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To the Young Man With Down Syndrome Who Was Being Bullied at Work

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Dear Ryan,

I didn’t know what to expect when you quietly approached me after a keynote presentation I had given to a room filled with parents, educators and young self-advocates about bullying of students with disabilities. At first, you spoke hesitantly. I could feel there was something really bothering you. You explained, bit by bit, how you were being bullied at work by a colleague saying very hurtful things. When you shared that your boss had told you “to just ignore it,” I could see you knew how ineffective that advice had been.

I admired you as you said with a smile, how could you ignore this person who worked right next to you in a small space? I could tell you liked your job and that there were no negative feelings toward your coworker or boss. I felt that you simply wanted to work and feel good about being there.

When you shared that it helped to talk about it, your genuine goodness touched me. You weren’t asking for much, simply wanting to feel valued and respected. We talked about a couple of options, and by the end of the conversation, you said you would try the ideas and see what happened. You thanked me, and said you were grateful for being able to talk through your situation.

I thought that was it, the end of our conversation. But there was more, so much more. Your next words took me by surprise. “Before I leave, I want to tell you that when I think of you, I will be happy. I will feel happy.” I remember feeling humbled, smiling and thanking you. You then pointed to the projector screen with a picture of my son David, who was born with Down syndrome. I had shared with the audience that he has always been my inspiration for working to prevent bullying of students with disabilities. But after your next words, I became the quiet one.

You told me, “When I think of both of you, of him and you, I will feel happy.” I thanked you again, fighting the urge to cry at your unassuming, but powerful words. As a mom, your heartfelt statement from someone who I could see was an incredibly sincere, honest young man — who, more than likely, had your own share of heartache and struggles — deeply affected me. Yet, you weren’t done. In an increasingly confident manner you added, giving your words more explanation, “I will be happy when I think of both of you, because I know that you gave him (David) a beautiful life. Because of you, his is a beautiful life.”

You had drawn me in. I was no longer the one giving advice; I was now the one getting counsel and wisdom. You continued, “And in caring so much about him, you have also made my life more beautiful.”

It is a true testimony of your humanity that you can rise above your own hurdles as a young man with Down syndrome experiencing the emotional pain of being bullied, and celebrate my son, find joy in his life and express your thanks for my presentation. I forgot everything else around me because you expressed yourself so poetically, and that is an incredibly powerful statement of the value you bring to the lives of others.

I’m sorry you have been disrespected in your workplace. I hope that that changes soon. Anyone who is as kind as you deserves respect. Ryan, I may never be able tell you in person, but I want the world to know that because of those few moments with you, my life is now more beautiful, too. I will always remember you.

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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