Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What Bo Knows

There has been much discussion, posting and commenting on Florida State University football player Travis Rudolph's gesture last week of sitting at an empty middle school lunch table with an autistic boy named Bo Paske. It is a great story, mainly because of what Bo's mother, Leah, wrote about it in a Facebook 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] 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! 
As the father of a non-verbal autistic son in middle school, there is much about Leah Paske's Facebook post that is familiar to me. Travis Rudolph's gesture is laudable, but what struck me while reading the story was why Bo was left so alone that Rudolph felt compelled to sit with him in the first place. Bo has been described as a high functioning but that means really nothing without context. Bo's mother refers in her post to hand flapping, a autistic characteristic Bo shares with my son.

My son has been fortunate. He has had the benefit of wonderful special education teachers and assistants for many years. The school district has a program pairing special needs children with "typical" students. This benefits both the special needs student and the mainstreamed student who become their "buddy." My son has never had to eat alone, and is in the hallways constantly interacting with students of every kind. Thank you, College Station ISD.

To my surprise, I have learned not all districts do things this way - which may explain why Bo was alone. A special education teacher who I respect greatly took a position at a nearby school district middle school this year. This teacher found out before classes started that special needs students last year seldom left their classroom. This teacher told me they have to coax the special needs children out of the classroom. The reason? They feel different - even more so than most middle school students for whom this awkward time of life is already a challenge.

What a shame. It does not, and should not be this way.

Bo knows.

No comments:

Post a Comment