(Edited version appeared in on cyberbullying.org)

                I was born blind and grew up in public schools. Hurtful teasing, bullying and shunning were parts of my growing up as was a very low self-concept. I hated being blind. All I knew to do was say the old saw about “sticks and stones will break my bones” and tell the bully to “shut up”.

Thankfully some things have changed,  although the Pacer Center statistics say bullying is two or three times more common for kids and teens with disabilities than the non-disabled. The online world adds wonderful access to resources and communities, but also new places to be bullied. The playground got larger!

There are laws like Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are resources for parents, professionals and teens like the Pacer Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center www.pacer.org/bullying and http://www.pacerteensagainstbullying.org  Parent support groups for parents of children with disabilities and social support/skill building groups for teens with disabilities exist. Memoirs like Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures, and Mark Zupan’s gimp help teens know it will get better. Books for children and teens are available in alternate formats from www.bookshare.org so that those who don’t read regular print can know they’re not alone and learn ways to deal with the bullying.

Some things have not changed. A disability does make its owner more vulnerable because whether it’s physical, cognitive or emotional, the person has some limitations that a non-disabled person does not have. Those who bully look for differences and weaknesses. Parents, teachers, paraprofessional aides and therapists need to talk honestly with the child about acknowledging weaknesses, learning social skills and accentuating the child’s strengths. If the child can’t outrun the bully, can they use their verbal powers to use humor to diffuse the situation, say a loud and clear “no” or surround themselves with friends who can deflect the bully’s attention?

Denial at some levels still exists about acknowledging what a problem bullying is for people with disabilities. When I was shopping my children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold around looking for a publisher, several editors suggested I take the page out of it about what to do when bullied, because “that doesn’t happen anymore”. Parents fear to ask their child if they’re bullied partly because they know they will be furious if the answer is yes.  All that good advice about staying calm and not swooping right in to solve the problem goes right out the window when it’s your child, especially your child who has a disability.  Listening and giving verbal first aid “That is wrong”, “I’m sorry that happened” or “I’ll help if you’d like” is the way to go. Help the child brainstorm about what needs to be different next time and role-play techniques to use. Modeling compassionate but firm problem-solving teaches more than lecturing or ranting.  Help the child ask for the assistance they want. You are teaching skills that will last a lifetime.

Bullying of the disabled (and bullying in general) does not end with graduation.  Recently I had two encounters with a female bully that I needed to work with on a project. Bystanders were as shocked as I was and did nothing. The first time I froze, but by the second time I had a caustic verbal retort ready. The bullying has not recurred since then.  As I was preparing this blog, I came upon a book by Melody Beattie, Playing It by Heart about how to not fall back into being a victim that I plan to read. Writing this blog and my children’s book are also therapeutic in that I can help create a world where there is less bullying and more kindness and empathy. Together we can make a better world. I’d love to hear from you by email and/or at my blog https://kathiecomments.wordpress.com