In blog

Cross-posted from Stuff.co.nz (24/11/2011)9356133

A Nelson woman who stopped to help a young man with Down syndrome who had been attacked by a group of boys says more understanding and compassion from the community is needed.

Nelson resident Nicole Griffiths was driving down Toi Toi St about 3.30pm on Tuesday when she noticed what she thought was a man lying on the side of the road.

Ms Griffiths said she was not sure at first if it was a person, and thought it was perhaps rubbish, as other people seemed to be walking past.

“I thought it couldn’t be someone or they would have stopped. But then I thought I saw a leg.”

She drove back, and found a young man with Down syndrome “sobbing his eyes out”.

Ms Griffiths has a 41-year-old brother with Down syndrome. She said she tried to do what she would have done if the man had been her brother.

“People had come out of their houses, but no-one seemed to want to get near him or anything.

“I just stroked his head and tried to calm him down, but I didn’t get anything out of him for a while because he was so upset.

“And everyone was just talking over him as if he wasn’t there.”

Ms Griffiths asked another bystander to go to the man’s house to get his caregiver.

Another woman called an ambulance, and just before it arrived, the man told Ms Griffiths that some boys had pushed him over.

“But the main thing that got me is that people were just walking past. It could have been anyone. And Victory is supposed to be a really good and upcoming area.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you should care about other people.

“He didn’t have blood but he had been so scared. Fear is a huge thing for people with Down syndrome.

“Have Victim Support or anyone else been asked to contact him? People like that can’t fight their own battles, and I feel like fighting the battle for him a bit.”

Ms Griffith’s mother, Heather Farndale, said people needed to be aware that these sort of things were happening.

“I have experienced this sort of thing with my son. Teasing is rife.”

She said her son caught the bus from their home near Mapua to the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, and was often poked by other people or children on the bus as he walked past, even though the bus driver was great and tried to keep them in line.

Another example was when her son visited a speedway meeting about four years ago, something he used to like doing quite often because “he felt like a real person going on his own”. He returned home soaking wet. “I said, `But it’s not raining. What happened?’. And these guys had shaken up a two-litre Coke and doused him with it.

“I think we have got to try to do better parenting.”

While there were some very good parents, there were also some who could perhaps do with more understanding, she said.

“It’s not an easy life for a person with an intellectual handicap, particularly if they aren’t severely handicapped, because they realise what is going on, and they realise they are different.

“And it’s not easy being a parent or having a sibling that’s intellectually handicapped, because of these incidents that are happening. Thank goodness there’s not too many, but how many do we not know about? And what were these people who walked past him thinking? What sort of person would walk past someone sobbing on the street?”

IHC New Zealand communications manager Philippa Sellens said that what Ms Griffiths did was “fabulous”, and more understanding was needed by some members of the community.

“People with disabilities tell us all the time that bullying is a problem for them, and we are aware that some people in the community don’t understand intellectual handicaps, and that doesn’t always bring out the best behaviour. Most people are good, but we do get the odd problem with bullying, so we do appreciate it when people step in.”

The man lives at a house run by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, which declined to comment.

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