Big Rig Brings Big Smiles for Students With Autism

Boy behind wheel
Day care student Oliver Lynch, 2, has fun at the wheel of the truck. (Tom Gorman for The Patriot Ledger/Tribune News Service)

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RANDOLPH, Mass. — For weeks and months before it happens each year, students with autism at the Boston Higashi School anticipate members of the Teamsters Local 25 union rolling up to the front door in its big rig.

“It’s been a real treat,” Principal Deborah Donovan said. “The kids always ask for it and the nonverbal ones point to the picture of a truck, ever since they started coming.”

The tradition of visiting the students in the semitrailer truck and letting them crawl inside, outside, grab the steering wheel and — most importantly — honk the horn, has been going on for the past five years.


Students check out the visiting truck. (Tom Gorman for the Patriot Ledger/Tribune News Service)

The big rig was not able to make its normal appearance last year due to the pandemic, and Donovan said the students were thrilled it would roll up again.

Donovan said Teamsters President Sean O’Brien usually gets to the school a little early, clad in running shoes and shorts, to join the children on their morning exercise routine and run around the school.

O’Brien said autism has been the focus of the union’s philanthropy efforts for the past 15 years after pressure from union members who have family members with autism. What started as fundraising eventually turned into the yearly visit to the school.

Boston Higashi School Division Director John McAllister, who wrangled, lifted and directed children in and around the truck, said they love it every year.

“They get so excited for it, that they get to drive a big truck,” he said.

Student Jackson Odiette summed up his favorite part of the experience succinctly.

“I drive truck,” he said.


Ibi Hammach, 11, is helped out of the truck by math teacher Chris Danbrook (top) and Teamsters member John Murphy (bottom). (Tom Gorman for the Patriot Ledger/Tribune News Service)

O’Brien said raising money for the Boston Higashi School, and interacting with the children, is immediately rewarding and makes a tangible impact on the lives of the community members.

“We’re making relationships and it’s hands-on,” O’Brien said.

The “why” gets a little bit easier after the yearly visit.

“It’s seeing those smiles of joy,” he said.

Teamsters Special Events Director Trish DiSilva said the union comes to the school three times a year, including when members put in the work to create a light display for the winter holidays.

Bringing the big rig to the school is of special interest to many students, who can become hyperfocused on specific topics, often trucks or trains.

Whenever something is going to happen at the school, teachers make sure the students are prepared. Because the big rig was coming, students were prepared with stories, projects and activities related to trucks before the big day, she said.

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