The story continues, and it just gets more magical.
In the days that followed my meeting with Bud's classmates, every afternoon yielded a new surprise as I unpacked Bud's backpack and unearthed the treasures inside. One day, it was a tube of paper that unfurled into a long purple-based splatter-paint mural that Kallyn, Laurie, Lily, Nora, and Jennifer had made for Bud. Another day, there was a letter to me from The Amazing Platypus, who wrote, "Thank you for coming to our class and helping me understand Bud and how to be a better friend... If Bud hadn't been in my class I would still be viewing him completly differently." (He also thanked me for the blog name.)
Another day, there was a stack of photographs from Pajama Day, which featured Bud in the center of a circle of friends, all of them sprawled on the floor watching a movie at a "slumber party" at school. Another day, there was a picture that Noelle had drawn for Bud. Another day, one from Nora. Another day, Bud came home with a Zoboomafoo video tape that Sean had found at home. Sean didn't watch it anymore, so he brought it in for Bud, who, Sean knew, is a big fan of Zoboo.
That night, Bud wrote Sean a thank you note, letting him know how much he liked the video, and he brought it into school the next day. That afternoon, I got an e-mail from Ms. Walters., who wrote: "Sean was SO pleased to get a note from Bud today - He read it, and turned around and said "Thanks, Bud - you did a great job! I'm glad you like it!" And then Sean turned to me and asked,"Can I keep this?" I smiled, ruffled his hair, and said, "It belongs to you, of course you can keep it!" "COOL!" he shouted, and ran for his backpack to tuck it away, and as he came back to his desk with a huge grin he looked up and said, "That is SO awesome!"
In the same e-mail, Ms. Walker told me that she was sending me a stack of "quick writes" that the children had done in class. She explained that the class was continuing to read the book that started it all: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and that they'd gotten to a section in which an adult said about Joey, the boy with ADHD, "They shouldn't let messed up kids go to school with regular kids!!" Ms. Walker wrote, "There was an audible collective Gasp! as I read that line. They were simply stunned into silence. I told them we'd revisit how they were feeling the next day and the writing is the result."
That afternoon, I opened Bud's backpack to find a stack of "quick writes" that the children had done in response to the writing prompt:
"In Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Maria's dad is angry and yells, "They shouldn't let messed-up kids go to school with regular kids!" What do you think of this? Why? Include some examples from your own life/experiences at home and at school."
The children's responses were beautiful, creative, and heartfelt. Some were written as letters to Maria's dad. Others were written in Joey's voice. Others were just raw, genuine reactions. And they took my breath away.
"Mr. Dumbrowski... Sometimes kids like Joey can't control themselves at times... I have a kid like Joey in my class and his name is Bud at times he can't control him self. But hes an asowme kid... You know the old saying don't judge a book by its cover. Well, Joey's the book and your judging him by his cover. So think before you say."
"At my school there is different kids to but we all learn to get along together. In my class we have a chiled with autism and to get to understand him better his mom came in to tell us more about him. We can learn to work together with different poeple. We can also learn to exeped people with autism and with disabililetys. We can learn to treat each other fairly. We are lucky as a class to have a kid with autism because we can learn how children with autism learn, play, speek, and think."
"We are all people and we are all diffrant. So I don't think anyone should get look down at because thay are diffrant. I think any class with someone who is diffrant is realy lucky... I have a kid in my class named Bud he is diffrent but I whould never look down at him because he is diffrent. but he isn't realy diffrant he is still human to. he still learned all the same stuff just a little diffrent."
"Dear Mr. Dumbrowski, I think this is very mean to yell at kids... We have kids at our school that have autism. We are so lucky as a class because we have a kid that is different from us but we treat him like us... Autism is not something to yell at anyone for having. When someone is born with autism there is know way they are going to lose it."
"Dear Mr. Dumbrowski, I think your wrong in so many ways Because I have a Boy in my class whith autism and he isnt messed up he's Just different and so is Joey... So next time you say that think of what I said."
"I think Maria's dad should not of said that... I have had a lot of experience with a Diffrent kid in my class named Bud. He has autism, but I have had a great experience and I love being in his class... I really think Maria's dad should have a experience with a diffrent kind of kids and he might change his mind, but he should not of said that and it really made me mad because it dose not matter what he looks like or How diffrent He is we are all together in one world and no matter what happens we are all the same in some way."
"I think he is wrong because someone in our class has dissabilitys, And nobody minds. I think Maria's dad is messed up! This guy should go to jail!... I believe that just because you've got autism or any other dissability doesn't mean he or she has something wrong with him."
"When Ms. Walker read that line It really shocked me. I realy don't like Mr. Dumbrowski for saying that. (My heart sangk.) I thingk are class is lucky. Because people like Bud is abel to partisapat in every speshil and learn the same thing as us but in a different way."
"I think Marias dad has mest up thinking. Every one shoud be abal to go to school... My school has lots of kids how are difrint. But every one should have a chance... I think it is good that all kids can go to school, lern, and try to make friends. experiences can be magnifasint and exstrodany and speshal and learn things about each other."
"I have a kid in my class who has autism and he is still a supper good speller and is a cool kid to have in my class... P.S. Mr. Dumbrowski you stink."
"Joey is not messed up, he is just differant and everybody is differant in their own special way. Having kids in your class or world are fun, hard, and exciting, you can learn a lot by how others learn. It is very enteresting if you can just listed to them and you can learn a bunch like I did when a kid in my class whose name is Bud he has autism and every day I learn new things."
"Life with different kids can be hard, easy, and very fun. Theirs a kid with autism in my class, and he is very nice... It's good for him to be in classes with normal people because everyday we learn new things, And so does he. He is funny, fun, nice, and very smart... We are lucky as a class because he teaches us new things everyday. He always makes us laugh and tells us funny jokes and gives us high fives all the time. He is very fun to have around. He is a very good friend too."
"Dear Mr. Dumbrowski, I think you should go to angre manigment because you were harsh on me and I don't realy like that. OK! I'm not trieing to be mean like you were to me. Sinserely, Joey Pigsu."
"Dear Mr. Dumbrowski, I think that kids who have a disabielaty should go to school with kids that don't have a disabeilety... I like having different kids in the classroom. Its nice to learn about how somebody else might learn."
The Amazing Platypus wrote:
"What I think about this is that he is wrong because everybody deserves to show what they can do even if they are different... I have a autistic kid in my class he doesn't do stuff like us but he does math language and other stuff but at a different level... Are you messed up Mr. Dumbrowski?"
"Just because people are different doesn't make them "messed up." I think this because I go to school with "different" people and it doesn't affect anything with anyone else in my school. School isn't just about Reading, Science, or Writing. It's about getting everyone what they need so that they can learn. It is an honor to have autistic people in your class because you can really learn from them."
"Dear Mr. Dumbrowski, I think your not nice. Kids should have a chance and... can I get back to you on that? Kids should have an equal and fair chance to learn. Just yous better, easier techneeks of learning. There should be trained teachers that are special for kids like me. P.S. Tell Maria I'm sorry. Pleas. See ya later, Joey"
"I think thats awful... Just cause there diffrent dosent mean there wrtong... Autism is just where you take medicen. I wonder if you had a kid in your grade? Some are diffrent becauseof there brain. It dosent mean there diffrent."
"Our class is so lucky that we have a school that has different kids because we learn from them and they learn from us. I can't wait until I learn even more... I have been in the same class with Bud for four years. I have learned so much about autism and other disabilties. And I think you should learn more before you go around being mean to kids."
Ms. Walker wrote that following these reflection pieces, they had an AMAZING class discussion in which the kids talked with each other about their own disabilities and together discovered the depth of difference in their classroom - a depth that goes far beyond autism alone. She wrote, "Some of the kids took the ultimate risk today when they shared, without any prompting, with their classmates about the meds they take and why, and how they help, and some of things that are hard about taking them, like getting to sleep."
But the kids aren't stopping at the door to their classroom. Ms. Walker wrote, "The magic continues - they want to use our hallway bulletin board to write open letters to the school, and the title for the board would be along the lines of "Different kids make a better world." They're learning "We are the World" in music:
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So lets start giving
Theres a choice we're making
We're saving out own lives
its true we'll make a better day
Just you and me"
And then yesterday, April 1, the first day of Autism Awareness Month, another package came home with my name on it. Inside was a stack of thank you letters from the children, decorated with care and filled with words that made me want to reach through the pages and hug every one of them:
Nora's "I think it's really cool how much you get him and how you both understand each other. You're the purplest!"
Catherine's "I feel great to be a part of his community in school. Evry time I hear I'm going to be in his class I always can't wait."
Molly's "Thank you so much for coming in. I learned so much about autism... You are a great mom."
Kallyn's "I learned so much and I think my friendship with Bud has grown. I been able to talk to Bud a little more and been feeling really good with where I am at with Bud and I think that now I know more about Bud I can relate to him better."
Sean's "Even though I went to recess it is because I am a kid who if he doesn't get outdoor time I get really bouncy and over excited. But I learned all about the part about toasters and hairdryers and how our buddy Bud needs movement breaks... Still the purplest!"
Noelle's "That has helped me learn a lot more about Bud. He is very cool to learn about... My life with Bud has been really cool so far."
Brandon's "After you came in I understood Bud and I learned how I can help him play and learn."
Laurie's "I enjoyed your visit SO much. I wish you could come in again."
Simon's "We learn more about autisim every day."
Kelly's "I learned that Bud does not care that he is differant and that he is a hair dryer in a toaster brain world."
Travis's "Thank you so much for coming in to our class. I know I learned a lot... It ment alot to our class."
Lily's "I don't think Bud is really actually different than us. He's a human that just thinks and learns different than us. I've known him ever since first grade and even then I didn't think he was that different."
Kayleigh's "Also, thank you for adding us in your blog... I want to write blogs as good as you when I grow up. You have an amazing talent. You inspired me to write blogs."
Damian's "It is cool to have Bud in my class because he is realy funny."
Max's "I'm still learning about Bud, which is very fun because every time I learn something new I get a laugh from all my classmates as well as me."
Jennifer's "That was AMAZING! I didn't know much about autizm until you explained every one of those stories. It made me think what would it be like to have autizm?"
Carla's "To me it was inportin to find out what Bud had and it was speshal that you did the presentashun about Bud's disability."
Zoe's "The whole time you were talking I felt like I was different... I don't know why, but when you were talking I felt REALLY relaxed and happy! I mean the "whole time" I was relaxed."
Nathan's "Thank you 1,000,000 times for coming! You opened a new door for me to walk through. I learned so much!"
Dan's "I think it's cool that people all over the world are reading about our classroom. Some people are quick to judge Bud. Do you know the old saying don't judge a book by its cover? Bud's the book and people are judging him by his cover. But our class sat down and are reading a never ending book. The book is never ending because you keep learning more every time you read it. P.S. It's a really great book."
And the neatest things about their letters, beyond their remarkable insights and their outstanding artistry? The children signed the letters with the names I'd given them on the blog, with one difference: they all had the same last name - NOS. Sean-NOS. Laurie-NOS. Nora-NOS. And on and on and on.
All different, and yet all the same.
Connected to each other. Connected to Bud and me.
Connected like family.
And at the bottom of the pile of these remarkable letters? A family portrait - a gift to Bud and me - a picture of all of Bud's classmates and both of his teachers, standing under a sign that says "World Autism Awareness Day. We are Bud's Buddies-NOS," each of them holding a sign with their NOS names.
It's a picture I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
As I look at the picture, I keep having the same thought. In response to my posts about my visit to this classroom, I've gotten a lot of encouragement to turn it all into a book. And I'm thinking about it. But, honestly, here is the book I really want to write:
In twenty-five years, I want to meet up with these children again and find out where they are. How many of them will be teachers, creating dynamic inclusive classrooms? How many will be employers of people with disabilities? How many will be parents, raising children as remarkable as them? How many will be finding ways to celebrate difference in their homes and in their neighborhoods? How many will be taking active roles in their local and state governments? How many will be speaking out against injustice and making their thoughts count at the ballot box? And how many of them will look back at this year, at this classroom, at these teachers, at these classmates, and recognize it all as a transformative experience in their lives?
These children are going to change the world.
THAT's the book I want to write. And, as Dan says, "P.S. It's a really great book."
Happy World Autism Awareness Day.
And, oh, I almost forgot. The class sent along something for you, as well: