Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dear Young Man from Bay Village, Ohio

I don’t know if this message will reach you, but I hope that somehow it does.

My name is Ryan, and I’m a 35-year-old man from Chicago (about five hours away from you).  I have two kids of my own, though they are much younger than you. 
 
I realize you don't know me, but please know that I am a friend.
 
I recently read about the incident that occurred when some kids from your school invited you over to participate in the ALS ice-bucket challenge, which is supposed to be a real nice thing people have been doing to help raise awareness for some very sick people. When I read about what happened, I became very angry - so angry that my whole body was literally shaking. 
 
As mentioned above, I have two kids of my own. My six-year-old son is autistic, and I understand you are as well.  As recently as four years ago, I didn't even really know what autism was. I'm still learning about it everyday, and I think most people still don't really understand what it is. Though our son still faces many challenges ahead, my wife and I are extremely proud of the progress he has made in his short time on this Earth.  He is the smartest, sweetest little boy we could ask for.
 
Often, my wife and I watch him on the playground, while he interacts with other kids his age.  He gets so excited at the idea of making new friends!  Unfortunately, it's sometimes difficult for him to interact with "neurotypical" kids, because he sometimes gets excited and starts firing off facts.  Often, the other kids look at him weird, run away from him, or just ignore him completely.  I know this frustrates him, because he really wants to play with friends that aren't his little sister, which is quite understandable! It frustrates his mother and I as well, because we know how fun he is to be around, and we feel like he doesn't always get a fair shot. 
 
I wonder if you also feel like people don't always take the time to get to know you?
 
I'm beginning to realize that, even with all the progress our son continues to make (his mother does a real good job of helping him monitor his diet and vitamins), he will consistently have these challenges as he grows up. He may even get teased, "pranked", or even bullied, because he is a little bit different.  When I read about what happened to you, I couldn't help but think of my own son, and the situations he may encounter one day.
 
So, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you some of the things that I will one day tell my own son, when he grows up to be teenager, just like you are now.
 
Firstly, please know that everything happening now is only a prologue to the rest of your life -  to the best parts of your life!  Years from now, these people and these events - as painful as they may be now - will be "in the past." The best parts of your life are truly are still ahead of you!  Think of all the things you have to look forward to - moving out one day and getting your own place, travelling the world, staying out as late as you want, falling in love, maybe even getting married and having kids of your own someday.  I don't know what your interests are, but if you are like me (I'm basically a 14 year-old in a grown-up's body), you have things like the new Star Wars and Avengers movies to look forward to. YES!  Also, in your lifetime, you will see holograms, virtual-reality, automated cars and other technological advances that we can only dream of today.  The future is potentially very awesome, and you are going to get to experience it.
 
The other thing that I'm realizing as I get older is that humans are scared of things they don't fully understand.  While some embrace change and try to understand people that are different from them, other people - usually weaker-minded people - feel threatened, and react angrily.  I think that's what those kids that pulled this shameful prank on you are - weak and scared. Do you know what happens to weak & scared people? They get left behind by life.

I read recently that, according to autismunited.org, 1 in 68 US children are on the autism spectrum. Hopefully, through your story, we can all learn how to better communicate with and treat our autistic friends & family.
 
In conclusion, I'm sure you would do just about anything to make this whole thing go away (I wish I could make it go away for you). It may not be tomorrow, or even next week, but please know - THIS WILL GO AWAY.  One day, you'll be a grown-up, and you'll occasionally think about that really bad day when you were 14, but it will seem like a distant memory, from a lifetime ago. And you'll say, "man, high school really sucked sometimes." Which, I promise you, is what most people think about high school. 
 
I think it shows how STRONG you are that you went back to school already. I'm not sure I could be as brave as you are. I'm sure your mom, dad and older brother are very proud of you, as they should be.
 
There are a lot of people out there supporting you, and I'm proud to be one of them.  Stay strong, and don't give up. 
 
Your friend from Chicago,
 
Ryan Fergus

3 comments:

Ryan Risselman said...

Great great great open letter buddy. From the heart, I hope it reaches him. -Rizz

Michelle said...

Great letter Ryan, I hope this gets to him. Let's hope people become less scared and angry of differences and learn to embrace them in the future.

lynda fergus said...

What a beautifully written letter and I hope this young man knows we are proud of him for his courage and strength.