Sticks and Stones: Bullying and Deaf People

bully.jpgWhat’s So Unique about Bullying and Deaf People?: What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see the words “bullying” and “Deaf”? Is it a lone Deaf child being picked on by hearing schoolmates? This scenario is what many people mention, perhaps recalling their own childhood experiences or relying on common preconceptions of bullying. While hearing-on-Deaf bullying in the schoolyard does indeed occur, there are additional types of bullying situations involving Deaf people that deserve our attention as well. These situations can have implications for both children and adults. Even though most of the literature on bullying that is written by hearing people, also applies to Deaf people, we do have our own unique bullying issues in our community.

The Clothing-Supported Whisper: If you’ve ever spent more than a couple of hours hanging out with a group of Deaf children, you’ve probably witnessed the Clothing-Supported Whisper. This is when Deaf children yank out the front of their jacket or shirt with one hand, forming a screen that shields whatever they are signing with their other hand (there is also the Signing-Underneath-the-Table Whisper). This makes their signing visible only to a selected friend or two. Oftentimes, it can be a funny sight to see what lengths children will go to in order to whisper something. When the Clothing-Supported Whisper is done repeatedly and purposefully, shutting out a particular child or group of children, however, it turns into something that is no longer funny or cute – it becomes a subtle form of bullying.

Cyberbullying: Another common means of bullying in the Deaf community is cyberbullying. This involves spreading rumors, backstabbing, humiliating, or making fun of people via instant messaging, pagers, emails, blog postings, and other technological means. With more and more Deaf people online every day, the potential for bullying here is great, especially when anonymity is guaranteed.

Deaf Parents’ Dilemmas: Deaf parents face unique challenges when it comes to bullying and their children. Parents of KODAs or Deaf children who are being bullied by hearing children with hearing parents, may find that communication barriers can get in the way of addressing the situation. It can be hard to approach hearing parents to try to resolve bullying issues or to communicate with the hearing child who is doing the bullying. Although communication may not be an issue when the parents of the bully are also Deaf, Deaf parents may still find the situation sticky. On the one hand, they may already know and even be friends with the other parents and the bully due to the closeness of the Deaf community. On the other hand, it can be awkward to bring up a negative topic like bullying. Fear of creating more conflicts may get in the way of being able to discuss the issue with other Deaf parents. The Odyssey magazine offers helpful tips for Deaf parents and schools on how to deal with bullying issues.

New Website on Bullying and Deaf Children: Congratulations to Deaf school psychologist, Dr. Patty Hodgson, who recently launched www.stopdeafbullying.com. This website is a good start for sharing information on bullying with the Deaf community. We hope to see an ASL version of the text on the website soon, making it even more accessible to Deaf adults and children.

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