"He has been through a lot in his 15 years," his father revealed. "He is a lovely, kind, sweet boy. He does not have a nasty bone in his body."
Daniel Harrison, who has autism, recently wrote down two wishes as part of his education, health, and care (EHC) plan — a UK government initiative that helps determine levels of support for young people with special needs. "Daniel, for the first time, was asked at his special needs school to write two things that he'd like to achieve," the boy's father, Kevin Harrison, told CBS News. "His first was learning to drive and the second thing – which surprised us – was 'make some friends,' because we didn't understand that he understood the theory of friendship."
Daniel’s my son. Profoundly Autistic. Hasn’t one friend. It’s his birthday today. In his ECHP he wrote that his two wishes were to learn to drive and make friends 😣 Please wish him a happy birthday. Please show him you care. Please share. ##happybirthday #autism #rt pic.twitter.com/Psu97TSj6g— Kev & Daniel (@kevharrison_) September 29, 2021
While Daniel is still too young to get his driver's license, his second wish came true in spectacular fashion late last month when one of Harrison's tweets went viral on social media. "Daniel's my son. Profoundly Autistic. Hasn't one friend. It’s his birthday today. In his ECHP he wrote that his two wishes were to learn to drive and make friends," the doting father wrote in a tweet on September 28. "Please wish him a happy birthday. Please show him you care. Please share." What happened next made young Daniel's 15th birthday one he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.
Happy birthday Daniel! - From my students in Indiana 🥳 🎂 🎈 https://t.co/y9DpjVBOKF pic.twitter.com/DLtky5sXvY— Dustin Harrison (@DstnHrrsn) September 29, 2021
Tens of thousands of strangers from across the world, including a few celebrities, sent birthday wishes for Daniel along with offers to be his friend. In a little over a week, Harrison's tweet gained more than 123.7K likes and has been viewed well over 14 million times. Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, was one of many celebrities who responded to the tweet. "For my friend Daniel," he tweeted along with a GIF that says: "The force is strong with this one." Other big names who reached out include Russell Crowe, William Shatner, Sharon Stone, Ariel Winter, Jane Lynch, Kristen Johnston, journalist Jake Tapper, and activist Erin Brockovich.
For my friend Daniel: 🎂 pic.twitter.com/gBIzuEb9Sk— Mark Hamill (Mar🐫) (@HamillHimself) September 29, 2021
"I'm sitting there thinking, 'What on Earth have I done?'" Harrison said of the overwhelming response to his tweet. "And a lot of that was down to Mark Hamill, from 'Star Wars.'" As for how Daniel felt about his new friends, his parents told The Washington Post he was overjoyed. "He was jumping up and down," Harrison said. Aside from celebrities, a number of parents with special-needs children also responded to the viral tweet on behalf of their kids. "He's got four friends in Minnesota and one with #autism whose name is Daniel too," tweeted Sheletta Brundidge, sharing a video of herself and her son.
Happy Birthday Daniel! My son is very similar to you and guess what? I decided to let him try driving a golf cart for the first time Saturday and look how he did: pic.twitter.com/ZPfFLqpgWj— #TagsStrong💪 (@JodySmithNFL) September 29, 2021
He's got four friends in Minnesota and one with #autism whose name is Daniel too and we got a book we wanna send you. DM me your address so we can send him some treats including a book with his (and my son's) name on it... pic.twitter.com/jp74GxKi8b— Sheletta Brundidge (@ShelettaIsFunny) September 29, 2021
Hey Daniel, this is my son Jacob, also autistic, on his birthday last month. (We went to a trampoline park.) I’m sure he would love to be your friend if you met, provided you don’t mind hearing a whole lot about superheroes. 😂 Hope you had a wonderful day. pic.twitter.com/tMBMnrExfh— SportsAngle (@SportsAngle) September 30, 2021
Happy Birthday Daniel— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) September 29, 2021
"Hey Daniel, this is my son Jacob, also autistic, on his birthday last month," wrote @SportsAngle along with a photo. "I'm sure he would love to be your friend if you met, provided you don't mind hearing a whole lot about superheroes. Hope you had a wonderful day." Harrison said that while he was shocked by the unexpected response, he knew why the story resonated with so many. "People want to be loved, don't they? People want to be liked. It's a universal feeling," he said. "I think it's a good news story because the whole world right now is polarized. Everywhere, there's no middle ground. Yet, we found with Daniel's tweet and the story that there's a lot of beautiful, lovely people in the world."
Happy birthday Daniel, my son in this pic also has autism and he has just started college and things will get better. Mark and Tess wish you a wonderful birthday pic.twitter.com/j8PIpxn5Au— Little Tess (@LittleTess4) September 29, 2021
Hi Daniel! This is my son Barry, he is autistic & doesn’t have friends either. We’d like to wish you a happy birthday 🎉❤️ pic.twitter.com/pVbx7stmxL— Maria Moore (@m_elena223) September 30, 2021
Hi Barry 👋 I'm Damian and my pal Beans. I am also autistic. We may not be together but you can call me friend ♥ pic.twitter.com/WTkj0iQQCA— Eva Kaneva🇲🇽🇺🇸🌈 (@Boyinabluedress) September 30, 2021
Although many asked to send birthday gifts to Daniel, Harrison said he requested them to instead "do something kind for somebody. I’m a strong believer that good deeds should be passed along." Taking his words to heart, several Twitter users revealed that they'd done a good deed in honor of Daniel's birthday. "I just paid for the order behind me at Starbucks," commented @ScarySkierNJ. "I donated to a local food bank," wrote @oneBlair.
My son’s name too is Daniel. He is also profoundly autistic. From us to Daniel, HAPPIEST of Birthdays to you!!! 🎈🎈🎈 pic.twitter.com/FAhjQo3Rsa— not-so Starving artist 🏳️🌈🤜🏼🤛🏾🎨🇺🇸👩🏻🎨 (@Studio_Michaud) September 30, 2021
Harrison, who is from Nottingham, England, revealed that Daniel is on the more severe end of the autism spectrum and refused to consume food for several years as a child. Although the teen is verbal, he only gives "standard responses" and finds it difficult to engage in conversation. Harrison explained that his son's wish shocked them "to the core" as children on the autism spectrum often want to play alone, and Daniel has never before expressed a desire for friends. "He has been through a lot in his 15 years," he said of his son. "He is a lovely, kind, sweet boy. He does not have a nasty bone in his body."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Daniel! I am sorry to be late with this, I didn't see it until today. Everyday should be celebrated as your birthday because You are very special & will have a wonderful year and life. Enjoy everyday & keep that wonderful smile always🥳🥳🥳— Jacki Bell (@Jackiemrs) October 3, 2021
A little message ❤️ for you all ❤️ #daniel #autism pic.twitter.com/ePDqoXPyEO— Kev & Daniel (@kevharrison_) October 6, 2021
Daniel received this present from a wonderful thoughtful young woman called @MccreathChelsea. How thoughtful? #HappyBirthdayDaniel #autism pic.twitter.com/6tadvdfpvv— Kev & Daniel (@kevharrison_) October 5, 2021
The grateful father now wants the countless folks who were touched by Daniel's story will remember one thing: "Don't ever feel like you're alone. Because I felt like that, and I know other families will. You're not alone. Just simply that, people do love you." He also hopes it will encourage people to be kinder to those with special needs. "If I have reached one person and made them look at another child differently, I've done my job," he said.