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Many children with special needs experience bullying, and often they and their families are unsure of how to handle it and the best way to overcome the effects of bullying. Today I am interviewing an expert on the topic who has advice for all of us.

Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award-winning author, app developer, and youth empowerment activist. Her books include [easyazon-link asin=”1575421739″ locale=”us”]Too Stressed to Think?: A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You Crazy[/easyazon-link] and the [easyazon-link asin=”1575423022″ locale=”us”]Be Confident in Who You Are (Middle School Confidential Series)[/easyazon-link]. You can learn more about Annie’s work with students, parents and teachers at http://anniefox.com. You can also join the discussion about bullying solutions by liking her Facebook page, Cruel’s Not Cool. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Special-Ism.

  • I love your resource page, Cruel’s Not Cool on your site and your interactive Facebook page by the same name. I know you have been working with children, parents, and teachers for years. What lead to your bullying prevention focus?  
  • Annie: It’s not like I was bullied growing up… though one of my brothers seemed to really enjoy pushing my buttons! On a basic level, I believe my interest in fairness and social justice comes from being Jewish, as well as being the youngest in my family. I have always identified with people (children and adults) who are getting the short-end of the stick. But I really found my calling 15 years ago when we launched my teen website: TheInSite.org, and e-mail questions poured in from kids around the world. From the very beginning up through… this morning… a large percentage of the queries I get have to do with peer conflicts. So I began thinking about what I could do, through my writing, to help kids, tweens, teens, develop more awareness about the choices they make. I teach Social Intelligence skill-building, so kids start paying more attention to their own feelings and the feelings of others. I help them understand that while they cannot control anyone else’s behavior, they do have more control than they think over their attitude and their responses to what’s going on around them.
  • I agree with your FB statement, “There is no one single solution to bullying that fits all.” How do you suggest schools work to figure out what will work best when they are implementing a bully prevention program? 
  • Annie: Every school culture is unique to the individuals who teach and learn in that school. School culture is malleable only to the extent that the stake-holders (which is everyone in that school) takes ownership of their part in the whole enchilada! That means that if I’m a 7th grader walking to my class and I see a student harassing another student and I DO NOTHING to help the targeted child, then I have just added to the social garbage in my school and contributed to the Culture of Cruelty. But if I take a deep breath, find my courage and say “Hey, leave him alone!” or I walk up to the targeted child, touch his arm and say, “Don’t listen to him” then, in that moment, I have helped to shift the school culture in a direction of more acceptance, more compassion, more respect. To create a lasting, positive shift in a school culture, all the stake-holders need to come together and get real about what’s going on. That means administrators, students, teachers, parents, coaches, support staff… EVERYONE… taking the time to come together as a community and clear the air with a Truth and Reconciliation-like forum. After speaking out honestly and sincerely about past lapses in judgment, the next step is creating a collectively shared vision of a new school culture. The final piece, which is probably the most challenging, is to have the leadership and the will to do whatever it takes to maintain the new culture.
  • I’m sorry I missed your FB chat on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 on Technology in Education. However, I was happy to find the conversation thread on FB. Someone asked the question, “How long do you encourage your child to try to advocate and take care of the situation by themselves before you become involved as the parent?” I loved your answer and think it is of value to our readers. Would you please tell our readers your response and if you would alter it in anyway for children with learning disabilities or other special needs?
  • Annie:  If my child has made the sincere effort to talk with other kids who are being disrespectful, and that hasn’t changed the situation, then THAT is the time to get adults involved. Your child, if he/she is comfortable doing it, can talk with the teacher. But if that happens and again, nothing is changing in the bullying realm, then it is time for you to demand action of the school. Get a meeting with principal and teacher and the parents of the other students who are involved. Scream if you have to, but don’t stop advocating for your child and keep up the pressure on the school to do their job! They have a responsibility to make sure that every student is treated with respect.
  • I noticed you refer others to http://bullypolice.org. They were very helpful for me personally when my daughter experienced bullying. Can you tell our audience a little more about them and why you recommend them to your readers?
  • Annie: BullyPolice.org is a “Watch-dog Organization – Advocating for Bullied Children & Reporting on State Anti Bullying Laws” They list and ‘grade’ the state anti-bullying laws currently on the books in all 50 states from “A+ through F”, and it explains what’s missing in the statute. It also has a template for school anti-bullying policies. I recommend them as a resource to parents who are getting a run-around from school administrators. By educating ourselves about the laws in our state that protect all students, we put ourselves in a more powerful position to advocate for our children. It’s a lot easier to apply community pressure and hold schools and school districts accountable when state laws are on our side. But even in cases where state law doesn’t receive an “A+” rating from BullyPolice, parents should use the site to challenge the Culture of Cruelty (and indifference is also a form of cruelty).
  • Do you have any other resources that you recommend especially for parents of special needs children who experience bullying?
  • Annie: Fortunately, for parents and kids, this issue is getting much more attention than it has in the past. And that’s a good thing because now, more than ever, there are all kinds of resources for parents. Education.com has a wealth of information about parenting and child-rearing challenges. A quick search led me to Bullying and the Special Needs Child. I’d also recommend checking out the Related Articles on this page.
  • Many special needs children have longer memories than the average person and obviously bullying can cause emotional scars for anyone. Could you offer advice regarding ways to help victims of bullying overcome bullying along with options to move them to a positive situation?
  • Annie:  I am often frustrated when so-called anti-bullying programs focus most of their attention on ’empowering the victim.’ Of course, it’s important for targeted kids to know how to speak up for themselves and to be willing and able to seek help from an adult. But to give a targeted child the false impression that s/he must have done something to cause the problem and therefore the problem is his/hers to solve. That’s unjust and unrealistic! It’s also likely to make a child feel hopeless. So, to answer your question, I say to parents, work with the school and your child’s teacher and the parents of the other students. Education needs to be about inclusion and acceptance of differences. Helping kids getting along with others is a process… and it takes lots of work, encouragement and opportunities to develop self-confidence in social situations. If, despite your efforts to hold the school accountable for creating a safe, accepting, respectful learning environment for all students all the time has fallen short, then you need to do whatever it takes to find a more positive place for your child to get an education.

You give hope to many who may have lost theirs by offering solutions to actively address a complex problem. Mahalo (thank you) for agreeing to do this interview and for being an active voice for positive change to help eliminate bullying and its effects.