From the backseat Corbin’s voice rose, “Mom, when soccer is done will you please sign me up for karate classes?”
We had been talking about doing so for a while so I replied, “Yes, I told you we would look into it after soccer.”
A moment of hesitation and his voice rose again. “I really need to know karate Mom.” Pause. “For the big kids on the playground who make fun of Brian.”
I tried to keep the van on the road as I quickly went through the emotions of surprised, shocked, sad, and angry.
After I had myself in check I calmly asked him to explain what the kids were saying and why they were saying it.
Corbin went on to tell me that he likes to tell people about autism. He said, “I want Brian’s autism to be gone Mom, I really do. But autism is also cool sometimes. It’s hard to understand so I want the other kids to know about it.” A month or so ago I told Corbin that people’s hate usually stems from ignorance and I think the kid took it to heart and wants to educate the world.
I told him I completely agreed and that Brian’s autism has taught both of us a lot of things and made us really great people because we are tolerant of differences and we even embrace differences. I told him that sometimes autism made for really fun things for us to do like jumping on couches, having a swing in our kitchen, and going to really fun ASM retreats.
He told me that the kids he’s been growing up with since Kindergarten seem to really like to hear about it, but the bigger boys on the playground repeatedly say things like “Autism is stupid”, “Brian can’t talk because he is dumb”, and even remarks such as “Brian has to have cold lunch every day because he is stupid.” (Really guys? Cold lunch means he’s stupid? Really grasping for some straws there.)
Why are people so mean? I was going to ask why are kids so mean? But it’s not just kids. Kids learn it from their parents, other significant adults, and of course media. It broke my heart for Brian and for the challenges I’m sure he’s going to continue to face as he grows older. However, I think it broke my heart even more for Corbin who is such an amazing older brother that just wants to educate the playground. He is proud of his brother and he is proud about his own knowledge about autism and to have a “bigger boy” or group of them to challenge it right to your face and call your little brother “stupid” is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for me, how does it feel to my 8-year-old son?
Every year I’ve done a small awareness project for Brian’s classmates. Sometimes I talk to them a little bit about it and sometimes I just send home kid-friendly brochures on autism. I think it might be time for a school-wide awareness project especially since this school is housing “The Autism Program” in our district (whole other joke- believe me, we’re still heavily working on that one).
I need to take my own advice and hope that knowledge will eradicate ignorance and bullying and just plain mean spirits. And I think Corbin is going to be my co-partner on this one- he clearly knows what he is doing. Absolutely love that kid.
Oh and the conversation on karate and how it can’t be used on bullies will have to take place on another day when I am over feeling immensely proud of my son for talking about autism on the playground.