Each day after Sam and Noah arrive home from school I check their communication notebooks to see how their days went. For Sam that includes a visual PECS schedule with happy faces for completing each portion of the day well or sad faces if he has a problem or acts out aggressively.
After reading the day's note from the teacher I have a very sad face.
Sam's teacher wrote that today during movement time Sam announced to his class, "I hate black people".
My nine year old son who didn't start speaking until after his fourth birthday, who initially learned to communicate by using PECS cards and spent countless hours working one on one with a speech pathologist said out loud that he hates black people.
I have never in my life felt so ashamed and angry.
I'm angry that of all the words and sentences, scripts from his favorite moves and television shows, and the hundreds of songs he has learned it was these words which have taken residence in his mind and come out of his mouth. Words that are ugly and so full of hate.
I'm angry at myself for failing to adequately teach my sons about treating others as we would like to be treated. For not helping them understand that the Golden Rule is about love and respect and that means loving and respecting everyone.
I am angry that Sam can't tell me where he heard those words. Was it from something he heard on the internet? Did he hear an adult say those words? Another child at his school or on the bus? I don't know and it makes me very, very sad.
After all, being different is something my sons should know all about. We talk to the boys about their autism and how it makes them different from their peers but no less intelligent and creative. We watch the Arthur cartoon which features a character with Aspergers and we read books about being a good friend to those around us. However, what we say and what they understand and retain are difficult to gauge.
But one thing is painfully clear... Sam heard and then repeated the words, "I hate black people" in a school classroom in which he is the minority. His aides and fellow classmates are a diverse group and his statement most likely caused pain to a number of those who heard it.
And that is something I cannot and will not allow to happen again.
I will continue to remind Sam and Noah that our words have unimaginable power and that we can use our words to lift people up or to crush their soul and spirits. I will remind them that the best thing to do is to always strive to be a friend to everyone. Friends may look differently than you on the outside or wear special clothing or pray to a different God than our family but what lies within each of us is what unites us as one race....the human race.
I pray that this message of diversity and acceptance and my actions from this day forward will flourish in the minds of my children and grow into something so large that it leaves no room for ugliness and hate.
I owe that to my children and to yours.