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Bullying: A Survivor’s Story
By Becky Rizoli, Federation for Children with Special Needs

Like so many others, I was horrified to learn that in January a Massachusetts teen committed suicide because she was the victim of many types of bullying, including cyberbullying. As I stared dumbfounded at the television screen, I thought back to my own middle school years. I have ADD (attention deficit disorder) and an anxiety disorder. And, when I was younger, I had a speech disorder and stuttered sometimes. Any student can be the victim of bullying; however, students with special needs are bullied even more frequently, and I was no exception.

My classmates laughed at me and mimicked my stuttering. They knew tests triggered my anxiety and often falsely told me that a teacher had scheduled a test for my next class without my knowing. Girls I had thought were my friends excluded me from their lunch table. Going to school was a nightmare. In those days, school administrators and teachers did not recognize “bullying.” They referred to my experiences as “teasing,” stating is was a normal part of adolescence, and that I should just “stick it out.”

As my classmates matured, their bullying stopped, but the effects lasted. I had low self-esteem, was embarrassed about my differences, and had a hard time making new friends. It took years for me to overcome the damage to my self-esteem. I didn’t even realize that I had been bullied until I started working at the Federation. As I was reading materials for a parent workshop about bullying, I realized that I, too, had been a victim of bullying. I also realized that bullying is not a normal part of growing up. It is a form of abuse and discrimination based on disability, which is illegal. I also realized that the bullying was not my fault.

The Massachusetts Senate and House recently passed S2323: An Act Relative to the Prevention of Bullying. It requires each school district to implement and enforce a bullying prevention plan. It is encouraging to know the Commonwealth is taking action so that future generations of students will not have to fear going to school because of bullies.

Editor’s Note: On May 3, 2010, Governor Patrick signed the anti-bullying law. In addition to this Massachusetts legislation, the federal Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, protect students with disabilities from “disability harassment.” Visit the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site at www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/HHS_PSA/pdfs/SBN_Tip_24.pdf for more resources. While schools now recognize bullying for what it is – recurring behavior that is intentionally destructive – the prevalence of cell phones, texting, e-mail, and social networking sites, make it possible for bullies to invade all parts of their victim’s lives. If you are concerned your child is at risk for, or is a victim of cyberbullying, learn what it is and how to prevent it at www.stopcyberbullying.org.