Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Teachers, students ostracize disabled children, study finds

A 2011 Holland Bloorview study sheds light on how children with cerebral palsy are ostracized and bullied at school.

A qualitative study of 15 youth aged eight to 19 with cerebral palsy published in Disability and Rehabilitation found that teachers and peers intentionally shut out children with disabilities. Examples include teachers who turn off a communication device for most of the day – rendering a student silent – and a teacher who refuses to allow a child to have a bathroom communication button because it will disturb other children. As a result, the child, who is toilet trained, must wear diapers.

Sometimes accommodations weren’t made, researchers found. Other times accommodations themselves – such as having students write tests in a different room – set the children apart physically. “There were more and more accommodations I would need that would make me stick out more different,” says one participant.

Many students said they changed schools several times because of the negative attitudes of teachers. They also found teacher attitudes influenced how their peers treated them.

Unintentional peer exclusion included leaving children out of activities because they were perceived as ‘fragile,’ busy with an educational assistant or ‘too slow.’

Intentional exclusion focused on children’s differences and included name-calling and being ignored. “The kids act like I am invisible,” one participant said. Four of the participants had been physically bullied over a number of years, which included being kicked and pushed and physically injured.

Students reported that they didn’t want to tell anyone about the bullying because they were ashamed.

In a follow-up study published in Child: Care, Health and Development, Holland Bloorview researchers asked the same group of youth with cerebral palsy how their participation in school life could be improved.

The students identified three key strategies: learn how to explain your disability to peers and teachers, rather than trying to hide it; improve disability and bullying awareness so students are more comfortable seeking help; and develop friendships by engaging in extracurricular activities. Research shows that having a support network of friends protects children from being isolated and bullied.


Sadly it is not only children with cerebral palsy who are ostracized or bullied at school. Children who have other kinds of disabilities are suffering every day. The question is what action will organizations like Bloorview take to address this shameful situation that is not going away?

This is so distressing on so many levels.

This makes me absolutely nauseous. I was bullied as a child and I didn't have any special needs. Makes me worry for both of my children, the "typically" developing one as well as my daughter with CP.

Hi everyone -- this is a response from Sally Lindsay, one of the scientists:

Researchers at Holland Bloorview are exploring different strategies to reduce bullying and increase awareness about disabilities throughout the Toronto District School Board.

We're just wrapping up a Social Science and Humanities Research Council project called “Exploring children’s perceptions of two school based anti-bullying programs”. I’ve also been working on a systematic review of disability awareness interventions for school-age children and youth.

Thank you Sally! We will keep everyone posted!

How about starting with inclusion, full inclusion, from a younger age? I don't know another city with so many specialized segregated schools, based on different disabilities, and I have lived in many. I was also a teacher before my son was born and am appalled at the types of things these teachers are doing. Not only is is degrading, it is inhumane. It seems that teachers need some serious training, beginning in their college programs and following throughout their career. Teachers do create the classroom environment and so it seems the education should begin with them. I refuse to allow this to happen to my child.

Under situation like this, strong support from family, friends and community helps a lot.