He listens intently to the visitor asking questions.

"Do you like movies?" the visitor asks.

"I like movies," Pat Fuglei says. "I really like movies. Yep, like movies."

"Do you like 'The Shawshank Redemption?' "

"Yep, Shawshank Redemption," Pat replies. "Good movie. Really good movie. Shawshank Redemption."

This line of question and mimicked response could go on for hours. Occasionally Pat adds additional information, but much of what he says has just been said to him.

Pat has autism. He is considered high-functioning, but the term is relative.

He is athletic, handsome, a good son. He wants so badly to be "normal" that he often denies his own condition.

With his family, his conversation becomes easier, less repetitious, more kidlike.

He is bright, but easily misled. He uses words well, but sometimes doesn't understand their consequences. For autistic kids, that's all the more true in social situations.

If a boy whose friendship Pat craves tells him to tell a pretty girl that she has a beautiful body and he'd like to see her naked, he'll do it in an instant.

His brain won't adequately process the consequences.

Recently, boys in Pat's eighth-grade class have done exactly that, only worse.

They do it for age-old reasons. Because they are 13 and 14. Because kids are sometimes mean.

But this is the worst reason - because they mostly get away with it.

Pat always just took it. He wanted friends badly enough to overlook the cruelest of cuts. Finally, though, he reached wit's end.

"Recently, he asked me in sort of an abstract way, 'Would your dad let you hang out with someone who called you a retard?' " his mother, Bridget Fuglei, said in an interview at the family home last week.

Pat hung out with those kids all year.

"He would do almost anything to have kids be his friends," his father Bruce said. "And some of these kids, they know that about Pat."

And they have taken merciless advantage of him, leaving the family nowhere to turn except the door.

Pat left school two weeks ago.

About the time Pat Fuglei started to toddle, his mom and dad realized something was different about their little boy.

He didn't understand consequences.

"You know, they reach that age where they do something wrong and you put them in a timeout," Bridget Fuglei said. "He'd get frustrated and hit me. I'd put him in his room for a little bit, then when I opened the door, he'd hit me again. He didn't know what he was doing was wrong."

Autism typically reveals itself by the time a child turns 3.

Bruce and Bridget had Pat evaluated several times. The diagnosis was autism spectrum disorder.

Bruce and Bridget did an at-home therapy program designed to help Pat establish some social skills before he went to kindergarten.

His elementary school years for the most part went well. Pat didn't learn at the speed of his peers, and often trailed them in achievement, but he had his share of success.

Middle school, which can be tough even on kids without problems, has been more difficult for Pat.

Pat has a resource teacher who works with him more intensely, but he is mostly "mainstreamed," meaning he's usually in his regular classes.

"That's worked pretty well for him, but this year the problem has been the social side of things," Bruce said.

This year the problem has been other children.

"This is the age where some measure of kids just get mean," Bruce said. "And Pat has been a perfect target for that meanness."

He's been the target of violence. He's been tricked. He's been taunted. And he's been humiliated.

All for laughs.

The school has responded in cases where teachers could establish what happened, but because of federal privacy laws, school officials can't tell Bruce and Bridget what action, if any, was taken.

"So when a parent asks how another student was disciplined, the school cannot release that information unless the student's parents consent," said attorney Elizabeth Kaleva, who represents the Hellgate School District.

A short time ago, a kid called Pat on the phone and acted like he was high on marijuana. The next day at school, Pat did the same thing, acting high.

"He'll do anything kids tell him because he just wants to fit in," Bruce says.

Recently, other students taught Pat some coarse sexual language and suggested he repeat it to girls. Of course, he did it.

"He has no filters for social interaction," Bridget says. "He doesn't know how something will affect someone else."

The final act came a few weeks ago, when Pat's resource room teacher called to say that he had exposed himself at school.

That humiliating incident occurred after other kids repeatedly taunted him, teasing: "Pat has a vagina. Pat has a vagina."

That upset Pat badly, and he insisted the boys were lying. But the boys persisted. Prove it, they said.

So he did.

"Patrick was so upset, but like he often does, he put the blame on himself," Bridget said. "When we asked him what should happen, he said the principal should kick him out of school and make him go somewhere where there are other kids like him."

On the heels of that incident, Bruce and Bridget pulled Pat out of Hellgate Middle School.

Bridget wrote a letter to the students and asked that it be read to Pat's classmates.

The letter is hard-nosed and blunt, but it also thanks those kids who were friendly to Pat.

"For those of you who have been cruel to Patrick - and you know who you are - those who mimicked him, mocked or made fun of him, who told him to 'go away,' who intentionally excluded him from games, or who called him names like 'retard.' How do you live with yourselves? How do you look at yourself in the mirror or sleep at night? You should be ashamed."

Bridget and Bruce knew the letter was toughly worded, but they felt the sentiment was called for.

But the letter went unread. Kaleva said the school can't allow classrooms to become a forum for the pronouncements of parents.

Even so, the Fugleis were disappointed. They wanted the tough kids to know the pain they'd caused.

"They told us they couldn't do it, but they would try to find some way to address the fact that he left," Bruce said.

This coming week, a counselor at Hellgate Middle School will be making his way around the school talking to kids about bullying and respect.

Because of privacy laws, Hellgate Superintendent Doug Reisig can't say that the action is being taken in response to Pat Fuglei's problems.

But it is.

"The counselor will go out there and talk with all the kids about respect," Reisig said. "He will be meeting with all of them, because this issue of a child's physical and psychological safety is critical to what we do as a school. That really has to be our first job, to make sure this is a safe environment for kids to be in."

The Hellgate School District has a fully developed policy regarding bullying, hazing and physical violence. And violating the policy has consequences that could range from a simple meeting to expulsion.

"We try to discipline kids in a way that it's an educational experience, but we are very serious about this," Reisig said. "If we know something's going on, we are going to do something about it."

The problem is in the knowing. A middle-school playground can be something of an urban jungle. Yes, there are teachers watching kids as they play, but they don't hear everything that gets said.

"Things have to be brought to our attention," said Reisig. "Although we'd like to pick up on everything that's happening in school, it's not possible."

Even so, Bruce Fuglei thinks kids can be watched more closely.

"I know it's hard, but I think they have an obligation to make sure that kids aren't being harmed out there," Bruce said. "But I also understand the difficulty."

For the most part, the Fugleis are very appreciative of Hellgate. Their older daughter, now attending school at Tufts University in Boston, had a good experience there.

And Pat's time at Hellgate has been primarily positive.

"I can't really say enough good things about Pat's teachers at Hellgate," Bridget said. "They've really been good to him and they've been very good with us, as well."

The Fugleis also understand the complex dynamic that led to much of the unkindness directed at their son remaining undetected.

"Part of this is Pat and his need for friendship, we understand that," Bruce said. "This isn't a simple situation. Still, when you send your kids to school, you expect them not to be mistreated. The school has to protect them."

Without commenting specifically on Pat's case, Reisig is clearly moved by what happened.

"It hurts us when something bad happens," he said. "We deal with people and people make mistakes. If we know, we will move quickly to correct that mistake. It's our job to know, of course, but sometimes it's very difficult if people don't tell us what's happening."

Last Thursday, the Fugleis packed their Toyota Sequoia full to the roof.

Later in the day, Pat and his mother, accompanied by one of Bridget's sisters, headed for Scottsdale, Ariz.

There Pat will attend Gateway Academy, a small private school for kids with autism.

"I'm ready to go there," Pat says. "I'm ready. I have a lot of cousins in Phoenix. Six cousins. Yep. Six cousins."

They'll live with Bridget's mom and have the company of lots of family. Pat starts school at Gateway this week.

For the coming months, Pat's parents will live in separate states so that he can attend a school where he won't be bullied and mocked.

The Fugleis will pay extra for a private school while paying taxes for a school their son can no longer attend.

Because kids can be mean, Bruce will miss his boy coming home from school each day, and Pat will miss that same time with his dad.

"Who knows," Fuglei said. "Maybe this will work out for the best. Maybe this new school is the place Pat should have been all along. We hope that he'll get back to Missoula for high school, but we're just going to have to wait and see."

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