What is it about dyslexia that makes bullying so common? From significantly increased odds of physical abuse to being shunned by their peers, bullying is a common experience for dyslexic children.
Things haven’t been getting much better – in recent years, cyberbullying has emerged as a new way of tormenting children with dyslexia, and that’s what we want to talk about today.
What is Cyberbullying?
As the name suggests, cyberbullying is a special form of bullying that takes place online. Common techniques used by bullies include:
- Sending nasty text messages to the victim
- Taking embarrassing photos without permission and sharing them with others.
- Spreading rumors through social media
- Pretending to be someone’s friend online, followed by bullying them when they’re at their most vulnerable
- Impersonating the victim and signing them up for various services their parents would disapprove of (pornography, etc.)
Unfortunately, many parents haven’t realized just how common this issue is. According to BullyingStatistics.org, over half of all children are cyberbullied at some point – though it is worth noting that children’s ideas of what cyberbullying is vary with age. For example, name-calling may be reported as bullying by a 13-year-old, but totally ignored by someone two or three years older.
Dyslexic children may be particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation online – in the digital world, people are often judged by the content and quality of the posts they make, so the difficulties dyslexic children have with spelling can make them appear less intelligent than their peers – even if they’re using auto-correct programs to try and catch the errors.
Now, we know that dyslexia is not a mark of low intelligence – usually it’s quite the opposite. Unfortunately, many people a dyslexic child meets online are not likely to be sympathetic to these facts – the child may be more likely to be excluded or, if they persist in posting, directly insulted or attacked.
Dealing with Cyberbullying
Sooner or later, dyslexic children are likely to be cyberbullied. That’s not a comfortable thing to admit, but it’s what all the evidence suggests – so the question becomes not whether we can stop it, but how we’re going to react once it happens.
Some groups suggest trying to bully-proof your child. The theory here is that by giving children self-confidence and opportunities to succeed, bullies’ efforts will be wasted. There’s an obvious bias on that web site, of course – the host provides monitoring software to help with bully-proofing – but the point they’re making is still worth considering. Bullies look for victims, and children who refuse to be victimized are a heck of a lot harder for a bully to hurt.
Other groups have different suggestions. HelpGuide.org (a nonprofit) suggests a focus on reporting the bullying but never replying to it, and remembering to talk to an adult about it once it occurs. Unfortunately, many teens are afraid to speak up when cyberbullying occurs, and not just because of the bullying itself – they fear overreactions, too, and that you’ll take the internet away from them in an effort to put an end to the bullying.
Regardless of what method(s) you choose for helping your child – and we suggest considering all options, then deciding for yourself based on your child’s specific needs and development – this is something you should plan for sooner instead of later. You can’t stop cyberbullying from happening, but you (and your dyslexic child) can be ready to deal with it.