As the sibling of an autistic individual, fear is something I dealt with for a while.
Although autistic and special needs individuals are more widely accepted, there is a constant fear of somebody making fun or them or using the “r word.” Back when I played hockey, I fought someone who used that word about my brother.
Thankfully, that worry has subsided. Society has opened its arms to these beautiful people. High schools have become a bit of a hot-bed for acceptance stories. Across the country, in this year alone, we saw Ishpeming High School in Michigan fight for their kicker with down syndrome. Out at Del Oro High School in California, a track team rallied around their most beloved runner. A little to the east in Arizona, Chy Johnson and her boys are likely getting ready for another season of football. And who could forget the tri-athlete iron kids Connor and Cayden Long?
What may be my favorite, mostly because it hits home, is the story of James Robert Kennedy, better known as Radio. For those who have not seen the film, its story centers around Coach Jones, played by Ed Harris, a popular high school football coach who brings in Radio, who shows many signs of autism, as an assistant coach. As the movie progresses, the town accepts Radio as a part of their family.
Off the top of my head, I can think of two emotionally powerful scenes. Coincidentally, they run right into one another. The first one is a big plot point, so skip down if you have not seen the movie yet.
Ten years have gone by since “Radio” was released. In those ten years, I still cannot bring myself to watch the scene where Radio’s mother dies. It’s too heartbreaking for me to watch. Whenever the movie is on television, I flip to another channel for a few minutes when that scene airs.
[END OF SPOILER]
When Coach Jones and his daughter return home, he tells his daughter,Mary Helen, a story he kept to himself since he was 12 years old. When he was a little boy, he had a paper route. During one of his runs, he heard a noise coming from one of the houses. It had He went to investigate and this is what he found:
“And then all of the sudden, l saw these fingers coming through the wire. And l put my bike down…and got down on my hands and knees…and l looked under there, and there was this boy about my age. l don’t know what was wrong with him. Something was. They used to keep him under there. And l looked right at him. He looked back at me. We just sat there staring at each other for a while. l ran that route for two years, Mary Helen. And l never did a thing.”
That scene has never faded from my memory. Coach Jones carried that guilt for most of his life. When he saw Radio, he made sure he would never miss an opportunity to help someone. He was given something very few people receive in life. A second chance.
Radio, Ishpeming and Del Oro high school all serve as great examples of acceptance. The coaches and students did not see a disability. They saw someone just like them who, like everyone else, wanted acceptance. To be part of a group they could call their own.