We have an extremely important election coming up next week. Please encourage
advocates, your friends and family to vote. Early voting has already started and as
of Sunday, 320,644 people have already voted! I was surprised when I voted on
Monday of the number of individuals voting.
Lots going on this week!
I met with Kyle Rick, CEO of The Arc of the Quad Cities yesterday at Starved
Rock Lodge on Monday. Kyle is going to be on our Board of Directors represent
the Executive Forum. Kyle, thank you for your service to The Arc.
Wednesday, in Thompson Center, room 2, 025, Chicago, the Alliance for Health
with meet to review the work of the various Work Groups on the 1115 Waiver.
This meeting is also being held by webinar.
On Thursday, I am going to be part of a panel discussion at a Forum on
Managed Care hosted by Health & Medicine Policy Research Group at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
Friday, The Arc has called a meeting with Secretary Saddler and Director Hamos
on automatic Medicaid enrollment for children on SSI as they become adults.
Good story from the Chicago Tribune follows.
Not going to catch me’
Leyden player with autism scores TD in 1st, last game
By Michael Stainbrook | Tribune reporter
Josh Padilla wears No. 71 on game days. He is listed as a senior kicker on
Leyden’s roster. He is a team captain and walks to midfield for the pregame
Then he’s done for the day. A player who doesn’t play. A kicker who doesn’t
kick. A guy on the sideline.
The guy with autism.
But Friday night, Padilla became the guy with autism who scored a touchdown
on Senior Night. On a set play after the opening kickoff, he took a shuttle pass
from quarterback Tom Pajor and ran 66 yards to the end zone.
His parents, Dan and Kim Padilla, teared up in the Leyden stands as the entire
Eagles team mobbed their son.
“Well, how about that?” Kim Padilla said, wiping away tears. “And to think, five
years ago he wouldn’t go out at night. He was scared of the darkness.”
The play came as a surprise to most fans in attendance. The Proviso East
coaching staff agreed to the play. The Eagles practiced for Padilla’s big moment
all week. His touchdown did not go on the scoreboard, but the play set the pace
for Leyden’s 49-9 victory. “We were just trying to get him to run (in practice), and
he wouldn’t want to run,” Pajor said. “I’m like, ‘Josh, you have to run! You’re
scoring a touchdown here.’
“I told him I was going to chase him. He was like, ‘All right, you’re not going to
catch me.’ So he ran, and I was chasing him.”
Before the game, Padilla ran onto the field during senior introductions and began
to cry as he gave coach Tom Cerasani a bear hug. Kim Padilla said Josh was
overwhelmed by the attention and told her he was sad football was coming to an
He said, “Mom, I’m sad. I won’t see my boys.”
Josh Padilla rides the bus with teammates each weekday to practice at East
Leyden High School.
On a cloudy and cool Thursday, Padilla, a senior at West Leyden, was first off
the bus. He took long, deliberate strides to the school’s front door, which he held
open, smiling as he waited for lagging teammates.
He then moseyed onto the field, poking Pajor under the ribs. He held his helmet
and gloves in his left hand and wore Nike cleats and a faded No. 46 practice jersey.
Josh was born June 10, 1997, as Kim’s only child . Dan had two children from a
previous marriage. Josh didn’t show signs of autism, though he was quiet. Dan,
outspoken and confident, thought his son inherited his wife’s calm demeanor and
never doubted Josh’s health, not even when a pediatrician recommended speech
therapy, which was unsuccessful.
Still, Kim scheduled an appointment with a neurologist, who needed only a few
minutes to diagnose Josh with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder affects about one in 68 American children, according
to the Centers for Disease Control, and boys are five times more likely to have the
Kim Padilla said Josh’s autism falls in the middle of the spectrum.
“He knows more than what he lets on,” she said. “He talks, but some don’t. You
saw him cry. Sometimes with autism, they don’t have that emotion.”
An athlete and youth coach, Dan suggested Josh join the football team his
freshman year. He knew his son might never play, but he wanted him to be more
than the water boy or equipment manager. Josh needed to be part of the team.
“There’s not much individuality in football, so that’s the easiest for him being a
member of the team,” Dan said. “My goal is to bring further awareness to autism.
If I could educate 50 boys on the football team … that was my goal, and him being
a senior, I think it’s almost accomplished.”
Longtime West Leyden special education teacher and Eagles baseball coach
Gary Wolf said he could not remember another student like Josh participating in a
mainstream team sport.
“No matter what your standing is or what kind of ability you have, being part of
something makes that person feel so much better, like he’s one of the gang, one of
the group,” Wolf said. “You could see his personality develop throughout the years.
I think a lot of that is being with the football players.”
In the beginning
Dan took time off his job as a state housing investigator to make sure Josh was
comfortable at the start of the 2011 freshman football season, but he returned to
work after a couple of days of watching Josh stand closer to the fence than to his new
One day, a coach told Dan that Josh had done some light stretching. That continued
until the players, who had come to embrace Josh, urged the coaching staff to let him
So Josh kicked off to start a half of a freshman game, with the permission of the
opposing coach. His sophomore year he did it again, this time without Leyden’s
opponent knowing about his autism. That kick traveled only a few yards, but a
teammate was assigned as his personal protector.
Last fall, varsity coach Cerasani was skeptical of allowing Josh to participate
because of the inherent dangers of football. Friday marked the first time Josh played
in a varsity game.
“The risk of injury for him playing football is greater sometimes because he’s not
as aware of the things that are happening around him,” Cerasani said. “But the kids
do a great job of taking care of him, making sure he’s in the right spot.”
One of the guys
Padilla communicates mostly through innocent pranks. He hid a spare football
behind his back — “I’ve got it now,” he told Pajor, his closest friend on the team —
during a practice. He’s the only player who can get away with telling Cerasani,
Padilla balked when after-school special educator Kevin Summerville wanted to
play catch on the sideline, but eventually he agreed. He dropped the first two short
passes but caught the next four.
“I’m watching you, Josh,” receiver Alex Lemon said as he pointed two fingers at
his eyes, then rotated his hand to point at Padilla.
Padilla mimicked the gesture and briefly made eye contact with Lemon, one of
the few times he looked directly at anyone during the practice.
“At first he would kind of isolate himself from the rest of the group. He didn’t really
know anyone,” senior center Gunnar Schiferl said. “As the years came by, he got to
know us. He’s just one of us now.”
Next year there will be no football for Padilla. He’ll enter a post-high school life-
skills program, likely through Leyden schools or Elmhurst College, aimed at job
readiness. But for one final Friday night, he was one of the guys.
Dan Padilla said Josh has been more comfortable playing football than
participating in the Special Olympics. Josh’s special education math teacher had
trouble reaching him in a classroom, but Josh opened up on the field.
“If you don’t really talk to Josh, you don’t see what a cool person he is,” Pajor
said. “I didn’t know Josh before, but I’m so greatly impacted by Josh that I never
would have guessed that I could meet such a cool person.”
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423