The news: A Welsh teenager has made international headlines after the heartbreaking story of his long-term bullying and subsequent injury came out this week.
Last month, Joshua Davies, 18, fell 50 feet from a bridge while trying to run away from a gang of bullies. The teen, who is autistic, broke his arms, legs and feet, as well as his spine in four places.
"Joshua and his friend were walking by the river, when they realized some boys were following them. They heard them shout, 'There they are – let's get them!' and climbed onto the steel supports of the bridge to get away," Michael Morgan, Davies' stepfather, told Wales Online. Then the boys began throwing stones, he said. "One of the stones hit Joshua on the shoulder, then another hit him on his heel, and he lost his grip and fell."
After going through three operations at the University Hospital of Wales, Davies was told it was unlikely he would walk again. Since then, three teens have been arrested and remain on police bail.
An avoidable tragedy: According to Davies' family, the teen has been bullied for years, making him "a prisoner in his own community."
"Joshua has always had some kind of harassment or bullying in some shape or form, solely due to the fact that Joshua is an easy target," Morgan told the BBC. "Because of his Asperger's he does not have the social skills to deal with the situation. He does not have the understanding that people can be cruel."
But perhaps the most frustrating aspect is that despite Davies' long history of being bullied, the police had not been able to successfully intervene. According to Davies' family, they had contacted the police on 15 different occasions when the teen was attacked by bullies, to no avail.
"I believe this could have been prevented. Joshua reported having issues with local boys, but his problems were brushed under the carpet because they thought he was messing around," Morgan said. "The only time he defended himself, he was arrested and charged, which made him scared to defend himself again."
Stories like this are unfortunately too common. Students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are bullied at disproportionate rates: While around 28% of American sixth through 12th-graders report having been bullied. The Interactive Autism Network reported in 2012 that 63% of children with ASD are bullied — with 39% being bullied in the past month.
On Thursday, a video showing an Ohio teen with autism being bullied while participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral. Stories like this and Davies' show that while bullying is a huge problem for all young people, those with ASD face particularly difficult challenges for their conditions.
As for Davies, he is expected to stay in hospital for over six months. But he and his family are optimistic. "These are life-changing injuries — he has been paralyzed from the waist down and is going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life," Morgan said. "But he is just happy to be alive. When he was on the floor, he thought he was not going to make it."
Davies' aunt has set up a GoFundMe page to support him and his family. You can contribute here.