A Brief Overview
- Two Washington students die from suicide each week. In a typical high-school classroom of about 30 students, chances are high that 2-3 students have attempted suicide in the past year. Read on for more detail from the 2018 statewide Healthy Youth Survey.
- Approximately one in five youth experience a mental illness before age 25. About half of those with diagnosed conditions drop out of school.
- These outcomes make adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, early identification and intervention. Read on for ideas about how to seek help.
- The Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act, signed into law May 13, 2019, provides for more parent involvement in mental healthcare for youth 13-18.
- Seattle Children’s Hospital has a new referral helpline. Families can call 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8-5, to connect with a referral specialist. The service is for families statewide.
- A mom in Graham, WA, launched a program to improve education about mental health after her son died by suicide in 2010. The Jordan Binion Project has trained about 500 Washington teachers with an evidence-based curriculum from Teen Mental Health.
- Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A student might qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under this category, regardless of academic ability. To qualify, a disabling condition must significantly impact access to learning. An educational evaluation also must show a need for specialized instruction.
- Parents can share these resources with school staff, who may be seeking more information about how to help youth struggling to maintain their mental health.
- Help is available 24/7 from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
- Another crisis option is to text “HEAL” to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.
- For youth who need support related to LGBTQ issues, the Trevor Project provides targeted resources and a helpline: 866-488-7386.
The thousands of young people who send thank-you letters to Deb Binion didn’t always believe their lives were going to work out. One writer had attempted suicide and been hospitalized many times because of her bipolar disorder. Two years after finishing high school, she reported she was doing well and offered thanks for a course in mental health that helped her understand her illness, its impacts on her brain, and how to participate in her treatment. “It made a total difference in my life,” she said in her thank-you letter.
“Until she got the educational piece and understood her illness, nothing was helping,” Binion says. “No one had ever explained to her why she had this illness and what was occurring.”
The program, which Binion started after her son Jordan’s suicide in 2010, has trained about 500 school staff throughout Washington State to help young people understand mental illness and what to do to support themselves and others. Although the numbers are difficult to track, Binion estimates that about 100,000 Washington students receive education through the curriculum each year.
“My mission is to get this information to the kids,” says Binion, who runs the non-profit Jordan Binion Project from her home in Graham, WA. She says a short-term, limited pilot project with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) showed promising results, with 60 teachers throughout Washington informally reporting that about 85 percent of students showed improvement in their “mental health literacy,” a key feature of the program.
Teachers are specially trained to provide the Mental Health Curriculum
The curriculum, available through TeenMentalHealth.org, was developed by a world-renowned adolescent psychiatrist and researcher, Stan Kutcher. He observed that classrooms often struggle to provide an emotionally safe learning environment for students with psychiatric conditions. Some attempts to provide education about mental health have created confusing and triggering circumstances for students impacted by illness and/or trauma, he found.
Kutcher, professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, responded with a model for training school staff in how to teach sensitive topics of mental illness:
- eating disorders
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- suicidal thinking
Deb Binion says the program was designed for students in grades 9-10, but middle-school and older students are also learning from it. She says the program takes about 8-12 hours to teach and that teachers in regular health classes, psychology classes, family and consumer science classes and others have taught the lessons.
Binion suggest that staff receive in-person training to understand how to create a safe learning environment for students. For example, teachers learn to provide individualized help without disclosing a student’s disability or medical condition to the class.
The topics can be confusing or triggering to some learners. Some of the videos might be difficult to watch because they include personal stories of self-harm, hospitalization and people suffering from emotional stress. The program may need individualized modifications for students in special education programs because of intellectual or developmental disabilities.
For information about how to bring a training to your area, individuals can contact Deb Binion through the Jordan Binion Project website or directly through her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington State recognizes a need for more education and direct support
OSPI, which oversees all school districts in Washington, provides an overview of Kutcher’s work and its connection to the Jordan Binion Project as part of the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide. Content in the guide was a collaboration between Kutcher and the Canadian Mental Health Association. At Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Kutcher serves as Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Mental Health Training and Policy Development.
Washington State is aware that a lack of mental health services is impacting students. In 2018, OSPI released data that two children enrolled in Washington schools die by suicide weekly.
According to the 2018 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, at least one in three youth in all grades report feeling sad or hopeless for enough time to impact their activities. In ten years, those numbers increased by 10-20 percent across all grades. More than 900 schools administered the survey, representing all 39 Washington counties and 228 school districts.
About one in three 10th and 12th graders report feeling nervous, anxious or on edge, with an inability to stop worrying. From 2016 to 2018, the percentage experiencing these feelings increased for all grades. Rates of reported suicide have remained alarmingly high, with about 10 percent of students reporting that they have attempted suicide recently.
This means that in a typical high-school classroom of about 30 students, chances are high that two or three students have attempted suicide in the past year.
Female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual report higher rates of considering, planning, and attempting suicide. For youth who need support related to LGBTQ issues, the Trevor Project provides targeted resources and a helpline: 866-488-7386.
High rates of suicide attempts also are reported among students who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native (18 percent) and students who identify as Hispanic (13 percent). Help for all is available 24/7 from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. Another crisis option is to text “HEAL” to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.
Despite the alarming data and evidence that adult support can impact outcomes, only half of students say they have access to direct adult support when they feel extremely sad or suicidal.
The 2018 Healthy Youth Survey introduced a modified Children’s Hope Scale, which measures students’ ability to initiate and sustain action towards goals. Across grades, only about half of students feel hopeful for their futures. Students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and students of color were less likely to report adult support and were less likely to be highly hopeful for their futures.
State, local, community and school efforts are crucial for supporting youth mental health. With the release of the survey in Spring, 2019, the state issued a guide to information and resources to provide more detail about the survey and to direct families and school staff toward sources for support.
An OSPI survey in 2018 found that the number one concern statewide is that students don’t receive enough direct support in mental health, counseling and advising at school. The Washington School-Based Health Alliance (WASBHA) is working with some districts who have varied grants throughout the state to build on-campus health clinics to address a range of student health-care needs, including mental health. The Alliance sponsored an all-day summit May 3, 2019, at the Seattle Flight Museum that was attended by several hundred professionals invested in building collaborations between public health agencies and schools. Throughout the day, professionals discussed how students are much more likely to seek a counselor at school than in the community and that outcomes improve when providers and school staff collaborate and provide individualized help focused on relationship-building.
New state law expands parent involvement in mental-health treatment
Youth older than 13 have the right to consent or not consent to any medical treatment in Washington State. Parents and lawmakers throughout 2018-2019 engaged in conversations about how that creates barriers to care for may teens who don’t fully grasp their mental condition or how to recover.
In response, lawmakers wrote and passed the Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act (HB 1874), signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee May 13, 2019. The new law allows behavioral health professionals to provide parents or guardians with certain treatment information if they determine the release of that information is appropriate and not harmful to the adolescent. The bill also permits parents and guardians to request outpatient treatment for their adolescent, expanding the current parent-initiated treatment process so that adolescents can get treatment before they reach the point of hospitalization.
“Parents across the state are desperate to be allowed to help their children struggling with mental health issues or a substance use disorder,” says Rep. Noel Frame from the Seattle area. “At the same time, we need to protect the rights and privacy of these youth. This bill strikes a balance by ensuring adolescents can continue to access treatment on their own, while giving concerned parents an avenue to help their children and be involved with their treatment.”
Parents also have a new option for helping their children and youth by contacting Seattle Children’s Hospital, which in 2019 launched a new referral helpline. Families can call 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8-5, to connect with a referral specialist. The service is for families statewide. In addition to helping to connect families with services, the hospital will be positioned to identify gaps in the system through its engagement with families.
One in five youth are at risk
The Teen Mental Health website cites an international statistic that 1 in 5 youth experience a mental illness before age 25. Many of those illnesses lead to life challenges that require help, the agency concludes, and this makes adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, prevention, early identification, and intervention. The agency provides a School-Based Pathway Through Care that promotes linkages between schools and healthcare agencies, parent involvement and strong educational programs that reduce stigma through knowledge and timely treatment access.
One way that Washington State has responded to the crisis is through promotion of trainings in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Through Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) and other initiatives, Washington has grown a network of about 100 trainers for Youth Mental Health First Aid and about 4,000 first aid providers. These trained individuals can listen actively in order to offer immediate caring and can also refer youth to providers. OSPI reports that Project AWARE has led to 3,964 referrals for youth to connect with community- or school-based mental health services.
Washington has a program for treatment response for youth experiencing psychosis. The New Journeys Program is designed for youth 15-25 who are early in their diagnoses, but there is some flexibility in who might be eligible to participate. Families can contact the program for additional information about how to apply.
Information about psychosis, early warning signs and places to seek help are available through the website of the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA). The website contains a link to information about the Wraparound with Intensive Services program (WISe), which provides community case management for children and youth experiencing a high-level of impact from a mental illness.
Special Education is one pathway toward more help
Students access some aspects of mental health support through the special education system. Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Washington State, the category is referred to as Emotional Behavior Disability (EBD). The IEP might list any set of these words or the initials EBD or ED.
A student might qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under this category, regardless of academic ability. A comprehensive educational evaluation can determine whether a student’s mental condition causes a significant disruption to the student’s ability to access school and learning and whether the student needs specialized instruction. Generally, that specialized instruction is provided through a category of education known as Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL can be provided in multiple tiers that might include schoolwide education, small group training and individualized programming. OSPI provides recommendations from a 2016 Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks Workgroup.
A student with a mental health condition also might qualify for an IEP under the category of Other Health Impairment (OHI), which can capture needs related to anxiety, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome or another specific diagnosis. Students with a mental health condition that co-occurs with another disability might qualify under another category, and Social Emotional Learning might be an aspect of a more comprehensive program. PAVE’s articles about the IDEA and the IEP provide further information about IEP process, the 14 categories of qualifying disabilities and access to special education services. A student with a mental health condition who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might qualify for a Section 504 plan.
If a student, because of a disability, is not accessing school and learning, then the school district holds the responsibility for appropriately evaluating that student and determining the level of support needed to provide access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Questions about FAPE might arise if a student with a mental health condition is not accessing school because of “school refusal,” which sometimes leads to truancy, or because a student is being disciplined a lot. Students with identified disabilities have protections in the disciplinary process; PAVE provides an article about school discipline.
Help NOW can mean a lifetime of better opportunities
The Center for Parent Information and Resources (ParentCenterHub.org) has a variety of resources related to mental health awareness, including a link to a video that details results from a national study. The study showed that students who qualified for special education programming because of Emotional Disturbance experienced the highest drop-out rates when they went into higher education, work and vocational programs. Meaningful relationships with adults who cared about them in school provided a significant protective factor. Students were more likely to succeed in life-after-high-school plans if specific caring adults provided a soft hand-off into whatever came next after graduation.
Here are a few additional resources:
- The Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds provides a variety of articles about how families and schools can better support youth with behavior and mental health disabilities, including an article about what to do When You Have An Explosive Child.
- A federal agency called the Child Mind Institute provides parents with guidance about getting good mental-health care for their children and has articles on specific diagnoses and what parents and schools might do.
- OSPI provides schools with resources related to mental health education, including information related to suicide awareness and prevention.
- PAVE provides a 40-minute webinar about suicide awareness.
- PAVE provides information about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in a series of three articles.
- The Washington Health Care Authority manages the Children’s Long-Term Inpatient Program (CLIP) and the Wraparound with Intensive Services (WISE) program. For more information, see PAVE’s article about CLIP.
- For 1:1 assistance, families can reach out to PAVE’s Parent Training and Information Center through our online Help Request Form or by calling 800-572-7368.
- Youth Mental Health in Washington State Infographic
- NBC featured the Binion family and the work of their foundation.
Here are some articles specifically about Bipolar Disorder in Youth:
Parents and students who go to meetings prepared and organized are more likely to come away feeling heard and with a good action plan. This article can help you and your student prepare a one-page handout to share with the school or another service provider. Most important is to highlight the student as the most important person at the meeting—even if he/she isn’t ready to attend in person!
If a young person is ready to lead all or part of a meeting, PAVE encourages this! Understanding the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and facilitating an IEP meeting is a great way to build lifelong skills and confidence. See PAVE’s article: Attention Teens: You Can Lead Your IEP Meeting.
For a student who isn’t ready or able to attend the IEP meeting, helping to prepare a document can be a great way to participate. Note that this form can be adapted for any service delivery meeting at school or in a childcare or medical setting.
Keep your handout short to highlight your most important points. This handout brings your child and your concerns to the attention of the group and sets a tone for the meeting that is child- and family-centered.
Note: You can send your handout to the school before the meeting, so team members have a chance to read it in advance. If there isn’t time to distribute it before the meeting, you can take a moment when you arrive at the meeting to hand out your one-pager and encourage everyone to take a few moments to read it.
The top of your handout should include your contact information and other basics about the meeting. Your handout will become part of the official meeting record, so get formal and include all of this:
- Parent Name: Jane Hearmenow
- Phone/email: email@example.com
- Meeting Date/Time: XX/XX/XXXX, 3-5 pm
- Location: Anywhere Elementary
- Topic: IEP Review, Evaluation Review, Section 504 Plan, Re-entry after Discipline, Medical provider appointment, etc.
Next you want to highlight what makes your child awesome. This is also a place where your child can voice his/her own opinions and “self-advocate” for accommodations or help. Here are sentence starters that might help you create bullet points or a paragraph about your child:
- NAME enjoys…
- He is motivated when…
- She’s interested in…
- He wants more help in the area of…
- She said she likes school the most when …
- He says teachers are helpful when they…
- She says she wants to learn more about …
Include a Photograph!
A photograph of your child shows the Very Important Person (VIP) and can make everyone smile as the meeting starts.
The final section of your handout describes your concerns. You may need to start on scratch paper with a longer list and then edit to prioritize your key points. Remember that you want the team members to be able to read your handout quickly. You also want this list to help track your priorities at the meeting. If it gets too long, you won’t be able to use it as a handy reference.
Here is a sample short paragraph to get you started, and your introductory paragraph can be followed by key bullet points:
My son/daughter’s disability in the area of [briefly describe the condition] makes school difficult because… My biggest concern is that …
My primary topics for today’s meeting include:
- A need that isn’t being met
- A communication or behavior challenge
- Something you want to change because it isn’t working
- A goal that isn’t being met
- Something working well that needs further development
- Anything else concerning
If you or a support person takes notes at the meeting, it’s great to conclude by making a list of Action Items. Make a simple chart to list:
- The agreement/action
- Name of person responsible
- Communication plan, so you have follow-through
If your meeting is part of a formal special education process, such as an IEP meeting, the school provides parents with a letter called a Prior Written Notice (PWN) to reflect agreements and discussion at the meeting. Your handout and notes provide checks and balances with the school’s PWN and guarantees that your concerns and those of your student are part of that formal meeting record.
The website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides information about PWN requirements for schools in Washington. According to OSPI, “Prior Written Notice is a document outlining important school district decisions about your student’s special education program. It is not a meeting invitation. School districts must provide you with Prior Written Notice after a decision has been made regarding matters affecting your student’s IEP or eligibility for special education, but before any decision is implemented or changes to your student’s program take place.
“Prior Written Notice must be provided in your native language or other mode of communication that you understand.”
The Parent Input Form for a Meeting with the School is here for easy download. If a download is not possible, all the information is above. If you need any support with this form, please email PAVE
Living with a disability can be difficult and costly. Adults who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration because of disability often are challenged to improve their life circumstances because of a $2,000 resource limit. This limit means that a person receiving payments from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program cannot have a bank account balance or any other resources on hand that exceed $2,000, without losing part of their benefit.
Savings of $2,000 or less can be limiting for someone who might want to move into a new home, invest in a vehicle or save for higher education or a vocational training program.
The government provides a way for individuals with disabilities to overcome this barrier and save money. The Stephen Beck Jr. ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act of 2014 allows individuals to save up to $15,000 annually without losing benefits. ABLE is modeled after college savings plans. The savings and/or investment account bypasses the SSI resource limit and can grow interest tax-free.
There are some restrictions:
- The account holder must meet criteria for a disability that began before age 26.
- The account may not receive more than $15,000 per year.
- If the account balance exceeds $100,000, Social Security benefits are impacted.
- Most accounts have a total lifetime balance limit of $500,000.
ABLE account money may not be spent on just anything. Generally, the account funds can be used to pay for expenses that may help improve independence or quality of life.
Here are a few examples of qualifying expenses:
- Personal assistance
- Assistive technology
- Health and wellness
- Employment training and support
Savings in an ABLE account are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). A chosen percentage of funds in the account may also be allocated as uninsured investment money. The account holder can choose a low-, median-, or high-risk investment strategy. Low-risk is the safest, most conservative option, with the lowest possibility for return. A high-risk investment might make more money but also could lose more. A median-risk investment is somewhere in between. Based on the account holder’s choice, the money is automatically allocated into some combination of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
An individual considering these options may want to consider how long the money will be in the market and risk tolerance. ABLE does warn that invested money is not insured and that money, including principle, may be lost over the course of an investment period.
Although the program was federally enacted, ABLE is state-run. Washington’s program opened for enrollments in July 2018. So far, enrollments have been low, with the State Department of Commerce reporting that only a few hundred people have opened accounts. Commerce estimates about 30,000-50,000 people in Washington are eligible for the ABLE Savings Plan and have the financial assets to open an account.
The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver recently included an article about the ABLE program and quoted Peter Tassoni, commerce disability workgroup manager: “I had hopes we’d have higher enrollment rates. I thought there would be more of a backlog of people wanting to join the program.”
Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have ABLE Savings Plans. Oregon’s plan was a year and a half ahead of Washington’s, so some Washingtonians signed up early through that option or through the national ABLE For ALL Savings Plan.
Individuals can shop around for the best program to meet their needs, and some states accept clients from all 50 states, including Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Virginia is among a few states that issue a debit card for the account. The ABLE National Resource Center provides a toolkit for reviewing the various state programs to find the best fit.
The account holder, family and friends can deposit funds into the account using post-taxed dollars. Contributions are not federally tax deductible; however, some states may allow for state income-tax deductions for contribution made to an ABLE account.
One way to apply is to type “Open an ABLE account” into a search engine. If you also type the name of the state, you can find links that will take you directly to that program. Washington’s ABLE Savings Plan links directly to a clickable form to determine eligibility.
Here are additional resources for more information:
Washington ABLE Savings Plan: WashingtonStateABLE.com, Phone: 1-844-600-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Oregon ABLE Savings Plan: OregonABLESavings.com, Phone: 1-844-999-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
ABLE For ALL Savings Plan (national plan): AbleForAll.com, Phone: 1-844-394-2253 from noon to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Students with disabilities are bullied at a higher rate than their typical peers. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, providing a good opportunity to review information about available resources and actions families can take.
According to Disability Scoop magazine, about half of individuals with autism, intellectual disabilities, speech impairments and learning disabilities are bullied at school. The rate of bullying for typical students is about 10 percent.
A student who is identified as having a disability has added layers of protection against bullying. Those protections are upheld by the United States Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which in 2014 issued a Dear Colleague Letter to remind school staff of their obligations to protect students with disabilities against bullying:
“While there is broad consensus that bullying is wrong and cannot be tolerated in our schools, the sad reality is that bullying persists in our schools today, and especially so for students with disabilities,” the letter states. “This troubling trend highlights the importance of OCR’s continuing efforts to protect the rights of students with disabilities through the vigorous enforcement of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). It also underscores the need for schools to fully understand their legal obligations to address and prevent disability discrimination in our schools.”
Students on Section 504 Plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) qualify for the protections of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Special services, accommodations and programming designed to meet specific, unique needs are what make education “appropriate” for a student with an identified disability. According to OCR, a school’s failure to address bullying can be determined as a denial of FAPE, “when a school knows or should know of bullying conduct based on a student’s disability.”
The OCR goes on to say that a school “must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If a school’s investigation reveals that bullying based on disability created a hostile environment…the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”
The U.S. Department of Education maintains an online blog called Homeroom. An article, Keeping Students with Disabilities Safe from Bullying, states that students will disabilities are particularly vulnerable because of physical issues, challenges with social skills and intolerant environments. “Students who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression,” the article states. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our schools are safe and positive learning environments—where all students can learn.”
Washington State defines harassment, intimidation, or bullying (RCW 28A.300.285) as “any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act…” that:
- Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property
- Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education
- Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment
- Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school
Every school district in the state has a staff member responsible for managing complaints related to Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB), and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a resource list to help you locate the compliance coordinator with jurisdiction over your school. OSPI also provides a HIB Toolkit as part of its Safety Center. Among resources provided through the toolkit is a link to a national agency, StopBullying.gov, which includes lists of suggestions for parents and what-to-do for teenagers.
Washington State’s Office of the Educational Ombudsman (OEO) provides guidance and model Incident Reporting Forms for parents and schools through its website, which includes some articles in both English and Spanish. “Bullying is not something schools and families should take lightly,” OEO states. “Bullying is a repeated negative behavior that takes advantage of a less-powerful person, and sometimes even makes the child who is bullied feel at fault. Hitting, name calling, shunning and shaming are all forms of bullying. So are spreading rumors, gossiping and making threats online.”
The PACER Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center, founded in 2006, has a vast array of resources for families and professionals. Here is a sampling of information from PACER’s Top 10 facts for parents, educators and students with disabilities:
- Students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than nondisabled peers.
- Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn. For more information read PACER’s Common Views About Bullying. Bullying can lead to:
- school avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
- decrease in grades
- inability to concentrate
- loss of interest in academic achievement
- increase in dropout rates
- Bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered harassment if it includes:
- unwelcome conduct such as verbal abuse, name calling, epithets, or slurs
- graphic or written statements
- physical assault
- other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating
- Bullying could be determined to be disability-based harassment and/or a denial of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), protected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
- All states have bullying prevention laws, and many school districts also have individual policies that address how to respond to bullying situations. Families can contact a local district to request a written copy of the district policy on bullying.
- Adult response is important. Parents, educators, and other adults are important advocates and need to know the best way to talk with children who might be reluctant to talk about what happened, perhaps because the bully threatened to retaliate if called out. PACER has letter templates parents can use to communicate with the school and also articles about how to talk with children about bullying and cyberbullying.
- The Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be adapted to help when bullying becomes a barrier to learning. The PACER center provides these IEP-specific tips:
- Identify an adult in the school that the child can trust for help.
- Determine how school staff will document and report incidents.
- Allow the child to leave class early to avoid hallway incidents.
- Hold separate in-services for school staff and classroom peers to help them understand a child’s disability.
- Educate peers about school district policies on bullying behavior.
- Ensure that school staff regularly remind the student that he or she has a “right to be safe” and that the bullying is not his or her fault.
- Request that school staff shadow the student who has been bullied in hallways, classrooms, and playgrounds.
- More than 50 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes. Most students don’t like bullying, but they may not know what to do when it happens. Peer advocacy is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying.
- Self-advocacy can be fostered as a skill that helps the student with a disability talk about needs in a straightforward way. By being involved in what happens in response to the bullying, a student gains a sense of control over their situation. PACER Center’s Student Action Plan helps students define the situation, think about what could be different and write steps for action.
- Everyone has a role to play to help students see that no one deserves to be bullied and that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what. PACER center provides curricula under a program called, The We Will Generation.
Additional information and resources about bullying are available through the Center for Parent Information and Resources, CPIR, which maintains a website called the Parent Center Hub.
A child’s mental well-being may be impacted when bullying, teasing and intimidation become a pattern. If a student or family member needs someone to talk to in an emergent moment of crisis, these phone numbers may be helpful:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
General Teen Talkline: 800-TLC-TEEN
Trevor Project (issues related to sexuality): 866-488-7386
These and other hotlines and text lines are available through Suicide Hotlines.com.