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Bullying & people with disabilities

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

There are many stories about students being bullied, but often those victimized are people with disabilities. That was the focus of this year's annual conference by the University at Buffalo's Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley tells us Thursday's conference was a gathering of educators, mental health professionals and individuals with disabilities.  

“They experience the same forms of bullying as other people,” said Amanda Nickerson, Director, UB's Alberti Center.

Students with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be a victim of bullying.

“I guess the key difference is that it is often about differences. It may come from a lack of understanding or a belief that because you are different, you are not as able,” described Nickerson.

“Basically, we talk about,” explained Pam Bennett, parent. Bennett is the mother of 17-year-old Bailey who has Down syndrome. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Pam Bennett, parent, explains how she works with her daughter Bailey to deal with bullying.

Bennett tells us it's important for her daughter to 'find her voice' to prevent bullying against her.

“She’s very mature and so, in my opinion, everybody else needs to catch up to her. But we’re very different then a lot of other people,” said Bennett.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
17-year-old Bailey, who has Down syndrome, has created artwork.

“You know often times kids are teased or bullied because of differences,” said Julie Hertzog, Director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. “I think for so we’ve looked at bullying as just a natural rite of passage, you know something that just happens during childhood.”

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Julie Hertzog, Director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center.

Hertzog served as one of the conference’s keynote presenters. Her son also has Down syndrome.

“When they’re already struggling with educational opportunities and having bullying happen, it just compounds that and it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Hertzog explained. 

A second keynote speaker, Chad Rose, is an Assistant Professor in Special Education at the University of Missouri.

Rose focuses on skill development. Rose goes into schools to implement programs that increase social communications skills to reduce bullying for students with disabilities.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Chad Rose, Assistant Professor in Special Education at the University of Missouri.

“But I also believe that some schools can have skills and teachers need to be trained in terms of recognizing bullying and addressing bullying more so then just come tell me,” said Rose.  “It’s hard for teachers and administrators to intervene when they can’t get the story from the student and that works on both sides. We need to teach students how to have the skills to communicate effectively to teachers, but we also need to teach teachers that however they define bullying, it doesn’t really matter – what matters is the kid standing in front of them and how they interpret  it."

Sometimes the bullying is so bad for students with disabilities that they don't want to go to school and miss out on education, effecting their physical and emotional health.