This man's open letter to bullies went viral. Now he has even more to say.

Kerry Magro wants to teach us 4 things about autism and bullying.

A few days before the beginning of October (which we should note is Bullying Prevention Month), Kerry Magro published a letter on his blog.

Soon after that, Magro's letter went viral on Reddit.


Magro has autism and he addressed his former bullies head-on in that letter.

He wrote:

"When I was in public school, I used to be bullied by people like you. You would see me in the corner, usually trying to keep to myself and wonder why I was there. Other times you would see me having issues reading out loud in class and snicker while I tried to pronounce different words.

You'd take my inability to understand sarcasm as a way to get me in trouble. Worst of all, you'd make me feel like an outsider when more than anything I wanted to fit in."

He also addressed others who bully people with special needs.

Magro may look like the picture-perfect professional today. He has a college degree, he founded a nonprofit, and he has a successful career as a public speaker, author, and consultant.

Magro, seen here speaking about living with autism in front of a large group. Photo via Kerry Magro, used with permission.

But his whole point is that autism doesn't look like any one thing. He challenges autism stereotypes every day. In his open letter, Magro has a few lessons to teach us all — not just the people who harass people with special needs.

Here's what we can learn.

1. Words have power.

In his letter, Magro wrote:

"Words can hurt people. Whether you understand the impact that you have, please try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you harass. If you did, you'd know that I struggled as a kid, and many people do at times … not only those with special needs but anyone who may not be classified as ... 'normal.'"

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, victims of bullying are five times more likely to develop a depressive disorder, 14 times more likely to have a panic disorder, and 10 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

"I can tell you from experience that it's harmful to have those feelings bottled up when it's happening directly to you," Magro told me.

2. We should all be speaking up for each other.

"Some people can't stand up for themselves due to their different limitations when a bully attacks them," Magro wrote in his letter.

When Magro was younger, bullies would pick on him because he had communication delays, which also made it harder for him to speak up and let an adult know what was going on.

It's so important for kids (and adults) who see bullying to say something if they see something. Photo via iStock.

"Studies have shown that more than half of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes," Magro told me. “That means educating our kids as much as ourselves about the harmful effects that bullying can have."

3. It's important to treat people with special needs like ... people.

Let's have an honest moment here: It's not enough to refrain from bullying a person with special needs. To be better advocates, we also shouldn't treat autism or any other diagnosis as a "one-size-fits-all" condition.

"It's important for people to understand that if you've met one individual with autism you've met one individual with autism," Magro said.

Two common statements that Magro hates hearing? "You don't look like you have autism" and "You have autism? I would have never known."

"When you interact with someone with autism, look beyond the diagnosis. I've always told people that 'autism doesn't define me' and 'I define autism,'" he added.

4. Accept people with special needs for who they are.

Magro wrote:

I wanted to share this letter with you today in the hopes that if you ever read it, that you will think again before you bully someone who may seem a little bit different than you are.
You may not know this, but 1 in 5 Americans today has a disability. I hope you can learn compassion.

Tolerance, respect, and compassion are key for building a community in which everyone, including people with special needs, can thrive.

"Bullying today is one of the most critical and sensitive topics our loved ones have to face," Magro told me. "Let's be ready for [the bullies] with unconditional love, awareness, and acceptance along the way."

Family

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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