NJ dad’s plea for parents after reading son’s heartbreaking school assignment
ROCKAWAY — A New Jersey dad is asking parents everywhere to speak to their children about being kind to their peers after his son revealed in a school assignment that he has no friends.
Bob Cornelius, whose 11-year-old son Christopher is on the autism spectrum, made the plea Monday in a Facebook post that has since gone viral. By Friday, it had been shared 24,000 times and was featured on CBS News and ABC's "Good Morning America."
The one-sheet school assignment asked students to answer questions like naming their family members and what they wanted to be when they grow up. When asked to name his friends, Christopher answers: "No one."
"Never have five letters cut so deep, and they weren't even directed at me," his dad wrote in the post with a picture of the assignment. "It was just an overly simplistic statement that spoke volumes."
Cornelius said he was aware that his son didn't have many friends.
Christopher's brothers have had many, many sleepovers over the years, obviously in front of him, and it has not gone unnoticed.
"Can I have sleepover?" Christopher has asked.
"Sure, buddy....with whom?" As a response, he would flap his arms and stim instead of answeting. 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.
And because he's had no friends....there was no one to invite.
But Cornelius never thought about his son being aware of that lack of friendship.
"Like I said, there's no easy answer for this...at the end of the day it comes down to compassion, empathy and understanding," he says.
"But mostly empathy. Not from you guys, but from your children. As far as I know, (save for one time), Christopher's classmates have never been overtly cruel to him. What they have done, however, is to exclude him."
Cornelius wants other parents to "have a conversation" with their 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."
A report earlier this year found that the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise in New Jersey, which already has the nation's highest rate.
One out of 68 children nationwide is diagnosed with autism, but in New Jersey it’s one out of 41, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental disability that can affect how people, starting in early childhood, communicate, behave, learn and interact with others or their environments.
It can cost families $1.4 to $2.5 million to raise a child affected by autism, according to the Center for Special Needs at the American College.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.