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Football Player Joins Autistic Student for Lunch, Reminds Us What’s Important

Football Player Joins Autistic Student for Lunch, Reminds Us What's Important

By Joanna McClanahan of Ramblin’ Mama

For one day, a Florida mother didn’t have to worry about her autistic son eating lunch alone.

Leah Paske recently posted this touching story on Facebook. She explained the difficulty of our middle school years and how that has compounded the anxiety she feels for her autistic, 11-year-old son Bo.

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.

She goes on to explain how she has come to see his autism as a blessing.

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.

This past Tuesday, Florida State University football players visited Bo’s school. At lunch, FSU’s wide receiver Travis Rudolph noticed Bo was eating alone and asked to join him. Leah Paske’s friend took a picture of the pair eating lunch together, and she expressed her gratitude.

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!

Rudolph responded later in an interview, saying that he didn’t realize that Bo was autistic.

He was sitting by himself. I had got some pizza. I asked him can I sit down with him. He said sure why not. We started a great conversation. It’s just heartbreaking that he’s in that situation, but I’m praying for him. He’s a great kid overall. I would love to hang out with him anytime.

This story is an amazing reminder that all it takes is one small gesture to brighten someone’s day, or even their life.

We recognize the importance of academics in school. We support athletic activities and friendly competition. We teach our kids the weight of words and teach them not to bully others. But maybe we should put more emphasis on encouraging empathy and acts of kindness.

Let’s teach our kids to befriend the lonely kid eating lunch by themselves in the cafeteria. Let’s teach them that compassion is infinitely more important than competition and even academics. And let’s continue to show them, through example, that the smallest gestures of kindness can make a world of difference.


About the Author

Joanna McClanahan is an Editor at MockMom. She’s also a Contributor at Sammiches & Psych Meds and has been published on Scary Mommy. You can find more from her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.