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To the Girls Who Mocked My Son at the Mall

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boy and girl posing in colorful cut out

Last evening as I walked through the nearly empty mall with my two youngest, you five girls were several yards behind us. We’d just seen a movie and were in great spirits. We were walking to meet up with four of my older children. We stopped to take a photo at one of those cutout scenes where you stick your faces through the holes. I caught sight of you as we took our photo, walking and giggling and having a good time. I’ve had teenaged girls and know how much fun they can have together in a mall. I noted to myself that you were a lively group but certainly not threatening in any way.

You were walking faster than we were, and the gap between us was closing. I turned from snapping our photo, and we continued down the hall. My son fell behind a few steps as he was adjusting his earbuds. He was listening to his music like a typically developing 13-year-old boy might do in a mall. Though if you could have seen his playlist, you would have realized he’s not a typically developing 13-year-old boy. He was probably listening to Disney tunes, The Muppets or a preschool sensation called The Fresh Beat Band. You probably didn’t notice he was different until you saw him run a few steps to catch up to me. He always runs on his toes with an awkward gait. And I’m sure that a 6’3” young man running on his toes looked pretty ridiculous to you.

The mall was empty enough for me to hear your innocent girlish giggling turn to that of a contemptuous kind of laughter. I knew before I turned, but I couldn’t stop myself. I saw one of you mocking my son. You were running on your toes and flailing your arms. My son and his little sister kept walking, not noticing that I’d turned to look behind us. I took about three steps back toward you, and your forward pace slowed. I must have looked intimidating all of the sudden. I’d gone quietly content to irate in about a second. I can only imagine the look I had on my face as I took those few steps toward you. I did see the looks on your faces. Your laughter stopped. I saw guilt, and I saw your faces redden with embarrassment. You were caught. You thought you’d have your laugh at my son’s expense, and we wouldn’t notice. Or perhaps you didn’t care if we noticed, but you certainly didn’t expect me to turn and call you out. I cannot remember my exact words, but I believe they were, “My son has autism. I sure hope you are not making fun of him.”

Your stuttering and stammering, “We’re not. We’re not making fun of anyone,” caused me to doubt myself for a split second; but then I remembered I’d seen one of you copying my son’s movements while all five of you laughed. I said no more and turned back toward my kids and caught up to them, thankful my son had his headphones in. As we all continued down the hall I had to remind myself that all five of you are just kids, probably nice girls most of the time. One of you was impulsive enough to make fun of the differences you saw in my son and the other four were weak enough to go along with the joke. I had to remind myself that you all have families that love you as much as I love my children and you all may have issues of your own to deal with. And perhaps you really did believe that making fun of someone else is just innocent fun and we’d have no idea it had even happened.

Perhaps you go to a school where the kids with special needs are kept separate from you, or perhaps it’s acceptable amongst your peers to laugh at their differences. We’re from a small town, and my son goes to a small school. He has peers who accept him and don’t make fun of the way he moves or talks. They know he’s different and help him fit in. They don’t laugh at him or belittle him. As a matter of fact, had some of them been with him last night, they would have probably said more to you about your behavior than I did.

I have to admit that I have no idea if turning and calling you out was the right thing to do or not. I didn’t know how to react. You see, I’ve never seen anyone mock my son before. In fact, in 13 years I cannot remember him once being made fun of. Perhaps there have been times and I just haven’t caught on like I did last night, but I like to think you are the first. How does that make you feel? You broke a 13-year streak for us.

If statistics prove true and all five of you grow up to become mothers, chances are one of you will have a child or a grandchild with a disability. If it happens, I hope you get a 13-year streak without bullying. I hope you have an even longer one. And even more important, I hope if your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, are ever bullied that you will not be able to think back and remember the time that you yourself laughed at a child with a disability and caused a mother pain. The burden might be too heavy for you to bear.

This post originally appeared on Quirks and Chaos.

Originally published: January 19, 2015
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