In the UK the 17th to the 21st November is anti-bullying week,with a focus this year on disabled children and ‘special needs’ children who may get bullied in schools. That disabled kids face may hostility and bullying in mainstream schools is not in doubt, that they might only be bullied by non-disabled kids is certainly open to question.
The only bullying I’ve ever experienced (other than my first husband) was at my ‘special’ boarding school for disabled children. I was sent there aged eight, having previously had a ‘home teacher’ three times a week, and certainly was not used to mixing with other children except for a very small circle, none of whom were disabled. Neither was I street-wise, and looking back I can see how I had no idea how to relate to the other kids and to fit into established friendships.
It soon became clear that I was rather the odd one out, despite the school having been ‘sold’ to my family and myself as being a place where I would be ‘the same as everyone else’. There was already a culture of bullying at the school, although at eight years old I thought it was just about me. To make matters worse I was clearly cleverer than the others in my age group, and this set me apart even further.
The impact of bullying can go deep: even now, all these many years later, I find it difficult to describe some of the instances that I experienced. Bullying in any school is bad enough, but in a boarding school it is inescapable. You eat every meal with those who bully you, you even sleep in the same bedroom. I have a particularly vivid memory of one situation where an older girl intervened on my behalf, a girl who herself had been an object of much hurtful bullying. I was both glad of her intervention, and – I’m sorry to say – embarrassed that it was she who came to my rescue.
My point here is, bullying is not about disability / impairment per se, it’s about difference. And there will always be differences. Must there always be bullying?
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