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Bullying: How Parents Can Take Legal Action To Get It Stopped

Question

I have an 8-year-old Asperger son. How do you handle when he is bullied and the school administration seems to give you the brush off. My son act-outs when he is under stress or in an unstructured situation. In all of those instances, he gets the detentions. When I call in about his being bullied, nothing is done, or the bully gets spoken to in their classroom, as a sort of blanket discussion. How do I handle this?


Answer

Bullying is abusive behavior by one or more students against a victim or victims. It can be a direct attack (e.g., teasing, taunting, threatening, stalking, name-calling, hitting, making threats, coercion, stealing, etc.), or something more subtle (e.g., malicious gossiping, spreading rumors, intentional exclusion, etc.). Both result in victims becoming socially rejected and isolated.

Unfortunately, many parents have attempted to reconcile such victimization by going to school officials and requesting that something be done – only to be told that either (a) the bullying is not, in fact, occurring at all, or (b) the school is - or will - address the issue.

As one Aspergers student stated:

“I AM such a child with Asperger's Syndrome. Bullying hurts so badly. In my first secondary school, I was being discriminated by the teachers, especially the Head of Year. Whenever I was being bullied, they turned a blind eye, whereas when I fought back, I was suspended and the bullies weren't even punished. I do not want to see the hallway where I took those internal suspensions. I later quit that school. Just because we are "disabled", as the government puts it, does NOT mean we are brain-dead and do not have feelings. We actually feel feelings more deeply than most people, only we cannot describe them properly. More than 3 times, I have contemplated suicide because I have been bullied and cannot express my feelings. If someone bullies someone else into suicide, is that not murder? How many more times must we, the "disabled" community, be tortured to the end of our tether before people FINALLY understand that we are still people?”

Often times, after months or years of getting no results from school officials, many parents of Aspergers students have to either (a) move their child to a different school, or (b) quit work and stay at home in order to home-school their child.

So, what can parents do who are at their wits-end in trying to get bullying stopped – once and for all?!  Here’s how to take the bully by the horns and get school officials to take you seriously:

1. Document all aspects of the bullying incidents involving your Aspergers youngster. Keep meticulous notes and records, just as if you are the attorney representing your youngster. Ask your Aspie to do the same. If you want to make it a fun exercise, grab a long-handled spoon and pronounce on your Aspie, "I now dub you a special junior attorney." Advocate for – and empower – your Aspergers child. Who knows, he may even become an attorney some day, or find a profession that utilizes such skills.

2. Conduct an interview with your Aspergers youngster, and then write down a summary of the bullying incidents in bullet point fashion.

3. If there were witnesses to any of the bullying incidents, get their statements – and signatures on those statements (do this in front of a grown-up if the witnesses are minors). Do not forget to add dates, names, times, and all the “who, what, when, where and why” information you can find.

4. Write down any comments made by teachers or other school officials. These written notes may not seem like much at the time, but later, they may be a deciding point for justice in your Aspie’s favor. In addition, these records may aid in procedural changes that could dramatically reduce bullying in your school.

5. The parent must prove that the school district actually knew about the bullying offenses, but refused to take action to correct it. So, be sure to notify your child’s school district. The first element that must be satisfied to win a peer-harassment complaint is to give the school district "actual notice" of the incidents. Address the notification to a specific person and date the letter. The letter should be sent via certified mail, UPS or Fed Ex to the District Superintendent with courtesy copies (CC) to your child’s teacher(s) and principal.

6. In the notification, request an Acknowledgement Letter to Confirm Receipt of Notification. An acknowledgement letter is written to confirm receipt of documents in the office this notification is used in official purposes. The authority in the office where you have submitted your notification writes this letter to let you know that the notification has reached the right place. The letter should convey that your notification has been received and how much time will be required to complete the formalities involved.

7. Be sure to write the letter to a person who has the authority to investigate - and the authority to correct - the wrong.

8. State the past - or continuing - discriminatory activity against your youngster. If you have not been documenting the history of the bullying incidents, now is a good time to start.

9. State that the school district has control over both the physical site of the discrimination and over any school personnel involved. You may want to give examples of changes the district has recently made to the school facilities, curriculum or schedule – all of which demonstrate control.

10. Explain that the discrimination was not a single act – but was severe and pervasive.

11. Tell how the discrimination excluded your Aspergers youngster from participation in certain school activities, or denied his/her benefits to which other students enjoyed. One of the elements you must prove to prevail on a peer-harassment claim is that the harassment was "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school."

12. Explain what you would like the school to do. Suggest what the school may do to stop the discrimination or to fix the harm the discrimination has done to your youngster.

13. Ask for a copy of a school district grievance procedure under Section 504 (even if your youngster has an IEP under IDEA). Not having this information may result in continued discrimination.

14. State that you expect investigation and/or effective corrective action. Should the individual receiving the letter fail to investigate, or does not take effective corrective action, you may claim that the district showed deliberate indifference to the discrimination.

15. Add a date that you expect to hear back from the district in regards to your notification.

16. Lastly, you may wish to include the following "Note to School Officials" along with your notification letter (copy and paste into a Word document, then print-out and add as an attachment):

Note to School Officials—

The school district is a recipient of federal financial assistance. Public schools depend on the continued flow of federal funds. This depends, in part, on their compliance with Federal Laws.

Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name‐calling, graphic and written statements (which may include use of cell phones or the Internet), or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment does not have to include (a) intent to harm, (b) be directed at a specific target, or (c) involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school. When such harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, it violates the civil rights laws that OCR enforces.

A school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known. In some situations, harassment may be in plain sight, widespread, or well‐known to students and staff, such as harassment occurring in hallways, during academic or physical education classes, during extra-curricular activities, at recess, on a school bus, or through graffiti in public areas. In these cases, the obvious signs of the harassment are sufficient to put the school on notice.

In other situations, the school may become aware of misconduct, triggering an investigation that could lead to the discovery of additional incidents that, taken together, may constitute a hostile environment. In all cases, schools should have well‐publicized policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving 10complaints that will alert the school to incidents of harassment.

When responding to harassment, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. The specific steps in a school’s investigation will vary depending upon:
  • the age of the student(s) involved
  • the nature of the allegation
  • the size and administrative structure of the school
  • the source of the complaint
  • and other factors

In all cases, however, the inquiry should be prompt, thorough, and impartial.

If an investigation reveals that discriminatory harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring. These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti‐bullying policy, and regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook 


COMMENTS:

 •    Anonymous said... We are having trouble in this area too!my son is only just being diagnosed aspergers at 12!he finds it impossible to walk away which also causes trouble!!he is suffering badly with anxiety and is feeling very sad and alone as he says he is uncool to be seen with even by kids who quiet like him.so sad.
•    Anonymous said... I only just realised this was happening to my aspie son (aged 12). He's in year 7 at a new school with no friends. He was being stirred by 3 boys from his class. I spoke to his school & they were fantastic in speaking to the other boys & i'm hoping thats the end of it. My only mistake was approaching one of the mothers i knew of those boys, these children are ignorant because their parents are ignorant. She told me "she felt sorry for her child because he was forced to sit next to & be friend my son". Unfortunately we have no control as to the lack of understanding & compassion with these people, what we can do is help, support & do our best to teach our kids the social cues they just dont get. My advise work with the schools, the only person our kids have got to fight their battles is us & they deserve it. They deserve to be happy.
•    Anonymous said... I had trouble with this because my Aspergers child didn't like anyone around him, had behavior problems, and we dealt with a lot of anger with him because he was so easily frustrated. We found out when he was 5 and now is 13. He still has a hard time making friends but has been called the bully and Has been bullied and had to go on an anti depressant because of how sad he was feeling. It can be difficult. Just Advocate for your child and don't let them push you around.


Please post your comment below... 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

My son is bullied also and nothing gets done !

Anonymous said...

My son is 9 and has been bullied for the last 3 years. He "tattles" when the kids call him names but keeps quiet when they punch and push him around. He's often the one who gets in trouble. I feel so helpless and so bad for him.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't the answer for everyone and my heart breaks for you all and your Asperger kids, but we now homeschool (I have 4 boys, 3 identified with Asperger's) and we LOVE it! I can't even tell you. I never thought it was something I could do, but low and behold, I can and the boys are so happy. I'm so happy. I've discovered, the more I learn about Asperger's, that my husband and I almost definitly have it as well. Keeping that in mind, you have to be bold and pushy and vocal (things that don't come naturally to those of us with this "gift") with the schools. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Sadly we had similar issues in school. The school likes to double-up the kids who an aide (in our case triple or quadruple up). In both K & First grade my son's aide was being shared by 3 other children who had behavior issues. Even though they weren't the same kids from year to year, the results were the same. These kids were truly violent children, hurting someone on a daily basis, and they scared the heck out of my son, and on more than one occasion physically attacked him. In my opinion that behavior should not be tolerated from any student, no matter what their issue.
What I learned is that our school's "zero tolerance" for bullying is non-existent for kids on IEPs. My son can be provoked to violence when under huge amounts of stress, and he ended up attacking another child at the end of the year. They never even informed me. There were no repurcussions at all.
This really bothered me, and I feel like it certainly doesn't prepare any of these children for success "in the real world". When you are 20 years old and you hit someone, the consequence is the same whether you have ADHD or PPD-NOS, or not.
We ended up homeschooling our boy, and he is much happier and we are all much saner, but I'd love to find a better school him, I just don't think it exists in the public school sector right now. There are great private schools around here,but I just can't afford $17,000 a year for school.

Anonymous said...

I have had several problems like this. Of course as many as our kids, my son, 13, forgets to tell us right away and a month or more later tells us what is going on. We have been blessed that I have been to the school the next day to see the assitant princial and he has taken care of the problem the same day. But, like you he still has a class (gym) with this kid from hell and there is no good supervision because the coach time is for the sport oriented stars and leave the special ones to play on their own.

The school must a have a anti-bullying policy. So printed, read it, highlighted and meet the the administration. It is against the law and they must make changes for both kids.

Anonymous said...

Calling is a good first step but you must follow up with a letter (e-mail is fine) covering all details of discussion with all details of what happened in the incedent(s). Unfortunatly in schools if it isn't written down and on the record it never happened. Also ask in the letter that "Please place this letter in my childs permenent file" this will make the document part of childs perment recoard and always be available as a ongoing recoard of issues happening if necessary. REMINDER keep copies for yourself too!

Anonymous said...

I have a 9yo aspie who is also being bullied. We have decided to change schools, to a tiny 20student Christian school with a very proactive view on any kind of bullying (not that there will be much with ony 20 students) I simply found that no matter how good his teacher was about the bullying, being in a bigger school (500+ students) and not having access to supervised social experiences at recess and lunch breaks means that he is open to bullying during those times.

Anonymous said...

In my experience I would offer the following advice. Firstly - if your son is acting out and having such severe problems he is in desperate need of support at school. You would first need to have an interview with the head of the school. Take notes prior to attending the interview so you can refer to them. Most important - take a support person with you. Ask them what they are doing to help your son and what you think needs to change. Tell them you want it in writing as to what is planned for your child. Keep notes of every phonecall/conversation/interview. Hand them a letter also requesting that your son needs help and that you respectfully require them to reply in 14 days with an individual education plan. If they do not satisfy their requirements complain to the head of the school again in writing. If still no luck, then complain to the appropriate government authority. Don't give up. Get as much help and input as you can from the appropriate therapists, ie: OT, psych, speech etc. Getting detention repeatedly is NOT the answer to your sons situation. Maintain a confidential communication book at your sons classroom between you and the teacher. Your son obviously needs a designated area just for him to go to - find out how this can be accomodated at your sons school. Research aspergers on the net and print up as much information as you can and hand it personally to your teacher. You'd be surprised at how many teachers do not know enough about this syndrome. If all else fails - change schools - or as suggested home school. Bullying is bad enough for a neurotypical child, let alone an aspie. Dont let it go on. You don't want to have to wait to deal with this when they're are a teenager as we all know what the risks will be then.

Anonymous said...

What is the first step in starting homeschooling? I live in qld Australia, and have tried to discussed it with our school, but cant get any info frm them...

Anonymous said...

Hello all... I just wanted to add my 2cents to the bullying thread. I like the lawyer's advice, give them notice. If you click the link and look at the list is the most important part. What, specifically, do you want them to do about it? Before my kid's principal even met the kids I was getting the origional IEP, I asked about bullying and was told "some times these kids are the bullies" - sounds to me like a great excuse "I'm not going to do anything but turn it around and blame your kid" eventually, working with others at the school I asked for and received "better eyes" on my son on the playground. An aide is assigned to know where he is at all times, and if he's bothered by some other child's behavior he can run to a specific spot known to the aides. This way she approaches him and it does not look like he is running to a grownup to tattle. If the eyes are on him, it meets the principal's goal - we know it wasn't him because Mrs. X was watching. Mrs. X also can stroll over and stop the problem before it gets too far. This plan also worked in an unexpected way. My son was always getting in trouble on the playground, but nobody could tell me (or even him) why - when they watched more closely, it stopped. It was because my son, with known (to most of the staff) stomach problems was rushing to the bathroom to get sick from running around right after lunch, without asking permission to go inside. When they were looking at him, they noticed he was looking sick or heading to the bathroom, not just getting a ball to play with. My point is that unfortunately, it works best if you not only identify the problem but figure out and propose the solution. Also helps if the solution works for them too - principal knows now that it's not my kid (probably thought my kid knew he was being watched and behaved better for awhile when the child isn't at all capable of noticing people's behavior that well, but not many children could keep that up for months). Also, this solution would work if your child is sometimes the aggressor, because the adult does see and interrupt the problem. CDC's new anti - bulling recommendations recommend the staff to student ratio at recess be the same as in the classroom. It's not even close here, but they are watching, and watching out for my child now.

Anonymous said...

http://www.passionaustralia.org/blog/articles/some-homeschooling-questions-answered/ @Sarah, I found this artcile. Is says it's legal in Australia. Schools don't neccesarily want to loose a student so might not be very helpful. Also if it's uncommon in Australia, they just might not have the answers for you. You might be a trendsetter! :) I hope it goes well for you. And thanks, "Parenting Asperger's Children" for the great article you posted. :)

Anonymous said...

In the USA sections of the AWDA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires that all schools no matter the size or accreditation must provide a safe and educational environment for all students. With that said The first Thing if not already done is legal documentation of your child's diagnosis be put in their permanent file, Then a SFST (Student and Family Support Team) should be formed (most school districts require their own testing to be done) AN IEP(Individual Education Plan) will be decided upon if your school does not comply go to your local Disability Office and ask for representation(this is free) And I guarantee if you walk in there with Lawyers your child will get the safe learning environment they deserve. Please Feel Free to contact me personally with any other questions and I will direct you to the proper websites for your area.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this information. My lovey sweet 13 yr.old Aspie has an IEP scheduled 1/24/12 but I am holding him out of school and weighing home schooling... I am a nurse I can always work 3rd shift and not sleep, lol, until his bullying is resolved. He said to me (with great eye contact!) Mom...I don't feel safe at school. I never know what's going to happen to me day by day. Please don't make me go. I'm so depressed at school I just want the pain to stop. I'm happy at home.. except when Dublin (our cat) died.
And they say Aspie's can't express emotion..huh :)

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm the mum of a 10-year girl with Aspergers. Does anyone know of any Aspergers girls groups in North London? My lovely daughter is bullied in school and finds it hard to make friends. We have been to local groups but the kids are primarily boys. She is arty and creative and eccentric -- not mathematical or teccy in the slightest. Her self-esteem would be boosted enormously i think if she could spend some time with some girls like her, or even just find a pen-friend girl who has AS.
Can anyone help?

Anonymous said...

As parents with children with Aspergers Syndrome or individuals with the syndrome I wish you well in your fight, BUT how about sparing a thought for some of the parents whose children are in the same class as your child and also at the "pointy end" of the negative aspects of their behaviour. In the last two weeks my son has been "called" to explain on five different occasions "why he was looking at this child" "talking about this child" or "laughing about this child". My son whose, until this happened (he's twelve), only interest in this child was vague curiosity as to why his mother bought him to class, why he burst in to tears when he was disciplined by the teacher and why he was allowed to trip, push and kick other children in the playground with impunity is now very upset at being constantly falsely accused. I am now at a point of taking the school to task (and yes, I will follow the articles advice)on how to put safeguards in place to protect my son against the ongoing harassment of the Aspergers Child. (For the record my child had never had a detention or even a first warning' for bad behaviour of any sort until this child started his vendetta, he has an Uncle with severe Austism and several friends outside school with Aspergers who he met when I as an OT was treating them.
Anon

Anonymous said...

Please help me. My son is getting caught up into the system. He had so many violations.. I need an attorney. I can't do this alone anymore. My son is bright and getting abused from the students, vice principal, and they don't care about his disability. They are using it to hurt him... he got suspended for his disability.. he was being bullied and this boy kept [utting his face in his face and then turning off the computer more than once and my son melt down and pushed a wire basket on the floor and it hit the boy in the foot and the boy picked up the wire basket and threw it in my son face.. then a fight broke out. He has been damaged his whole life and is one of the sweetest child I know. They did not follow his IEP and was put in a self contained room, and he can talk and is so smart.. did not want to give extra books, said Robotics was above him then later lied about saying it. It is too much to write but every law has been broken... and I can't fight any more I need an attourney. There is not one here. Help I can't stop crying I can't stop fighting for him but I feel as though I have to give up because there is nothing but talk about helping him and never any real action.

David Arndt Jr. said...

What should you do if you file a complaint as described in this article, but the school still refuses to investigate the harassment?

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

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Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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