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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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."