Quaden Bayles and his mum Yarraka have revealed what happened behind the scenes after she posted a heartbreaking video of her distraught son expressing the urge to take his life because of relentless schoolyard bullying over his short stature.
The Facebook video, uploaded in February, was viewed 25 million times in less than two days and sparked a global conversation amongst football players and A-list celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Cardi B.
A crowdfunding campaign was created by comedian Brad Williams ― who was also born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism ― to fly Quaden to Disneyland. It quickly raised $700,000.
The following weeks and months were overwhelming for the family, who faced criticism for livestreaming Quaden’s anguish, followed by bizarre and cruel internet rumours that the boy was actually a 19-year-old actor and the family was rich and scamming the public for financial gain. Another rumour was that Quaden was dead ― perhaps the worst of all the lies that Yarraka could not begin to grasp.
Now, 10-year-old Quaden and his mum have sat down with the ABC’s ‘Australian Story’ to update the public on how they have coped in the aftermath of their rollercoaster ordeal.
“I could never have predicted what was going to happen after posting one video,” Yarraka said of her Facebook Live message.
“Apparently, Quaden is an 18-year-old man. He’s already rich and famous. He’s an actor. I coached him to do and say everything in that video. And it was all fake.”
Yarraka said that was when she knew she needed professional help. She got lawyers onboard to counteract the lies and launched defamation proceedings against Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine for retweeting false information.
“I think it’s really concerning that you have high-profile people that don’t do their due diligence. A lot of people obviously believed her,” Yarraka said.
“We ended up getting our apology and the matter’s been settled.”
Even though Quaden has “always wanted to go to America,” Yarraka decided taking a GoFundMe holiday “did not sit right” and they have donated the majority of the money to charity. A very small amount has been put aside for Quaden’s medical fees.
As Quaden has battled ongoing health issues and adjusted to the glare of media attention, his mum received some surprising help from an unlikely hero. American school psychologist Brooks Gibbs, who had critiqued and analysed the original video, offered counselling sessions with Quaden and his mum in which they workshopped approaches to build up emotional resilience and deal with bullies from a new perspective.
“There’s been so many positive aspects over the negatives,” Yarraka said of the sessions with Brooks, with whom she initially felt defensive.
“At first I felt like my parenting was under attack. I felt my defensive mechanisms were kicking in.
“I sat back and I processed that, and I was like, ‘He’s right.’”
Quaden has also reacted well to the “really helpful” and “really good” strategy sessions with Brooks.
“Don’t be upset, treat them like a friend. That’s what I say to people now and now they understand,” Quaden explained.
Although Quaden’s return to school this year has caused him anxiety, Yarraka said she is “so proud” that her son can tell people how he feels now because that’s something he hadn’t been able to do in the past.
So, what’s next for Quaden?
“Buy a house and a car for my mum and help the homeless,” he said.
“And be a good man.”
You can watch the full episode of ‘Australian Story: About a Boy’ on ABC iView.
If you or someone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Outside of Australia, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.