A father’s tear-jerking Facebook post is urging parents to teach their kids empathy, for the sake of the author’s son.
On Monday, Bob Cornelius posted a photo of a questionnaire his 11-year-old son Christopher had filled out at school. Christopher, who has autism, answered some basic questions about his favorite food (pizza), favorite sport (soccer) and his dream job (teacher).
When asked to list some of his friends, however, Christopher gave a heartbreaking response: “No one.”
”Never have five letters cut so deep, and they weren’t even directed at me,” Cornelius wrote in the photo caption of his post.
The New Jersey dad went on to explain that Christopher has never really had a friend. When his older brothers hosted sleepovers at their house through the year, Christopher often asked if he could do the same. However, he never had anyone to invite.
Cornelius said that he doesn’t blame the kids themselves for not befriending his son. “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 wrote.
“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,” he continued.
He says it probably wouldn’t have occurred to him either, if it weren’t for Christopher’s developmental delays.
Cornelius wrote in his post that Christopher is a smart kid with a wonderful sense of humor who sometimes flaps his arms and makes loud guttural sounds, and sometimes asks the same questions over and over again.
“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,” the dad said.
Addressing readers directly, Cornelius urged his fellow parents to teach their children empathy.
“As far as I know, (save for one time), Christopher’s classmates have never been overtly cruel to him,” he wrote. “What they have done, however, is to exclude him. And frankly, I understand this … because Christopher cannot engage them in a typical way, he gets left behind…excluded.”
He issue the following plea to help his son:
“The only solution I can come up with is to share this with you and ask that you 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.
I 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 poplar (I’m not so old that I don’t remember that this takes bravery, socially, in the middle and high school world), then I will feel like Christopher’s voice has been heard.”
Cornelius concluded his post by looking forward to the day that a child reaches out to Christopher and includes him.
“That child will be Christopher’s first true friend,” he wrote.
The powerful Facebook post has been shared over 23,000 times, bringing readers to tears and prompting action. Kansas City radio host Dana Wright organized a campaign to send cards to Christopher. On Thursday, Cornelius posted a videofrom two children offering to be his son’s friends.
But ultimately, this dad’s message has the power to impact more people than just Christopher. If you teach your kids to be compassionate and inclusive, they may touch countless lives.