Addressing the negative attitudes towards children with disabilities must form part of the response to tackling bullying among young people.
That is according to Inclusion Ireland, which addressed the Oireachtas Education Committee at a meeting on Tuesday in which it continued its discussions on school bullying and its impact on mental health.
International research shows that children with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be bullied, and up six times more likely to experience violence or abuse than their peers, the committee heard.
The statistics when it comes to children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities are stark, according to Mark O’Connor of Inclusion Ireland.
"There is no way to sugarcoat them," he said.
One important aspect to consider on bullying in school is attitudes towards people with disabilities in Irish society, he added.
“When 28% of people surveyed by the National Disability Authority say that children with a disability or autism shouldn’t be allowed to attend mainstream education, you have a real problem with societal attitudes," Mr O'Connor told the committee.
Children’s mental health services are key in supporting children with disabilities who have been bullied.
Between 35% and 40% of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities have mental health problems, a figure which is five times greater than the general population.
“At the same time, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services [CAMHS] intellectual disability services are almost non-existent. We need targeted interventions in this area, as well as a public awareness campaign to shift public attitudes towards people with an intellectual disability.”
A public awareness campaign on reducing the stigma around disability as well as investment in inclusive education, CAMHS, and therapeutic supports will help tackle the issue.
The Oireachtas Education Committee also heard contributions from the Children's Rights Alliance, Barnardos, and Webwise.
Meanwhile, academics have called for increased education and support for young people who are victims of cyberbullying.
Experts from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University are set to appear before the Oireachtas Media Committee on Wednesday to discuss the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
Dr Tijana Milosevic will highlight the importance of supports for students who find themselves subject to bullying across platforms, and often also in offline settings.
These include psychological counselling if needed, assistance with reporting, and also education that promotes wellbeing and improves social relations with their peers.