"Haven't you guys ever seen anybody from the planet Vultern before? Beep, Beep-Beep." Bullying and D/deaf children.
There's a line in one of my favourite childhood movies 'Mask'. Children are teasing the main character Rocky Dennis, about his facial difference. It's his first day at secondary school and Rocky is in the canteen. He walks past a group of children and overhears one of the boys saying "He looks like Frankenstein". All the boys chuckle. Rocky's comeback to this is priceless. He turns around and quips, "What's the matter? Haven't you guys ever seen anybody from the planet Vultern before? Beep, Beep-Beep, Beep, Beep-Beep."
I used Rocky's words when I was on the end of teasing from other children about my hearing impairment at school. It often worked as a short sharp verbal shock in shutting them up. When it didn't work I'd resort to the fists and punching method. Not ideal I guess. These events occurred to me in primary and secondary school in the 1980's. I studied in mainstream schools and I was the only student with a hearing impairment. I had many wonderful teachers and friends. But, alongside this... I would meet the teacher who would associate my deafness with stupidity. And, of course, I would meet the occasional bully. At the time there was no D/deaf awareness training. There was no real awareness of my needs. So, I decided to go to college from the sixth form and the bullying stopped.
Bullying is still widespread today on the playground. But, what are the statistics on this for children with a hearing impairment? I'd like to make reference here to the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. In 2010, they did research on Prevalence and Bullying. This found that bullying of Deaf/HOH (hard of hearing students) was a significant problem. They made reference to Sullivan 2006. Sullivan observed that disabled children are targeted by bullies. Those with observable disabilities (such as hearing loss or deafness) were twice as likely to be bullied as disabled children whose disabilities were not readily apparent. About a third of children with obvious disabilities were victimised, with more boys than girls being targeted. In another study, Deaf/HOH students in the United Kingdom had the highest rates of victimisation by bullying (100%) and of bullying others (50%) of all the special-needs students in a sample of 93 (Whitney, Smith, & Thompson, 1994).
This research, yet useful, is minimal and out of date. Also, studies like these, when the focus has been on Deaf/HOH children, have been lacking.
What about campaigns and awareness raising on bullying for Deaf/HOH children? The National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has done good work on this. Government campaigns have focused on disabled children in general. Should campaigns be more specifically focused on impairment groups?
What is particularly worrying is that disabled children in the playground are still targeted. In a society that is supposedly democratic and progressive, it is particularly shocking that in August 2017, as part of a raft of recommendations, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) called on the government to take action to provide better support for inclusion and to tackle bullying against disabled children.
April 2018 Latest Research
New UT (University Texas Of) Dallas research indicates that children and adolescents with hearing loss experience higher rates of peer victimisation, or bullying, than children with typical hearing.
In the study by the University of Texas at Dallas, approximately 50 percent of the adolescents with hearing loss said they were picked on in at least one way in the past year. Previous studies show about 28 percent of adolescents in the general population report being bullied.
More than one-fourth of adolescents with hearing loss indicated they felt left out of social activities, compared to only 5 percent of the general population reporting exclusion. These findings parallel published reports of fewer invitations to social events, lower quantity and quality of friendships, and higher loneliness in children and adolescents with hearing loss.
Researchers conducted an online survey of 87 children and adolescents ages 7 to 18 who wear cochlear implants or hearing aids for hearing loss. If they indicated they were picked on at all, the survey automatically generated follow-up questions on how often it occurred and why they thought they were targeted.
Approximately 45 percent said they did not know why, 20 percent said it was because of their hearing loss or cochlear implant, and 20 percent said it was because of how they looked or how they acted.
The study, which appears in the journal Exceptional Children, showed the type of bullying experienced by youth and adolescents with hearing loss mimics patterns in children with other special needs, with significantly higher rates of social exclusion.
More surveys are needed like these. It is a key issue in our society that can be quite easily 'brushed under the carpet.'
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