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when a mental deficiency becomes a reason for bullying

  • Direct bullying
  • Indirect bullying
  • Non-especific

Lorenzo is a boy of sixteen years old, suffering from congenital disease with mild mental retardation. Therefore he is followed by a support teacher who follows him for 18 hours a week to help him with the study of different subjects.He attended a technical commercial Institute in the province of Naples. He has just entered the second year. During a meeting with him, he told us about the abuse of a group of older teens who have irritated him, repeatedly and in different ways throughout the year, since early October. Several times they robbed money from the wallet in his backpack. This obviously always happens when there is no teacher support, probably when Lorenzo goes to the bathroom or during the break because he takes more time than others to go into the classroom, because he must wait for a caretaker to accompany him into his classroom.


The support teacher after observing the class for several weeks, then decided to intervene. in accordance with the Group of teachers of the class and with the Headmaster, she suggested an extraordinary meeting to speak about the "group dynamics". She made them fill in an anonymous questionnaire on relationships with peers and teachers.
After that they have been read and a brainstorming activity was carried out.
One of the schoolmates proposed to establish a "bullying box" where they could leave comments on what happens.
As she is responsible for bullying, the support teacher decided to involve the class in the reading and cataloging class sheets.
The aim was to verify the true participation and level of awareness that has developed within the class.


The most important aspect is the insensitivity that boys and girls show facing violence. What disturbed the teachers of the Institute was the insensitivity of the schoolmates who witnessed and participated in the act with indifference. We think that the loser has always existed but imagine a group that assists, watch some laughs, it makes people think about that. Is it possible that none of them has taken a different reflection? Is it possible that they agreed? None of them has a different sensitivity that makes them say: enough, we're exaggerating?
In this case the headmaster has given importance to the incident. She did not underestimate the violence and intervened with the suspension penalties.
The incident occurred in a neighborhood of one of the most important provinces of the South, without evident social problems that affect the relational context of the group of guys involved. The family of the victim and the other guys is a family like others, with parents who work as public employees.
The boys attend the same school and take part in various social activities, such as sports and cultural interests. The origin of the family does not highlight special situations of distress.


L. told that he sometimes remained silent and sometimes he tried to react by answering rudely: a difficult task as he seemed to be a shy and introverted boy. Moreover, the astonishing thing is that according to him these incidents among boys are a common thing: "these things are normal. Moreover I was not the only one to have been targeted. " However, Lorenzo was clearly shocked by this episode. He was also disappointed that no mates tried to help him. Moreover, most of them did not care about that and even seemed to have fun. When, in fact, he tried to report the incident to the class he was told that he was wrong, that was a loser, that he invented to have money with him and that he had not been invented to be robbed.
One day he accused one of his mate, between stuttering and widespread sweats, of being the bully. This was the reason of the violence of the boy and of some of his allies who have bullied him and pushed his wheelchair.


The bully in question has a strong need for self-assertion and domain, that is why he is often so popular with classmates. Emotional control is often fragile, tending to be impulsive and short-tempered. For these people it is difficult to follow a system of rules, as it completely lacks of empathy, social and altruistic behaviors. For this reason, he fails to understand the unease felt by its victims, but believes that you deserve to be punished. The level of self-esteem in these subjects is very high, they are skilled in sport and game and their academic performance; it becomes variable during elementary school and tends to worsen over the next few years, often leading to an interruption in the course of studies.


Lorenzo's classmates can be considered passive and/or unaware spectators because they are the part of boys that are not involved directly in bullying actions and some of these were aware and others were not. They might then take an important role in encouraging episodes in which they assist. Unfortunately in most cases the majority remains "silent" and the episodes are not reported. Helping the "silent" majority to come out from silence you can also put an end to acts of bullying.
Some classmates in this case helped the victim directly to escape the situation, including the victim in their own peer group, not supporting the bully. The victim at first very disappointed and uncomfortable with the whole situation, later felt welcomed and supported by peers, recognizing in them an opportunity to ask for help.


Class teachers were informed of the incident by the support teacher. They immediately showed willingness to cooperate even though some have also claimed not to know precisely how to handle the situation. the group of teachers established to observe regularly risk behaviour of both the potential victim and bullies. Later they established intervention strategies: from here ...questionnaires, brainstorming, role playing. Then they established activities aimed at involving all pupils of school and class through activation of bullying boxes


The events were brought to the knowledge of leadership only through the intervention of Lorenzo's father. The parent during the appointment has got to be heard and has provided several details that were helpful in identifying some perpetrators.
Once aware of the facts the Executive has ascertained the facts with the various leaders and by common accord with the class Council met the parents of the Group of bullies.
The disciplinary procedure ended with the suspension of the "bullies".
The episode has shown the clear need to activate the paths of formation for teachers that succeed in identifying situations of discomfort in the classes.
It is no doubt that, once established such episodes, you must act decisively, ensure accountability, locate the "bullies", involve families and activate the procedures.


Lorenzo's parents were informed of the incident by their son. People are very collaborative and diplomatic. From the outset have been very careful in reiterating that would not create fractures in class but only understand what was happening and why. They rolled with Lorenzo, have encouraged to parlaredell happened, causing him to think about the whole situation. The involved in the decisions to be taken. They told him that I understand, that you would have found a solution.


At school the figure of the counsellor is not present, even if the intervention of a psychologist to help students was consideed necessary.


There was no need to ask for intervetion outside the school.


The phenomenon has grown into an environment that is usually active in the prevention of the phenomenon of bullying, especially in the first classes where there are pupils from different realities. Being aware of this, the school mainly directs its efforts towards schooling and inclusion, while respecting the different personalities.
the astonishing consideration is the fact that it happened in a second class, where we are convinced that such phenomena did not exist, and that the Teachers did not realize what was happening.
After Lorenzo's complaints, the real events came to the surface to the various components of the school and the phenomenon was faced efficiently and immediately.
They tried to understand what had happened and the fact was discussed in class, among teachers and parents.
Unfortunately the phenomenon was not immediately perceived by teachers and students involved, but after a few months.
You are happy because the case was then tackled and passed appropriately.
Among parents there are various point of view, from mild to harsh and severe.
The case has had some impact on the rest of the students of the school, which have been sensitised and some have found the courage to express in various ways their solidarity towards Lorenzo.
The activities proposed to students of the class involved in the bullying box was extended to classes with difficult relational dynamics, to prevent situations of discomfort or bullying.

Comments about this Case Study

Date: 12.03.2012

Posted by: NATHALIE GOEBELS - social worker
Type of school: Use right service
Country: Belgium

The external observations :
• it seems that the school actors have used different methods to put an end to the bullying event : disciplinary sanctions have been imposed to the young bullies, but a meeting with the parents has also been organized and activities have been set up in the class, not to stigmatize the bullies, but to give the word regarding the bullying event.
• The youth’s teacher explains that she has observed during several weeks the interactions in the class after the revelations made by the child. During this observation time, what was the follow-up set up for the youth ? How did the youth feel after having, not without difficulties, explained his situation to the teacher ?
• What were the activities concerning the group dynamic carried out in the class ? The teachers point out the other pupils’ disinterest. These ones were witnesses or took part in the bullying event. Could this point be discussed with the pupils at the time of activities set up in the class, after the revelation of the bullying event ? Have changes been observed following these activities led in the class.
• What actions have been undertaken following the notes left in the « bullying box » ? Do the pupils and the teachers notice some changes in the school following the setting up of this box ? Why does the pupil suggest to use this box ?
The lacks observed :
• The teachers themselves point out their lack of training to the identidication of bullying events and some youth ill-being.
• For that, and for other reasons the situation has been tackled tardily (the time the youth needed to feel ready to speak to his teacher and the time needed by the teacher to observe the interactions).
The positive interventions observed :
• The meeting with the heasmaster’s office and the teachers.
• The teachers in charge of the youth’s class have immediately shown their will for action, but they have also shown their limits.
• An intervention process has been set up by the adults of the school.
• The bullying event has not been underrated by the heasmaster’s office.
• The organization of an extraordinary meeting in order to broach the theme of group dynamic and widespread use of this activity in the classes showing difficult relational dynamics.
• The victim’s family and the bullies’ families have been in contact with the school regarding the bullying event.
• Broaching the problem with the class without dividing it but trying to undertand what has occured and for what reasons.
• The efforts made regarding tolerance and pupils’ inclusion.
• Some pupils have shown solidarity towards the young victim.
• To make intervene external people from the school would allow the pupils to feel free to speak at the time of the activities on the group dynamic.

Date: 07.03.2012

Posted by: Diana Nikolova
Type of school: specialized school
Country: Bulgaria

A case very interesting due tot he slight retardation of the victim - his mental state is the main reason for the attacks. It also prevents him from defending himself properly. In Bulgaria there are too few cases of mixed classes and considering the special education needs status the students in our school, this case is of great interest, since we are trying to prepare our children for the outside world. In our school they are in a protected environment, but outside - they are pretty much on their own. The support teacher proves to be a must in mixed classes and the bullying box is an idea, which could be broadly integrated in our society.
The activities of the responsible persons are correct and point at good preparation and high susceptibility of the school management and team towards incidents of this kind and in particular towards the needs and problems of such children.
Training on prevention of the formation and dealing with the segregation phenomenon on the basis of physical or mental conditions in schools would be quite useful for the staff of Bulgarian schools.

Date: 07.03.2012

Posted by: Pilar Guisado Rico
Type of school: Secundary School
Country: Spain

Personal experience
In common with the case described is its protagonist, a student with Asperger syndrome who met when she was 2 º ESO, and I was tutored at 3 º ESO. (Currently studying a course related to the film). This is not a mental deficiency, but from a mental illness that can lead to endless difficulties.
More than once Anthony was a victim of the comments of his peers (in fact, the year I met him out or not to recreation). Gradually, Antonio began to change, was increasingly integrated into your circle of friends, and if you complained about something that had happened, he did openly in class, without fear of being bullied later (unlike the protagonist in the case study), and that was when there was talk in the classroom of the offense and the result would have. In contrast to Lorenzo, Antonio did not consider it to be common, but were against him because he recognized to be special. One day he arrived late, something never done before, and it was because (as said in front of all his companions) "I do not trust my fellow group members and left the suitcase in another room so I would not steal things I've been, so I'm late. " Despite this, Antonio did not have any problem that could be considered serious, and this comment came to nothing, as they learned to respect, after establishing patterns in class (both sides). As in the case of Lorenzo, students witness, neither took part in the matter.
Case study, I learned that we must be blunt with this type of harassment, as did the case manager is exposed, the best decision was to suspend students stalkers.
A student with this kind of problem often found with tough situations in our educational system, and the fact to be more dependent on the work that has been done before with the students themselves, with faculty and with the class group in the you are.
In my case, the counselor who informed us all about this mental disorder in general aspects, and in particular the case of Antonio, with detailed report of student behavior and possible strategies. When students in the class group was told in the tutorial sessions of this type of disorder as well. And of course, Antonio's family was very involved with the education and integration of your child in the center (like that of Lorenzo), played a key role, providing guidance department all kinds of information you requested.
So I think that prevention and information should be superfluous in such cases because they are students who need special attention by all members of the educational community.
I also believe very interesting activity was done with students to create the "harassment case" as to be anonymous, the student usually have more, and can improve the relationships within a class group on all of those incidents that do not affect small groups that exist within a classroom.
What better training than that provided by an association of persons suffering from Asperger's disorder, which surely will provide level of support for schools, especially to serve the students with these features to be seamlessly integrated into daily life a center.

Date: 01.03.2012

Posted by: S Amott
Type of school:
Country: England

This is a very serious problem and can be present in many schools. The victim in this case study has SEN issues and is supported in lessons as he would be at a school in the UK. The bullying took place when the pupil was not being supported by his support teacher generally at break time or in the toilets. However, it was disappointing to see that the school took ‘several weeks’ to discuss the problems and issues that were occurring. I am also concerned that the support teacher did not take steps to prevent the bullying. At the school that I work in, our Student Support department support SEN students during their break and lunch. So therefore, I believe the best course of action- if it was possible, would have been to take this student to a safe space with a friend to prevent this ongoing bullying.

The way the school dealt with it was excellent and would work really well if the ‘class’ were together for every lesson however, this could have been taken further. Assemblies and class lessons about equality and whole school approaches to disability awareness could prevent this issue from arising again. The bully box is a fantastic idea and I believe this is something I would introduce into my own teaching practise should I have a class that has similar problems. When the issues were identified the school showed very similar processes as to my own school, teachers were told about the issues and given ideas about how incidents could be dealt with. It was fantastic to see other pupils supporting the victim I this case study, moreover I feel this is something that would happen in my own school

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