PLOT | How to protect children with disabilities from bullying and discrimination

CЮЖЕТ | Как защитить детей с инвалидностью от травли и дискриминации

Not only children with disabilities can become victims of bullying, but they are especially vulnerable. PLOT | How to protect children with disabilities from bullying and discrimination Health

April 2, the UN celebrates World Autism Awareness Day. Today, 240 million children in the world live with some form of disability. They are four times more likely than their peers to experience physical and sexual violence and three times more likely to be bullied. UN staff in Moldova asked psychologist Sergiu Toma about how to prevent such phenomena and protect children with disabilities.


13-year-old Bogdan is the first-born of Ksenia Telechi. She and her husband have two more children: 11-year-old Maria Elena and two-year-old Analoana. Bogdan, as it seemed to his parents, grew up as a healthy child, but at two and a half years old he was diagnosed with autism.

The boy was bullied in kindergarten. “The teachers often did not pay attention to him, he sat on the sidelines,” recalls Ksenia. “In the kindergarten they said that he was an abnormal child and even called him weak-minded.”

In the kindergarten they said that he was an abnormal child and even called him weak-minded

She admits that she herself knew little about her son’s condition, but she often tried to argue with the teachers and ran into rudeness. “Bogdan was not accepted not only by teachers and educators, but also by his peers. The children shouted at him “get out,” “we won’t play with you,” “you’re not like us,” Ksenia recalls. According to her, neither the kindergarten nor the school knew how to deal with people like Bogdan.

“I don’t know how city residents behave in such situations, but in our village they label children,” says Ksenia. “And this happens in kindergarten, and then the child goes to school with this label.”

Classmates often teased Bogdan, and he came home in tears. He is now 13 years old, but his development is at the level of a four-year-old child. Neighbors told Ksenia more than once that she shouldn’t let the boy out into the street. “At such moments I feel guilty, it seems to me that I cannot protect my child. I feel lonely and feel hostility from others,” adds Ksenia.


Aurika Antonova gave birth daughter Daria in 1986, when she herself was only 21 years old. The girl was diagnosed with Down syndrome. She was not accepted into kindergarten; the parents of other children were against it. Aurika decided that her daughter would study at home.

“Once, when Dasha was six years old, I took her to the playground. And she herself was nearby, watching over her daughter. Soon I saw how children began to throw stones at her. One little girl started, and the others followed suit,” recalls Aurika. When the woman tried to complain to the parents of the young offenders, she received a sharp answer: “Children like your Dasha should stay at home, they have nothing to do on the playground.”

According to Aurica, not only children with disabilities can become victims of bullying, but they are especially vulnerable. “Now Dasha is 38, but we still walk down the street holding hands,” says the woman. “I’m afraid that they will look at her askance or say something rude to her.” She’s no longer a child, but I’m still afraid for her.”

Now Dasha is 38, but we still walk down the street holding each other hands…

Unfortunately, Aurika’s fears are not groundless: people with Down syndrome – both children and adults – are still often become victims of bullying.

“Recently, Dasha and I and two children with Down syndrome were traveling on a bus. There were teenagers nearby who began to laugh and mock Dasha and our fellow travelers. Dasha started filming them on her phone, and they became even more amused,” says the woman. “And then Dasha burst into tears, and I had to console her.”

Aurika tried to speak kindly to the offenders, to explain, but to no avail. According to her, it would be much more effective to invite children and young people to communicate with people with disabilities so that they can be convinced that these are boys and girls like them and learn to treat them with understanding.

“When Dasha notices someone’s gaze on her, I hasten to explain to her that she was simply recognized because she appeared on television. And if someone throws rude words at her, I try to convince her that these people don’t understand anything, and she shouldn’t be upset,” says Aurika.

How to protect children with special needs?

Psychologist Sergiu Toma says that violence and bullying against children and adolescents with disabilities can be explained by a lack of experience living with them. “As a result, other children tend to behave the way they want. They often don’t understand the behavior of children with special needs,” he explains. The psychologist adds that in this situation, it is natural for children with disabilities to withdraw into themselves and refuse to communicate with others.

As the psychologist notes, children with disabilities spend most of their time at home in a protected environment, and when they go outside they are in for a shock, which makes them even more vulnerable.

Resilience or resistance to stress factors is formed in the first years of a child’s life and is a gradual process. “Whether we are talking about a child with special needs or not, the role of parents is to explain that there are good and bad people in the world. Therefore, they must be prepared for the fact that someone may not accept them or treat them badly,” says the psychologist.

Recommendations for parents

Explain to your child that some of the people he will meet along the way or with whom he will be interact, may be hostile or aggressive, and the reason is not the child’s disability, but the lack of understanding and empathy in such a person.

Discuss with your child different situations in which he may be bullied in your absence: at school, on the playground, on the street.

Explain to your child that it is normal to be afraid or cry.

Teach your child to ask for help when he finds it difficult.

Tell your child who he can turn to for help in different situations: parents, siblings or relatives, teachers, and so on.

Violence in the school environment

Of course, the responsibility does not only lie with the parents of children with disabilities. According to Sergiu Toma, teachers must understand that the presence of a child with special needs in the classroom and school is a risk factor; these children may become victims of bullying. The teacher’s role is to prepare the ground, to explain to students that any violent behavior is unacceptable. Teachers must help children create an environment where there is mutual respect and where students know they can approach teachers with their problems.

“We need to understand that preventing violent behavior does not mean it will never happen. This means creating an environment in which children and adolescents have other ways to express themselves, solve a problem, express their dissatisfaction, without resorting to any form of violence,” explains the psychologist.

How schools can prevent violence?

Psychologists recommend teachers monitor places where aggressive behavior may occur : playgrounds, corridors where students spend breaks, extracurricular areas, classrooms where there are no adults.

The teacher should express a negative attitude towards any form of bullying and, of course, Under what circumstances should you not behave in this way towards students.

Such children and all schoolchildren in general should know that they can trust teachers and turn to them for help in difficult situations.

Psychologist Sergiu Toma says that when it comes to helping children who have experienced various forms of bullying, whether they have special needs or not, a multi-pronged approach is needed: “We have to work not only with the child who is being bullied, but also with the parents, with the children who behave this way, with the teachers and with everyone else involved in the child’s life. This way we can better understand the situation and find solutions.”


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