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Bullying and Students with Hearing Loss

Research that Matters

“I know how to handle bullying in my classroom!” may be a battle cry from any experienced and successful teachers, but the landscape of bullying has changed.

For starters, bullying most often occurs when adults are not watching. It happens online with social media or email or texting. It happens in private places where those who bully are most powerful and those who are bullied are most vulnerable.

Even more significantly, current research on bullying targets a high incidence of bullying in the deaf/hard of hearing student population.  Traditional approaches to modify and end bullying behaviors as well as methods and curricula for teaching social skills need an update.

Studies on the frequency of bullying with deaf and hard of hearing students – a jolting reality

  • In 2018, the University of Texas found that adolescents with hearing loss endured significantly higher incidence of bullying versus the general population (50.0% vs. 28.0%), particularly for exclusion (26.3% vs. 4.7%) and coercion (17.5% vs. 3.6%). Children younger than 12 years with hearing loss reported lower rates of bullying (38.7%) than adolescents with hearing loss, but rates did not differ significantly. Author of the study, Dr. Andrew Warner-Cryz, revealed: “I thought more children and adolescents with hearing loss would report getting picked on, but I did not expect the rates to be twice as high as the general population”
  • A 2018 study by Van den Bedem, N.P., published in the International Journal of Language and Communicative Disorders found that students who had lower language abilities were more vulnerable to victimization if they lacked understanding of their own emotions and levels of anger, sadness, and fear. Another red flag for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing whose students may lack self-esteem, feel isolated, or different from the larger population of hearing students.
  • A 2013 Gallaudet study on bullying and school climate found that 812 deaf and hard of hearing students in eleven U.S. schools reported instances of bullying at rates 2-3 times higher than reported by hearing students. Deaf and hard of hearing students reported that school personnel were less likely to intervene when bullying was reported. The study examined perspectives among deaf and hard of hearing students in residential and large day schools regarding bullying, and compared these perspectives with those of a national database of hearing students. The participants were 812 deaf and hard of hearing students in 11 U.S. schools. Significant bullying problems were found in deaf school programs.  Results indicate the need for school climate improvement for all students, regardless of hearing status.

Anecdotal stories support the findings.

In 2016, the story of a deaf high school student in Nebraska was reported on television news.  Students had taken his backpack during a lunch period and dumped it in a toilet.  Contained inside were his tablet, school supplies, homework, debit card, and his cochlear implant.  The student, Alexis Hernandez, reported: “Those students think it’s ok to bully a deaf student, but it’s not.  It’s not OK to bully someone who is disabled, deaf, or hard of hearing.  Or anyone for that matter.”

Incidents of “put downs,” teasing, rummaging in school bags or desks, and stealing among students in an urban program for deaf/hard of hearing students give further anecdotal support.  In one story, teacher reports to administration of teasing a deaf student about his speech and hearing aids went unheeded until parents called the principal directly.  After all, the principal had reasoned, there had been no physical harm.

Definitions:  Shaming, Blaming, and More

The National Deaf Children Society (NDCS) in the UK provides the following comprehensive description of bullying in their publication: “Bullying Advice for Parents of Deaf Children.”

Bullying may comprise one or more of these behaviors:

Verbal: name-calling, insulting, teasing, ridiculing

Emotional/indirect: ignoring or deliberately excluding, spreading rumors or nasty stories, turning friends against the child, laughing at them or talking about them behind their back, taking, hiding or damaging their personal belongings, drawing unkind pictures of the child, using a feature of the child’s disability to bully them, (e.g. deliberately making loud noises near a deaf child who is known to find loud noises unpleasant, creeping up on them from behind to scare them, deliberately making a noise when the teacher is giving instructions).

Physical: any physical contact which would hurt such as hitting, kicking, pinching, shoving, tripping up, pulling out hearing aids.

Manipulation/controlling behavior: using the child’s vulnerability as a way of controlling them or making them do something the bully wants them to do.

Cyberbullying: using electronic media (internet, mobile phones) to bully someone. This includes bullying through text messages, instant messaging, email, chat forums, online games and social networking websites.

Healthy Self Esteem is the Gatekeeper

If individuals value themselves, feel worthy, loved, able to handle rejections and bounce back – they possess qualities that naturally help guard against bullying, or becoming bullies.  Take teasing, for instance.  Although it can become ugly and demeaning, there is a place for gentle teasing that allows individuals to laugh at themselves in a healthy way.  We all make mistakes!  We’re “human.”

Self Esteem in Fictional Heroes

Two well-known stories give us perfect examples of what healthy self-esteem looks like. Characters in books or movies so often provide our best “teachable moments” for learning about behaviors in the real world. These are two heroes of fiction for kids of all ages: J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and R. J. Palacio’s Augie Pullman of Wonder 

In her insightful work, “Harry Potter and Hearing Loss – A Whimsical Look at Similarities and Successes, ” Karen Anderson draws comparisons between J. K. Rowling’s famous Harry and his experiences as a new student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the experiences of deaf/ hard of hearing students in the mainstream.

There were many times when Harry was an outcast, made fun of, and treated poorly by groups of students. He usually did not react or lash out at his tormentors… He did not ask to be special. But Harry, with the help of his friends and teachers, persevered, tried his hardest and was true to who he was as a person. Therefore he succeeded against all odds. 

Most children who are deaf or hard of hearing did not wish to have a hearing loss.  It is not fair that they need to wear amplification or have therapy and other services that most children do not need.  It is not fair that they face listening and understanding challenges in many situations that are effortless for their peers who have typical hearing…. Ultimately, children with hearing loss will be successful because they try hard an dhave support and assistance from their families and teachers. They need to believe in themselves and that they can succeed. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing, with the help of their families, friends, teachers, and therapists, must persevere and be true to who they are as people to be able to succeed in a hearing world.     

Entering a mainstream school for Augie Pullman in R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, is another example of confronting, and dealing with diversity. Augie’s facial deformities set him far apart from the norm, vulnerable to the stares and smirks of other students. He persevered, but not without the support of his family, friends, and teachers.

Two clear lessons about self-esteem from these two fictional characters: 

Positive self-esteem is an anchor (our “gatekeeper”).

It takes a “village” of support to maintain it.

Other Ways to Build Self Esteem

There are many exercises that can help foster a healthier sense of self esteem for our children and students.  A few suggestions for teachers and parents:

Allow mistakes and accidents to happen.

Do not shame and blame others

Accept differences in other people, families, cultures

Find the humor in your own missteps and mistakes

Make an effort to talk about the things for which you are grateful

Find ways to help others


Incorporate routine screening for bullying via direct questions6:

Ask the child about friends. A response of “none” or “few friends” deserves additional prompting (i.e., “Why do you think this is?”)  

Inquire if the child avoids going to school and find out why.

Ask the child directly if he or she has experienced bullying. If the child answers yes, ask follow-up questions and refer the child to school and community resources. .

Address developing skills to reduce victimization in the student IEP:

Issues related to peer victimization can be included on individualized education plans or 504 plans in the following ways:

Informing teachers and classmates about hearing loss.

Providing a safe environment statement to designate a “home base” where a student can go when feeling unsafe and/or a “safe person” with whom a student can discuss difficult situations.

Including strategies to reduce vulnerability by targeting social pragmatic skills (e.g., taking turns and asking questions; reading facial expressions and body language) via one-on-one instruction, role playing, or social stories.

For teachers:

Keep the discussion of bullying behavior alive and ongoing – not a lesson plan to be covered, completed, and put away.

Organize a social skills group to help children develop social competencies in a supportive environment.

Clinicians can also help patients address assertiveness and/or self-advocacy, with specific training to identify and report bullying, say “no” to stop the situation, and request assistance from a trusted source.

Give your students a safe and open communication pathway for reporting incidents of bullying.

Recognize that bullying will most often happen when you are not watching – In the lunchroom, the bathrooms, the playground, the hallways. Just because you did not see it does not mean it did not happen!

Be a listener.

Be supportive.

Report incidents to your school administration as promptly as possible.

For parents:

Talk to your child about feelings – openly and often. They need to know that when things go wrong, you will be there to support them.

Stay closely involved with school administrators and teachers.

Be ASSERTIVE with school personnel when your child reports bullying behaviors.

Cyberbullying – How do we deal with an invisible bully?

While our deaf and hard of hearing students find invaluable and positive connections online, the potential for negative interactions is, unfortunately, highly correlated with increased internet use.

PACER has developed a comprehensive website, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center which lists the following attributes of online bullying:  a) electronic forms of contact, b) an aggressive act, c) intent, d) repetition, e) harm to the target (Hutson, 2016 ).

The technology, accessed through computers or cell phones, used to cyberbully includes: Personal websites, blogs, e-mail, texting, social networking sites, chat rooms, message boards, instant messaging, photographs, video games  Feinberg & Robey, 2009.

PACER concludes that those who are most at risk to cyberbullying are those who experience lower self-esteem, social isolation, and academic problems.

The joys of communicating online for our students who are deaf or hard of hearing are threatened by the simple act of “logging on.”

How Can We Be Proactive about Cyberbullying?

RECOGNIZE: By being fully aware of what websites are being used.  If we as adults continue to make excuses about our lack of skill or disdain for social media, we are inadvertently providing limitless opportunities for our children to be vulnerable to cyberbullying.


REACT: Explicit teaching about security and boundaries

Passwords cannot be shared, even with close friends.

Do not allow people to be “friends” on Facebook or Instagram unless they are real friends!

Do not post pictures on Facebook or Instagram without permission of each person in the picture. Even better: do not post pictures on Facebook or Instagram.

Do not respond to emails or texts from people you do not know.


RAISE AWARENESS:  The following is a comprehensive list of materials available on the  from Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center website.

Cyberbullying Starts Earlier Than You Might Think — Here’s How to Protect Your Child Now

What Every Parents Needs to Know About Protecting Their Child from Cyberbullying

Helping Your Child Understand Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying: What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Children

Safety in the Online Community: A conversation with your 13-year-old about Facebook and Instagram – Facebook and Instagram partnered with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to create this guide to help parents talk with their teens about using social media.

What Parents Should Know About Bullying – This guide, created in partnership with Verizon, offers a comprehensive overview for parents to learn what they can do to address and prevent bullying, featuring a section on mobile and online safety.

Teens Against Bullying on Cyberbullying – Teens Against Bullying is a place for middle and high school students to find ways to address bullying, to take action, and to be heard.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying: Hands Off the Keyboard Until You’re Calm!





Mobicip. This free app blocks sites, including chat sites and social networking apps that may be inappropriate, depending on the age of the user. There are three restriction levels.

FamiSafe. Designed to block inappropriate websites for business employees or family members.  Detects and alerts parents to explicit content on all social media platforms

Internet Blocker – Freedom.  Used worldwide to help protect children from harmful threats.

Cold Turkey.  This app will temporarily block websites from target devices.



Warner-Czyz, A. D., et. al. (2018) Effect of hearing loss on peer victimization in school-age children. Exceptional Children. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-04-children-loss-bullying.html . Download from: https://successforkidswithhearingloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Children-with-hearing-loss-face-more-bullying-2018.pdf

2016 news: https://www.newschannel5.com/news/national/burke-high-school-investigating-bullying-incident-after-it-goes-viral

Van den Bedem, N.P., et al, (2018). Victimization, bullying, and emotional competence: Longitudinal associations in (Pre)Adolescents with and without developmental language disorder, Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61, 2028-2044.

Goberis, D., Beams, D., Daples, M., Abrisch, A., Baca, R. & Yoshinaga-Itano, C. (2012). The Missing Link in Language Development of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children: Pragmatic language development. Seminars in Speech and Language, (2012), 33:4, 297-309.

Bullying Advice for Parents of Deaf Children. National Deaf Children Society in the UK. Download from: https://successforkidswithhearingloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Bullying-Advice-for-Parents-of-Deaf-Children-NDCS-UK.pdf

Warner-Czyz, A. D. (2018). Peer victimization of children with hearing loss. The Hearing Journal, October. Download from: https://successforkidswithhearingloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Peer_Victimization_of_Children_with_Hearing_Loss.4.pdf

Webpage posted October 2019. Author Jean Snowden, NBCT. Jean has had 30 years of experience as a teacher of the deaf in varied settings and also experience teaching English as a Second Language.  She has been an author of Language Strategies and Social Strategies sections of the Supporting Success Teacher Tools e-magazine. Jean is co-founder of Jack Apps Education and is a teacher-author at Teachers Pay Teachers.