Florida State receiver Travis Rudolph brightened up the day of a boy with autism, so much so he made the boy’s mother cry.
Rudolph and some other Seminoles were visiting a middle school Tuesday afternoon when Rudolph noticed a boy eating his lunch alone. Rudolph decided he would give the boy company and join him for lunch with a couple slices of pizza. The boy’s mother, Leah Paske, found out about the gesture, and was incredibly moved.
Paske wrote a lengthy Facebook post describing the encounter, which she said brought her to tears:
Here is the full text of Paske’s post:
Several times lately I have tried to remember my time in middle school, did I like all my teachers, do I even remember them? Did I have many friends? Did I sit with anyone at lunch? Just how mean were kids really? I remember one kid on the bus called me “Tammy Fay Baker” bc I started awkwardly wearing eye liner in the sixth grade, I remember being tough and calling him a silly name back, but when he couldn’t see me anymore I cried. I do remember middle school being scary, and hard.
Now that I have a child starting middle school, I have feelings of anxiety for him, and they can be overwhelming if I let them. Sometimes I’m grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn’t seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn’t seem to notice that he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties anymore.
And he doesn’t seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It’s one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is a super sweet child, who always has a smile and hug for everyone he meets.
A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player”, then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my sons school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life! #travisrudolph#gonoles#FSU#autismmom#fansforlife
Rudolph said he himself teared up when reading Paske’s post.
The city of New York is paying out $2.7 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of Avonte Oquendo, the 14 year-old autistic child whose body was found in New York’s East River in January 2014 three months after he disappeared from his Queens, N.Y., school, the New York Daily News reports.
The suit accused school officials and the New York Police Department’s school safety division of negligence for not monitoring the exit doors of the school and not properly supervising Avonte, who was nonverbal and also had a history of being a flight risk.
“The loss of a child is a tragedy no family should endure, and hopefully, the resolution of this legal matter will bring some measure of solace to Avonte’s family.” the city’s Law Department spokesperson, Nicholas Paolucci, said.
“The Department of Education has taken a number of steps and is dedicated to taking every measure possible to prevent something like this from occurring again,” Paolucci added.
Parents can help smooth interactions – and build friendships – between typical children and those with special needs
By Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Look at me! Why don’t you talk to me? What’s the matter with you? Do you have cancer?!
“A young girl stopped my son and started screaming at him,” says Monika Jones, describing an incident at the park with her 7-year-old son Henry, who was born with Hemimegalencephaly, a non-genetic condition where one side of the brain is abnormally larger than the other. Henry is non-verbal, and his behavior can be similar to that of someone with autism, including repetitive actions such as humming, flapping and walking in circles.
“The mom was on the phone and didn’t stop her daughter, just seemed to be totally oblivious,” continues Jones, co-founder of the Brain Recovery Project in Pasadena. “My husband was not oblivious and proceeded to let the mom have it. It was a sad moment for him to see another child do that to our older son.”
This type of interaction between typical children and kids with special needs is, unfortunately, all too common. My son Xavier, a first grader who gets around in a wheelchair because of challenges due to cerebral palsy, epilepsy and dystonia, hasn’t been screamed at but is often stared at in stores, at the park or at birthday parties.
Sometimes, he even receives fearful glances or full-on eye aversions. Like other children with disabilities, he is often ignored or spoken over as if he can’t respond or understand, or as if he isn’t even there. While most kids’ curiosity is harmless and vastly more welcome than avoidance, it saddens me when people bluntly ask, “Why is he in a wheelchair?” or “Why is he drooling?” without even introducing themselves or saying hello first.
A Good Start
As parents, it’s up to us to facilitate kind, respectful, and friendship-building interactions between typical and special-needs children. We can begin by assuming that people with disabilities can, and want to, interact with us. “Never underestimate their capabilities. Look at them as a whole individual,” advises Keely Arevalo, a special-education teacher at CHIME Charter School in Woodland Hills. Speak to the person – with their parent or caretaker – not about the person, Arevalo adds.
Modeling good conversation, Arevalo offers, is another major way parents can help. “Maybe say ‘Hey, how are you? How’s your day? It looks like you have a Harry Potter book. Did you read it?’ And even if the individual didn’t respond, that’s OK. Let your child see a good way to interact in those situations.”
Amanda Hsu, a case supervisor at Working With Autism in Encino, suggests finding similarities to create positive exchanges. “Let your child know that, just like they have things they like or don’t like, kids with disabilities have those same things,” Hsu says. “Finding common ground is a good starting point to focus on instead of focusing on the differences.”
Teaching respectful curiosity is another important thing parents can do, according to Fred Johnson, whose 15-year-old son Ulysses has Down syndrome. He advises parents to let their children know that it is OK to ask questions – within limits. “Role play with your kids,” he says, suggesting that you ask a question your child finds embarrassing, then ask how that makes them feel. “You don’t ask anything of someone you wouldn’t be ready to answer yourself,” is his rule.
This kind of preparation helped Arevalo’s 5-year-old niece have a successful visit to CHIME. “I told her, ‘Every person is different, every person has different needs, different abilities, different strengths and weaknesses. Despite those things, we’re all human beings, we all deserve to be treated fairly,’” Arevalo says.
Arevalo also taught her niece how to ask questions in an appropriate way.
“She did have questions and she did pull me to the side at an appropriate time,” Arevalo says. “The rest of the afternoon, she actually was gravitating towards the individuals with disabilities and wanted to sit with them and play with them. My niece looked past the disability and saw an individual.”
If you notice that your child is uncomfortable around people with disabilities, reassure them and encourage them to talk with you about it so that you can help. “Let them know it’s OK to have fears,” advises Arevalo. “Guide that conversation and say, ‘I noticed you looked a little bit uncomfortable’ to find out exactly what they were afraid of. A lot of times those fears will go away once there isn’t that unknown.”
Make your explanations age-appropriate. “For a 5-year-old, you want to explain it as simply as you can,” Hsu offers. “For example, ‘Maybe the little boy is in the wheelchair because he’s not able to walk, so the wheelchair is a thing that helps him move around just like you and I move around with our legs.’”
Taking the Lead
If your child becomes frustrated in trying to make friends with, or be a friend to, a child with special needs, remind them that friendship isn’t always easy. “Interacting or playing with your friends, sometimes that’s a difficult thing for some kids,” says Hsu. “Have your child come up with some ideas as how to engage that child.” You can help lead the way with questions such as, “What is your friend like?” and, “What do you think you could do to make her more comfortable?”
Parents can help by reaching out, too. “Sometimes it starts with the moms becoming friends,” says Jones. “That’s how you open up the friendship with the kids.”
For typical children, extending themselves to peers with disabilities is well worth the effort. “There’s a sense of, ‘I did something good,’” says Hsu. “It’s a two-way thing that’s a good lesson for both [the typical and the special-needs child].”
“Bring special-needs children to your parties. Ask for play dates after school, even if they’re wheelchair-bound and tube-fed and can’t talk,” urges Jones. “I wish every parent reading this article who has only typically developing kids would assess if their child has a friend with special needs. If they don’t, tell them to make one, and incorporate that child into your lives. If every typically developing child had one friend with significant special needs, then what a beautiful world we’d live in.”
Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson) is a film and television writer/producer, editor of the award-winning website, goodblacknews.org, and mother to Xavier (@XavysWay), one of the coolest kids in the world, who also happens to have special needs.
Building Bridges Between Typical and Special-Needs Kids
Model appropriate behavior. Greet people and ask respectful questions, so your children see how to do it.
Find common ground. Focus on similarities instead of differences.
Be inclusive. Invite special-needs children to a party, to play or join a group.
Assume ability. Always assume the child with disabilities understands you. Speak directly to that child and include them in conversations with parents or caregivers.
Open communication. Let your child know it’s OK to have fears and ask questions.
Don’t ask “What’s wrong with you?” or any question in a way that might hurt feelings.
Don’t exclude. Don’t assume a child with disabilities can’t handle a situation or activity. Let the child and the child’s family decide.
Don’t look away or avoid individuals with disabilities. Smile!
Don’t patronize. Most kids with disabilities like the same things their peers do.
Don’t touch without permission. Ask first!
Don’t pull your child away if they say something embarrassing. Use the incident as a teachable moment.
For most, prom night is one of the most memorable moments of a young girls life. For 18-year-old Taylor Kirkwood, Saturday night was her special night. Kirkwood had everything a girl could ask for: the perfect earrings, perfect bracelet and the perfect pink dress. In another room her date to the Anahuac High School prom was getting ready as well. He’s plays football but not for the high school team.
He’s Christine Michael, running back for the super bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. “I’m just here for Taylor,” Michael said. “It’s a blessing. Like I said, she’s a beautiful kid. I’m very proud of her.” Turns out the former Texas A&M star is a friend of Kirkwood’s family and he agreed to take Kirkwood to her high school prom. “I think he’s cute,” Kirkwood said.
Her family wanted to do something special for her because she hasn’t always had picture perfect days like these. Kirkwood is diagnosed with autism, and up until surgery a couple of years ago she battled scoliosis, making a night like her prom all the more special.
“I’m so happy to go dance and have a good time,” Kirkwood said.
NBC Southern California – The National Institutes of Health awarded UCLA a grant to study the genetic causes of autism in African-American children. Areva Martin of the Special Needs Network says “there’s a void” of qualified health care officials to make the diagnosis in communities like South LA. The study hopes to change that, and aims to recruit at least 600 African-American families who have a child diagnosed with autism.
This is a story about a boy, a bear and bathroom tissue. When a giant corporation took time out to send a token of affection to a small admirer, it made a family’s day. First, meet 9-year-old Cash’an Clark, a happy, easygoing kid who also faces some big challenges, his mom Grace Clark said.
Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 2, Cash’an has problems communicating and socializing. He talks very little, he doesn’t play with other kids and he fixates on certain things, Clark said.
Enter the Charmin bear – the cuddly cartoon logo featured prominently on packages of Charmin toilet paper and in the company’s commercials. While so many aspects of life make Cash’an withdraw into his own world, something about that bear speaks to the little boy. Even his family has a hard time explaining it.
Grace Clark says she saw her son’s fascination for the Charmin bear start when he was 4.
“Autistic children are very particular, very precise in the details that they take in,” Clark, who lives in Manchester, Conn., told TODAY Moms.
“It’s got to be something about that bear that is just staying with him and I honestly don’t know what that precise detail is. I can’t ask him because he can’t verbalize it for me.”
She still remembers the moment when she realized Cash’an was fascinated by the logo. They were at Target one day when he was 4 and he suddenly bolted away from her and ran to the bathroom tissue section. “This little kid is looking at this big aisle full of toilet paper rolls with a bear, and he started putting all these packages in my cart that I did not want. And then he climbed in the cart and he looked at them,” Clark said.
April marks Austism Awareness Month, and in support of the cause, Centric will premiere, Colored My Mind: The Diagnosis, a short documentary that tackles the impact of the disorder on families. Spearheaded by Attorney Shannon Nash and LaDonna Hughley, wife of comedian D.L. Hughley, the 30-minute documentary was inspired by the mission of their Los Angeles-based non-profit of the same name.
Nash and Hughley, alongside actress Tisha Campbell-Martin; Tammy McCrary, sister and manager of Chaka Khan, and administrator Donna Hunter, share their stories of raising children with the disorder. Each woman’s candid story is paired with dramatizations featuring noted actors Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker.
One in 70 boys has autism, with African-Americans and Latinos being diagnosed later than Caucasians. Boys are also four times more likely to have autism than girls.
Director Nia T. Hill provides a captivating and emotional look into the often overlooked world of autism. The documentary addresses and uncovers the truths about why some Black and Brown children are not receiving the same medical diagnoses or are misdiagnosed. The narratives explore “sadness, strength, joy, and the ultimate hope that binds us all to fight for a better tomorrow.”