In a time when bullying makes national headlines, a group of elementary students is bucking the trend.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and five Waterloo fifth graders decided to help their school understand one very special student who has the disorder.
In a class full of talking 5th graders, one student struggles to make his voice heard. Autism makes communication difficult for classmate Nick, but his mother Deb Vannoni assured, many thoughts lie below the surface.
"Not speaking is not the same as having nothing to say," she said.
Five perceptive 5th graders at Kingsley Elementary in Waterloo saw past any barriers Nick may have, and when the opportunity came to do a service project, they decided they wanted to help others see Nick as they did.
"Very little people know about Autism, and we wanted to expand the knowing," student Maya Buchanan said.
"That's how it started," Expanded Learning Program teacher Sherice Ortman said. "The next step was how can we make a difference? They decided to educate and also raise money."
Ortman said the children decided along with teaching their classmates about Autism, they wanted to raise money for the foundation Autism Speaks.
"We sold candy bars for autism to send there," student Lincoln Conrey said.
The students Maya Buchanan, Kyle Graves, Patrick Kutz, Maggie O'Brien and Lincoln Conrey sold out of candy bars in one week, collecting $542 for Autism research.
The service project culminated in an educational assembly, where the five students, made a special presentation on what Autism is, and how you can relate to people who have it. They also took questions from students.
Nick's mother Deb Vannoni made a special appearance.
"I applaud every child," she said as she thanked the children for helping everyone understand her son better. "So thank you from a mother. These are the kids who'll grow up and make our laws, and they'll remember Nick."
"I hope they learn to really respect and realize it's not their fault they're diagnosed," Buchanan said.
In the end, the five fundraising students believe their classmates will embrace Nick and others like him, now that five 5th graders helped give Nick a voice.
Nick's mother Deb says Nick actually has a great deal in common with his classmates, he likes pizza, he loves going to Chuck E Cheese, and he often fights with his brother over who gets to hold the remote control.