Extreme sensitivity to noise is a fact of life for many people on the autistic spectrum. This heightened sensory perception can make it challenging to function in a loud and chaotic world. This month, Carmel High School student Jack Higgins received a unique ovation from his fellow students when he walked onstage to accept his diploma. Higgins, who is both autistic and nonverbal, received a silent ovation from the audience, who touched their palms together in largely inaudible claps.
According to a Fox News Network report, Higgins parents, Barbara and Pat, requested that their son attend the graduation ceremony alongside his special education teacher, Erin Appelle. Lou Riolo, the principal of Carmel, said Higgins parents had expressed concerns about the graduation due to their son’s hypersensitivity to noise and crowds. In response, Riolo conceived the idea of asking the auditorium to stay silent as Higgins received his diploma.
“We planned on doing it immediately after the singing of the National Anthem because we knew Jack sitting there with all the commotion for over 45 minutes would be too much," Riolo said.
Riolo, a graduate of Carmel who taught for 26 years and has been the high school’s principal for five, said he suggested the plan to several other faculty members, all of whom were supportive.
"I did run it past our Assistant Principal Mr. John Fink because he would be honest if he thought it was as I called it 'Shooting the moon,' Riolo said. “He loved it. I also informed our [superintendent] Mr. Andy Irvin and before I finished his answer was 'I love it, let's do it!' I met with Barbara and Pat, Jack's parents, and they thought it was a great idea.”
Riolo said he trusted his students to try their best in making the experience comfortable for Higgins.
“I know my school my students and community," Riolo said. "They always step up." Riolo said the students more than lived up to his expectations, going the extra mile to honor Higgins.
“Their actions of standing up in honor of their classmate was their idea,” he said. “It was not rehearsed. It was genuine." Rilo added that he was “not surprised but in awe of their caring.” Higgins is set to attend Ability Beyond, a Chappaqua, New York-based program for students with special needs.