A teacher gave a 10-year-old boy with Autism an assignment, expecting him to read it in front of his class. But, he never made it to school the next day to complete the task. Instead, his parents were at a loss for words as they stared at his homework.
Benjamin Giroux has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. The developmental disorder is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. For Benjamin, it means he usually doesn’t express much emotion. So, writing a poem isn’t an assignment one would expect him to be excited about doing.
In fact, any excitement over homework or school was seemingly out of the ordinary for Benjamin. “When we ask him how his day went when he gets home from school, we don’t get much more than a one-word answer,” Sonny Giroux, Benjamin’s father, recalled. Much to his father’s surprise, however, his 10-year-old son came home from Cumberland Head Elementary School in Plattsburgh, New York, more excited than ever one day.
Benjamin’s fifth-grade teacher asked her students to write a poem about themselves, and the boy couldn’t wait to get started. He sat down at the kitchen table and began his homework, which instructed him to begin every few lines of his poem with “I am.” Enthralled with the assignment, Benjamin started writing and didn’t look up from his paper until he was finished hours later, according to Today.
After Benjamin’s poem was complete, he took it to his parents. It immediately choked them up as it became clear Benjamin was well aware of his Asperger’s and the difficulties he faced because of it. “I am odd, I am new,” Benjamin’s poem began. “I wonder if you are too. I hear voices in the air. I see you don’t, and that’s not fair,” he continued, painting a picture with his words of what it’s like to live with autism.
“I want to not feel blue,” Benjamin’s poem admitted. “I am odd, I am new. I pretend that you are too,” he wrote. “I feel like a boy in outer space. I touch the stars and feel out of place. I worry what others might think. I cry when people laugh, it makes me shrink,” he added. “I am odd, I am new, I understand now that so are you. I say I ‘feel like a castaway,’ I dream of a day that that’s okay,” the poem continued before concluding, “I try to fit in. I hope that someday I do. I am odd, I am new.”
Their son’s words sent Benjamin’s parents on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. “At first, we felt sad and hurt that he feels isolated, alone, misunderstood, and odd at school,” Sonny admitted. “As the poem went on, we realized that he understands that he’s odd and that so is everyone else in their own way, which is what Ben wants everyone to embrace.”
Benjamin was supposed to read his poem aloud in front of his 5th-grade class the following day, but unfortunately, he never made it to school. His anxiety took over when he woke up that morning, and the boy was convinced his poem wasn’t any good. He couldn’t bear the thought of reading it to an audience, so he stayed home, avoiding what he was sure would be a humiliating task. But, Benjamin’s father wanted his son’s words to be heard.
Sonny recognized the impact Benjamin’s poem could have and knew it was something Benjamin should be proud of. Ben might not have thought so, but Sonny knew the poem was more than just good; it was eye-opening. Not wanting the touching poem to go unseen or unheard, Sonny posted a picture of it to Facebook, hoping his son would get some encouraging comments from family and friends. He got more than he ever anticipated.
The National Autism Association saw the photo and posted it to their Facebook page. “You did an excellent job, Benjamin! You fit right in with us because we’re #oddtoo,” the caption read. The image received thousands of comments from strangers, inspired by the poem, as hundreds of parents also thanked Benjamin for shedding light on how their kids may feel at school.
With online support pouring in, the #oddtoo hashtag and Benjamin Giroux Facebook page were born. “We try to read him as many comments as we can to show [him] the impact he’s had,” Sonny said. “It makes him happy too, which is always nice to see,” he added. “Ben’s goal was to have people understand that being odd is different, and different is amazing, and people shouldn’t be afraid of who they are,” Sonny explained. “And, that makes me one proud father!”