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A Granfather's Letters to His Autistic Grandson

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Updated October 05, 2008

Years after that school bus incident, a patient told me about a bullying episode from her childhood that had left her deeply troubled. But the most troubling aspect was not what had happened to her. It was the way it had left her mistrustful of her own parents. When this woman was twelve years old, walking home from school by herself, she was approached by a group of older boys who intimidated her, poked her, and touched her inappropriately. She managed to get away from them. When she got home, her mother was not there, but her father saw at once how upset she was, and she told him what had happened. She also identified one of the bullies as a boy in the neighborhood.

Enraged, her father ran out of the house to the home of the boy she had named and forced his way in, past the boy's parents and upstairs to the boy's room. He started beating the boy, and he wouldn't stop until the police intervened.

When the father rushed out of the house to beat up the boy, he had left his frightened daughter alone. He ended up in the police station, of course. The story got around school. His daughter was humiliated. But the worst part was that the battle became all about him and not about her.

Telling me this, the woman realized that her own trauma got worse instead of better because of what her father did. After that scene, she didn't talk to either parent when she was upset.

Sam, I'm quite sure your mom or dad would never do anything like that. But the impulse is there. They have to deal with their own rage in a way that lets them see what is best for you.

So what would I advise them to do?

Let me tell you what my own mother did when I was bullied by a teacher during my junior year in high school. The teacher had given me a C when I thought I deserved a B, and I said so. I met with him, made my case, and thought I must have been convincing, because he changed my C to a B.

Six weeks later, I was called to the principal's office and accused of changing the grade on my report card. I told the principal what had happened. The principal called in the teacher, who denied he had changed the grade. When I got home -- because I was in danger of being suspended -- I told my mother the whole story.

When I asked if she would help me, she agreed. The next day, she came into the school loaded for bear. The teacher backed down. The principal apologized. My grade was restored to a B.

And I was happy my mom did what she did. She fought for me, but first she listened. I asked for help, and she helped me. The battle wasn't about her, it was about me. It was about taking care of her son. So, Sam, whenever you get bullied, please make sure your parents read this letter before they do anything about it. I want them to be able to act for you rather than for themselves. And I want you to trust that when you need to talk, they will listen.

Love,

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