Every parent has stayed up at night worrying that the bullies of the world are going to pick on their child for some perceived weakness — I know I’ve been there before. But the parents of Gavin Stone, a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, have something to be proud of. When their worst fears came true and their son was beat up for his condition, his response shocked everyone.
Gavin’s mother Cortnie Stone of Illinois posted to Facebook that her son was beat up by a gang of teens for being “weird” and having Asperger’s. Stone’s Facebook post read: “Gavin has spent years learning what society thinks is appropriate and not appropriate, and so he doesn’t offend anyone or stick out in social situations. Being a teenager with Asperger’s is tough because all the sudden people around you are consistently ‘breaking’ all the social do’s and don’ts you’ve spent years learning.”
Stone continued, “On Thursday night, some kids were talking about how ‘it’s weird’ that he is always by himself, attending events alone and watching people, and it was ‘creepy’ how he wanted to be friends with people he didn’t know. On Friday night, another kid that overheard that conversation decided to take matters into his own hands and become judge and jury, and this is the result of that… He was called to meet someone, surrounded by people he didn’t know, choked, punched, and left laying on the pavement so he would ‘learn his lesson (sic).'”
Gavin was attacked by one teen as other teenagers looked on. He was left with a fractured nose, bruised esophagus, hematoma in his eye and a concussion, though none of the damage was permanent. It was up to Gavin whether or not he chose to press charges against the cruel teens he encountered. Gavin decided not to, but he did have a special request. Gavin asked that the bullies’ punishment for the beating include disability-related community service and a written paper on Asperger’s syndrome.
Gavin also taped a 20-minute video, specially made for his bullies, so that he could “teach them a lesson” and help them understand the attack from his perspective.
If there’s one thing we can take away from this story, it’s that Gavin’s parents are doing something right. Gavin was clearly raised with an open heart and a sense of compassion. Instead of pressing charges, lashing out or fighting back in another way, he used his brutal attack as a teaching moment that will most certainly change lives. This is the kind of behavior you would never expect to see from a teenage boy, let alone an adult.
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But the more troubling part of the story is hard to overlook. As a parent, I constantly worry about my kids getting picked on or excluded, but what about the scenario where my kid is the bully? I can almost guarantee that the parents of the teenagers who attacked Gavin are outraged by what happened. But it still happened. These teens thought it was OK to target someone and resort to physical violence, all because they didn’t like what was “different.”
This behavior is not and never will be OK, and it tells me one important thing: We aren’t talking to our kids enough about tolerance. As Gavin’s mother explains, “I hope you talk to your teens, tell them about disabilities you can’t see, teach them to be tolerant of people that are different.”
Maybe your child or my child won’t go so far as to punch another child with a disability, but bullying occurs on a spectrum. Will they exclude? Will they make fun? Will they ignore just because they don’t understand? Gavin’s story is inspirational for teenagers and for parents. This acceptance of disabilities and differences starts at home and requires a constant dialogue. We all need to start talking about it.