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WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Choose kindness and respect over judgment, for you never know the details of a person's story.
That's the message a Connecticut mother set out to champion after learning her 11-year-old son was being bullied at school, and her powerful words have struck a chord with loved ones and strangers alike.
MaryAnn Parisi was heartbroken to find out that her son, Michael, had been bullied by some of his classmates at a school assembly. The worst part — it wasn't a just one-time thing, and Michael told his teacher that he was "getting used to it."
"That made me feel awful," Parisi told ABC News. "It made me very angry because he shouldn't be getting used to it. He should not be OK with it. Bullying is not OK. It's not acceptable and you do not get used to it."
Monday, the frustrated mother took to Facebook to voice her feelings. In a moving post, she shared her son's history in detail, revealing that having been born prematurely at 26 weeks to a birth mother who abandoned him, Michael had suffered some developmental challenges.
"He spent the first 3 months of his life fighting to survive," Parisi wrote. "He didn't learn to talk until he was 3 years old. … He didn't have teeth until after his first birthday. He was so very behind. But he loved. Oh how he loved."
"You called him brace face today, and before you were picking on him because of his eating habits," she continued. "Did you know he physically cannot control the food staying in his mouth, or how very bad his hand/eye coordination is? Those braces are just one of the many steps he will endure to help align the jaw that never fully developed."
Parisi went on to plead with her son's abusers to stop kicking his chair. To stop calling him names. To stop telling him to shut up. Her hope, she said, is that now that Michael's story is out in the open, they'll have some compassion.
"You don't have to like him, but you do have to respect him," she wrote. "He's a fighter, that's a very small portion of his story. Share, teach, grow. Most importantly, respect those around you, you never know what they have been through."
Parisi's post inspired an outpouring of support and love from family, friends and strangers. Those who know Michael sent in photos, messages and memories to help cheer him up, according to ABC.
Despite all he's been through, Parisi said one of her son's most special qualities is his resilience — something that has pulled him through even the toughest of times.
"There is not one person he doesn't like or love, including those who tormented him today," she wrote. "He forgives and honestly, he forgets too. There is not one judgmental bone in his body."
But that doesn't mean he doesn't feel pain, hurt and embarrassment, and no form of bullying is acceptable, Parisi said. She said she hopes Michael's story will inspire people to speak to their children about the importance of kindness.
"Maybe knowing his background is the difference," she said. "Even the best children have moments of insecurity and weakness. Teaching and showing them why he (or anybody else) is different might be the more positive way. Sometimes knowing is learning and growing."