Facial paralysis is a rare condition and it can be very isolating for those living with it. Having a facial difference can make children or adults a target for bullies and it is important that preventative measures are taken where possible and appropriate support is given as soon as a situation arises.

How does bullying affect a child with facial palsy?

Any child can be a victim of bullying, and not all children who have facial palsy will be bullied. However, facial paralysis is rare in children, making them more likely to stand out. If a child is bullied because of their facial paralysis, this can create long-lasting psychological problems, particularly if they try to hide their differences by not smiling. A child will not necessarily understand that appearing unfriendly will create greater barriers to friendship and it is important that they should not feel reluctant to smile or show emotion.

What are schools doing to prevent bullying?

Because bullying is a potential problem in every school, all UK state schools must have bullying policies by law, in order to safeguard children.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspects and regulates services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages. Bullying is an issue that Ofsted focuses on as part of its inspections, paying attention to how well a school manages behavioural problems. See facial palsy and your rights for more information.

If you feel your child is being bullied, you need to tell the school and they have a responsibility to take this up. Remember, bullying is not a matter of intention – whether one child means to bully another. You need to explain to the school that your child experiences particular behaviours as bullying. If you put the focus on your child’s feelings, you can’t get drawn in to a debate about what the bully might be thinking or feeling.

Who else can help with bullying issues?

There are also charities in the UK that focus specifically on bullying, and work with schools and communities to educate and provide lasting solutions, as well as offering support to those affected by bullying.

Examples of charities include:

  • Changing Faces – Changing Faces do a lot of work with schools and have a wealth of resources.
  • BullyingUK – BullyingUK is part of Family Lives, they tackle all kinds of bullying.
  • Kidscape – a UK charity specifically working to prevent children from being bullied.

How can you support your child?

Visit our children’s pages to read about the many ways you can support a child with facial palsy:

Examples of situations where bullying may be provoked include:

School photographs: if a child has facial paralysis and cannot smile fully then it is advisable to ask the school or the responsible adults to handle photographs sensitively. Photographers should be informed so they don’t assume the child is misbehaving and draw attention to the child. Organisations often seek parental permission to take and/or publish photographs of children and this provides an opportunity to raise these issues in advance.

Activities that involve closing eyes: such activities might include saying prayers, meditating, thinking time and relaxation. If a child cannot close one or both eyes properly due to facial paralysis, teachers or other responsible adults should be informed in advance and asked to handle such activities with care and sensitivity so as not to draw attention to the child.

Children can also benefit from talking to and meeting others with facial palsy, so they feel less isolated and different. If you feel your child would benefit from talking to someone else with facial palsy, please send an email to support@facialpalsy.org.uk.

What help is there for adults subjected to bullying?

Adults with a facial difference can find themselves subjected to bullying and/or discrimination in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 provides legal rights for people with severe disfigurements and gives protection from discrimination due to appearance.

Remember, this is not about intention – whether someone else means to bully you. You need to explain clearly that you experience particular behaviours as bullying to have them addressed. You don’t even need to make claims about what the other person might be feeling or thinking, as this is irrelevant from your point of view.

Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled applicants and employees in order to avoid putting a disabled person at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. For more information, see facial palsy and your rights.

Part of the work of Facial Palsy UK will be to investigate the legal situation with respect to facial palsy, to collate evidence about ‘reasonable adjustments’ that have been or could be made to support individuals, and to support those who may have experienced discrimination. Please refer to our advocacy section for further information about the work we are doing.

Adults can also benefit by joining a Facial Palsy UK support group to share and pool experiences and solutions, in a caring and informal environment.

The BullyingUK charity are part of Family Lives and offer email and live online chat support to people experiencing workplace bullying.

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Externally Linked Articles:

YoungMinds (Ext. Link - opens in new window)

– the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) (Ext. Link - opens in new window)

– The Trades Union Congress (TUC) website is a federation of trade unions in the UK, representing the majority of trade unions.

Parent View from Ofsted (Ext. Link - opens in new window)

– giving you the chance to tell Ofsted what you think of your child’s school.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (Ext. Link - opens in new window)

– challenging discrimination and protecting and promoting human rights.

Anti-bullying Alliance (Ext. Link - opens in new window)

A coalition of organisations and individuals working together to stop bullying and create safe environments for children and young people.

Last reviewed: 15-01-2015    ||    Next review due: 15-01-2017