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21 Feb, 2020 19:40

Heart-wrenching video of boy with dwarfism threatening suicide as mum admits despair is no shock to this father of a disabled kid

Heart-wrenching video of boy with dwarfism threatening suicide as mum admits despair is no shock to this father of a disabled kid

The distressing footage of 9-year-old Australian boy Quaden Bayles, born with dwarfism and threatening to kill himself over bullying as his mum sobs with despair, is nothing new to parents of disabled children, take it from me.

Anyone viewing the video of Quaden bawling his eyes out and threatening to kill himself because of school bullying about his dwarfism is right to ask whether exposing him to the trolls of the internet is really going to help.

His mother, providing voiceover as the distraught young guy struggles to express his emotions, starts with a fury, only to descend into tears herself as she admits she is out of ideas to help him. I’ve been in her shoes, plenty of times.

With a severely disabled daughter myself – who has the growth malformation apparent in dwarfism, among other things – when she was younger I couldn’t help but notice the staring parents and children when we were out, the comments that it was “cruel” to take her to a restaurant, on public transport or even on holiday, as she screamed and cried in her frustration to be understood.

Not that she wanted to deliver a speech on how unfair the roll of life’s dice was; maybe she just wanted a drink of water or a custard creme biscuit.

So sometimes I would snap at the gawkers, the whisperers or even the gormless kids staring at this non-verbal, wheelchair-bound dervish trying to communicate.

A particularly tough episode involved a 26-hour flight to Australia where my daughter, aged 15 at the time, had just had enough of sitting in the one place somewhere over South East Asia. She went berserk. Crying, pulling her hair, biting, kicking, scratching, and lashing out anyone who came near. 

It was the middle of the night for the other passengers and they just wanted to sleep or quietly watch movies, but she was having none of it. For three hours.

When she finally ran out of gas and collapsed in my arms, pretty much everyone on the plane was aware that we had a problem.

But I sat there defiantly staring down the disapproving looks. People said I should have done “something.” But what? There is no handbook, no proven technique to employ in a meltdown situation. I just had to sit it out, try to keep her calm, and pray it would pass soon.

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And this is the powerlessness that Quaden Bayles’s mum was feeling. 

This was her taking a video of her son to shove in the faces of the bullies, their parents, the teachers, and the welfare system, while pleading, “Don’t just stand there gawking, help me!”.

While I don’t make a habit of weaponising my daughter’s disability, there are times when you become sick of the world’s indifference to your child. 

I admit it, I’ve barged into strangers with her wheelchair as they refused to move out of the way, despite being aware we were trying to pass. I’ve furiously berated staff who tell me the disability lift is out of operation (again), or that there is no other access to our destination apart from the flight of insurmountable steps in front of us.

It’s annoying. How can public buildings, transport, restaurants, churches, cinemas, even bowling lanes, be so inaccessible to people who want to use them? How can my daughter’s needs be so easily ignored?

So I understand what Quaden Bayles’s mum is going through. 

As a cry for help, her video is raw and emotive, but posting on social media is not the way to find real solutions to her problem.

My feeling is that the support she has found online is largely from people who want to be seen to be giving that support. It’s nebulous, short-term feelgood encouragement, and it might raise awareness to some extent but it won’t be there to comfort her lad when he returns home from another stressful day at school.

Maybe inadvertently – but more likely damning the consequences because of her desperation – Quaden’s mum has brought savage internet trolls out of hiding and will suffer the brunt of their venom for some time.

She seems to be at the point, however, where she just doesn’t care. 

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Parents who raise disabled children reach a tipping point where, after years of inconclusive medical appointments, missed developmental targets and sleepless nights, what other people think becomes truly insignificant.

My daughter’s prognosis was that she would be lucky to live beyond the age of two.

Well, she’s outlived that and is still going strong. It’s a brilliant achievement that no number of thick mouth-breathers ogling her at the supermarket can ever undermine.

To our family, she is just Elvi, as different from us as we are from each other.

Things are tough for Quaden Bayles and his mum right now, and the social media storm they’re embroiled in will most likely upset them both even further for a while.

But for a nine-year-old to be threatening suicide amid the torment he shows in the video indicates to me a level of self-awareness, an understanding of cruelty and bravery that is scary.

Life is tough for the disabled. Young Quaden has found this out a lot earlier than his parents would hope, thanks to playground bullies.

If there is any positive takeaway from posting his upset online, it might be the minute’s pause for thought that anyone with a soul will have, before clicking the window closed and opening the next skateboarding bulldog video.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.