FSU player eats lunch with autistic student sitting alone

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — For one day, a mother says, she didn’t have to worry about her autistic son eating lunch by himself.

A small gesture of kindness by Florida State University wide receiver Travis Rudolph — captured in a photo and shared on Facebook — had tears streaming down the face of the sixth-grader’s mother, Leah Paske.

“I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say it will not soon be forgotten,” she 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.”

Rudolph was among several FSU players visiting Montford Middle School in Tallahassee Tuesday when he saw Bo Paske sitting alone in the cafeteria, grabbed a slice of pizza and asked if he could join him.

The child said, “Sure, why not,” Rudolph recalled after returning to campus.

“We just had a great conversation. He started off, telling me his name was Bo, telling me how much he loves Florida State. We went from there,” the player said. “It was real easy … you’d never think anything was wrong with him. He had a nice smile on his face. Just a really warm person.”

FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher said he’s proud of his player.

“You can make someone’s day by being yourself and understanding the impact you have as an athlete,” he said.

Bo’s mother shared her anxieties in her Facebook post. Middle school can be tough. Would other kids be welcoming, or mean?

“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,” she wrote.

“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.”

Rudolph took a little of her pain away.

“You made this momma exceedingly happy,” she wrote, “and have made us fans for life!”

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