The little girl probably should have written down “my toys.”
Or “my dog.”
Or, at the very least, “my parents.”
But no. When asked to write down what she is thankful for this year, one of the little girls in my son Max’s class wrote down, “Max.”
Two weeks ago, when my wife and I went in for our third grade son’s parent-teacher conference, we learned that a little girl in his class had — out of all the things in the world she could have written down that she was thankful for — chosen to write down our son’s name.
“All of the kids love him,” Max’s teacher told us. “They all look after him.”
She told us about a field trip the class took to the fire station. Each child in the class had a “buddy” they were to walk with on the way. At one point when they were getting ready to cross the street, the teacher told the to make sure they stayed close to one another.
Max’s buddy for the day threw his arm around Max’s shoulder and kept it there until they had safely crossed the street.
One week later, Max came out of school wearing a yarn bracelet around his wrist. When I asked him where it came from, he told me one of his classmates had made it for him. When I asked if she had given a bracelet to every kid in the class, one of Max’s other classmates let me know that Max was the only one to receive such a token.
As we walked out to the parking lot, the little girl who had given me the back story behind Max’s friendship bracelet pulled a picture she had drawn out of her backpack and handed it to my son.
All three of these gestures are particularly significant to me because my son Max is autistic. As a result of his autism, social interaction doesn’t come easily for our son. His actions are sometimes hard for others to understand. He isn’t always able to effectively communicate his thoughts and feelings in a traditional manner.
When we sent him off to school for the first time, our biggest fear was never whether our son would learn to read and write — he’s an extremely intelligent boy, even if he sometimes has to learn in a non-traditional way — and we knew he’d be able to keep up with the school work.
No, our biggest fear would be how he was accepted — or, we feared, not accepted — by his classmates.
In the six years Max has been going to school (including preschool) we’ve learned just how much we underestimated the kids with whom our son was going to school. Not only have there been little to no problems with Max’s interactions with his classmates, but they continue to astound us with just how accepting and caring kids truly can be.
Obviously, much of the credit for this goes to Max’s teachers and the other staff members at Sun, Moon & Stars Preschool and Heywood Elementary School who have gone out of the way to make a safe environment for Max. Much of the credit also should go to the parents of these children who obviously are raising them right.
Ultimately, however, most of the credit should go to the children themselves. They are the ones who have embraced our son, regardless of what differences he may have.
You know, in a world in which none of the adults can quite seem to figure out how to get along with another of late, perhaps we should turn to the children to lead us.
I can’t watch the news or even talk to other adults much these days without hearing some sort of hatred for one another spewing forth. When I talk to kids, do you know what I’ve found they hate? Brussels sprouts and naps.
You know what I’m thankful for this year? All the children who have shown my son compassion, while at the same time showing me there’s still hope for our future.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong