Signs of bullying in kids with learning differences and ADHD

Kids who learn and think differently are at risk for bullying. But it’s not always easy to recognize that a child is being bullied because the signs can point to other things, too. Learn about common ways kids show they’re being bullied.

By Margie DeSantis

Expert reviewed by Bob Cunningham, EdM

Updated September 6, 2023

It’s common for kids who learn and think differently to be bullied. Their differences can cause them to stand out, and make them targets. The signs of bullying aren’t always clear, though, and can look like other things. Here are some signs to look out for and to investigate when you see them. 

Physical symptoms

Your child starts having frequent stomachaches or headaches. After clearing that this isn’t a health issue, pay attention to when these symptoms are happening. Is it in the morning before school or in the afternoon before sports practice? Does your child go to the nurse’s office complaining of symptoms during lunch every day?

Anger

Anger can show up in many ways. If your child is being bullied, that can trigger some anger. It can appear as acting out — in class and at home. Your child’s teacher may alert you to recent outbursts in class. Maybe your child is the bully themselves. Pay attention to this emotion and whether you see any patterns.

Secretiveness 

If your child isn’t offering information as usual, or brushes past a question quickly, it’s worth paying attention to other things going on.

For example, let’s say you notice some bruises on your child’s arm. When you ask what happened, your child says it was an accident. But a few days later, your child seems scared and asks to skip going on the class overnight trip. This situation is one that can appear as nothing if you’re not looking for the signs.

Avoiding school

Kids may refuse to go to school when they’re being bullied. They might also avoid things associated with school, like homework. If they’re being teased at school for their academic performance, school can be an unpleasant place to be and bring down their self-esteem. 

Withdrawing from school

Kids may stop speaking or contributing in the classroom if they’re being bullied. They might want to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Or they may have internalized the negative things other kids say about them and feel as if they’re not “smart enough” to speak up.

Withdrawing socially

If your child is suddenly uninterested in hanging out with friends or participating in activities that used to be fun, it’s worth checking up on. Maybe your child asks to quit soccer, even after they worked hard to make the team. When you ask why, your child looks down and shrugs, or says, “I just don’t like it anymore.”

If you think your child is being bullied at school, learn about steps to take. Listen to an episode of ADHD Aha! on ADHD and bullying. Then check out a one-page fact sheet on bullying that you can share with others.

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