Fourth grader spontaneously opens up to classmates about autism in viral video

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

A fourth grade student from Chino Valley, California, raised his hand in class one day and asked his teacher if he could address his fellow students. What happened next was a "beautiful thing," the boy's teacher, Lisa Moe, said.

Moe captured video of what the student, Rumari, said – and it has gone viral. "For a really long time, you guys had not known I had autism," Rumari told his classmates. "So you guys thought I was weird doing this," he said, then started hitting his hand as it rested against his face. It's something he does when he needs to feel better, he explained to the class.

Rumari continued to speak about having autism, and the class listened quietly. Then, once he was done, students started raising their hands to ask questions. One classmate had a simple request: "Can I have a hug?"

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Rumari went around to his classmates to hug them and hear their words of encouragement. One student said "it doesn't matter what a person does or if it may look weird, or if they might make weird noises sometimes."

"That's okay! It's them. And it doesn't matter," she continued. "They're good just the way they are, like you Rumari." The boy ran up to her and gave her a big hug.

View this post on Instagram

🧩 Today, a beautiful thing occurred within my classroom. My two most important mottos and lessons I stress every single day with my students is to “Be Kind” and to believe in one’s self through the growth mindset of “Yes I Can”. • • It is #AutismAwareness Month and every classroom on campus has been asked to have each student decorate a paper puzzle piece and hang it on our classroom doors. When I handed out the puzzle pieces, most students were familiar with the idea of Autism and aware of the cause of decorating the puzzle pieces. What my students did not know is that Autism is present within our classroom with one of our fellow classmates, Rumari. With excitement, Rumari rose his hand and said “May I please say something?” I nodded and said “of course”, but never could I have imagined what was to follow. • • Rumari has faced challenges and barriers beyond what any of us will ever be able to fully understand. But today, Rumari stood in front of the classroom with full confidence, enthusiasm, and courage and showed us that there is no challenge or barrier that can stop him. He brought to life the meaning of “Yes I Can” as he explained to his fellow classmates that he was autistic. With full knowledge, he explained the differences that may come when being autistic and how the spectrum is vast. He courageously spoke about his own differences and quirks, while defining what it means to make everyone feel like a someone. • • My other students and I sat quietly and listened, completely engulfed in every word he spoke to us. Because of this, it took me a bit before realizing I needed to capture this moment. Without any of the students knowing, I hit record and captured the final moments of Rumari speaking to us and the raw, authentic reactions of the rest of my students. It is then, that I lost my ability to hold back the tears. It is then, that the daily lessons to “Be Kind” and to remember “Yes I Can” were brought together. • • If I were unable to ever teach again or if there was ever a question to my path into this role as an educator, this moment solidified my purpose. With permission from Rumari’s parents, I wanted to share with you this moment:

A post shared by Lisa Moe (@missmoeteaches) on

Then another student raised her hand, and another, all praising Rumari. "I think you're amazing, pal!" one said.

Rumari was clearly happy that he took the leap of faith and opened up to the class. At the end of the video, he asks Moe if he can hug her. The boy has a huge smile on his face as he runs up and wraps his arms around his teacher.

Moe said she has two favorite mottos that she tries to instill in her students: "Be kind" and "Yes I can." Rumari more than exemplified both of these lessons that day.

"Rumari has faced challenges and barriers beyond what any of us will ever be able to fully understand," Moe wrote in her Instagram post. "But today, Rumari stood in front of the classroom with full confidence, enthusiasm, and courage and showed us that there is no challenge or barrier that can stop him."

"With full knowledge, he explained the differences that may come when being autistic and how the spectrum is vast," Moe continued. "He courageously spoke about his own differences and quirks, while defining what it means to make everyone feel like a someone."

The teacher said she started recording Rumari a few minutes into his powerful speech, when she realized her class was completely captivated by his words. "I lost my ability to hold back the tears. It is then that the daily lessons to 'Be Kind' and to remember 'Yes I Can' were brought together," Moe said.

Moe's video was posted on April 5 – the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. It eventually gained national attention, but to Moe, the viral success of the video didn't mean that much.

What meant the most was that Rumari had the confidence to open up to his classmates, and they showed him love and acceptance. "If I were unable to ever teach again or if there was ever a question to my path into this role as an educator, this moment solidified my purpose," she wrote.

First published on May 1, 2019 / 1:55 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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