Every day a boy named Stewart would anxiously watch the clock during every moment of his daily Physical Education class. Even though he loved doing all the activities his P.E. class offered, he secretly dreaded when the class bell would ring – the signal for the middle school kids to change classes. See this young teenager named Stewart had autism.
Moments before it was time for the class bell to ring, Stewart would scoop up his belongings and sneak out into the hall and make his way closer to his next class. Stewart could therefore avoid the numerous kids that would soon rush from their classes with a mission to get to their next class on time. As soon as the bell would ring, Stewart would quickly sneak into his next class as he already waited outside the Science classroom door and would take his seat and wait for the tardy bell to ring as kids came into class laughing and socializing with each other. Even though Stewart sat all alone, not socializing with anyone around him, he felt relieved one more day because he made it to his class by avoiding the massive crowds that gathered inside the middle school halls.
Panic began to set in right before this next bell would ring because Stewart was unable to sneak out of Science class with an effort to dart down to his Special Education class where he would spend the rest of his day learning.
For most kids, this was just part of their daily routine as kids bumped into each other trying to get through the thick crowds of middle-schoolers engaging in conversation about the latest college football games and other things that happened over their short weekend break. For Stewart, the first few days of school when he missed sneaking out of his P.E. class and found himself the mix of middle-schoolers in the middle school halls brought forth such anxiety and fear as he felt every eye was upon him as he walked down the very long halls. He felt like he was being bullied, not understanding when kids bumped into him it was only because everyone was quickly trying to make it to their next class on time. Some kids would politely say, “Excuse me”, while others would say, “Get out of my way or walk faster.”
One dreadful day came when Stewart, now in a daily routine, sneaked out of P.E. and headed straight down the hall to wait by the door of Science class when all of a sudden, he walked right into the new Assistant Principal who asked, “Boy what are doing out of class?” Stewart, in fear, replied, “Just getting to my Science class, Sir.” The new Assistant Principal obviously did not know Stewart yet and said, “Well, get back in there,” as he escorted Stewart to Science class and opened the door and announced, “I think you have a missing student here in the hall Mr. Sterling.” The class started laughing as Stewart stood there frozen and scared to death.
Mr. Sterling made his way to the door and walked outside as he took Stewart by the arm and placed him back in the hall and said, “Since you are our new Assistant Principal, I guess you haven’t met Stewart?” He looked at Stewart, who hung his head low, and then looked back at the new Assistant Principal and said, “See Stewart is different and most of the time he spends his day in his Special Education classes, but he gets to come to P.E. and regular Science.” The new Assistant Principal looked toward Mr. Sterling, the Science teacher, with a look which meant he understood.
Then all of a sudden, Stewart looked up at both men and asked, “Why did you call me different? I don’t want to be different. I just want to be like the other middle school kids.” With this, Stewart began to fight back tears. Mr. Sterling and the new Assistant Principal both felt terrible because they realized Stewart carefully listened to every word in their conversation and understood that he was being labeled different.
Mr. Sterling put his hand on Stewart’s shoulder and said, “Son, I am sorry I said that. I wasn’t thinking. May I ask you a question?” Stewart then wiped his eyes and shook his head “Yes.” Mr. Sterling asked, “Why do you come early to my class every day? Do you have a hall pass to come here before your P.E. class is over?” Stewart shook his head “No.”
Then Stewart said, “I get so scared walking in these middle school halls because everyone is staring at me and I don’t think they like me much.”
The new Assistant Principal announced, “Well, you know what Stewart, I am looking for someone, and I think you just might be my man, to deliver my daily note to Mr. Sterling so how about we get permission from your P.E. teacher and you take on this important task for me? Now this means you will have to leave P.E. a little early each day and get to Science class before the other middle-schoolers, do you think you could handle that son?”
Stewart lit up and said, “Yes, Sir, Mr. Assistant Principal!”
The new Assistant Principal said, “Please call me Mr. Hornsby.”
The following day, Stewart, instead of sneaking out, proudly announced to his P.E. class that he needed to leave early because he was Mr. Hornsby’s new assistant. Stewart headed out of P.E. class and into the principal’s office to pick up the important daily note that was to be delivered to Mr. Sterling, the Science teacher.
Stewart saw Mr. Hornsby and said, “Good morning, Mr. new Assistant Principal, Mr. Hornsby.”
Mr. Hornsby smiled replied, “Good morning Mr. Stewart, my new assistant.”
For the first time, Stewart held his head up high as he walked down the halls of middle school.
When he arrived, he peeked through the glass and when Mr. Sterling saw him, he came to the door and said, “Class is almost finished Stewart so give me a few more minutes. Did you bring my daily note?”
Stewart held the note out for Mr. Sterling to see and when Mr. Sterling opened the note, he did his best to refrain from tearing up as he read to himself, “Stewart is one special young man. He is the kind of different I long to be. See different runs in my bloodlines as our family has a son with autism. Thank you for reminding me how truly cool “being different” means.” Mr. Hornsby, still the new Assistant Principal.
With each passing day, Stewart loved walking down the halls of middle school where he felt needed and wanted by those placed in his life, a teacher and an assistant principal, who reminded Stewart the beauty of being different.