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On ESPN, the Story of a Football Player’s Lunch With a Boy With Autism

By Mark Walsh — September 12, 2016 1 min read
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You may have seen the story a couple of weeks ago when a Florida mother posted a photo on Facebook of a visiting college football player who sat down in the school cafeteria with her son, who has autism and was eating alone as he frequently does.

As the mom, Leah Paske, wrote in here Facebook post:

“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.”

On Aug. 30, a group of football players from Florida State University was visiting Montford Middle School in Tallahassee. Wide receiver Travis Rudolph spotted Bo Paske eating by himself.

“Something clicked,” Rudolph told ESPN. “I thought, if I could just be a friend, a new friend to him ...”

School resource deputy Michael Halligan snapped the photo of Rudolph eating cafeteria pizza while Bo ate from his lunch box. Someone sent the photo to Bo’s mother, who posted it on Facebook, where it was noticed around the world.

“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,” Leah Paske wrote. “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.”

ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, which frequently runs heartstring-tugging packages about sick children who inspire a college football team and the like, recounted the story Saturday.

Reporter Gene Wojciechowski did a nice job with this report:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.