We’re all different. All unique. Yet, feeling different among peers can have a lasting effect. Words like weird, odd, strange used in a hurtful or derogatory way aren’t easily forgotten, and when combined with being excluded from lunchroom tables and social gatherings on the playground, it can have a greater devastating impact. What’s more, these words and actions can escalate to other forms of emotional or physical bullying.

After receiving a note from a father about his 10-year-old son on the autism spectrum, Benjamin Giroux, who wrote a poem entitled I Am Odd, I Am New, we were again reminded that being different is not the problem. Being treated differently – or ‘less than’ – is. Students often describe bullying as when “someone makes you feel less about who you are as a person.”

October is Bullying Prevention Month. According to a study by the Interactive Autism Network, 63% of individuals with autism ages 6 to 15 have been bullied at some point in their lives. In many cases, bullying begins with words like weird or odd or different. Together, we have the power to change their meaning.

About Bullying

Bullying is behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates. Whether physically or emotionally, it can happen while at school, in the community, or online. Those bullying often have more social or physical “power,” while those targeted have difficulty stopping the behavior. The behavior is often done with intent and typically repeated.

Ways to Promote Acceptance at School

  • Sit With Us App: Sit With Us App is a mobile app designed to promote a kinder, more inclusive school community.
  • Buddy Bench: The buddy bench is a simple idea to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground.
  • Peer Advocacy: According to Pacer, more than 50 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes. Most students don’t like to see bullying but they may not know what to do when it happens. Peer advocacy — students speaking out on behalf of others — is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying. Peer advocacy works for two reasons. First, students are more likely than adults to see what is happening with their peers and peer influence is powerful. Second, a student telling someone to stop bullying has much more impact than an adult giving the same advice.
  • Start a movement. Your own ideas may be the key to promoting acceptance and preventing bullying in your school, your town, even across the globe.

Stopping It Before It Starts

As parents and teachers, one of the most important things we will ever do is model and teach compassion. When we model this, along with kindness and empathy, we promote understanding and acceptance of others. It’s up to us to teach our children and students about their peers with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities, and how we are all deserving of inclusion, acceptance and each other’s respect.

Promoting Confidence From Within

It’s okay to feel different, but it’s not okay to treat – or be treated – differently. It’s up to us to empower our children and students to know and understand the difference while teaching the importance of self-love and embracing what makes us unique.

Looking Beyond the Lunchroom

Inclusion and acceptance must begin at home and school, but continue throughout society. Movie theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, airports, even grocery stories are working towards cultivating a world of compassion and inclusivity. Look for ways to do this in your own town, and involve young people in the process. Empowering them early on will not only build confidence and leadership skills, but reinforce the fact that the world needs all kinds of minds.

Being Different Together

There were so many beautiful and uplifting comments to Ben’s poem. We believe in a world where these same supportive comments are encouraged and expressed daily to one another in classrooms, playgrounds, school campuses, and throughout society. Words that do not shame or taunt differences, but embrace them.

After all, we’re all different, and we get to educate our children about what that means.

Different and beautiful.

Different and amazing.

Different and equal.

Different, not less.


For more ways to prevent bullying, visit pacer.org.