Written by Cerebral Palsy Guidance
Youth and family service organizations serve a multitude of young people, including those with disabilities. Children living with any type of disability are more vulnerable to bullying than their peers. With those disabilities that make a child look different, including Cerebral Palsy, the risk of being a victim of bullying is even higher. The Forum for Equality estimates that nearly 15-25% of students in the United States are victims of bullying. While bullying is a big problem for a lot of children, and the consequences can be serious, there are things that can be done to prevent this victimization and to help victims cope.
Bullies Often Target Children Perceived as Different
Cerebral palsy affects a child’s muscle movements. There are different types of Cerebral Palsy and it affects everyone in different ways. According to Cerebral Palsy Guidance, individuals with the most common type of Cerebral Palsy, Spastic Cerebral Palsy, can experience stiff muscles, difficulty controlling muscles, and/or difficulty moving from one place to another. Some children may struggle to chew and swallow food, which can cause drooling. These kinds of factors cause other children to perceive them as being different or not normal. Statistics show that perceived differences are major factors in bullying, and this means that children with disabilities are at risk.
Children with a disability like cerebral palsy are more likely than their able-bodied peers to be bullied. A child with cerebral palsy may be targeted by a bully because they are perceived as being less able to defend themselves due to their various physical make-ups. Some children with cerebral palsy also have cognitive impairments that can make them vulnerable. These children may have a more difficult time distinguishing between friends, and individuals who are trying to hurt them.
Bullying Has Consequences
Both the victim and the perpetrator of bullying suffer negative consequences. Some are physical; bullying can cause real and serious injuries. A child with disabilities related to cerebral palsy may not be able to defend himself and can really get hurt by bullying. Of course, the psychological consequences are often the longer-lasting effects of bullying. Bullying increases a child’s risk for developing depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, low confidence, and could potentially lead to substance abuse issues. These psychological consequences can also affect the perpetrator of bullying.
Prevention and Support for Bullying Victims with Cerebral Palsy
Preventative measures can help put a stop to bullying. Adults, including teachers, parents, and others, must take an active role in teaching children to empathize with others and to stop bullying behaviors as soon as they are witnessed. Awareness and education can also play a big role in prevention. Teaching children about cerebral palsy helps build empathy and prevent bullying behaviors. This can be done at home, or in the classroom.
When a child with cerebral palsy does become a victim of bullying, they need support and guidance from both adults and peers in their life. A strong group of friends, adults who they feel comfortable talking to, and participation in activities of all types can go a long way in helping a child feel more confident and able to avoid some of the worst long-term consequences of bullying.
Living with cerebral palsy presents challenges that others don’t have to face, such as simply being able to walk. These children shouldn’t also have to face bullying and its side effects. Greater awareness, education, and support can help these children avoid bullying and stand up to it if it does occur.
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