Bullying behaviour related to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can be about physical disabilities, learning difficulties, learning disabilities or mental health conditions. We will use SEND bullying behaviour as a term to cover all of these areas.
SEND bullying behaviour can be verbal, indirect or physical (VIP). For example, it could be making mean comments about someone to their face or behind their back about a characteristic or stereotype of their condition. According to a study by the Institute of Education in 2014, children and young people with SEND are twice as likely as their peers to experience bullying behaviour.
SEND bullying behaviour is against the law and is classed as a hate crime under the Equality Act 2010.
Definitions (from the Oxford Dictionary)
Prejudice: a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
Stereotype: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
Neurodiversity: The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders).
Ableism: unfair treatment of disabled people by giving jobs or other advantages to able-bodied people.
Top tips to tackle SEND bullying behaviour
If you have experienced or noticed SEND bullying behaviour in your school, there are lots of things you can do to be an Upstander (not a bystander), tackle this problem and support the disabled or neurodivergent community. Awareness of different abilities and celebration of neurodiversity can help to reduce prejudice and unfair stereotypes. You can do this through workshops or assemblies. Additionally, providing education about the impact of this type of bullying behaviour can help to create an environment where this is not accepted.
Encourage your school to record bullying incidents by category, including SEND bullying behaviour. This ensures the schools tracks if this is a recurring issue and takes responsibility for changing this. Your school has a duty to provide reasonable adjustments to students with disabilities and should work with you to create an inclusive environment through education about the impact of bullying behaviour and ableism.
Top tips if you're experiencing this type of bullying behaviour
All bullying behaviour – including that related to disability, special educational needs or mental health conditions - is unacceptable. No one has the right to treat you differently because you have (or they perceive you to have) a special education need or disability.
1. Tell someone
If possible, make it an adult you trust such as a parent, guardian or teacher. You could also talk to a friend, Anti-Bullying Ambassador or support service. The Diana Award Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person in crisis, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think the next step towards feeling better.
2. Stay safe
If you’re worried about bullying behaviour in the playground or walking home from school, tell someone you know and trust and try to stick together. If the bullying behaviour takes place online, you can change your privacy settings or mute, block and/or report it.
3. Gather evidence
You should always write down who has been saying what to you, the date, time and location this has taken place and save/screenshot any messages received online.
4. Remember that it's not your fault
You haven’t caused this bullying behaviour. It is based on unjust prejudice and you are not to blame. Remember that any special educational needs you have do not limit your worth and try to surround yourself with people who lift you up and celebrate all your amazing qualities.