|Making it to high school graduation can be tough for teens with autism. According to federal education data released last year, only 61% of public high school students with disabilities get their high school diplomas.
So when 19-year-old Jacob Hanson, who has autism, was slated to walk with his graduating class in Colorado this May, his mom Christine wanted to celebrate by throwing him a graduation party. When she asked him how many invitations he wanted to give to school friends, however, she was heartbroken by his response.
“He said, ‘I just need like four or five. That’s not too many is it?’” she told the local news channel. As many people with autism do, Jacob has always struggled to make friends at school.
Hoping to at least get a few congratulatory cards for her son, Christine turned to her friends on Facebook. Her plea, however, went viral.
Hundreds of cards started pouring in from people who had seen the online posting. They came from not only the U.S., but also England, Germany and even Japan.
Many came from a sixth-grade class at Rocky Top Middle School, also in Colorado. Their teacher, Liz Darnell, says she is always trying to encourage random acts of kindness — and her students enthusiastically jumped in.
Jacob has also received letters from others with autism, saying that he’s an inspiration.
“This story is important. Traditional society and most high schools are pretty tough on teens because of the public high school environment and because of the adolescent experience,” said Laura Lemond, CEO of Mosaic Weighted Blankets.
Christine put a public message on Facebook May 28 about the hundreds of cards that have been received thus far. “The response has been overwhelming, and we are very thankful for everyone taking a minute out of their busy day to drop a card in the mail. It has meant the world to Jacob and myself,” she wrote.
She also relayed a message from her son: “[It has been] pretty cool to get a box of cards from people I don’t even know. It’s nice to know that people who don’t even know me actually care.”
“Social media has come a long way to build awareness and perspective on what the autistic community needs in way of support,” said Lemond. “It sounds like they stepped up mightily for this child in giving him nice cards and positive messages on his big day. Jacob’s story teaches us all to be more empathetic and encourages adults and kids to embrace the special needs community. Congratulations Jacob!”
If you want to send a card congratulating Jacob on his graduation, the family’s mailing information is available on Facebook.