Much has been written on the subject of autism and bullying. I must admit, I am not sure how, but somehow my son Niam managed to escape the trauma of being bullied. As an overprotective mother, I created a safety net around my son, monitored his every move, his surroundings, and the people around him. I have made a point of knowing all the parents in his classroom, overlooking and monitoring his therapists, having daily contact with his teachers, and surrounding his weekends with family and friends who I felt confident, would accept him as he is, a person, a human being, a child with feelings and emotions. And so it happened one day, Niam was bullied. The date is January 15, 2016, a date I will never forget.
To those who know my son, it comes as no surprise, our Friday nights consist of going to the movies, regardless if we are on vacation. It was a routine night out. French fries with cheese curd, no gravy, a slice of cheese pizza and water. The movie: Alvin and the Chipmunks. It was a great night, the movie was funny, Niam was engaged, and I was enjoying my mother/son bonding time. The night is not over without Niam doing a dance to the credits, and asking if he can go to the washroom. He always asks, ABA therapy has engrained this into him, but for some reason, unknown to me, I had a nervous , hesitant feeling in my stomach, the kind of feeling a mother feels when she knows something is not right, something bad is about to happen. He emerged from the washroom traumatized and visibly upset holding his glasses in his hand clearly wet. Upon asking a few questions, I came to the realization a man, not a boy, put his eye glasses in the toilet, where he had to put his hands in to retrieve them. It took some time to calm him, to distract him, but eventually we washed them in the fountain without any satisfaction to Niam. He was repeating “New glasses, new glasses,” refusing to wear them.
What mother doesn’t hurt when her child is upset? What mother doesn’t feel the pain when someone else deliberately hurts your child? Why? That is the definition of bullying: there is never a real answer, and if there is, it never makes sense to the intelligent. To the man who bullied my son, what were you thinking? It is obvious with minimal interaction my son has special needs. You took advantage of his innocence and his soft nature to do the despicable, without any care to his feelings. I want you to know I forgive you, we forgive you, and I hope this letter reaches you, somehow, so that you may think twice, the next time you decide its “OK,” “fun” to let your worst side take over you.
Calmly, I approached the Manager of Fairview, a soft spoken pleasant gentleman, who looked as kind, as his actions. I explained what happened. Immediately he took us to sit down in the room where birthday parties are held, a special room, with posters and colored chairs, a room my son could have a space to himself, calm down, and be distracted by all the sensory stimuli the room had to offer. I welcomed the gesture. He patiently listened to the course of events, offered me some recourse , apologized for an incident that was not his fault except for the fact it happened at his place of work. After writing down the incident, I decided without adequate description from Niam not much could be done. It does not always take much to help someone, offering compassion, lending an ear and being thoughtful is many times more than enough.
The gentleman watched as Niam tried to calm himself, distract himself, and offered words of comfort to us. He read my complaint and saw we attended the movies every week. Although I was satisfied with his actions up to now, he went above and beyond. He gave Niam a poster and movie tickets to attend next week’s show. Even without the movie tickets we would have returned to the movie theatre, it is our weekly routine, the gesture of kindness means more to the heart than one can explain in words.
We left the theatre happy. Niam holding his poster and glasses in his hands and me contemplating the events, grateful to the manager for his support, and thinking of all the good people in the world. The incident did leave me with one certainty, my son cannot be left unattended. I want him to be independent and be able to go to the men’s washroom himself — all those years of spending money and time teaching him independent skills, also leaves room to note, there can be people who are not so patient, understanding and can even be downright mean. When I reached the driveway to my house, I will not lie, I broke down in tears.
I have to remember for every person who is not so nice, there are more people who are nice, compassionate and loving. Thank you Manager of Fairview Cineplex for being the kind of person that makes me believe in this world.
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This article was featured in Issue 45 – Protecting Your Child with Autism