Tonio was the biggest fan of Scooby Doo that I have ever seen. He knew all the episodes that mattered to him and could retell them better than any television writer.
He was a funloving, lanky teen who was always making me laugh. He could remember television and movie dialogue incredibly well, which was a talent we both drove the adults in our lives nuts with.
Tonio was sensitive and had a lot of empathy, but never took anything too seriously on a daily basis, which was good for me to be around. His best friend in our room was Christy, another teenager who was otherwise surrounded by kids who were under 10, so they hit it off well. Christy was quiet and observant and Tonio was just unmistakably, happily there, so this was a great balance for them.
When Christy was scared of high pitched noises like our class blender, Tonio would help her through it. When he was super excited about Scooby Doo or a field trip, Christy would help him be calm enough to enjoy it better. I loved watching this because it was so natural, and we were given a lot of time in our classroom to just spend time with each other and learn from that.
For a long time, it was unclear to me what Tonio’s disabilities were because he could walk, hear, see, communicate his needs easily, and had no need for medical treatment that I could see. He clearly had ADHD and needed a mix of freedom and stability to be at his best, and he likely had a mild intellectual disability. He brought a lot of fun and relaxation to me and to other kids in our room, many of whom were in foster homes or experiencing other stress.
Christy added stability for him and grew in coping with her own stress and sensory overwhelm. When I am with teens now, I think of them, and how teens can support each other well when given the space and support to do so.
I don’t know where Tonio ended up when many of us were mainstreamed, but I know Christy went to high school with a friend of mine. She is working and doing well and providing the same calm presence she gave Tonio then. Disabled kids and teens are powerful together. Please support their connection to each other and help them navigate it, because the effects can last a lifetime.