Michigan School Elects Special Needs Homecoming King

Yahoo Contributor Network

Fall in high school means one thing perhaps more than others: football. And with football comes the ritual homecoming king and queen selections. In Linden, Michigan, a small rural community located between Flint, Michigan, and Detroit, it's no different. Linden is just an average small town, but in quality of life and paying it forward, it's a world leader, particularly at the local high school. Students at Linden High School elected a special needs boy, Danny Leideker, as their homecoming king.

* Leideker, says the Detroit Free Press, has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome (AS). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), kids with Asperger syndrome struggle with appropriate social interaction. They don't always recognize social taboos or boundaries. Communication, behaving in socially acceptable ways, volume control, making eye contact, forming relationships -- all those pose challenges for kids with Asperger syndrome.

* Leideker's parents expected that their son's condition would make it difficult for him to make friends, says Freep. But having Asperger syndrome didn't stop Leideker from reaching out to other kids anyway. In eighth grade, he asked some boys if they'd like to sit with him at lunch. They agreed, and Leideker became friends with all of them, but especially with Eddie Walterhouse. Walterhouse kept in touch with Leideker even when Leideker was transferred to a different special education placement.

* In his junior year, Leideker started at Linden High School. The friends he'd made in middle school helped him navigate the social scene in the larger general education high school. They guided him in appropriate public behavior. They helped him get a spot on the football team as manager and water boy.

* Several weeks ago, Leideker was nominated for Homecoming Court. Kirsten Hendricks, a student at Linden, made a Facebook post encouraging students to "vote for Danny." She says the response was incredibly popular. At Linden's homecoming on October 5, Leideker was elected king. Walterhouse was also nominated, but told Freep that if he'd won, he would have handed over the title to Leideker. Several girls helped Leideker with the homecoming dance etiquette.

* Another small town outside Detroit made homecoming news recently in a less positive way, says the Associated Press. Whitney Kropp, 16, was nominated for homecoming court at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Michigan. It turns out that nomination was done as a prank. Julie Brown, principal of Linden Middle School, told Freep that Leideker's success may assuage some of the negativity Kropp experienced.

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