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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bullies Nearly Sully Disabled Child's Sunny Weekend

Like many 11 year old boys, my son loves to ride his bike. He loves the freedom of the road, the challenge of finding cool neighborhood bike routes, and the wind in his face. Biking is his ultimate freedom . And that freedom includes neighborhood rides to the sports card and memorabilia shop and the local park. Great exercise, exploring one's community, and catching some sunshine was the goal for Saturday, isn't that enough? 

Apparently, for some bullies in a car, it was not enough. 

As my son waited on his bike at the light on a busy street close to our home, some teen boys in a car yelled at my son, called him names, and pelted melted cupcakes at him. 

What were those kids thinking? I think I know. I suspect it went something like this: "Hey, see the fat kid up there on the bike? Let's throw this at him. It'll be funny!" (Or something said far cruder, I imagine). 

The cupcakes were thrown at my son's face, but he blocked the throws and it splattered over his favorite t-shirt and shorts, his right arm, socks, and shoes. The perpetrators drove off instantly. My son was humiliated and upset. He called home on his cell phone (yes, he has one, a move that at first we thought was crazy to do for someone this age, but now take great comfort in the fact that he has one). He told his dad what happened. My husband jumped in our car immediately and drove the few blocks away to get our son. After loading up the bike and our son, they drove to get my daughter and I, who happened to be out on a neighborhood walk at the time, to tell us what happened.

And what happened would upset any child, but my son is not any child. He is on the autistic spectrum  (high functioning) with some added conditions. Life is not easy for my child. The fact that he can even ride a bike (despite some impaired fine and gross motor skills) is a big deal. He's worked hard, despite huge challenges to earn his independence on his bike. He has to work harder, plan further, and deal with some issues that no child should ever have to deal with. While he is a big kid, medications to treat his conditions, pack on weight, something he struggles with every single day. The hardest part of it all and the most difficult to stomach, is that my son has been the survivor of bullying in the school system and elsewhere multiple times. He dealt with the following: being called dumb, slow, weird, disturbed, and fat. Some of these cruel peers from his mid-elementary school days, did receive punishment for their poor behavior. Most didn't. I even had some of them do this right in front of ME, in a bold and uncaring move. Even adults in my community, who were either unwilling or unable to have understanding, said inappropriate comments within an earshot of my child. Each day is work for my son. Each day is work for our family. Each day presents challenges. 

And now this. 

But there is a good news story in all of this. Really. 

After being very upset when my son returned home, he did something rather unexpected. He handled the situation very maturely and wisely. He said, "I am mad about this, but I am sad, too." He remained calm, despite it all. In the past, my husband and I would have expected a tantrum, tears, depression, and/or anger due to his conditions. Not here. Although he did say, "I don't think I want to ride my bike anymore." It was then, that as parents, our hearts got crushed. My husband was even reduced to tears when our son had left the room, he was so shaken. We were so angry, sad, and disappointed. We wished we would have caught the horrid people that did this and had a word with them. We wished life wasn't so unfair. We wished, since that this happened on a busy street, that some caring adult would have stopped to help, offer a kind word, or something. This did not happen. Nothing happened but injustice and cruelty. And even though we worked hard to show love, kindness, and support to our son for the rest of the evening, it was still hard to breathe and think. We wondered if this would be a big setback for him and this worried us to no end.

But it was this 11 year old,  developmentally and learning disabled child that turned it around in less than a day. 

First thing this morning, my son declared, "I am going to be riding my bike A LOT." And this is what he did! He went out on ride after ride, stopping back at home to refuel with food, water, rest,  love, and support. And time after time, we sent him back out again as he wished, seeing a boy more and more restored. He returned more and more tired, thirsty, and sweaty, but triumphant. It was pure joy to see this strength of purpose and sense of being.

You see, he took back HIS community. He took back HIS streets. He took back HIS freedom and fun. He took back the fact that despite disabilities, he had the RIGHT to live his life. And he taught us to do the very same in the face of adversity. 

So, to the punks that assaulted my son: you LOST. To the adults in my community: if you are a parent, grandparent, relative, neighbor or someone who cares about children, what can you do to break the cycle of bullying for any child? How can you stand up to adversity on behalf of children? How can you send a message of love, and understanding? These questions should be treated, just like the boy who wouldn't stop riding. Keep riding, keep going, and keep going strong. 

Thanks, Son. 

Reader's note: this piece also appeared on Gritty City Woman and the national blog, Autism Sucks, a safe place for families to vent, share, and learn. For those of you who have autism in your family, please check this blog out. For those of you who are not touched by autism, but want to get a peek inside my communities world, it's worth a look.


Stephanie Frieze said...

Kim, I am sorry that this happened to your son, but also so very proud that you have taught him to be a warrior in life and not a victim. It is the hardest lesson (espeically for the high functioning) for offspring with Special Needs to learn.

The larger lesson to be learned here is that adults need to realize that it DOES take a village to raise a child--all children belong to all of us--and that we are on this Earth to love and support each other and by example teach ignorant members of the community compassion.

JosephMcG said...

I agree with you, Stephanie, folks like me need to realize that every child is my child! The quick, cutting remarks I make to young people stop now!
Kim, thank you for taking time to teach me and others about real life out here...
I congratulate your son for being a strong, courageous man!

Kim Thompson said...

Thank you my dear, dear friends. I like to think we have a warrior, too, a complicated one, but a warrior nonetheless. My family and I appreciate the support and your thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments.

Anonymous said...

While being a father of 2 autistic boys, I can relate to your story oh so very well. My oldest also 11 is learning everyday, in fact 5th grade graduation happens this week.
He has had his struggles within the school system, but has also had fantastic support from teahcers and the principal - Jim Rudsit. He gets no special treatment as - his words- "I want to be a normal kid!!!" and so it is.Our whole family is very proud of him and the progress he has made and will make.

Kim Thompson said...


Wow! Thanks for your inspirational and heartfelt comment. I applaud your kiddo for doing great work and applaud his school for the outstanding support! I'd love to hear what school this is. My son has a great school (now--the past one was not so great). It sure makes a difference. And it builds on Stephanie's point above--it takes ALL of us, as a TEAM to raise ANY child.

Best wishes to you and your beautiful family!

Anonymous said...

I was bullied horribly as a child. While it's been well over 35 years since I dealt with that behavior, the emotional scars will never go away.

Society must deal with this behavior.

Kim Thompson said...


Thank you for your comment, as it is the most important comment of all. You are right on all counts and applaud your bravery of surviving the issues for all these years. My heart goes out to you.

I feel that in our society, there's this whole attitude of things being "disposable." If something breaks, we throw it away. If something bothers us, oh well,let's get a new one and throw the old one away. So what if we treat something or someone badly, they'll get over it. Again, that toss in the trash knowledge. And the list goes on.

You see this all the time with the environment and animals.

And people.

Let's stop breaking stuff. Let's stop throwing things away.

Anonymous said...

Kim I am so sorry what had happened to your son.Only if I known those LOSERS I would've given a piece of my mind.They got no life.
It just breaks my heart to know that while our children are learning how to live a life somehow some PUNKS try to take it away from them.

Kim Thompson said...


Thank you! I feel your spark and fire and I sure appreciate it. I am pretty fired up and so are others. What's tragic to me is in your key point--they have no life. They don't. Wasteful all around.

My favorite quote of late (from the Dalai Lama) goes kinda like this: If you can't help, try not to hurt. It's the least that humans can go.

Pray4Peace said...

I grew up very close in age with twin brothers who were physically and mentally challenged and spent much of my childhood defending them against bullies. Whenever I see it happen today to anyone else, I refuse to keep quiet or stay on the sideline as a spectator. The only thing worse than the bullying is the indifference shown by others towards it. Your son sounds like a great kid and with that never give in attitude, he will go far and do good things. You both sound like great parents so give yourselves some credit too.

Kim Thompson said...


Thank you for your beautiful sentiment and comments. People like YOU are the answer. If we all follow your example, this WILL get better. Thank you for what you did for your brothers--a great example of family love.

Lorraine Hart said...

Oh darlin' make me cry both sad and happy tears with this post. My heart even goes out to those kids who bullied...for every bully is a wee soul who has not been guided well in the magic of kindness.

Your son is a beautiful young man who showed incredible grace about a very difficult situation. YAAAAAAAAAY for him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

YAAAAAAY for you...for showing some compassion, even for bullies...and for teaching so much in one post. Want to give you such a big hug (Rick too!) for your hurt. I surely know that nothing hurts, for us mamas, as much as a hurt felt by our kids, no matter what age or situation.

I was only nine when I entered high school...little, undeveloped, bucked and crossed front teeth...and was the target of much bullying. I won't see it happen to anyone in my range of vision or hearing...but always remember that a bully is damaged. Not an excuse..but an explanation.

Again, this speaks to neighbours knowing neighbours...and all of us watching all the kids. Thanks for baring (and bearing) your heartache Kim, to teach in all our neighbourhoods.

Sending you and your family my love and support! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

Lorraine Hart said...

PS Hafta say...I like the term "Challenged" rather than "Disabled."

Kim Thompson said...


Your heartfelt note made me soar with kindness and joy. You totally get it, get my family, and get me. And you get it good!

You bring up a very important point yet to be discussed--the bullies themselves. One can suspect, that they are in a a vicious cycle, unless stopped in its tracks, will continue on with their children. I suspect that some bullies are bullied at home and are in the web of abuse, neglect, or cruelty. Perhaps some are affected by mental and physical health problems. The list can go on. And yes, it's not a matter of an "excuse" but the search for a reason of being and perhaps a clue how the cycle can be snapped and half.

I too, like the word "challenged" and "learning differences." "Special needs" is okay, but not preferred by me particularly. However, in our nation's vernacular, this is the term (disabled) that continues to stick and that most understand. Like everything, I suspect that will change.

Kim Thompson said...

While I am here, I would sincerely like to thank my friends, family, neighbors, fellow autism warriors, and the South Sound community for all their well wishes, kind words, and fearless support. I have heard from many folks personally (by e-mail and Facebook) and on the blog I author and the autism parenting blog I contribute to. It means the world to me and my child. I've shared this information with him. He is happy about all the people that care. But he still doesn't understand what the "big deal" is.

The big deal is that we are discussing a small and big picture issue that impacts all human beings. I'm so blessed to live right here in the South Sound and that I can share in good passionate discussion about our own backyard.

Let the discussion continue!

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your post. Our young boys are on the autism spectrum too and the journey thus far has been an amazing education for us. We have had friends make amazingly insensitive commments - right in front of our kids - just as you mentioned. Heartbreaking. Fortunately the boys didn't take note. They are wonderful, fun, and caring little guys and I wouldn't change them at all.

Kim Thompson said...

Anonymous: Thank you so much for your comment--I love the part where you say an "amazing education." You are so right! I feel like I've earned degrees in psychology, psychiatry, scientific research, social work, counseling, spirituality, family and home life, school administration, politics, writing, and physical and occupational therapy. Whew!

My son seldom noticed the "adult" comments (like your boys). But as he gets older, he is more aware of it.

You sound like a terrific parent! Bravo!