Bullying is something that no one ever wants to be faced with, but the reality is that people with developmental disabilities are at far greater risk of being bullied than other individuals. Their perceived vulnerability makes them tempting targets for those who prey on people who have done nothing to deserve such treatment.

And, unfortunately, bullying appears to be on the increase in our society.

For those of us who have family members, friends and coworkers who are at risk, it is sickening when the ones we love and care about are subjected to threats, intimidation, and cruelty. It is impossible for us to understand why anyone would purposely want to hurt them.

But we must be vigilant because there are people out there who take perverse pleasure in mistreating other human beings.

Individuals with developmental disabilities are often bullied because of the way they look, the way they move, the way they talk or the way they behave. They are particularly at risk because their willingness to trust others is often used against them in the most ruthless possible way. They are attacked by those who certainly know better but who cannot resist the momentary feeling of power they achieve when they tear down others.

The psychological damage inflicted by bullying can have serious repercussions. A person’s self-esteem and self-image can be permanently harmed. To be exploited by another person can be demoralizing.

Victims can become fearful and anxious. They can become suspicious, always wondering if someone is going to take advantage of them. That can inhibit their ability to trust others; therefore it can become difficult for them to have healthy relationships.

Bullying can occur one on one or it can happen as part of a group. If more than one aggressor is involved they sometimes feed off each other, and the attack can quickly escalate. People often believe there is safety in numbers, so when one person does it others are tempted to join in.

It can also result from peer pressure. The intense need to be accepted can compel people to behave in ways they know are inappropriate. However, when someone is so desperate to win the approval of others that they are willing to hurt an innocent person, their desire to belong takes precedence over their judgment, causing them to rationalize their behavior in an attempt to justify what they know is harmful.

Bullying is often an act of cowardice. Typically, those who feel the need to intimidate others pick out targets who they believe will be the easiest to attack. They single out individuals who are isolated and are less likely to have someone to stand up for them.

Because people with developmental disabilities sometimes do not enjoy full inclusion in social groups they can be alone and vulnerable. Additionally, because those with intellectual challenges are sometimes considered to be less than equal by the self-centered people who engage in such activity, it may not seem wrong in their minds to bully them.

That is why we must continue to advocate and educate so that everyone understands that people with developmental disabilities are equal members of society with the same rights as everyone else. They do not deserve to be subjected to senseless attacks just because someone considers them to be different.

It is the unwillingness to even try to understand others that induce people to make quick judgments and to foster misconceptions. That, in turn, leads to the hurtful behavior that we see so much of in our culture.  

Parents of children with intellectual challenges are both heartbroken and rightfully furious when they discover that their child is the victim of bullying. When a person you love with all your heart is mistreated it can be devastating. Sometimes tremendous progress that has been made by families with their loved ones is set back significantly or even permanently destroyed by a constant barrage of harassment and humiliation.

People with developmental disabilities may not be able to fend off the attacks of those who choose to disrespect them. Therefore, we should intervene and stop this kind of activity. We each have a moral responsibility to stand up for those who have difficulty speaking up for themselves, and we must ensure that all people with intellectual challenges are treated with dignity.

If the verbal taunting, demeaning language and even physical abuse that are associated with bullying are allowed to go unchecked, we become desensitized, which eventually makes us willing to look the other way.

Meanwhile, the victims are forced to suffer without any hope of relief. When society tolerates bullying, it gives a green light to individuals who have no qualms about taking advantage of those who can’t fight back.

If we witness the bullying of a person with a developmental disability and do nothing to stop it we must share the blame for the results. By refusing to take action, we silently condone the behavior. To understand what is happening and to allow it to continue makes us a partner in the abuse. Adults, adolescents, and even children know that it is not right to pick on another person.

Bullying should never be ignored or swept under the rug because once it occurs there is an increased likelihood that it will happen again. Unless it is made clear that this form of intimidation has no place in our world, there will continue to be innocent people who are persecuted simply because of their diagnosis.

We are each obligated to take a stand against such conduct. No one has the right to belittle, ridicule or threaten another person, and they certainly have no right to physically harm them in any way. That type of behavior must not be tolerated.

Bullying is something that must be dealt with firmly because it doesn’t just affect the victim. It also hurts their family and others who care about them, and it harms society as well. It increases disrespect for those with developmental disabilities, and it hinders their right to be accepted. It sets an inappropriate example for others to copy and imitate. It encourages people to take advantage of those who, through their innocence, are left unprotected.

As a compassionate society, we cannot justify any type of bullying, but it is particularly deplorable when it is aimed at individuals who may not understand why they are being targeted or may not have the capacity to defend themselves.

Because bullying can cause tremendous physical, psychological and emotional pain, there is absolutely no excuse for engaging in this type of behavior.

To assault someone simply because of who they are is indefensible.

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