Bob Cornelius shares the social struggles of his son who has autism in heartbreaking post
No parent wants to imagine their child being left out, especially once they’re old enough to understand what’s happening. It’s that terrible heartbreak that one dad wrote of so eloquently in a now-viral Facebook post explaining how his son on the autism spectrum has had trouble making friends.
It was while attending a back-to-school night for his children that Bob Cornelius saw something that would break any parent’s heart.
Cornelius explains that his son Christopher is on the autism spectrum. He saw pictures on the wall of his classroom that each child filled out containing their favorites — food, sports, TV shows and what they want to be when they grow up. But one answer in particular was very difficult to read. When prompted to name some of his friends, Christopher wrote “no one.”
Of course, it hit Cornelius hard and he realized that Christopher understood a lot more than he thought about his own social standing. He also laments how children like his son being treated kindly is some kind of viral event rather than an everyday thing, noting the recent story of an FSU football player sitting with a boy who has autism in the cafeteria.
He writes, “The follow up to that story was that the boy no longer ate alone; that the other kids NOW were sitting with him and patting him on the back. That boy now had “friends”, and everything was right with the world.” But he wonders, “Where were those kids prior to this child being thrust into the spotlight? We know where they were: they’re in the picture: sitting at other tables, ignoring him.”
If that story hadn’t surfaced, that little boy would probably still be eating by himself, just like Christopher and so many other kids with special needs. And it’s not that Cornelius blames the other children. He acknowledges it’s not their fault. Someone dropped the ball. Actually, multiple someones. “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.”
He says he doesn’t mean to suggest these parents are bad people, just that it never occurred to them among all the other things we do with our kids to have this conversation about making a point to include the kids who aren’t just like them. He acknowledges that he might not have thought to do it either, if Christopher were a typical child.
Cornelius says his son has asked before to have sleepovers, just like his brothers, where he could invite friends. His father would ask who to invite, and Christopher would “flap his arms and stim instead of answering. He didn’t have an answer because he didn’t have a name.”
“Because he didn’t have a friend.
He’s never had a friend.
He just turned eleven.”
Cornelius says he has no solution. Only that he has 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.” He acknowledges that if a person isn’t familiar with his son’s stimming behaviors that it’s “normal to feel embarrassed,” but at the end of the day, this father is hoping for others to have compassion and understanding. So his son won’t have to be alone at school anymore.
He writes that until he saw his son’s worksheet hanging in the classroom, he didn’t realize how much Christopher understood about the “divide” between him and his peers socially. He then explains why he decided to tell this story in the first place. “I guess I’m sharing this because when asked to list his friends he wrote “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.”
Cornelius knows now that his son desperately wants to be included among his schoolmates and he asks Facebook readers to not only share the post, but to talk with their kids about how to befriend children like Christopher. “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.”
Happily, Facebook complied and Cornelius updated his post to let everyone know that his son is receiving cards and care packages as the result of their story going viral. If you would like to send him something, his address is: Christopher Cornelius, 96 Valley View Drive, Rockaway NJ 07866.
Because as his father writes, he might not be able to say it, but Christopher wants to be included. He needs to find his voice, and he needs a friend to help him do that. “And the child that will finally reach out to him, that will help him, that will include him, will be the kindest child, the child that does the right thing by going above and beyond.”
“He will be Charlie Bucket. And that child will be Christopher’s first true friend.”