FSU Football Player Shows Us How we Can Reach Out to People with Disabilities

This past Tuesday, Travis Rudolph, star football player at Florida State University, demonstrated how we can all take part in reaching out to individuals with disabilities.

A photo taken at a middle school visit went viral after the mother of Bo Paske shared the image to Facebook. The image shows the football player eating lunch with the sixth-grader, who had been eating alone before Travis joined him. The two enjoyed eating and talking together, and this small moment is being heralded as a prime example of how we can make an effort in being more inclusive when it comes to people with developmental or social disabilities.

The charming photograph went viral and has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and on advocacy sites such as Autism Speaks. Much of the social media conversation revolves around the need to teach children how to interact with children who aren’t necessarily neurotypical. These conversations contribute to general awareness surrounding disabilities, but there is no question that there is still a long way to go in making our social spaces more inclusive.

Rudolph’s actions have spurred commentary such as this piece in The Atlantic, which discusses how schools are doing more to support the social development of students with autism and other disabilities through the use of ‘lunch bunches.’ In this arrangement, students who would otherwise be sitting alone (such as students with autism or other social or developmental disabilities) come together to eat under the supervision of a trained adult (such as a special education teacher or a school therapist), who can help guide social interaction and provide a safe space for these children to eat and enjoy each other’s company. In some cases, typically developing children are invited for several weeks to join these students, while in other cases, these ‘bunches’ are simple a supervised space for children with developmental disabilities to eat lunch on their own terms.

Rudolph’s actions mind us to be more inclusive and mindful of the way that we treat individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder, ADHD and others. While doubtless this is a process that will take some time, in the meanwhile it serves as a reminder that it’s the little things that can sometimes make a big difference.

Here are a few guides for interacting with individuals with disabilities, for those of us who feel unsure where to begin:

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