Evidence of cyber-bullying of children with special educational needs revealed


New guidance for teachers released by the Anti-Bullying Alliance has provided a unique insight into the internet use of children with special educational needs, and reveals evidence of cyber-bullying and experiences of discriminatory behaviour.

The findings revealed that many young people with special educational needs and / or disabilities (SEND) had experienced cyber-bullying, had not been taught how to use the internet or stay safe online, were using the internet to create an anonymous persona to mask their disability, or were actively avoiding the internet. 

Participants revealed that the cyber-bullying they experienced was often an extension of the face-to-face bullying they were experiencing, and that it often went unchallenged.

In addition, many young people said they were often not believed when they told someone about cyber-bullying, or experienced a lack of support and appropriate responses. Many felt that adults lacked the skills to deal with the situation and were often told that the best strategy to deal with cyber-bullying was to ‘avoid the internet’.

Further responses identified that many of the young people were consciously not using the internet. For some, this was because they were not given the practical or emotional support to get online; others revealed that they were afraid to do so for fear of cyber bullying or enhancing existing social pressures:

Other young people reported that they had been actively discouraged from using the internet, which many attributed to adults own concerns about internet safety or the risk of potential bullying. Some young people felt this was because adults were ‘scared’ of the internet; or unsure how to advise on using it safely.

The young people also talked about being upset by the frequent and casual use of discriminatory language and jokes about disability online. This directly affected how they felt about themselves as people with disabilities. In addition, many had personally experienced discriminatory language.
One of the most talked about experiences was using the often anonymous nature of the internet to hide a disability online, deliberately concealing this aspect of their identity:

“No one know’s I’m disabled.”  “You use avatars and stuff.”  “No one knows who you are online.”

Education, or a lack of, was shown to play a huge part in the young people’s internet use, and their ability to deal with difficult situations which might arise from being online; with many reporting a total absence of support to learn about cyber-bullying or internet safety. This meant they were unaware of how to stay safe online, what to do about cyber-bullying, or how to understand when bullying behaviour was occurring:

Martha Evans, Senior Programme Lead - SEND & Inclusion at the Anti-Bullying Alliance said: “Our findings show that cyber-bullying, and the frequent use of disablist language, are serious issues facing children and young people with SEND when using the internet; but that teachers and parents are not always equipped to provide the advice and support that young people need.

"Research shows that children and young people with SEND are more likely than those who don’t have any SEND to experience bullying within schools, and to see this may also be the case in cyber-space is extremely worrying.

"We would like to see more in-depth research into the issue, but ultimately the solution lies in better education: not only in the classroom, via formats which ensure the information is accessible by all children and young people, but also better training for teachers and support for parents.”

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