High school can be a daunting place, socially and academically, for any teenager. But when you mix in autism, figuring out the ins and outs of social norms can be even more challenging for a teen. Friendships, popularity, and events like a school dance often require determined thinking, planning and trial-and-error.

Such is the case for Wilton High School senior Joe Sylvia.

Three years ago, when Joe was a freshman, he got a major lesson about high school social life and friendship. His next door neighbor was Mike LaSala, a popular senior who was captain of the football team. When Mike was nominated to be on the homecoming court but couldn’t take part in the ceremony, he asked Joe to take his place at the ceremony at half-time of the Homecoming Game. ” I thought it might be more meaningful for Joe than for one of my friends,” Mike said at the time.

So, Joe walked onto the field at half-time, escorting one of the girls vying to be 2012 Homecoming Queen. Joe’s mom, Patti, recalled that Joe loved being a part of the ceremony and experience three years ago, and he asked how to get chosen on his own.

“I said, ‘Well, you need to be a very nice person, well-liked by your class, involved and take part in school activities — be popular!’ So he made it his goal to try to be all of those things as he looked up to Michael. Michael was always so nice to everyone but especially to Joe, and I think it had more to do with that Joe was his neighbor and not because he has special needs. He really looked out for him,” Patti says.

By having that goal of getting on the homecoming court again, this time on his own, Joe worked hard to emulate all those things Mike taught him. He adds that if the definition of being popular means how many friends you have, then he’s come up with a great formula for making friends and getting to be popular.

“You have to be friendly, you have to be nice, you have to be in clubs. I’m in the soccer club and the Top Inclusion Models or TIMS club. They both help children with disabilities. For TIMS we think about what we want to do to improve the Wilton School district. I like to help people who are younger become more mature,” he says.

Sticking to that approach, says Joe, has paid off:  “I’ve become more and more popular each year.”

For spirit week, the week before the Homecoming game, the senior class nominates the eight members of the court (four girls, four boys), and then the entire school votes to choose the homecoming king and queen. Last week, Joe saw the proof of how his hard work being friendly could lock up a nomination from his classmates, as he was chosen by his peers to be on the homecoming court. “I was not surprised,” Joe says confidently.

What’s more, he’s been pushing the boundaries working hard on his social skills as a result. He admitted to doing a little campaigning ahead of time, asking kids if they voted for him. “I got mostly yeses,” he boasts. “And I say thank you to each and every one, because I’m always polite.” He added that it’s something every student should think about.  “It’s important that they always be nice to one another.”

The day before the homecoming game, Joe clearly was hoping he’d win the title of king, but would it still be a great thing if he wasn’t named king but got to be on the court anyway. “Of course,” he says.

By Saturday afternoon, when it came time to announce the Homecoming King and Queen, it wasn’t Joe’s name that was called. Although another senior was crowned, it was still clear watching Joe graciously shake the hand of the boy who was crowned king and hug the girl named queen, that he had definitely achieved a victory, perhaps of a more important kind.

His mom, Patti was thrilled.

“You cannot wipe the smile off my face, I’m so excited for him! It’s really a testament to these Wilton Class of 2016 students and their kindness, compassion and their friendships they developed with Joe. Although Joe struggles still in social situations and really doesn’t pick up on social cues, he really tried to do the things he set out to do to the best of his ability.”

Patti gives the Wilton community a great deal of credit.

“I think groups like Top Inclusion Models, Best Buddies, the Parent Advisory Board really have changed the way people feel about disabilities in general. But for Joe, being educated with the other students, being included throughout school since pre-K, they just feel he’s one of them. To his classmates, there’s not difference, he’s part of the student body, just like anyone else. They’re making an extreme effort to be empathetic, more understanding and to learn more about different disabilities. To learn about using the right language, and ending the ‘R-word.’ All those efforts are paying off, and they’re much better people for it.

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One reply on “WHS Senior Joe Sylvia’s Homecoming Victory [HOMECOMING PHOTOS]”

  1. Fantastic story… cheers to Joe Sylvia and also well done to Mike LaSala! What were the names of the other students on the Homecoming Court?

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