A Florida college football player has changed the life of an 11-year-old boy with autism after he ate lunch with the student who was sitting alone in his middle school’s cafeteria, the boy’s mother said.
Leah Paske, 39, shared a photo on Facebook of the touching moment Tuesday between Florida State University wide receiver Travis Rudolph and her son Bo. The Tallahassee mother, who constantly worries about her son being lonely, said she burst into tears when a school employee sent her the image.
The gesture was “so seemingly small” but meant the world to her, she told TIME on Wednesday. “That’s all you need—small acts of kindness. And it can be life-changing for somebody,” Paske said. “I was just so touched and so blessed and so humble that he would take a moment to sit with my child.”
Bo was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Most days, he eats lunch alone, secluded from other students. “It’s more heartbreaking to me than it seems to be to him,” Paske said.
“I’ll say, ‘Who did you eat lunch with today?’ And he’ll say, ‘Nobody. But it’s OK, mom.’ I just don’t want him to be lonely,” she added. “I worry every day. I wonder if he doesn’t really have any friends. It’s hard.”
Rudolph said in an interview with Florida State’s athletic website that he didn’t even know Bo had autism. He and a handful of other Florida State football players were paying a visit to the school and making their rounds in the lunchroom when Rudolph spotted Bo.
“I saw him last. He was sitting by himself. I had got some pizza. I asked him can I sit down with him. He said sure why not. We started a great conversation,” Rudolph said. “It’s just heartbreaking that he’s in that situation, but I’m praying for him. He’s a great kid overall. I would love to hang out with him anytime.”
Paske’s post has been shared more than 8,000 times. Bo and his mother have been invited to attend a dinner with Florida State’s football team and they plan to go watch a game next week.
“I’m hoping he has a bunch of lunch buddies today,” she said.