While attending a sixth grade back-to-school night, Bob Cornelius of Rockaway, New Jersey, snapped several pictures of his youngest son’s work in the classroom.
He didn’t notice the boy’s jarring words in response to an assignment until he got home and looked more closely at the photos.
In response to the line, “Some of my friends are …” his son, Christopher, had written on the sheet, “No one.”
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Cornelius said reading that was a lot like “a punch in the gut,” as ABC News reported. He never mentioned any concerns raised by his son’s teacher.
Christopher Cornelius, 11 years old, is on the autistic spectrum. In an effort to “start a conversation” among parents and educators, Cornelius posted his thoughts on Facebook.
His post has now been shared more than 43,800 times, and that number continues to rise.
Bob Cornelius initially referred to the story of Travis Rudolph, a Florida State University wide receiver, who sat down with an autistic boy, Bo, who was eating alone at the lunch table. After receiving a picture of the candid moment from a friend, Bo’s mother, Leah Paske, posted the picture to Facebook and thanked the “incredibly kind man.”
Paske explained that when she asked Bo who he ate lunch with on any given day, the answer was frequently, “nobody,” according to her Facebook post.
“This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes,” Paske wrote in her post.
- A mom shared a photo of Florida State Univ. wide receiver eating lunch with her son, who’d been eating alone (credit: ABC News).
Cornelius shared his personal thoughts on the story. “If that football player had not sat down next to that child, and if it hadn’t become a national news story, that kid would still be sitting by himself today,” he said in his Facebook post.
“Awareness and empathy are the only solutions I can come up with.”
Christopher Cornelius had a similar experience. Since his older brothers frequently had sleepovers, he asked his dad if he could have a friend sleep over as well.
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Bob Cornelius responded: “Sure, buddy. With whom?”
“As a response, he would flap his arms … instead of [answering],” Cornelius wrote. “He didn’t have an answer because he didn’t have a name.”
Parents and teachers have a responsibility to educate their children about kindness and an understanding of other’s differences, Cornelius explained in his post.
“[The children] were clearly not taught to embrace and accept the differences of others,” Cornelius wrote. “Not by their teachers, which would have been nice, had they thought to do so, but by their parents.”
Cornelius clarified that parents are not “bad parents” if they do not start this conversation, but he encouraged discussion between parents and children. He also stressed that he does not know the answer or have a solution — but asked two favors.
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“Share this post on your timeline,” Cornelius wrote. “Awareness and empathy are the only solutions I can come up with.”
Along with empathy, he explained earlier in his post that compassion and understanding are also necessary — from other children. So his second request was specifically directed at parents.
“Speak 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].”
His first request has been answered 44,096 times as of Sept. 24.
The second request is up to every father, every mother, and every guardian of a child.
But most importantly — every child should strive to understand and love those around him or her, despite differences.
Parents have the ability to shape the minds and manners of their children — and change the world, one friendship at a time.