Hi, guys! Welcome to 4K! You are so adorable in your Spider-Man backpacks and sparkly Elsa dresses! I just know that you are going to have an amazing year exploring your beautiful new school and expanding your brains.
This year marks the first year of 13 that you and many of your classmates will spend together at Williams Bay School. Many of you will make friendships that will last a lifetime while you’re at this school. I should know, my very best friends are people I met in grade school.
Growing up in a small town is an amazing thing. You get to know people. Like, really know them. You will come to know more about the people in your classroom than you know about some of your distant relatives. This is both a blessing and a curse.
You are too little to understand this right now, but you have so much power! Yes, you! You have the power to create a space in your 4K room that is filled with love and respect and acceptance. You have the power to embrace things that you do not understand. The power to see all of the wonderful things that make people unique and special. You have the power to expand not only your brains, but also your hearts. And then you have the power to go home and share your infinite wisdom with your family and your friends. Because even though you are only 4 years old, you have the power to love unconditionally.
This is something that gets harder as you grow up. We need brave kiddos like you to learn about unconditional love and to hold on to it. We need you to teach those in the world who have forgotten what it means to love without condition. To tolerate without reason. To believe without hesitation.
Do you see that little boy over there shaking with excitement? The one who did not answer you when you asked him his name? That is my son, Grayson. Grayson is the most wonderful little boy. He is filled with passion and love and energy. He loves space and throwing rocks and eating suckers. He may not look at you when you talk to him, but he hears you. He may not answer you when you question him, but he is screaming the answer on the inside. He may not join in your group play, but, oh boy, does he want to.
You see, my son, Grayson, is a little different from you and me. Not bad. Not better. Or worse. Not weird or naughty. Not shy or reserved. Just different. Grayson has autism spectrum disorder. I know, lots of big words! Let’s call it ASD. And sometimes, Grayson will act different from you. Sometimes, you may not understand why. And that’s OK! Grayson is just being Grayson! Silly, wonderful, loving Grayson.
Can I ask you a favor? Ask him his name again. This time a little slower. Look at Grayson’s eyes and wait for him to look in yours. Invite him to come and play with you. Understand that sometimes he will say “no.” Remember that he is not mad at you. Know that he still wants to be your friend. He probably just needs a break.
Sometimes Grayson gets wiggly. Do you know what it feels like to get wiggly? Have you ever had to sit still in the car for a very long time? And right at the end you begin to lose patience and you get really excited to get out of the car? Well, that’s how Grayson feels a lot of the time. He is wiggly and just needs a break. And sometimes when he is wiggly, he does things he doesn’t mean to do. He may knock over your toy or push you away. Grayson is so sorry when he does those things. Sometimes his wiggly body just has little bursts that cause him to be wiggly with his hands.
Can I ask another favor? (I know, I’m sure going to owe you for all of these favors!) If Grayson gets wiggly and does something you don’t like, take a big deep breath, softly tell him you are done playing and walk away. When Grayson is done being wiggly, he will come find you to say that he is sorry. I know! It’s really hard to walk about when someone makes you mad. But Grayson is different, and sometimes we can help people who are different by understanding and giving them space.
I never want you to get hurt! So if you don’t feel safe, please tell your teacher in a soft and calm voice. The teacher will make sure you are safe, and she will help Grayson with his wiggles! Sometimes when kids try to help Grayson on their own, it makes him more wiggly.
Being a kiddo is no easy task! Adults ask you to be brave and smart and courageous all of the time. Sometimes, they ask you to do things that they cannot do themselves. You are asked to share your toys and use your manners. You say “please” and “thank you.” And each day you get a little bit older. You become a little more of the grown-up you will one day be. And sometimes, as kids get older, they forget how easy it is to treat people — even people who are different — with love and respect and acceptance.
I know I have asked a lot of you today! And I promise to bring in some really yummy treats to say thank you for all of these favors! But for now I will give you the only gift I can give: my deepest thanks for accepting my son Grayson. It will be very hard for me to send him to school with you each day. I will worry about him every minute I am not with him. I will fret over the things I cannot control. I will overthink the things I can control. I will fear that my message did not reach you. I will pray that it did. I will give you the gift of my thanks. And I will give you the gift of my son.
I know in my heart that, this year, Grayson will teach you — just like he has taught me over the past four years. He will teach you about patience. He will teach you about persistence and endurance. He will teach you about being different. About accepting difference. And despite his difference, he will teach you how to love him. How to be his friend. How to embrace all of the wonderfully different things about him. And about you.
Kids, you have so much power! In all of your 4-year-old glory, you can help me with one more simple task: You can help me change the world! Let’s make this world a safer, better, more tolerant place for kiddos like my Grayson. Let’s do it together!
Follow this journey on Pieces of Love. A version of this post appeared on The Huffington Post.