During a visit to visiting Montford Middle School in Tallahassee on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 with several of his Florida State football teammates, Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph noticed a boy eating lunch by himself.
“I asked if I could sit next to him, and he said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ” Rudolph shared with the Orlando Sentinel. “I just felt like we had a great conversation.”
Rudolph explained that, “He started off [the conversation] and was so open. He told me his name was Bo, and how much he loves Florida State, and he went from there.”
Someone snapped a photo of the two during their shared lunch and conversation, and sent it to Bo’s mother, Leah Paske, who was overcome with gratitude for the nice gesture.
In a Facebook post, Paske stated:
“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!”
Seminoles Coach, Jimbo Fisher, shared that “You can affect people in a lot of ways. That’s the way you affect people. Make somebody’s day by being yourself, and going and spreading the word, and understanding the impact you have as an athlete and role model to people in the community….I was extremely proud of him. He made some young man’s day.”
These kind gestures by perfect strangers help give the autism community hope that our constant efforts to raise awareness, acceptance, and inclusion are starting to stick. However, there’s still a long way to go. Paske additionally expressed that her son was constantly being bullied and excluded at school. She shared that, “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,” a statement not easily made by a parent of a child with autism. It is difficult, and the world can be cruel to those that are different. With influential people like Rudolph taking action to promote inclusion and acceptance, it brings us one step closer to paving a better future for the autism community.