My story of kindness is unique in that it involves many people and takes place over many years. It’s the story of a student of mine who I have seen grow into a fine young gentleman because of the kindness of others.
I first met Tony when he was five years old. He was enrolled as a kindergarten student in my special education classroom. His preschool teacher had already contacted me before his arrival and told me a lot about him. I knew that he was classified under a pervasive developmental disorder which meant that he showed a lot of characteristics typical of Autism. She shared with me all of his unique traits like how he often hid action figures in his pants, spoke by quoting movie lines and had a real aversion to anything academic. They really didn’t know what he was capable of because he hadn’t produced much up to that point. That would soon change.
Soon after his arrival, Tony and I began to understand each other. We had an action figure check every morning. That problem didn’t last very long! I won’t lie, I loved his way of communicating. He was very talented in the art of impression. The incredible part was that his movie quotes always fit whatever the circumstance was when he said it! One of my favorites was when I gave him some math work to do that he really didn’t want to do. When I handed it to him he said, “PREPARE TO DIE PETER PAN!” in a Dustin Hoffman/Captain Hook voice. Priceless, indeed!
The year progressed and I began to realize that there was so much more going on in Tony’s head than anyone realized. I knew that my self-contained classroom wasn’t the place for him. Academically and socially, he needed to be in the regular classroom. This is where the acts of kindness began in this boy’s life. There aren’t many teachers who will take on a student like Tony, but I worked with amazing people. From first through fifth grade, we were able to pair him with a teacher who showed him the kindness and understanding he needed to progress academically and socially. Each year was more amazing than the next, and every year I kept telling my colleagues, “This is the way the system is supposed to work. Tony is our student to set the bar to.” By the time he reached the end of his 5th grade year, he was doing well academically, and movie quotes were ways of entertaining others instead of communicating with them. He still had a ways to go socially though. He often spent his time at recess alone. That was one hurdle we hadn’t been able to overcome during his time with us.
Tony left my school and went to middle school for grades 6-8. I wish I could say that he did just as well there, but he didn’t. Those pre-teen years are so cruel, and with Tony there wasn’t an exception. I received many calls from his parents during those years and wished I could be there with him. The one thing I am grateful for is that it didn’t break him. He was academically strong enough to enroll in a private school that his parents had dreamed he would be able to attend one day. They were overjoyed.
High school is the place where one would figure that he would have the most trouble fitting in. He left elementary school still playing alone at recess, and middle school had been very unkind to him. Amazingly though, this is the place where Tony found the most kindness in his life. He had always been a child who responded to physical touch. Very un-autism spectrum like for the most part. Somewhere along the line he became the “hugs guy”. Need a hug? Go to Tony! That blossomed into him carrying a “FREE HUGS” sign at lunch. The end result was that he ended up getting to know many students in his school and he was very well liked. It was amazing.
It’s so beautiful that all of these young people, knowing that Tony struggles socially, took him under their collective wings, accepted him, gave him a purpose and made him feel at home. I can’t think of anything kinder for one teenager to do for another during those high school years. Social life is EVERYTHING and they gave it to the one person who was at odds not to succeed in this area. Their kindness didn’t stop there though. In the spring of his senior year, they crowned Tony and girlfriend Prom King and Queen. They even let him keep the crown.
I was motivated to write this long-range story of kindness because his story still hasn’t ended. Two years after graduation, one of his classmates started a fan club for him on Facebook. Through word of mouth and invites, he has over 150 fans and an official t-shirt for club members. I’m a proud club member myself. Tony is now in his second year of college and doing well. You can find him on Mondays between classes holding up a “FREE HUGS” sign in the commons area of his campus. I have no doubt that he is making new friends, using his social skills and inspiring future acts of kindness.
A lifetime of kindness raised this child, so he will have a lifetime of kindness to give. – Anonymous 😛