When I was a kid I had a pet hamster, that I adoringly named Grover. Unfortunately, I was not able to produce my /R/ sound, so Grover shortly became known as “Gwova.” By being teased and imitated at school, I quickly learned what other people heard when I spoke… and I was very embarrassed about my speech. Looking back years later, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate that this teasing did not lead to bullying, but sadly that is not the case for many children.
It has been a goal of mine, since becoming a speech-language pathologist, to not only work on the communication difficulty itself, but to target self-esteem. Speech-language pathologists often find themselves faced with the results of what’s being called a bullying epidemic. They may work in schools, where much of bullying typically occurs, or they may work outside of schools, but with students that are frequently susceptible to bullying, such as children with communication, developmental, and/or social difficulties.
Examples of social bullying are: a child not being allowed to join a game, to participate in conversation with peers, or becoming the subject of teasing or negative gossip, in turn causing children to experience emotional and/or academic difficulties. Blood says, “In all bullying, there’s intent to do harm, and a perceived power imbalance.”
A professor from Pennsylvania State University, Gordon Blood, has done extensive research on bullying and feels that speech-language pathologists have a role in managing and reducing social bullying.
Speech-language pathologists are in a position where they can often have a strong role in restoring the balance of power that is disrupted in bullying. Instead of encouraging a child to ignore the problem, or pretend not to be bothered, it is recommended that professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, teachers, and parents do the following:
1) Listen to the child. Give them non-interrupted time to speak.
2) Praise the child for discussing the bullying – it can be incredibly hard for children to talk about.
3) Encourage the child to build his or her social network – one or two friends is all most children need to stand up to a bully.
Remember that the common goal for children that experience bullying is to develop their confidence enough to overcome bullying before it has negative effects on their learning and health.
Written by: Michelle Cameron, M.H.Sc. S-LP(C) Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada www.speechtherapycentres.com Information obtained from Speech-language pathologists positioned to help victims of bullying, January 7, 2011, written by Gordon Blood, Ingrid Blood, Michael Boyle, and Gina Nalesnik from Pennsylvania State University.