Suggestions for Teachers and Parents

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The use of the Internet, and more specifically of social networking websites, has become more and more popular among children and adolescents of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

While the information presented relates to all children, the method in which it is taught to students with cognitive disabilities must be modified in a manner that is simpler to comprehend and remember.

Some tips to share with children for preventing cyber bullying include (Keith and Martin):

1.) Never share or give out personal information, PIN numbers, phone numbers, etc.

2.) Tell a trusted adult if someone asks you for personal information.

3.) Do not read messages by cyber bullies.

4.) Do not delete messages; they can be used to take action.

5.) Bullying through instant messaging or chat rooms can often be blocked and reported.

6.) Do not open a message from someone you do not know.

7.) Do not reply to the person bullying or harassing you.

Tips for parents:

1.) Pay attention! Know how and when your children are using the Internet.

2.) Become more tech savvy.

3.) Install blocking or filtering software.

4.) Encourage your child to talk to you if they are being bullied.

5.) Limit your child’s time using the Internet.

6.) Develop a family only agreement plan including;

– Where kids can go online and what they can do there

– How much time they can spend on the Internet

– What to do if anything makes them uncomfortable

– How to protect their personal information, stay safe in interactive     environments and behave ethically and responsibly online

Tips for teachers:

1.) Develop and enforce classroom policies for acceptable Internet and cell phone use.

2.) Ensure that all students are aware that all bullying concerns will be dealt with sensitively and effectively.

3.) Ensure that parents/guardians expressing bullying concerns have them taken seriously.

How Parents Can Fight Back

If your child becomes the target of cyber bullying, there are several steps to take.

1.) Stay cool- Discourage your child from firing back. Get her off the computer and doing something else.

2.) Keep a log- Save offending emails and messages. You may need to show school officials or police.

3.) Be prepared- Sign up for a Google alert that notifies you if your child’s name or photo appears on a website (

4.) Notify the school- Meet with school officials and bring your log.

5.) Supportive websites- show your child that they are not the only one who has been a victim of cyber bullying. Show them websites like Parents can gain more information from websites like or (Smith).

We have developed a sample lesson plan and social story to use with students with cognitive disabilities.  Please click on the link below to access the lesson plan. It can be modified to fit the learning needs of any student with cognitive disabilities.

Lesson Plan: CyberbullyingLP73110

Example:  Social Story: Cyberbullying
Images from video courtesy Google Images


Keith, S., Martin, M. (2005). Cyber bullying: creating a culture of respect in a cyber world. Reclaiming children and youth. 13:4. 224-228.

Smith, F. (2006). Going after cyber bullies. Prevention. Academic Search Premier. 58:9.  143-144. Accessed July 28, 2010.

Case Studies for Professional Development

The Internet and other computer technologies are great resources to enhance lessons. They allow for more differentiation in instruction and can make learning more fun for students. With the development of new technology comes the need to educate both teachers and students on how to use them properly. Technology education is something that should be incorporated into every student’s curriculum.

While many teacher preparation programs focus mostly on the pedagogy of their content area and classroom management, one area that is commonly overlooked is bullying and cyber-bullying. These areas, especially cyber-bullying, often go untaught to future teachers. Teachers are left in the dark when they encounter their first cyber-bullying situation, but if they have an opportunity to evaluate and discuss how they might handle a cyber-bullying situation in their classroom in a case study format, they would feel better prepared to help the victim resolve the conflict and prevent the problem from worsening.

The following are original examples of possible case studies that may be used in teacher preparation programs.

Case Study 1:

Scott, a high school freshman with mild intellectual disabilities, transferred to a new school halfway through the semester. He had trouble making friends until one of his peers told him that many other students were using a social networking site called Facebook. Most of the other students on Facebook responded to his “friend” requests and he soon began to feel more included, and made friends with some of them at school as well.

After a while, though, Scott noticed that his “friends list” was shrinking as people removed him from their friends lists. He was puzzled by this at first until one of his offline friends told him that Colin, a junior, had gotten angry at Scott because he had seen Scott talking to Linda, Colin’s ex-girlfriend. Colin had begun to pressure everyone he knew to remove Scott and Linda from their “friends lists” on Facebook, and to ignore them at school as well.

One afternoon in the computer lab, Scott got more and more angry with Colin and his friends. Since he had finished his work for the period, he decided to start a Facebook group called “Why I Hate Colin,” and he invited everyone still on his friends list to join it. It turned out that there were quite a few people at the school who did not like Colin and his friends, and Scott’s group grew quickly. Whenever the message traffic on the group slowed, Scott would try to boost it by posting some shocking accusation about Colin, such as suggesting that he had cheated on Linda or that he had hit her when they were dating (Linda was not involved in the group, and had never said any such thing).

Soon other members of the group started to make their own accusations and suggestions about Colin, some even saying that Colin should have water balloons thrown at him when he went up the main stairway. Scott responded to that suggestion, saying rocks should be thrown instead.

After a few weeks, one of Colin’s friends discovered the group and reported it to him. Colin told his parents and they decided to report it to the principal and keep him out of school until things had been worked out, as well as to report what Scott had done to the police.

General Questions

1.) Who is the perpetrator in this case? Who is the victim?

2.) What acts of cyber bullying have happened in this case? How serious would you rank each one as being?

3.) Are Scott’s actions a manifestation of his disabilities? Should he receive the same consequences as his general education peers despite having a disability?

Mediation Questions

Scott: How can you defend your actions?

Colin: Was what you did cyber bullying as well? If so, how can you accuse Scott? If not, why not?

Colin’s parents: What should school and civil authorities do about this case? Why?

Other members of Scott’s Facebook group: What can you do, and should you have done, in this case? Why?

Teacher: What can you do, and should you have done, in this case? Why?

Possible Solutions:

According to the current research on cyber bullying, we can conclude that both Scott and Colin played a victim-bully role in this situation and would benefit from participating in a teacher or peer mediated counseling session. This would allow them to work out their differences in a safe, non-threatening environment. Also, both students’ parents should receive a phone call from a teacher informing them of what is going on, and possibly meet for a conference to discuss the case and how to resolve and prevent it from occurring again.

Because Scott has intellectual impairments, he should receive more direct and systematic instruction on how to recognize and respond to threatening, rude, or negative comments, texts, or chat messages sent to him through any website. Scott should briefly receive this type of instruction every time  he uses the Internet for leisure activities. Over time, the instruction should be faded out according to how much progress he has made in maintaining safe and healthy online friendships. Until Scott has shown improvement, access to social networking websites and email should be very closely monitored at home and in school to prevent future cases.  Colin should also receive counseling on how to form and maintain safe and healthy friendships online. Colin should have limited access to the Internet and monitoring by adults of his Internet use until the current situation with his peers settles down and is completely resolved.

Since many other students were involved in this case, it would be wise to hold a school-wide assembly to discuss what cyber bullying is, how it can harm others, how to avoid cyber bullying, how to recognize cyber bullying, and how to respond to cyber bullying. The school administrators should have an action plan in place for dealing with bullies and counseling victims. The expectations and rules regarding social networking and other Internet use should be clearly defined and posted throughout various locations in the school.

Case Study 2:

Maria is a 17-year-old student with moderate intellectual disabilities who attends high school with her general education peers. For her 17th birthday, Maria’s parents let her join a social networking site called Myspace.  Maria was so happy to finally join her friends and peers on Myspace and spent a lot of time chatting with her friends and posting on their walls. In fact, Maris and her parents decided to include learning about how to use Myspace independently for recreation/leisure activities on her most recent Individual Education Plan.

During the first few weeks of having a Myspace account, Maria’s “friends” list grew steadily. Many of her peers were requesting her to be friends and Maria was accepting everyone who requested her friendship.  After she accepted someone, she would write a brief comment on their wall. For example, she would write things like “Hi! How r u?” or “What r u doing 2day?”.  On one occasion, one of her “friends” from school responded to her wall posting by saying, “Hi Maria…you ride the retard bus to school! LOL!!” Maria did not understand the cruelty of this message. The next day in school, she walked through the hallways greeting her peers with, “Hi I ride the retard bus LOL!” She repeated this greeting over and over, and soon people started to laugh at her.

That night, another person wrote on Maria’s wall. This time her peer wrote, “Hi butthead!”. The next day in school, again, Maria walked through the hallways during passing period shouting to her peers, “Hi butthead!”.  This continued for 4 days until one of Maria’s teachers overheard her shouting in the hallway and saw everyone laughing at her. The teacher spoke with Maria’s special education teacher and Maria’s parents about what was going on. Maria’s parents decided to restrict her access to Myspace until she receives more instruction on cyber bullying in school. Because Maria was unable to recognize the negativity and inappropriateness of the comments, a decision was made to closely monitor Maria’s activity on Myspace until her next IEP meeting next spring.

The school reprimanded the students who had posted the rude comments on Maria’s wall, and the bullying stopped.

General questions:

1.)  How do you think this situation could have been prevented?

2.)  Should Maria not have been allowed to use Myspace without receiving some instruction on internet safety first?

3.)  How serious would you rank this act of cyber bullying against Maria?

4.)  According to your districts bullying policies, how would the perpetrators have been punished?

Other questions:

1.) Maria’s parents: Are you aware of privacy settings and blocking features on Myspace? Did you have them in place during the time of the cyber bullying incidents?

2.) Maria’s teachers: What are some steps you will take in the future to prevent cyber bullying from happening again?

3.) Maria’s teachers: List examples of goals and outcomes for teaching Maria about how to recognize and respond to cyber bullying. How could you teach these goals?

4.) Perpetrators: How do you justify writing rude comments on Maria’s Myspace wall? Are you aware that your actions are considered to be cyber bullying?

5.) Perpetrators: What do you think would be a fair punishment for your actions against Maria?

Possible Solutions:

Because little research exists specifically on cyber bullying against people with cognitive disabilities, there is no clear cut answer. However, using the current research on cyber bullying, it is obvious that Maria is the victim in this case. The students that posted rude and negative comments on her Myspace wall should be punished according the school district’s policy on internet abuse and bullying. I would also advise that these students receive counseling so they can get to the deeper issues of why they felt it was appropriate to target a student with cognitive disabilities. Since these students may not have been aware of the extent of Maria’s disabilities, they should participate in a workshop or course about disabilities, how they manifest themselves, and how people with disabilities must be treated with respect and dignity.

Maria must also receive more direct and systematic instruction on how to recognize and respond to threatening, rude, or negative comments on her Myspace wall and email. This should  have been done before she was allowed access to any social networking website. Maria’s parents should be involved in her online safety education so they can implement the same Internet use rules at home. See the  sample “Lesson Plan” under the “Prevention” tab for ideas on how to teach cyber bullying prevention.

Case Study 3:

Sofia is a 14-year old student in 7th grade. She has a moderate intellectual disability paired with attention deficit disorder. She attends a few classes with her peers, like her English class and a few electives; otherwise she is in a self-contained class. Her parents have allowed her to send messages on Twitter which she can use for school projects or to send updates about her day while she’s at school. Lately, she has been using her twitter account to talk socially with her friends, which her parents don’t have a problem with. In fact, they think it’s great that she can “tweet” and practice her writing and communicating with peers.

One day, Sofia’s special education teacher, Ms. Powers overhears a classmate asking Sofia for her username. Sofia responds by giving Ms. Powers her email AND her password. When Ms. Powers asked why she gave her the password, Sofia says, “So you can tweet me!”. Ms. Powers explains that it is not necessary for her to give her the password and that she only needs the username to follow Sofia on Twitter.

A few weeks later, an angry phone call comes to Ms. Powers from the mother of one of Sofia’s peers, Luis. Apparently, Luis has been getting tweets from Sofia that say things like, “You are so incredibly stupid” and “When did your Mom drop you on your head?”. Ms. Powers is shocked and immediately pulls over Sofia to talk to her. Sofia says that she never sent those tweets and begins to cry. Ms. Powers looks closely at the tweets and realizes that the writing doesn’t match the style of Sofia’s past writing. Ms. Powers asked Sofia for her username and again, Sofia tells her the username and the password. Ms. Powers concludes that Sofia’s email must have been hacked by another student and used to write inappropriate emails under false pretenses.

General Questions:

1.) How could this situation have been prevented?

2.) What type of cyberbullying is being demonstrated?

3.) Should any disciplinary actions be taken towards Sofia? Why or why not?

4.) For Sofia’s teachers: What are some possible strategies Sofia can use to remember her password without giving it out?

5.) For Sofia’s teachers: Based on this situation, what would be the next step for dealing with this issue?

6.) For Maria: Why do we have to keep our password a secret? Is it okay to tell your password to anyone?

Possible Solutions:

In this case study, both Sofia and Luis were the victims of cyber bullying through impersonation.  To reconcile the misunderstanding, it would be useful for the class to receive instruction on the difference between public and private information. Specifically for Sofia, she may benefit from the use of a social story about using Twitter safely and given the opportunities to rehearse giving only her username to other people. For more information on sharing information, click here.

Also, measures should be taken to seek out the perpetrators of the cyber bullying. Unfortunately, it might be difficult to pinpoint the perpetrator if Sofia cannot remember the people she gave her password to. If this is the case, an effort should be made to educate as many students as possible about the negative effects cyber bullying can have on a student.

* These suggested solutions are possible ways to handle different cyber bullying situations. They should only be taken as advice and not as an answer to your own cyber bullying case. Seek out your school district’s policy handbook on this issue and consult with an administrator before you make decisions about how to handle a cyber bullying case.

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