In the Spring of 2008, Alex Barton was a Kindergarten student in South Florida who was voted out of his classroom by his peers because he was “disgusting” and “annoying”. The five (and six) year-olds voted 14-2 to kick him out, Survivor style, then told him one by one why they didn’t like him. Where was his teacher? Wendy Portillo was present, in fact, she orchestrated the whole exercise in cruelty.
Alex Barton has Autism. Although that doesn’t make the act any more or less reprehensible to me. The fact that this happened in 2008 in America doesn’t shock me as much as I would like for it to. The thing is, I’m sure that some of Alex’s behaviors were/are annoying, disruptive, and maybe even “disgusting”. But, I’m also certain that he is beautiful, endearing, and miraculous – because he is a child – and all children are extraordinary.
This whole thing with Alex went down around the time that we moved to North Carolina (from Florida), and Peter was diagnosed with Autism. I suppose it resonated with me more than usual because of the timeliness of the story, but also because Alex is “Everybody’s Boy”.
I fear many things for my child. I fear he might not be able to live independently, or that he may never get married or hold a job. I fear that he might never be a father or never know the joy of having a best friend.
My biggest fear, however, is that he might be unhappy.
Every Mommy has this fear; for some of us, though, it’s just a tad more warranted than for others. Ultimately, our primary desire for our children is happiness.
When I lie with Peter at night as he prepares to sleep and we play and giggle and talk about his day my heart bursts with “Mommy Pride”. I think this little person is amazing. This child is full of life and love and…PROMISE. In the dark, with his gentle breathes and “Moonshadow” as a lull-a-bye, I silently pray.
Dear God, please let the world see in my child what I see. Please let them be kind. Please don’t let them hurt him. Please don’t let him suffer because of the ignorance of others.
Please, don’t let Peter be persecuted and demeaned like sweet Alex. Please let his teachers and his therapists and the other children love him and cherish his quirks and be patient with him.
Because I can handle him not getting married, or not having a career, or even children of his own. But I can’t…I can’t live with myself knowing that my child is ostracized by society because he is unique. It will kill me.
To think that Alex’s parents had the same fear and that it was realized is numbing. To read that nearly a year and a half later he is flourishing in a new school was heart-warming. At least until, I read the venomous comments posted in response to that same story.
I feel sick and disheartened on behalf of all of the Alexs’. I think of sweet Alex’s Mommy and Daddy and how much pain they must feel to read those hateful words – and how they must be reliving that Spring day of 2008 all over again – and I feel grateful that my “Everybody’s Boy” has teachers and peers that accept him (so far).
There is still so much work to be done.