When Bob Cornelius went to his youngest son's back-to-school night, he stopped to admire their projects displayed on the wall. He spotted his little boy's assignment and hurriedly snapped a proud photo of the completed questionnaire.
However, when Bob took a second look at the image later that night, he realized something heartbreaking. Along with filling out his favorite food and sport, Christopher matter-of-factly answered who some of his friends are: "No one."
"Never have five letters cut so deep, and they weren't even directed at me . . . it was just an overly simplistic statement that spoke volumes," Bob wrote on Facebook. "And I don't have a solution. I don't have an answer. The reality is that I have to rely on the compassion of others to be incredibly understanding in order just to sit next to him, attempt to engage him, and make him feel included."
While Bob has realized that his 11-year-old doesn't have many friends, especially when his lack of pals is starkly contrasted with his older brothers' numerous sleepovers, Bob didn't know that Christopher understood this difference. While he doesn't blame his son's classmates for leaving him out, he is still devastated by the fact that his son doesn't have a friend and has never had a friend, and he is absolutely aware of this divide.
"And it's not their fault . . . that's the saddest part. They were clearly not taught to embrace and accept the differences of others. Not by their teachers, which would have been nice, had they thought to do so, but by their parents. I don't mean to imply that parents that don't have this conversation with their kids are bad people, but only that somewhere in between working, soccer practice, and homework, it never occurred to them to have this particular conversation. I'm sure that if Christopher were typical (that's the word we use instead of 'normal'… ), I would not have had this conversation with him either."
It's now clear to Christopher's dad that even if he can't say it, he desperately wants to be included, and while this little boy works to find his voice, his dad has one important request for all parents: have a conversation with your kids.
"Please tell them that children with special needs understand far more than we give them credit for. They notice when others exclude them. They notice when they are teased behind their back (a lot of times 'behind their back' is right in front of them because they think the 'different' child doesn't understand). But mostly they are very much in tune when they are treated differently from everyone else. Trust me when I tell you this hurts them. Even if it's not obvious to you and me."