Kids Can Be Real [Expletive Deleted] Sometimes

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.]


  1. Kevin, your post brought me to tears. I am the mother of an autistic child and I fully sympathize with your post. I don’t know how to send you an email but I would like to post your story on my web site that has a section for autism. Please let me know. Thanks. God bless you and Daryl.

  2. Thank you Kevin as always a wonderful post. I enjoyed meeting you at Sunstone.

    My oldest had some learning disabilities together with a high IQ. He was in resource in the early grades. We took him out for a private school education that catered to his disabilities for a few years. We re-enrolled him in the public middle school. We was returned to the special education class for one semester until they figured him out and then sent him to the gifted classes.

    While in the special education classes, in his free time, he played checkers with intellectually challenged kids. They loved him and called him “Buddy”. He would be reduced to tears as he observed other kids picking on these sweet souls in the rare times the different groups associated. He would compare them being picked on to the equivalent of picking on his then toddler sister.

    He greatly benefitted from his associations with those kids, the kids in the dyslexic school and a dear family friend with autism. These associations have made him today a sensitive man with a desire to serve others, especially those who are defenseless. This is a big reason he is in the army, currently on deferment to serve a mission.

    You have it right kids can be a–holes. THey are usually parented by a–holes.

  3. Thanks for a touching account, Kevin. At the very least, your brother sure is fortunate to have been sent to your family. Your feelings can only be described as righteous anger.

    In my youth, one time a Chinese family moved into our all-white rural community. Their daughter enrolled in high school and experienced relentless teasing. I can still remember her sitting alone on the curb every afternoon, waiting in tears for her parents to pick her up. She did not dare take the school bus like most of us. The family moved away after less than a year.

    To this day I am troubled by that memory. While I take some comfort that I never participated in the teasing, I regret not coming to her defense or comfort. Dealing with my own terrible secret and living in fear of exposure, I just didn’t have the courage at the time.

    Youth can be cruel in many ways.

  4. The Right Trousers says:

    Part of it is the system. With no real standard of achievement that any participant in the system cares about, the entire thing devolves into a popularity contest. Achievement means playing the game of the week. Some weeks the game is picking on the autistic kid. My junior high did the same thing to Heber.

    If it makes you feel any better, the bullies don’t actually mean anything personal by it. (But is it worse to hate or to discount?)

    Bring back apprenticeships, says I. At least then the kids would have someone to impress whose opinion actually matters in some real, objective sense.

    I kind of feel sorry for the a-holes. My dad just had his 40th high school reunion, and he reports that it’s taken a lot of the “cool kids” *this long* to open up to their lesser classmates. Ten years ago they still maintained distinctions. My dad figures it’s different now because a few of them have died, which starts to put things into perspective for the rest.

    Daryl’s got challenges, but his growth won’t be *that* stunted.

  5. Kevin, thank you for this.

  6. Yeah, that sucks. Even in the rarefied little high achievement school I work in, the kids can be assholes. A lot of it is the lack of empathy, but some of it is examples from the adult world. I seem to recall seeing someone being kind of an asshole with thousands of people cheering and waving placards recently.

  7. My son went to a sort of funky high school of choice here in southern California (The school is the setting for a secret level in one of the Tony Hawk games because of its skate PE program, and run-down classic California architecture). There was a girl with Down Syndrome at his school, and the kids voted her in as Homecoming Queen her senior year. Not being mean, but because they knew that it would delight her. So not all kids are a-holes. I do have to say that I grew up in Utah, and I think that unfortunately the teasing was much worse there than what my kids report to me.

  8. The Right Trousers says:

    It sort of depends on where you are in Utah. By far the worst place for me was Sandy. North Salt Lake (poorer, western side) was fine, though. Just from those two data points you might conclude it was affluence and associated pride, but Bountiful was fine as well. I honestly can’t account for the regional variations.

  9. re: 7

    It’s great that the enlightened SoCal students did that for homecoming, but sometimes voting for the outcast doesn’t go as well.

  10. The Right Trousers says:

    That’s awesome about the Down Syndrome girl, by the way.

    I suppose you could say kids have the potential to be either angels or a-holes. I wonder what causes one or the other to express.

  11. utah

  12. #6 – Norbert, why’d you have to bring Obama into this discussion?

    The worst cases I saw were outside of UT – in a very liberal setting in MA. I think it comes more from a sense of insulation and superiority, and that can come from a wide variety of sources.

  13. I have a son with Aspergers, and this is one of my fears for him. I hope I can protect him enough…

  14. Humble suggestion for everyone: ixnay on the oliticspay!

  15. This is one of the things that keep me up at night. I have a son with autism and I am struggling with getting him into the school. They only want to offer 8 hours a week. when the neurologist reccommends 20. Home school isn’t the answer because everything I read says that they need interaction with kids their own age.
    Will Daryl be able to live on his own some day? (Also keeps me up at night.) I hope things workout for Daryl and you.

  16. I can vouch for the assholiness of middle and high schoolers in Nevada, northern California, Missouri, and again in Nevada. ixnay on the Utah bashing — what would you-all have to blame your troubles on if Utah weren’t here?

  17. Sorry about the politics.

    Actually, what I’ve seen that’s far worse is stuff from movies that comes through to kids. Borat may be funny, but not so much recycled through a fifteen year old using it as a source of taunting. The mole thing from the Austin Powers movie a few years ago still gets horrible traction as well.

    The good news is, most schools are far more aware of bullying (and teasing is considered bullying) than they were even ten years ago, and any decent school ought to have a strategy for dealing with it. If they don’t, demand it, especially if you have a high-risk kid.

    Also, most kids are all right, really. About 10% are heroes, about 10% are poison, and the rest are just OK: not bullies, but not willing to stand up to them either.

    I would add that I’ve seen kids with Asbergers and DS go through school systems with a reasonably high level of success, usually because of the goodwill of adults and a handful of students.

  18. Ardis, I like the word ‘assholiness.’ I’m going to start using it, accusing people of being ‘assholier than thou.’

  19. Elder Holland told a story somewhere about being on the committee which planned his 25th high school reunion. Apparently he was something of a BMOC in HS and participated in sports and student government. When they sent out invitations, one woman RSVP’ed to say that she wouldn’t be attending because it had taken her a couple of decades to get over the trauma her classmates had inflicted. Br. Holland reflected on the sense of shame he felt. Even though he didn’t remember actively making her life hard, neither did he remember intervening to prevent others from doing so, and he therefore shared a large part of the guilt.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Maria No. 1, sure, feel free.

    JA Benson No. 2, congratulations on your son. What an education in how to become a good and decent human being!

    Part of what gets me is the realization that I doubtless engaged in some thoughtless teasing back in those teenage years myself. As Norbert says, I’m sure I didn’t mean anything bad by it, and I wouldn’t have teased obvioiusly desabled kids, but I’m sure I didn’t realize the effects my words could have had on sensitive souls at the time. So sometimes I was the asshole, which haunts me. So I was part of that great unwashed mass of 80% that Norbert describes; I really wish I had been in that 10% group of heroes, but I wasn’t. I wish I could have it all to do over again.

    Jon Scheyer is a basketball player at Duke. He came from the Chicago area. I recall reading in the paper about him, and his mom told a story about a school dance, where everyone was dancing and having a good time, except one girl who sat to the side; as I recall, she had some sort of a mild disability. He walked over and asked her to dance, reporting to his mom that he just couldn’t enjoy himself knowing that she was being ignored by that. I cried when I read that. I wish I could have been that guy as a teenager, but for me that kind of strength would only come later with more maturity.

  21. Terry Foraker says:

    Thank you, thank you for this post. As a person with Asperger’s who was teased and bullied mercilessly throughout grade school and much of high school, and who experienced physical and sexual abuse (not at the hands of family or relatives, thankfully) with the autism-related behaviors being a contributing factor, I still frequently blame myself for all that went on and wonder if God values me as much as others who didn’t have these experiences.

    Fortunately, my autistic twins have far better resources than I did. The school systems we have encountered are cracking down on bullying and are no longer telling the victims to “just ignore it”. Whereas Asperger’s didn’t even have a name when I was in school, public awareness on autism-related disorders is increasing.

    Yeah, kids can be real a-holes (along with certain radio personalities), but most people I have met still have at least a minimum sense of decency and compassion. Our ward and school district have both bent over backwards to help our kids.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, the story I recount happened over 15 years ago (Daryl will turn 31 in a couple of months), and I think it is true that schools have become more sensitive about dealing with this sort of thing in the meantime.

    (For those who are curious, Daryl lives with my mother, which is a trial for her. Luckily for them both she is an angel in human guise.)

  23. Thanks Kevin.

    Is Daryl on the high functioning side of the spectrum? Is he able to have some sort of job or does your mother take care of everything?

    My son (8) was recently baptized, he is high functioning but struggles terribly with socialization. Some days ago I had to removed him from a private school (second one) because in this Banana Republic where I live, some schools still using corporal punishment as a form of discipline, yes even in special education schools.

    There are children who are bullies but ADULTS as well!

  24. Kevin, I too can remember times when I teased others—never those with disabilities, but what difference does that make, really? It’s like ordering a “lite” Big Mac by asking to hold the cheese. So there are assholes and there are assholes with cheese (and I was “merely” the former).

    I wasn’t one of the cool kids either. That’s actually why I bullied: I wanted to be seen as cool. I wanted to look confident. I realize in hindsight two things: 1) I didn’t look confident, I looked like a wimp picking on someone supposedly weaker than I; 2) I would have shown greater confidence had I broken from the social norm and befriended the social outcasts.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Maria, he’s relatively high functioning in that he can communicate (in a fashion), he has a driver’s license (but he doesn’t drive) and he once had a job filling glasses for a couple of hours a day at a restaurant. But I think he’s regressed some in recent years. He’s bulimic, and he smokes, and he has temper tantrums and other problems. It’s not easy for my poor mother. (She and her sister also cared for their mother when she had Alzheimer’s. They recorded some of their experiences with that, and all I can say is that they were both saints on earth to put up with that.)

  26. Of my two autistic children, I worry more about my high-functioning daughter, who is just autistic enough to be seen as a freak, not disabled. She is set to be mainstreamed when she starts middle school, the laboratory of assholiness. I keep hoping they will abolish middle school in the next nine months. Your prayers on that count are appreciated, of course.

  27. When I think about some of the “asshole” things we did to other kids growing up, I have a deep sense of sadness and regret. How I wish I could go back and change things. I have long since lost track of the kids, but I sometimes wonder what happened to them and pray that they turned out OK, in spite of what we put them through. The sad thing is, we weren’t the “popular” ones putting them down, in many ways we were down there at the bottom climbing on top of them to get higher….. I think the teenage years are hell on everyone….

  28. Two thoughts:

    1. And we wonder sometimes why kids take a weapon to school. I’m amazed someone hasn’t shot up a 20th anniversary HS reunion yet.

    2. I just went to my 20th, after not really talking to anyone since our 10th (and then not since graduation), and parts of my tenure in HS felt like the woman in Elder Holland’s story. Here’s what I experienced: The people you know in HS, and the person you are in HS, have more to do with your parents and their ideals and circumstance than you. After 20 years, when everyone’s grown up … people are in a better situation to decide who they would really be friends with. Some of my “lifelong” friends blew me off when I went on a mission. Other people I didn’t talk to in HS, on the other hand (both those who might have looked down on me and those I might have looked down on), now might end up being very close friends.

  29. My daughter was brain damaged at birth and her IQ has tested out at 60. She functions at a much higher level than that would indicate and graduated from high school with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) three years ago. She attended elementary school in Sandy Utah and still has “normal” friends there that she corresponds with. We moved east when she was 12 and she immediately became invisible to all but the special education teachers and their other students. Even though she is handicapped intellectually, she likes the same music, clothes, movies and books that most girls her age like (just ask her about the Twilight series!). I was especially sad that even the other YW in our Branch did not reach out to her. Being teased or bullied is horrible, but at least you can feel some kind of righteous anger about it. Being totally ignored and forgotten is at least as bad.

  30. Kevin, I feel your rage. I struggle with figuring out how to channel that rage into some sort of constructive action. In the meantime I just want to go back in time and terrorize and intimidate the bullies who tormented my son and caused him so much trauma and damage. Or at the very least I want to mirror exactly what they did to him, so that they understand his fear and pain. I know I’m supposed to love the bullies as much as their victims, but I don’t know how.

    If I could go back in time and adopt him at age 5 instead of 15, I wouldn’t have let those horrors happen, and yet I can’t keep him away from the world entirely. I can’t keep him safe at the expense of him living his life.

    So I’m left not knowing what to do. I’m left with rage and impotence. What is the answer?

  31. re: 27 FWIW, my high school reunions have been tremendously healing and (insert evil smile) self-esteem building experiences. I encourage my friends to go to the theirs when they come along. Suffice to say that many of the coolest people didn’t develop much post-graduation except in girth, and many of the nerd/social outcasts moved away and went on to accomplish tremendous things. The nerds get the last laugh.

    Kevin, what kind of services are available in Utah for adults with autism spectrum disorders?

    I’ve heard that bullying is a huge problem in Japanese schools as well. Anyone here familiar with that?

  32. (oops, make that re: 28)

  33. The Right Trousers says:

    Is it harder to let it go when it happens to your kid than when it happens to you?

    I’ve reconciled myself with the bullies in my childhood (I was on the social rung right above the disabled kids and loners) by learning that it’s really nothing personal. That, and through the grace of Christ I’m really not all that interested in seeing justice done anymore. That the last of it was years ago helps.

    But now, I have these sweet, sensitive, smart, impulsive, and a bit socially awkward kids. (Those last three in combination are true bully magnets.) We homeschool them, partly because we think the system is broken overall. That won’t save them from bullying, though. My three-year-old daughter experienced some for the first time on the playground yesterday from a group of five-year-old girls. (“You can’t slide down this slide,” “You can’t play with us,” “We don’t like you”… typical female power plays.) I found myself struggling with anger toward one especially, the leader of the group, whose family is friendly with ours. I can’t even blame the system, because she’s homeschooled too.

    I don’t have an answer, either.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Mike, Utah has some good services, and they are trying to help. The problem is that Daryl is very resistant to their help. It’s frustrating.

    Thank you all for your stories, many of which are heartbreaking.

  35. mobile sloth says:

    re 31 Japanese schools – yes, it can be, and not just in the schools but things are changing (VERY slowly). The problem comes from expecting everyone to be exactly the same I think – very black and white you`re either “them” or “us”.

  36. Mrs. Peacock says:

    #31, the bullying in Japanese schools is accepted and not discouraged by parents and teachers as a means of developing the social hierarchy (hierarchy being very important later in life in the business world). This is explored in-depth in Shutting Out the Sun by Michael Zielenziger (

    The Japanese have a proverb – the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Very different from the Western world where we are encouraged to be unique and develop our own identities.

  37. StillConfused says:

    Upper east side Sandy was FOUL for the bullies. Not just at school but at church too. I would call the parents on it when my kids would let me.

  38. Kevin, I feel for Daryl and your mom. I am terrified of the outcome of my high functioning autistic child who is unaware of any of his many challenges. In his mind and life nothing is wrong with him, he also have these tantrums and rebellion like a teenager would and he is only 8 years old! He also does not have any inhibitions whatsoever so he speaks his mind on everything, his lack of respect and self control sometimes are truly scary.

    Some days ago he said out of the blue “Mommy, do you know why I don’t like to follow instructions?”. I answered “Why?” to which he replied “Because I want to be FREE!”.

  39. Nice, we clean up the “mild profanity” in the original post, and the rest of us are stuck with ours in our comments. Serves us right for putting it out there……..

  40. anon Utahn says:

    I live in east Sandy, and our ward members have bent over backward to help my 7-year-old son with autism and our family. I have not seen a whiff of meanness or ostracism (of course, we haven’t reached those horrid teenage years yet).

    My husband is deployed in the Middle East right now (autism + absent husband = overwhelmed mom), and our ward members have freely given hours and hours of service to us — lots of respite for me, lawn mowing, etc.

    So (if you will forgive my tangent) as for these affluent east-side Utah Mormons everyone loves to deplore — they are angels to us.

  41. Kevin,

    I note that you removed the expletive. The only problem is that the URL still has the expletive in it. Mayhap you might want to change that too (it can be changed in wordpress editing).

  42. Kevin, fair enough removing the expletive. FWIW, I was quite taken aback to see you use it in a post. But by the end I thought it made a good point: compared to the word “bully” and all that entails, the word a****** is mild indeed.

  43. Terry #21
    It has been over twenty years and I still feel guilt when reading this. While I do not remember doing anything to intentionally make your life worse (your memory may be different), I do remember doing absolutely nothing to make it better. I was in many aspects of the word an insecure asshole. I am sorry.

    Small world this internet.

  44. Michael Swenson says:

    Thank-you for the post. I’m sitting here in near tears. I have3 teen-aged children and tonights FHE lesson will be about treating those around us as Christ would have us do. Hopefull with enough concern and education I can help my kids see that just ‘not teasing’ isn’t enough; they must also help protect those that have become the targets of such cruelty.

  45. My Idaho ward had tons of problems as I grew up. One kindly Scoutmaster made every possible effort to keep a Downs syndrome scout from attending campouts – up to and including telling him that they’d pick him up at his home on the way to the campout, and then shouting at my little brother for insisting they actually stop and get him. My brother, even at 13, had the guts to stand up to the scoutmaster. Said leader told my brother that if they were going to bring the other boy, then my brother had to be responsible for him. They ended up in another campsite, together in a tent, doing their own low-key camping activities the entire weekend since they were chased out of the “troop” campsite with rocks and sticks.

    My own youngest brother is a smart kid with several learning disabilities. One fine Sunday, with several members of the Teacher’s quorum leaning back in their chairs, their adviser took it upon himself to kick my brother’s chair out from under him. Said leader was also a scout leader and a former bishop. You couldn’t force my brother to attend scouts after that, and since the US policy is “Scouting is the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood”, he was excluded from everything but the most strenous service projects (my brother is often called the Human Forklift).

    I made a point of covering stuff like this in my 16-17 Sunday School lesson yesterday. Our verse was Helaman 5:12, with “remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation….” We have some evil, mean, nasty people in our church. Every last one of us, at one time or another, will be offended. We may even have good reason to be offended. We may be attacked, lied to, spit upon, injured, and robbed. We have members who aren’t above racism, theft, child molestation, bigotry, snobbery, and other malicious behavior. We may even have such horrible things done to us that nobody would ever fault us for leaving the Church forever. But, at those times, it is up to us to decide where our testimony lies. Is it built on the sand of Scouting, bishops, Mutual, or funeral potatoes, or is it built upon the rock of Christ?

    It’s a choice we all must make. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s a gut wrenching, soul torture. But that’s when I sometimes wonder if the ultimate expression of Christ’s love wasn’t “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

  46. Yeah, I was one of those twits. The shame of it still haunts me today. –

  47. Living along the Wasatch Front has meant that my son has the opportunity to be part of a Special Needs Mutual. Whenever my testimony flounders, whenever I have been offended at church, whenever doubts begin to creep in, I simply drop my son off at Mutual. The spirit of love and compassion exhibited by the peer tutors and the leaders has healed my soul countless times over the years. Instead of forcing our children to conform to the outside, the outside conforms to meet the needs of our children in this wonderful setting. Personally, I have found that this is one area where is life is constantly improving. Teenagers are gaining more and more tolerance and compassion simply because they are exposed more often to disabilities. Just like racism, I imagine in another generation or two there will be a zero tolerance policy for some of the behaviors mentioned in this post. ( We are perhaps another step or two farther down the road than we were last week thanks to Sarah Palin–regardless of your personal political views)

  48. Kevin, stories like these break my heart.

    I’m not trying to be political with my next statement but it’s been on my mind ever since I learned that 90% of women that find out they are going to have a baby with Down Syndromn abort them

    Society has to change to the point where we don’t see children with Downs or with Autism as a great hinderance, but a blessing. The fact that women abort babies because they may be born with defects devalues those that are functioning beautiful pieces of our society and environment. It is the greatest piece of evidence that I can find that society does not value the disabled. It’s Eugenics at it’s worst.

    Adults have to change how we look at people with disabilities and children will follow suit.

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    Hestia, I’ve never heard of a special needs Mutual. What a wonderful opportunity for the young people who are involved. Thanks for letting us know such a thing exists in some areas.

  50. Just echoing Dan’s 41. The URL should probably be cleaned up as well…

  51. Yep, grownups do it too.