He was bullied at school for his dwarfism. Look what his mom did!

He has always attracted an audience, people staring, pointing. Sometimes it’s discreet but it has always been there, strangers photographing and filming him.

Long before he became an internet phenomenon, when he was still a toddler, there was constant negative attention when he went out.

Because he was different, because he didn’t look like other children. Because he has dwarfism.

„I don’t like when they record me and they don’t care. And when I’m even eating lunch, they will record me,” Quaden says.

„Just be a bit more respectful and be more kind and not rude.”

A young boy with dwarfism crosses his arms and stares into the camera with a tough expression on his face
Quaden wants the world to know he’s just like other nine year-olds.(Instagram: @quaden_the_kid)

How it made him feel was amplified to tens of millions of people around the world in February when in a moment of unbearable pain, his mother Yarraka posted a Facebook video of Quaden crying in despair after he had been bullied and laughed at in school because of his short stature.

Yarraka concedes that in isolation the incident was mild, but it was a tipping point for Quaden. And the family are still dealing with the repercussions of making that one moment of their life public.

They would see the best and the worst of humanity. It would expose them to the darkest corners of the internet where they would be viciously trolled.

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But this Aboriginal single mother comes from a long line of human rights activists and she would push back with strength.

„Our parents taught us to fight for what we believe in and to raise our children to be proud of who they are,” Yarraka says.

The detractors don’t see the effort it takes for Quaden Bayles to get out of bed each morning. The pain of aching bones, the exhaustion of trying to keep up when you have shorter limbs, the tears, the potentially fatal breathing difficulties, the early onset arthritis, like an old man trapped in a little boy’s body.

Major spinal surgery is one of the many operations Quaden has endured. „He is fragile,” Yarraka says.

They don’t see either who this boy is, or that he comes from generations of resilience, advocacy and activism.

Quaden is a Murri boy, part of a family with strong Aboriginal family values. Yarraka’s father, Tiga Bayles, was a prominent and respected Indigenous activist who set up Sydney’s Radio Redfern.

„A beautiful, big, strong, cultural family,” Yarraka says.

„We’ve been brought up by really good people with cultural integrity.”

A young indigenous boy with a form of dwarfism dances in traditional dress. He looks to the camera with his palms spread.
Quaden Bayles is very proud of his Indigenous heritage.(Getty Images: Jono Searle)

Quaden is only nine years old and just wants to be a normal kid. In his own community he has always been a „superstar”, loved and tall in self-esteem.

Like many children the same age, he likes listening to music, computer games, sport and eating.

„I want to be Tik Tok famous. I’m just still starting, but I’m about to hit 10,000 likes and we’re going to celebrate,” he says.

His older twin sisters Guyala and Yilan are very close to their brother.

„He’s like one of the girls, really. We just we do everything together,” laughs Guyala.

„Quaden is always up to something, he’s such a cheeky little boy, he’s always playing little jokes and trying to scare me.”

A young boy stands posing in a shop with bright oversized glasses and a hat on. He is smiling with a backpack over his shoulder.
From a young age Quaden already had bucketloads of personality.(Supplied: Yarraka Bayles)

Everything came ‘crashing down’ with diagnosis

Yarraka was the first person in her family to go to university, but at 17 her plans were thrown into disarray when she became pregnant with twins.

By the time Quaden came along, 11 years later, the timing was better and she was excited.

„I was 29, fit and healthy,” she says.

„We were working, everything was financially safe and secure.

„It was a healthy pregnancy, everything was beautiful.”

Yarraka Bayles
Yarraka Bayles pregnant with her son Quaden, with twin daughters Yilan and Guyala by her side.(Supplied: Yarraka Bayles)

Yarraka, her partner Quaden Senior and her twin daughters were euphoric for three days after the birth. Then came a diagnosis of achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism caused by a random mutation at conception.

The bones of Quaden’s arms and legs would never grow to their full height.

„Everything came crashing down.” Yarraka says.

‘I felt robbed because I couldn’t enjoy just celebrating the birth of my beautiful baby.

„It was really daunting. It sent me into a very deep depression, probably for about the first two years.”

A young toddler boy smiles at the camera as he lays on his stomach at the beach
Yarraka admits she was in denial about Quaden’s diagnosis when he was a baby.(Supplied: Yarraka Bayles)

While Quaden Senior was researching online, Yarraka retreated into denial. It would tear their relationship apart and they separated when Quaden was two-and-a-half.

„I was telling myself that the doctors had gotten his diagnosis wrong. And I just I couldn’t accept it. He looked perfect to me and he still does,” she says.

Quaden needed multiple hospital visits and surgery for a compressed spine. He goes into respiratory failure every time he falls asleep and needs a machine to help him breathe.

But despite these challenges, he loves his sport.

Queensland Children’s Hospital physiotherapist Penny Ireland says Quaden has a huge drive to problem solve.

„He has the best ball skills of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Dr Ireland says.

„I’m good at AFL, football and basketball,” Quaden says. „I want to be a really good NBA player and like my cousin Biwali [Bayles], he’s in Hawaii playing NBA college.”

‘We found our tribe’: Dwarfism community embraces Quaden

It wasn’t until Yarraka took her son to physiotherapy and occupational therapy that she met other families with dwarfism. It was a turning point.

„Here are amazing people in the dwarfism community around the world that are living their best life,” she says.

„Once I started seeing that, it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulder. It was almost like I found my tribe.”

With the families she met, Yarraka helped to establish the non-profit group Dwarfism Awareness Australia.

„It’s opened our minds and our hearts to a whole new world that we would never have experienced if we didn’t have Quaden in our lives,” she says.

„It’d be so boring without him.”

Young Quaden Bayles
Quaden is a big sports fan, with basketball his favourite to play.(Supplied: Yarraka Bayles)

The distressing video that went viral

By February this year, the problems for Quaden at school came to a head. Then he stopped wanting to go to school at all.

„He’d come home and told me that children were calling him a midget … just teasing and name calling. The verbal attacks and being a sensitive soul, it really affects him,” Yarraka says.

„I don’t like the ‘m’ word … and people call me the cute word and I don’t like the word cute,” Quaden says.

„I think it’s just the new kids and the parents don’t tell them … this kid has a disability, you can’t be rude.”

On February 19, the principal reached out to Yarraka, suggesting he come to school because the Brisbane Bullets basketball team were visiting. As soon as she picked him up, Yarraka knew it had been a bad day.

As the world would soon find out, „he was hysterical”.

Young Indigenous boy Quaden Bayles looks into the camera with tears in his eyes while sitting in a car
A still from the viral video shows Quaden in tears.(Facebook: Yarraka Bayles)

„There’s nothing quite like the pain that you feel when it’s not you that’s being ridiculed, but it’s your child,” family friend Nicola Joseph says.

Quaden was so upset he would not allow his Mum to comfort him. Feeling helpless, Yarraka filmed his distress and posted it on Facebook Live. She says it was a genuine cry for help.

By the morning it was viral.

„I woke up, my phone’s blowing up. We’ve got media at our door. I’ve got non-stop call after call. And I am like, ‘What the hell have I done?’,” Yarraka says.

Messages of support came from all over the world — Hugh Jackman, Jonathan Thurston and the Indigenous All Stars rugby league team among them. A few days later, Quaden would lead the All Stars onto the field in a blaze of publicity.

„It was fun and I wanted to run with them, but I didn’t get to because they thought I said to walk out with them, but I said run. It was a really big crowd saying my name and I got a bit, like, shy,” he says.

Quaden was in awe of his sporting heroes when he led out the Indigenous All-Stars team.

Brad Williams, a comedian in America who also has dwarfism, reached out and asked if he could set up a Go Fund Me page for Quaden to go to Disneyland. Within 24 hours they had reached their target of $10,000.

And then, says Yarraka, „It just kept going and going and going.”

A woman sits in her home looking out to the distance with a vacant expression. She holds her young son's football jersey.
Yarraka was shocked when the world turned on her son.(Australian Story: Anthony Sines)

Lawyer says vilification was ‘relentless’

What began as a surge of goodwill turned shatteringly ugly and racist as the trolls emerged.

„I think when things started turning sour is when people started seeing how much money was being donated,” Yarraka says.

„We then became under attack for being fraudsters or scammers.”

Yarraka was accused of scamming, of coaching Quaden, of teaching him to be a victim, of him being an 18-year-old actor who was already rich and famous. That it was all fake, a con.

„I’m nine, almost turning 10. People think I’m 18, but I’m really not, trust me,” Quaden says dryly.

Over the shoulder shot of a woman holding a mobile phone with cruel messages on it in an application
Yarraka and Quaden were barraged with vile messages from strangers.(Australian Story: Anthony Sines)

Yarraka contacted lawyer George Newhouse, who had known her father Tiga well.

„I was horrified by it,” he says now. „It was truly frightening.

„I have never seen the amount of vilification that came out of this one event. It was relentless.

„There were hundreds of people, in fact, thousands of people involved in perpetrating this violent abuse.”

A young boy with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia sits in a chair and looks down. His expression is neutral.
Quaden’s viral video exposed the darkest corners of the internet.(Australian Story: Anthony Sines)

Because most of the trolling was coming out of the United States, Newhouse contacted Eric Boone, a lawyer with international experience dealing with internet vilification.

It became a fast moving roller-coaster ride.

„Of the 120 videos that we had identified, we got about 106 taken down,” Eric says.

„But with every step we found another platform that you then need to look at and upon doing that we saw this proliferation of fake and impostor accounts targeting the family with all kinds of defamatory, racist, harmful commentary.”

Yarraka and Quaden Bayles have triumphed over the trolls.(Australian Story: Rebecca Armstrong)

Newscorp columnist Miranda Devine stepped into the fray and retweeted some of the scamming claims.

„It’s really concerning that you have high-profile people that don’t do their due diligence because a lot of people obviously believed her,” Yarraka says.

A request for an apology was rejected and Yarraka’s legal team proceeded with a defamation case.

The matter was settled and Devine apologised on September 19.

„I now know those comments were hurtful and untrue,” she tweeted.

„We’re happy to just put that behind us and move on with the rest of our lives,” Yarraka says.

Push for Quaden’s Law to stop bullying

Williams’ campaign raised about $630,000. The family declined to take the trip to Disneyland and in consultation with Williams, the money has been split between six charities including Dwarfism Awareness Australia and the Balanu Foundation.

A small amount has been kept in trust for Quaden.

Since the tumultuous social media pile-on, the family have been putting their lives back together and Yarraka says the good outcomes have outweighed the bad.

Quaden returned to school in June but Yarraka says they are taking it day by day.

He has a detailed care plan to help him through his school life and a male Indigenous support worker.

At the Disability Royal Commission earlier this month, Yarraka said she would like to see a „Quaden’s Law” rolled out in schools to protect children from bullying.

„It’s by no means an attack on any student or staff member or school, it’s something that requires a holistic approach. We need to be teaching our children to more accepting,” Yarraka says.

A woman smiles as she sits next to her son who has dwarfism. Person wearing a black hoodie holds up three fingers in foreground
Yarraka says she and Quaden share a special ‘mother-son’ bond.(Australian Story: Anthony Sines)

Being Quaden, he has big plans, which include bypassing school altogether and going straight to college, being a basketballer, footballer or a gamer.

And acting is in his sights following an invitation to play a small part in George Miller’s next movie Three Thousand Years of Longing, starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton.

„I wanted to act when I was a little kid, like I wanted to be in comedy … I like to make people laugh so this will be like my first movie,” Quaden says.

When he makes his millions, he says he will „buy a house and a car for my mum and help the homeless and be a good man”.

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