It’s not easy being a kid, especially when you’re getting older and trying to learn how to exist in the world, all while figuring out who you are. Especially when you’re 12 and everything is changing so fast. Especially when you have autism.
It’s helpful, often necessary, for young kids to have advocates at school. Especially those kids with extra challenges. Which is what makes it so heartbreaking when someone who should be an advocate turns out to be anything but.
That’s what happened to 11-year-old autistic fifth-grader Akalis Castejon. Akalis goes to Bailly Preparatory Academy in Gary, Indiana, and he made the news recently when, at the school’s end of the year award ceremony, his special education teacher gave him a trophy for “Most Annoying Male.”
That’s right. He was insulted and given a trophy, at the 5th-grade celebration at a local Golden Corral. Needless to say, his family was stunned, and the school has acted swiftly against the teacher.
“We acknowledge the potential impact that an experience like this could have on a child’s mental well-being, self-esteem and overall level of comfortability in a learning environment going forward,” Gary Community School Corp. emergency manager Peter Morikis said, in a statement.
Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke was appalled by the story and reached out to the boy’s father. It seems Akalis didn’t understand he was being ridiculed and was excited to receive a trophy.
“I’m kind of glad that he didn’t understand,” Castejon told Huppke. And he expressed his concerns about his son’s future. “I’m not going to be around forever to take care of him,” Castejon said. “I want things to be better for him.”
Huppke took it upon himself to make amends for the community and made a special announcement in his column. Akalis is now the recipient of a special new award, a certificate that will be framed and sent to him, certifying that he is Rex Huppke’s “2019 Outstanding Person Award for his good cheer and for lifting up those around him.”
This time, Akalis will know what his award his for, and he’ll know that he deserves it.