165,000 students with disabilities, some 40 percent of them currently spend all or most of their school day in separate classes from students without disabilities.

According to numerous studies, children with disabilities who are educated with their peers without disabilities in inclusive classrooms show a variety of academic gains, including mastery of  IEP goals, improved standardized test performance, increased motivation, and better on-task behaviors. [1]  In contrast, students with disabilities who are educated in separate classes show a graduation rate of 5 percent, which is far below the citywide overall graduation rate of 65 percent.

Now, as part of the overhaul process, New York City schools will begin incorporating students into inclusive classrooms for grades kindergarten, sixth and ninth. Administrators, including principals, teachers and aids, have been training to work with all levels of learners, their families, and individualized education plans (I.E.P.s), and teachers with special needs students in their classrooms. [2]

Prior to 2012, rather than have every school able to accommodate every student,  New York City students with special needs would often be transferred from their neighborhood school, or even their district school, to attend a school with special needs services in place. These reform plans are one part of a push to comply with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 for all 1,700 New York public schools. And while advocates and parents have been working for a broader acceptance of students with special needs in the public school system, some have voiced concern that mainstream educators do not have the necessary resources and training to meet students’ needs effectively, and that some special needs students will be placed in inclusive classrooms when they would be better served working with education specialists. [3]

This past May, The Panel for Education Policy voted to alter New York city’s financing formula to help restructure the city’s special education program by allotting money to the students rather than to special education classes. [4]

For more information, visit our website at www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

  1. http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.incls.rsrch.whitbread.htm
  2. http://schoolbook.org/2012/05/24/city-panel-approves-special-education-inclusion-plan
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/08/09/special-ed-reform-brings-city-more-in-line-with-national-trend/
  4. http://eservices.nysed.gov/sepubrep/
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