Empowering teachers to tackle learning disability and autism bullying

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Dr Mark Brookes MBE and Michelle Rebello celebrate the differences, challenge the stereotypes and tackle hate crime

At the age of seven, a child with special educational needs is twice as likely to be bullied as someone without1. Having both experienced bullying first-hand, we are deeply aware of the need to encourage children to celebrate difference. This makes it vital to support teachers and students to help embrace diversity, so that every child has the same opportunity to feel safe at school. As part of our work through Dimensions’ #ImwithSam campaign, we have also seen that, if not addressed, bullying can sadly escalate to a hate crime. 

However, this is not something that teachers should be left to navigate alone. Simple and easy to use learning tools, such as Dimensions’ KS3 resources, must be utilised to empower teachers to tackle bullying at its root2

Celebrating difference 

With a recent study finding that 80% of young people with learning disabilities have experienced bullying, it is clear that tackling this must be a priority for schools3. From our personal experience, we are aware that much of this bullying can often stem from a lack of understanding. 

For example, students may often not understand the adjustments that are being made for classmates, such as ear defenders or chewing toys, which can often help a pupil to learn and feel comfortable. However, this can mark someone out as different in a negative way if it is left unexplained. Teachers must be able to openly discuss the importance of adjustments with the wider class, without singling out individuals, so that pupils are encouraged to understand and accept difference. 

“It’s about how we can make small adjustments to someone’s life to reduce the pain and anxiety” – Michelle Rebello

Wider discussion of diversity is also essential to tackling bullying. Resources such as Dimensions ‘Fact or Myth’ exercise can help teachers to challenge stereotypes4. By unpicking these assumptions at a young age, we can teach children not only to understand difference but to celebrate it.

Challenging stereotypes

Empowering teachers to challenge wider stereotypes which enable ableist language and behaviours can help to mitigate bullying at its root and create a safer environment for students. With only half of young autistic people feeling safe in school, it is clear that more must be done to support teachers in this area5

However, our busy, hardworking teachers should not be left to navigate this alone. Dimensions provides simple and easy to use resources for teachers, which offer lesson plans, exercises and advice for educating children to celebrate diversity. Resources such as the ‘Challenging disablist language and behaviours’ exercise can empower teachers to have these important discussions with their class6

“I wish there had been resources and education tools, such as the KS3 learning resources created by Dimensions, in place to help both students and teachers tackle bullying by recognising ableist language, discrimination and prejudice.” – Michelle Rebello 

Tackling hate crime at its root

“It can escalate into hate crime if people don’t understand why other people are different” – Michelle Rebello

Through our work with Dimensions’ #ImWithSam campaign, we have both seen that bullying can evolve into a hate crime if left unaddressed. 73% of people with learning disabilities and/or autism have been victims of a hate crime and, according to Dimensions’ recent research, 23% feel they were targeted because of their disability7. Education and early intervention to teach children to appreciate diversity can help tackle this early on. 

As we reflect on Anti-Bullying Week, we both feel it is vitally important that bullying in schools is not simply brushed off or dismissed: 

“If we allow bullying to perpetuate or dismiss people’s experiences with unhelpful phrases – such as ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘you’ll get over it’ or ‘sticks and stones’ – then it becomes a culture and behaviour that children who bully will take with them right through to adulthood.” – Michelle Rebello 

It’s time to support teachers to put an end to bullying for good.


Dr Mark Brookes MBE
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Dr Mark Brookes MBE, Advocacy Lead at Dimensions UK

Michelle Rebello
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Michelle Rebello, Involvement and Engagement Coordinator at Dimensions UK

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