Bullying disabled children is national disgrace

Attitude change is imperative to fix the issue

David Rutherford and Paula Tesoriero

The recent case of an autistic boy having to move schools due to bullying is a clear indication that more should be done to change attitudes towards children with disabilities and address bullying in schools.

The Ministry of Education has recently agreed to override school zoning rules to help a child into a new school because he was physically and verbally bullied on a daily basis at his previous school.

Attitude should change

We should all be asking ourselves why disabled children are being bullied at higher rates than others.

In this specific case, one child suggested to another that they kill themselves.

It doesn’t get more serious than this.

The fact this child has moved schools provides an immediate response to the situation, but what is needed is a change in attitudes towards disabled kids in our schools.

The Ministry has made the right decision in moving this student to a new school.

However, the fact that the bullying has even taking place is a reminder that we have a long way to go to ensure children with disabilities feel they are valued members of their classrooms, schools, and wider communities.

Celebrating differences

We need to be raising our children to celebrate their differences – not use them as a tool to bully and abuse others.

The statistics around bullying have to change and has been advocating for a proven bullying prevention programme to be introduced in more New Zealand schools.

The ongoing failure to address a problem that New Zealand children have identified as one of their greatest concerns is a national disgrace. If it is not addressed, we will continue to have one of the worst rates of school bullying in the developed world with all the personal and social costs that follow.

Programmes to raise awareness

Programmes that are proven to work raise awareness of the need to respect and protect each other and provide specific interventions for students when bullying occurs.

Such programmes are particularly important for students known to be subject to greater likelihood of bullying such as disabled and SOGISC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Sexual Characteristics) students.

If we create an expectation when our children are young that bullying is not OK, they will grow into adults that share that same message in their workplaces, in their homes and in their communities.

David Rutherford and Paula Tesoriero are resepctively the Chief Commissioner and Disabilities Rights Commissioner at the New Zealand High Commission based in Wellington.

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