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I'm Teaching My Son the Extraordinary Impact of Being Kind

The post below is by Lisa Smith, the mother of seven children, two with special needs. Her son Tate has autism. Lisa blogs about her experiences and can be found on Facebook at Quirks and Chaos or at quirks-and-chaos.blogspot.com.

The autism community is constantly looking for ways to spread autism awareness and education. My 13-year-old son, Tate, was recently given a platform that is fairly unique considering he does have autism.

Last month, Tate was invited to attend the Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Awards Ceremony in Newtown, Connecticut. We traveled from Kansas to spread some autism awareness.

Because people with autism are often lacking in social skills, kindness is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp. Tate has been taught about kindness from some very kind people - his classmates. Tate was nominated with his friends Ethan and Jordan for the kindness award after I wrote a thank you note to Tate’s classmates for their friendship with Tate and specifically their participation in Tate’s lunch buddy program. The note was published by “The Mighty” and People Magazine interviewed the boys.

And then, Newtown Kindness called.

Tate’s peers have sacrificed a lot of time and effort to mentor Tate and in doing so, they have learned things from Tate as well. The truth is: Ethan and Jordan were nominated for this award and did not want to accept the nomination unless Tate was included. They said Tate deserved it as much as they did. Ethan and Jordan were unable to travel to Connecticut, but I wanted Tate present to accept the award and send the message that kids with autism can learn social skills, be kind and make friends in spite of their disability.

Although I initially did not know who Charlotte was or what Newtown Kindness was all about, I could remember the name of the young man who caused the tragedy in Newtown three years ago and took Charlotte’s life. The young man’s name and face had been used by the media a lot. It was alleged he committed the horrible act because he had autism. You might like to read more about Charlotte and the kindness awards here.

To honor Charlotte’s life and to keep her memory alive, her family and friends celebrate her birthday every year by recognizing children for acts of kindness. You might wonder why I thought it was so important for Tate to be at the awards ceremony that we traveled across the country to attend. Tate did not raise money for a great cause, donate food to the homeless or do any of the other great things many of the children there had done.

Tate is making a difference in other ways. Tate is showing kids with autism and their parents that friendship is not an illusive goal but something that can really happen. Tate has friends in Ethan and Jordan and several other children at his school. It took a lot of hard work to make that happen. The lunch buddy program was one of the key ingredients in creating Tate’s friendships. That can happen in other schools too!

Seeing Tate standing on the stage that night was amazing. But, it was not only about the kindness factor. Before the ceremony began Tate was anxious. He was wearing a shirt he did not like. He was annoyed because I would not let him wear his hat. He had just found out his watch was an hour off due to the time change, but he couldn’t decide if he wanted it on Connecticut time or Kansas time. I could not tell him exactly what to expect or give him a solid timeframe for the evening’s events so he was uneasy. I reassured and coached as best I could, hoping he’d be able to walk onto the stage at the appropriate time.

By the time Tate’s name was called, he had worked through much of the anxiety. No one would have suspected that 90 minutes before he had been a wreck. The amount of courage it took for Tate to go out on that stage was tremendous. But Tate is used to doing things that come easy to the rest of us, while fighting all kinds of battles that we cannot see. The feel of a shirt, the noise level, insecurities and confusion and dealing with people whose expectations are a mystery to him, are all things that make getting through the day so much more challenging to Tate. But he just keeps stepping up, trying to please us and do the things we ask of him.

I could have let Tate decide whether or not we traveled to Connecticut and we would have stayed home. After all, it was HIS award. But if I let Tate decide, we’d rarely leave the house. He would not have developed the skills he needed to be a friend or have a friend. I have to constantly remove Tate from his comfort zone and his comfort zone just keeps expanding.

I’m very thankful for Charlotte Bacon’s life and her family. I’m thankful Charlotte is being remembered in this way. I’m so honored Tate was chosen to receive a kindness award, and I’m determined not to forget Charlotte. Many thanks to the Bacon family for making the world a better place. The impact they are making is extraordinary. 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.