"Never have five letters cut so deep, and they weren't even directed at me," Bob Cornelius wrote about a school project by his 11-year-old son Christopher, who is on the autism spectrum.
The New Jersey dad attended Christopher's back-to-school night and took a photo of the project. He didn't fully read what his son wrote until he got home. That's when he noticed that one of the answers was so heartbreaking he had to do something about it.
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Among a list of prompts that asked about his favorite food, sport, TV show and song was the beginning of the sentence "Some of my friends are ..." Christopher filled in, "no one."
Until this moment, Cornelius didn't know how aware Christopher was of this divide and exclusion among his peers.
"I should not have been surprised as he makes his wants (but not his emotional needs) very clear ... but I was. Mostly, I suppose, because I had never seen him put it down on paper," Cornelius wrote in a viral Facebook post. "But for the first time, it was staring at me in the face."
Even though he can't say it, he wants to be included.
The dad praised other acts of kindness toward kids with special needs, for example when Florida State football player Travis Rudoph sat down with a sixth-grader who was eating alone, not knowing the student was also on the autism spectrum. Stories like this are unusual, however. Sadly, they're anything but the norm.
"We are not used to hearing about kids being kind to those that are different and unique. I would love to see us get to the point where this sort of behavior is the norm, not the newsworthy exception," Cornelius wrote.
In his heartfelt post (that we couldn't get through without tearing up!), Cornelius called for two main things. The first is to share his post to spread awareness and empathy. The second is to speak to your children and make them more aware of how significant it can be to include kids who aren't always like them.
"I am not so naive that I think this post is going to change the world. But, if, by sharing this, I can make you think about having a conversation with your children about empathy, about going out of their way to include those that are different from everybody else, especially if it goes against the group mentality, especially if it's not socially popular (I'm not so old that I don't remember that this takes bravery ... bravery to break from the confines of what your friends think is cool in the middle and high school worlds), then I will feel like Christopher's voice has been heard," Cornelius concludes. "Because even though he can't say it, he wants to be included."