The first day of school is stressful for many children across the country. The shift in environment and in schedule can be overstimulating in different ways for each child, but can be especially difficult for children with special needs like autism.
When this happens, teachers, administrators and other staff have the opportunity to help the child feel more comfortable so they can settle into a routine for the year.
A photo from a school district in east Tennessee recently captured the moment a school resource officer embraced an 11-year-old boy with autism, showing how impactful compassionate staff at school can be for students on their first day of school.
Kadin Templin is a sixth grade student in Morristown, Tennessee, who has had 24 surgeries since his birth. Because of a rare genetic disorder and medicine he needs to take because of it, he is much larger than other children his age.
His mother, Christina Swartz, told The Western Journal that others often don’t understand why Kadin still acts like a child due to his size. Swartz said it’s something that made her worry as her son prepared to go back to school.
“I always worry about kids his age bullying him,” she said. “I mean I’ve heard grown adults say things under their breathe about Kadin.”
Monday Aug. 5, 2019, was Kadin’s first day of middle school which means a new school, new teachers and new classmates.
In elementary school, he went to the same school as his 9-year-old sister who often looked out for her big brother, but now that Kadin is in middle school they are no longer on the same campus.
Due to Kadin’s big heart, Swartz said she worried about her son not understanding that not everyone would want to be friends with him.
“He thinks EVERYONE is his friend. And doesn’t understand not everyone wants a hug, and not everyone is nice,” she told The Western Journal. “He tends to get talked into doing things because he doesn’t know he’s not supposed to because he wants to feel included so bad.”
But soon after she picked up him from school, her worries were eased.
Friends and family texted Swartz to let her know that Kadin’s picture had been posted on the district’s Facebook page.
The photo showed Kadin, with his face blurred, sitting on the floor being hugged by school resource officer Julio Ortiz. “Sometimes first days of school are stressful,” the Hamblen County Department of Education wrote. “Thank you for your love and assistance Officer Ortiz.”
Swartz said she “ugly cried” when she saw the photo.
“To see an adult, a stranger at the time to Kadin, get down on his level and try to be there for him when he felt stressed meant the world to me,” she said.
Kadin excitedly told his mom about how he had made two new friends at school: Officer Ortiz and Mama T, a custodian at the school who took the now-viral photo.
She was so moved by Officer Ortiz’s act of kindness that had left such a big impact on her son that she reached out to him on Facebook to personally thank him. She also told Ortiz that Kadin had named him as a new best friend.
“It really touched my heart someone can be there for him and understand Kadin has such a big loving giving heart!”
“It is an honor for Kadin to call me his friend,” Officer Ortiz told The Western Journal. “These are the things that matter in life. We need to show love especially to the ones with special needs.”
Officer Ortiz also said that interactions like the one he had with Kadin were one of the reasons he became a school resource officer three years ago.
“When I became an SRO I knew that I could make a difference because of the opportunity of performing different roles such as law enforcement officer, counselor, and educator,” he said.
Swartz said that she is no longer as worried about her son as she was at the beginning of the week because she knows that the staff of the school are there to look out for him.
“What I really hope people take from this photo is … a child with special needs like autism might look like a normal child from the outside,” she said. “And no we don’t want to handicap them. But, they need extra love, attention, and compassion.”
We have updated this article to include original quotes from Officer Julio Ortiz.
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