It's My Life PBS Kids Go!
Help "Glee" star Lauren Potter disable bullying

By It's My Life on March 11, 2011 1:33 PM | No TrackBacks

A boy with cerebral palsy gets tripped, pinned down, and dog food forced into his mouth by other kids at school. Another boy, who has developmental delays from being born prematurely, gets taken to the hospital with a dangerously high blood alcohol level because his classmates have been "spiking" his lunch drink with alcohol. A girl who has trouble walking gets teased, knocked off her crutches, and hit in the head by some fellow students.

Did we get your attention? Good! These are all stories that we recently read in a report called "Walk A Mile In Their Shoes," which studied the types of bullying experienced by kids with special needs. These stories shocked and saddened us, along with some of the statistics:

  • 60% of students with special needs or disabilities report being bullied, compared to 25% of the general student population.

  • 40% of young people with autism, and 60% of those with Asperger's syndrome, are bullied on a regular basis.

  • 85% of kids who witness this kind of bullying walk away and do nothing about it.
laurenpotter.jpgAsk 19-year-old actress Lauren Potter about all this, and she'll tell you about how a group of boys used to force her to eat sand and walk behind her, calling her names, because she has Down syndrome. And even though she appears on TV's "Glee" as Becky Jackson, Sue Sylvester's loyal sidekick, sometimes she still hears other teens mutter the word "retard" when she passes by and has had people post cruel comments on her Facebook fan page. 

That's why Lauren has gotten involved with a new campaign called "Disable Bullying" from AbilityPath.org, which aims to make people aware of what these kids deal with and what we can all do to help change that. IML spoke with Lauren and her mom, Robin, about the campaign and why it's so important that tweens educate themselves about this type of bullying.

IML: Lauren, what's your advice for kids with special needs who experience bullying?

Lauren: I just encourage kids to speak up! Telling our stories is the only way people will know what we've had to go through. Believe in yourself. Someone once told me that being different isn't bad...different is just different.

IML: Why are young people with special needs so often the targets of bullying?

Robin: I think people bully out of fear. We fear things we don't understand, such as a person who's different in some way. With Lauren being on "Glee" right now, a whole world that didn't really understand people with Down syndrome are seeing it in a new light, saying, "Hey, this is a kid. This is a girl who can be tough and be funny, she can be whatever." It is educating and letting people see that kids with special needs are just kids. The more people understand and learn that we're all different in one way or another, the more they'll be kind...and realize there's a problem. The gay community has had a big voice in this but the disabled community hasn't so much yet, and we all need to bring it to light.

IML: What should you do if you see someone with special needs or a disability getting bullied?

Lauren: Say, "Stop! Enough is enough!"

Robin: You can also tell somebody about it. That's why we made the video for the AbilityPath website. We would love it everyone reading this would share the video and visit the site, because it has so many tools for everybody to use -- kids who are witnessing, kids who are being bullied, parents, educators, siblings, friends.

IML: Since Lauren's been on "Glee," what kind of feedback have you received from other young people with special needs?

Robin: Kids we talked to said they loved seeing Lauren on there because it made them feel like they could stand up and say, "I have Down syndrome too, just like her." It gives them a voice they may not have had before, and people are starting to see them in a new light. People say, "Oh, you have Down syndrome, just like Becky Jackson on 'Glee.'" It's almost cool! It gives them somebody to look at and think, "That person's like me, and look what she's doing."

IML: We love "Glee" and we're always thinking, we'd like Becky's character to be fleshed out a bit. She seems like she has an interesting story. Do you think that will happen?

Renee: We always hope so! That's where the fans come in. They need to make their voices heard if they want to see that. I think from the very first time they put Lauren on the show as Becky, her character has evolved so much. We'd love to see her have a relationship at school, maybe even address this whole bullying issue. They addressed it with Kurt, but maybe they can address it with Becky, and have the glee club stand up and come to her aid and show other kids that you can stand up. We would love to see something like that!

IML: Lauren, we're so happy you and your mom could talk to us about this!

Lauren:
I just really want people to watch the video and share it...and help disable bullying!

Sounds good to us! Here's the video:






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