My little brother, Daryl, was born three weeks after I left for my mission, so I didn’t see him until he was almost two years old. There was clearly something wrong with him, but my Dad was in complete and utter denial; this was his son, and of course there was nothing wrong with him. After my Dad died unexpectedly, my Mom had him tested and he was diagnosed as being autistic. She moved to Utah not only to be closer to family after the death of her husband, but also because there was a terrific autism program in Kaysville where she was able to enroll Daryl. I visited the class once and was impressed by the exercises. Daryl was the youngest one in the room, only three at the time, and I’m convinced that the early intervention was critical in his becoming relatively high functioning.
Fast forward a little over a decade, and Daryl was in high school, having been mainstreamed at that time.
So one year I’m in Utah for my usual vacation, and I took Daryl to the mall. As we’re walking through the mall, I would occasionally look around and realize that Daryl was nowhere to be seen. Upon investigation I would find him in whatever nearby store was convenient, hiding behind racks of clothes. This was happening repeatedly, and I couldn’t understand why.
I asked him about it, and his response coupled with my own observations solved the mystery. The mall is the haven of young people, and as we walked among the stores he kept seeing kids from his school who had teased him mercilessly, and so he was hiding from them.
My first reaction was to wonder how desperate for acceptance does a kid have to be to ridicule the autistic kid? Isn’t that like shooting fish in a barrel? Even if I were a thoughtless teenager with a mean streak, I think I’d be embarrassed to pick on a kid who was autistic. Where is the supposed glory in that? Isn’t there some sort of a bully code?
My second reaction was to feel terrible that I could not actually be there to protect him. Even if I lived there, there wasn’t much I could do during the day at high school. He was on his own in a world he doesn’t understand and there was nothing I could do about it. Or maybe there was something I could have done, but I didn’t know what it was.
My third reaction was a deep sense of rage over this situation, which still wells up when I think about.
So I apologize if the mild profanity in the title offends you. But it’s an accurate reflection of the feelings that well up in my breast when I reflect on my little brother cowering behind a rack of clothes trying not to be seen by the cool kids in the mall.
I repeat: Kids can be real [expletive deleted] sometimes.
[Note from Kevin: Some people objected to the strong language of my original title. I intended it to be basically a linguistic punch to the face, so I don’t in any way regret using such strong language. But it has served its purpose, the thread is slowing down now, and so for the sake of more delicate sensibilities than mine I’ve deleted the expletive so that it won’t be present for the ages in the archived version.]