Bullying is a challenge that many children face during childhood and adolescence. The many forms of bullying are becoming increasingly creative in the worst ways. Recently, Austin Babinsack, an autistic soccer player and student at Highlands High School in Pittburgh, was duct-taped to a goalpost and abandoned by two of his teammates. After the two students were suspended, another bullying campaign was started on social media in support of their hateful actions. School officials are now reinforcing their code of discipline to punishing those who participate in online bullying or any other form of harassment that is disruptive to the school day. The superintendent states, “We are trying to help the family heal, the community heal, and the Highlands heal.”
Many schools still struggle in implementing or initiating dialogues of tolerance and acceptance that are so important for students starting from the elementary level to the high school level. Although the level of understanding surrounding the issues that kids on the autism spectrum face is increasing within the greater autism community, there is still a need to have educators, families, and community members spread that knowledge and speak up for a more inclusive society.
Although the Babinsack family is not pushing for any criminal charges, they would like a meeting between their son and the two teammates where they apologize, “with contingencies of awareness education and community service.” This incident, as well as the recent ice bucket challenge prank against an autistic student, and increasing complaints, is fueling a push by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to have school districts revisit their policies on bulllying especially with handling bullying of students with disabilities. The Department’s notice is a reminder that schools are obligated under federal law to step in immediately when a student with special needs is being bullied. As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), they have an educational right known as Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
However, at the end of the day the change comes from each of us raising our voices and opening our hearts and minds to promoting a more inclusive society.
For a parent fact sheet on resources for this form of bullying, click HERE
For more resources on bullying, click HERE