The Kid Who Eats Alone

I’ve cried at work before.

There was that one time at the Dolphin Research Center that I was walking out of the fish house and slipped on the glassy, wet sidewalk. I fell directly onto my knee and when I finally got the courage to look at the damage, I discovered that my kneecap had dislocated. It was painful and gross. I cried.

There was also that time that I was sitting at my desk trapped at work in North Carolina while my childhood dog was being put down in Florida. I shut my door, locking myself in with my sadness, and sobbed over my keyboard.

One time I cried at work because I was having a panic attack and didn’t know it was a panic attack– I thought I was dying.

I don’t cry at work often. In fact, I barely ever cry at all. But my current job, this freakin job, man! I could probably cry every day if I didn’t hold it in and bury it deep down in a tightly sealed container that lives in the pit of my stomach. The tears– they’re both sad and happy. Defeated and celebratory. Exhausted and energized. Hopeless and hopeful, and it often changes by the minute. One day my little sealed tear container is going to burst open and I may drown in the saved up tears. But for now it stays safely closed. It needs to stay closed so I can continue to be objective in my work and continue helping those in need.

I teach social skills to kids, teens, and adults who are on the autism spectrum as well as others who may not have a diagnosis, but still struggle in social situations. AKA basically every middle schooler ever in the history of the world could benefit from the social skill group meetings that we run every week for 120 people. We also organize social events where members get a chance to build friendships (sometimes for the first time in their lives) and practice their newly acquired skills. 

It’s everything I love to do. It’s working with people who are amazing, brilliant, and insightful, but sometimes have a hard time even saying “hello” or looking people in the eye. It’s meeting families who bring their Asperger’s child to me with tears in their eyes because their kid has never fit in anywhere and has no friends. It’s telling that same mom and son, “You fit in here, you have a place to belong, we accept you as you are. We will empower you and teach you how to navigate this confusing, loud, and overstimulating world.”

It’s seeing a 16-year old boy walk into a room of strangers and proclaim with his hands dramatically thrown in the air, “I’ve found my people!!!!”

It’s paperwork and phone calls. It’s organization and chaos. It’s sharing an office with three wonderfully weird and hilarious women who all share my passion for helping others, especially those with social difficulties.

It’s standing outside my office door getting ready to start a group when a sobbing 9-year old boy runs up and hugs me so tightly that it’s hard to breathe. “The kids at school, they bullied me today”, his tears leaving streak lines down my shirt. He tells me that he thought they were his friends, so now he really doesn’t have even one friend and isn’t sure how he can go back to school. It becomes even harder to breathe, and not because of his grip on my torso.

Every day I hear stories about how these precious children, teenagers, and adults are bullied, picked on, teased, blatantly ignored, and made to feel less worthy than they are. It is heart wrenching and fills me with a deep sadness that is hard to explain. Every day there are stories, and every day there is sadness.

But every day there is also great joy. We work through the sadness and practice building self-esteem. I hold a metaphorical mirror up to each member I work with and explain why they’re worthy, why they’re not defined by what the bullies (and society) say. Sometimes within a matter of weeks, I see a light shine out of a person that wasn’t previously there. That’s what feeling accepted can do to a person. Every day we coach, correct, encourage, and explain concepts I never thought I’d have to explain to someone. Like how much eye contact is too much, how to start a conversation with someone, and why it’s not okay to talk about airplane engines for 45 minutes.

Every day at my job, I get to watch a room full of socially challenged people make friends for the first time. Real friends– not the kind that take advantage of them due to their tendency of missing social cues. I get to see their faces light up as they walk into a room and everyone erupts in excitement– something they are not used to. I get to help them understand relationships, and help them draft text messages to invite a newly acquired friend over for the first time.

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Last week, I asked a group of my kids to write down one way they are nice to their friends. A boy in my group wrote “NO FRIENDS” in big, angry black letters on his piece of paper. He said he didn’t want to do this, he didn’t have a friend. Before I could step in and do damage control, a little girl in the group, so shy that she can barely talk above a whisper, raised her hand. Her eyes almost as wide as her smile, she told the boy, “I just want to tell you that that’s not true.” He grimaced, “WHAT’S not true?” The girl said, “You DO have a friend. It’s me, I’m your friend. We always have fun talking about Minecraft together and I think you’re really nice and funny.” The boy smiled for the first time that day and scratched out “NO FRIENDS” in even darker black ink and wrote the girl’s name in place of it. It was so sacred I felt strange watching the moment unfold. It was brilliant perfection. It was straight out of a movie.

That night I cried.

The organization I work for is changing lives every single day and to get to be both a player and spectator in the lives of these incredible humans is one of the greatest gifts I’ve experienced. Other people in the community are noticing, too.

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Here’s where I can use your help. A local clothing and apparel store has entered my organization, alongside four other nonprofits, in a voting contest. The organization with the most votes on Sunday night (9/25) will be given 10% of the store’s funds for the next year. WHAT!! Can you help? Help me grow my organization. Help me enroll more members who need friends and a safe haven, kids who eat alone at lunch every single day. Kids who miss social cues so often that they sometimes don’t even realize how badly they are being bullied.

All you have to do is click this Facebook link and vote for iCan House. That’s it. You don’t need to give any information about yourself or any of that jazz. And to show my sincere appreciation, I’ll do something for you.

If you vote for iCan House and share the link (make sure you tell people to vote for iCan House when sharing!), let me know in the comments and I’ll enter your name in a drawing to win a framed 8×10 print of one of my favorite quotes, plus something else small & special. If you don’t like the quote, I’ll make ya a different one. Cool? Cool.

With love and gratitude,

Courtney ❤

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13 thoughts on “The Kid Who Eats Alone

  1. Courtney, you captured the poignant and real moments at iCan House perfectly. I am so happy that you joined the iCan House team, and grateful for your dedication and loyalty to our members and organization. Thank you for shing your light here each day, and spreading the word about our work.
    Kim Shufran
    Executive Director and Founder

    • Thank you so much! I’m so sorry your child was not able to find the support he or she needed. It can be so difficult– I wish there was an iCan House in every city 😦

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