What’s Best for Jack? A Silent Graduation.

When Jack Higgins’ high school graduation approached, his parents, Barbara and Patrick Higgins, wanted him to attend.

Like my son Cooper, Jack, 21, has severe autism.

His parents worried that he’d struggle at a loud, crowded event. But, the Higgins dreamed of seeing their son walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma.

I have this same exact dream. And while my son is only 8, in many ways I’ve accepted the possibility it may never happen.

“When you have a severe disability, like Jack does, you miss out on life,” Barbara Higgins, of Carmel, New York, told TODAY.

Higgins is a familiar face in the cafeteria, library, hallways and classrooms of Carmel High School, and he’s well-known there.

After eight years in the school’s program for students with cognitive, learning or behavior challenges, he was ready to graduate on June 20.

His parents wanted him to participate in the ceremony but knew it would be very hard for their son to be able to attend. They knew he would be overwhelmed sitting for hours in a large auditorium surrounded by hundreds of people.

The noise, lights, waiting, chaos. All of it.  These are the exact same concerns I would have my son as well and are pretty common for parents of kids on the spectrum.

They approached his teacher Erin Appelle about it anyways.

What’s Best for Jack?

“In our school we have a banner as you enter all of our school buildings # WhatsBestforKids,” Lou Riolo, principal of Carmel High in Putnam County, New York, wrote in an email. “It sounds corny but makes sense. But in this case what was best for Jack?”

Riolo had an idea: have everyone sit in silence as Higgins walked across the stage.

“He is a wonderful member of our student community,” principal Riolo wrote in a YouTube video of the ceremony. “What followed was nothing short of a miracle. We shot for the moon but instead reached the stars.”

Many of Jack’s classmates waved and did silent golf claps as the young man walked onto the state to receive his diploma.

He made it across!

I sobbed as I watched the video.

Jack was doing exactly what my son would do. He was covering his ears.

Cooper does this when he is excited, scared, overwhelmed, and overly joyous. It’s his way of saying, ‘I’m feeling too much right now.’

The Higgins family felt incredibly touched by the students’ kindness.

“It was extremely heartwarming. We will never forget it. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” Higgins said. “I hope the students never forget and realize what a difference they made in our lives.”

I’m not sure if people will every truly understand the difference they are making in the lives of these parents. And Jack.

Thank you to this community. From a mom who can only dream that this will be her son one day.

Watch the full video HERE.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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