Matthew Noah is a sophomore at Andover Central High School. He is autistic. He serves as a manager for the Jaguar football team, and gets out to as many of his school’s sporting events as he can.
But this story isn’t really about Matthew Noah. It’s about the fellow students at ACHS who have embraced him and rallied around his cause.
About 35 of them, mostly football and basketball players, will be participating in the Heartspring CARE Walk in support Noah on Saturday morning.
Connie Erbert, Director Of Autism Outreach for Heartspring, said while having friends as a support system is important, the “rules” of friendship and conversation don’t come naturally to those with autism.
“It helps that Matthew is really into sports,” Erbert said. “Matthew had to step outside his comfort zone to learn a lot of these skills – well, what better peer group to fit in with than a sports group? It builds his self esteems and confidence. It gives him a better quality of life. Matthew is very proud of his buddies.”
Noah has been feeling the love from his friends for years. Not only has the football team given him a jersey since the fifth grade, after middle school it retired his number.
Since then, Noah and his father Craig can be seen at almost every sporting event the Jaguars have.
“You know, seniors aren’t known for taking a lot of time for sophomores,” Craig Noah said. “But Matthew will be walking down the hall and kids will give him a high five. They’ll chest bump him on game day. Little things like that go a long ways to creating a positive culture. It’s hard for me to even talk about sometimes without tearing up.”
The CARE Walk is one of Heartspring’s most important events. It’s a fundraiser, but its top mission is to increase awareness and support for Autism-spectrum disorders.
Erbert said she’s expecting to again see a strong representation from Andover.
“Part of what makes this the best job in the world is seeing a school and a community embrace diversity within their mix,” Erbert said. “This is a community that chooses to include rather than exclude. Andover has done an awesome job of embracing Matthew. As far as I’m concerned, Andover is a great role model for other communities.”
Adam Knapp is Editor-in-Chief for the Andover American. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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