Kids With Disabilities Can Be At Risk Of Bullying By Adults

Jan 29, 2019
Originally published on January 29, 2019 3:12 pm

Earlier this month, a Kentucky teacher was charged with assault after a video showed her dragging a 9-year-old boy with autism through school hallways. Studies show that kids with disabilities are three times more likely to be bullied than their peers, and an increasing number of parents are speaking about their kids’ experiences with abusive adults.

Among them are Lauren Robert-Demolaize and Virginia Scudder, whose children, they say, have been targeted by adults.

Robert-Demolaize says her daughter, Chloe, became “a topic of conversation” among the other parents because of her outbursts in the classroom. Chloe has autism, Robert-Demolaize says, and loud noises can trigger her anxiety.

“Parents didn’t think that she belonged there,” Robert-Demolaize tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “She was a distraction and a disturbance, and it ruined their child’s day, and at some points demanded that she be removed from the classroom, although, the teacher said that Chloe should stay and remain with her peers.”

Scudder says she went through a similar experience with her son, Lucas, who does not have autism but has a similar sensory disorder. She says that one of the consequences of adult bullying is that children will copy adults’ behavior.

“They don’t understand empathy,” Scudder tells Young. “They feel like they’re protecting their child, but they don’t understand what they’re doing in essence is really hurting the other child that they’re speaking of or that they’re complaining about.”

Interview Highlights

On a time when their children were bullied by adults due to their disability 

Scudder: “[Lucas is] deathly afraid of sirens. He has difficulty with fine motor skills. He just has a difficult time transitioning, and so if things are not familiar, they’re very foreign to him, the unusual or the not the norm definitely sets him off. And he does start crying, he panics. He’ll hold his ear. It’s a coping mechanism for him in dealing with his fear.

“And most recently, our shopping days are usually set aside for Sundays as a family, and we we went out. My husband took one twin. I took the other and my daughter. I had Lucas, and we were just wiping down the cart. It had rained. He was crying from being wet, and he was crying from the loud noises coming from the bakery. They had the radio blasting, and he was holding his ears and crying and shouting that he wanted to go. And we had a complete and utter stranger just shout out, ‘Shut up.’ And of course he used other foul language. It shouldn’t have to get to the point where I have to turn to someone I completely don’t know, a complete and utter stranger, and say, ‘My son has sensory processing issues,’ and have to have a discussion with a stranger about it. Now mind you this person had no desire to have that conversation, and nor would I have given him that at that point because it really did escalate.” 

Robert-Demolaize: “[Chloe] loved going on the bus, and it was exciting for her. And the route changed, and they changed the bus driver, and there was an immediate change in her behavior. And she would come home screaming and crying. And she has a language delay when it comes to talking about feelings and emotions, so I was not able to really get much information out of her other than you noticed this major change in behavior.

“The bus driver did make some inappropriate comments in front of me when I was getting her off the bus. I did go in and speak with the teacher, and I did have a report written that said that as of the date that she started with this new bus driver that her behavior in class had changed. And another teacher was told by this bus driver, ‘Get her off my bus. She’s your problem now.’ And I was able to finally get Chloe to open up. She told me that the bus driver had told her to ‘zip it,’ would scream at her from the driver’s seat. And when I did bring this up to the teachers they investigated, and it was confirmed by the bus matron. And eventually there was a new bus driver that was assigned, and Chloe’s behavior immediately changed. But this was going on for months before I was able to actually figure it out.”

On why adults bully children and the unintended consequences of that behavior

Scudder: “I’m actually in the field of education, and I am not only a mother, I’m a teacher, and I work in the public school system. I think part of the issue here is the school in which Chloe was enrolled in was a private school, and they don’t always follow procedure. Unfortunately in these types of private settings, you have individuals — and I like to call them the narcissistic bully — they’re very self centered. They feel like it’s only their world and only their child that deserves to stand out. They don’t understand empathy. They feel like they’re protecting their child, but they don’t understand what they’re doing in essence is really hurting the other child that they’re speaking of or that they’re complaining about.

“You don’t have signs hanging from a child’s neck saying, ‘I’m autistic. I have Asperger’s.’ I think the idea here is empathy. And unfortunately, no matter what situation or setting your in as an adult and as a parent that should be the forefront — empathy — and you should be teaching that through your own words and how you behave in front of your child.”

Robert-Demolaize: “I believe that this is cyclical. If you have a parent that is talking about another child or criticizing the way that a child is being parented, your children are listening, and we set examples with everything that we do. And when we set the example that this type of behavior is acceptable, then that child believes that it is acceptable. I also think that when we have people in the community that don’t stick up for this child, we are setting an example that it’s OK to behave this way. And you know, the one way to end bullying is by parents setting a good example that we do not treat people this way. We treat people with empathy and with kindness. We give people the benefit of the doubt. That we have open communication. But it’s also that we stick up for what’s right, and we stand behind our word, and if we know this is going on and we do nothing to stop it, then we’re just as guilty.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

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