Earlier this week, a poem about how it feels to have autism began going viral. You may have come across it yourself — titled simply, “I Am,” the touching, 18-line poem cuts straight to the heart in just a little over 100 words.
Its author? A 10-year-old boy named Benjamin, who has a form of autism known as Aspergers.
Benjamin was reportedly inspired to share his personal feelings about autism after being given a school assignment, which provided him with the first two words for every line. What resulted was a poem that’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.
“I am odd, I am new, I wonder if you are too,” the poem begins. “I hear voices in the air, I see you don’t, and that’s not fair.”
Line after line, Benjamin’s words tug at the heart.
“I feel like a boy in outer space,” it continues later on. “I touch the stars and feel out of place.”
The letter, which was originally shared on Facebook April 10 by the National Autism Association, has since earned over 15,000 likes, over 1,400 comments, and been shared well over 9,000 times.
You can read it in full below:–
When I first read the poem, I immediately thought of my own son, Norrin, who is also 10 years old and has autism. When Norrin was seven, I wrote him an open letter letting him know that quirky is cool. To be honest, I don’t always understand why he does the things he does. I don’t know why his favorite part of any movie is watching the credits scroll. And I certainly don’t understand the fascination with brand logos. But I don’t have to. I love my kid. And I love his quirky side.
Of course, I’m his mom, I’m supposed to love and accept him the way he is. But I know not everyone will, and I see that more and more as he gets older.
Just the other day, I was at the playground with Norrin when he saw a group of kids standing in a circle. I watched as he approached them too closely. He didn’t say hello or ask to join. He just marched through them as if they weren’t there.
A few of the kids gave Norrin a funny look and they simply tightened their circle and moved away. They did this almost instinctively without saying anything to each other, as they all knew to keep him away.
Norrin continued to run and play without a care in the world.
But I still cared.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen kids look at Norrin like that — especially as he’s getting older. And I know what the other kids are thinking: He’s the “weird” kid. The kid no one wants to play with.
Kids with autism spend so much time trying to fit into the norm. They work hard at understanding social cues and mannerisms; at learning what’s appropriate behavior and what isn’t. Neurotypical kids don’t have that kind of pressure on them.
When Norrin was younger, autism wasn’t that big a deal. All the kids just ran and played together and it was simple. But these tween years are complicated for a kid like mine, just as I’m sure they are for Benjamin. His peers are talking about sports and super heroes. Norrin is still watching Sesame Street.
Yeah, he’s a 10-year-old boy who plays video games and loves pizza, but he’s far from a “typical” kid his age.
The thing is, Norrin doesn’t know he’s different. He doesn’t have the cognitive ability of your average 10-year-old. He isn’t even aware that he has autism. And he doesn’t care about fitting in, because he doesn’t know how much he stands out.
I think that’s one of the things I envy most about him. And in a way, I am grateful for that. It protects him from the kids at the playground.
Because no kid should ever have to feel “out of place” or “like a castaway.”
While Benjamin and Norrin are the same age, they are on completely different sides of the spectrum. Unlike Benjamin, Norrin is completely unaware of his diagnosis. I don’t know what kind of poem Norrin would write if he was asked, or even if he’ll ever be able to express how he feels about autism.
But I hope he knows that he has a place in this world.
And I want Benjamin — and all kids like him — to know that they do, too.