I remember only bits and pieces of grade school. I have a vague memory of riding the school bus with a boy who was very overweight. I don't remember his name. On the ride home when we got to his stop, he would stand up to exit the bus and that is when the chorus would begin. BOOM-BA! BOOM-BA! BOOM-BA! He had to run down a long hill to reach his house and the chorus of voices that yelled out the windows certainly followed his ears the whole way down.
And I think of this young boy with his young boy heart and his young boy soul, and his Mom whose heart surely must have ached as she welcomed her crushed boy through the front door. I honestly don't remember if I BOOM-BA'D, but I probably did. I wore a back brace for scoliosis and frequently went through periods of time where I didn't have any friends. I was probably relieved it wasn't me they were teasing.
I know for certain one thing I did not do. I did not stick up for this boy. I did not tell everyone to SHUT UP or sit down. I did not do a single thing to show him he mattered in the world. I was silent.
Martin Luther King said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
It's been 30 years and I still regret my silence. I'm a different person today. One that speaks up, even if it feels uncomfortable. I didn't even think of this story of the boy on the bus until I thought about what the future may look like for my son, Greyson. I am unable to go back in time and change my actions, but I can help change the world for our future.
First, the letter Glennon Melton wrote to her son, Chase,. about how her classmates treated a boy named Adam when she was in school should be required reading for every human in the world. Her words touched every little bit of me when I first read them. But they touched me because I am raising an Adam, a boy who is different, not a Chase.
That's why the words I thought I would share with my own children at the beginning of every school year changed into a message that I so desperately hope to share with your children instead.
I won't tell you to make sure to raise a kind and empathetic little human. Of course you are all doing that. But I want to be able to say it on the playground, My son has autism, and not feel weird and make others feel weird too. I want people to see a non-verbal child or a screaming meltdown or a child with their hands flapping and recognize all these things as signs of autism. Although I think autism is a bad and scary disorder, I don't want it to be a bad and scary term. I want us to be comfortable using it like we would any medical condition.
That's where truth and change for our future lies. Will you help me?
Will you hold my hand and remind me I'm not alone in this fight? I would be so honored.
Here are some words I hope you will share with your littles...
This is my son, Greyson.
He is my whole world. He loves running outside, playing in the pool, swinging and playing with cars. In many ways I bet you and Greyson are a lot alike. Greyson has grown my heart a million times bigger, just like you did for your Mom and Dad.
Greyson has autism, which we sometimes call Super Powers because it sounds cooler, and Greyson's a pretty cool little dude. Like asthma or food allergies or diabetes, autism is something that Greyson was born with that makes him different on the inside. Don't worry, you can't catch it.
Your school classroom is filled with all different kinds of amazing and awesome kids. Some kids, like Greyson, are different on the inside. Some kids are different on the outside. They may wear glasses or braces or use a wheelchair to get around. Our differences make the world beautiful. Life would be so boring if we all looked exactly the same and talked exactly the same and were good at exactly the same things.
You may have a boy or girl like Greyson in your classroom this year too.
Having autism makes it very hard for Greyson to talk and to play with other kids, things that you and I learned to do naturally. Sometimes, it seems like Greyson is being bad or mean. He often doesn't share toys. He has trouble following directions. He sometimes screams when he gets frustrated. Greyson usually plays by himself. You may say hello to Greyson, and he may not answer you or even look up. Those are all things that we try to help Greyson learn to do every single day. He works really hard at it, but it just doesn't come easy to him. Every time you interact with Greyson, you are helping to teach him too.
It takes Greyson much longer to learn new things. Simple things that you may learn in an hour or a day can take Greyson weeks or even months. Just like there are complicated things that you have had to do over over again before you could learn. Like riding a bike, doing long division or tying your shoes.
I remember being a kid. Fitting in and finding friends is hard work. It's hard to always make the right choices. Being kind is always the right choice, I promise. I know your parents teach you all about being kind to others.
I have one more very important favor to ask of you. Can you help me? Even if he doesn't respond at first, say hi to Greyson and kids like him. Ask them to play with you. Help them if you see them struggling. Please don't let them eat by themselves or play alone. Practice being patient when something takes them twice as long. If you see others making fun of Greyson, or any child like Greyson, please speak up. Ask them to stop, or tell your teacher or parents. That is not being a snitch, that is helping someone who can't help themselves.
Sometimes, it is easier to stay quiet, but I promise you, if you speak up, you are doing a brave and good thing. You will feel proud of yourself. You will also make me so happy and so proud too. It's not okay to make fun of anyone for being different. At one time or another in your life, you will be in a situation in which you are the one that is different and I want you to know that it is OK, too. No one is allowed to make fun of you, either. You are amazing just the way you are. Just like Greyson.
School is a great place to learn about Math and History and English and Science. It's also a great place to learn how awesome it is to celebrate our differences, to learn how to do the right thing and to learn how to help others. Those are skills you will use for the rest of your life.
I'm trying to change the world for my son Greyson and for all kids with Super Powers. I can't do it without your help, though. Will you help me? If you have any questions feel free to ask your parents or teachers or me.
Thank you. All it takes is two eyes at a time to change the world. I could never do this without you.
Come say HEY on Facebook. Operators will be standing by.