Mom explains that if her severely autistic son can get used to wearing a mask, anyone can
Joan Dukovic

As the coronavirus pandemic continues sweeping its way through the world, public health officials everywhere are scrambling to figure out the most effective ways of mitigating it. One of the measures that's proving to be helpful is universal mask-wearing. Though wearing a cloth mask doesn't offer much protection from getting the virus, it does prevent you from spreading the virus—which you may be carrying and not know it—by catching droplets as soon as they leave your mouth. That means we can significantly slow the spread of the virus in public places, but only if everyone wears a mask.

Though the idea is simple, it would be wrong to say that wearing a mask is easy for everyone. As a commenter on one of our recent posts about mask policy protester pointed out, masks can be extra challenging for people with autism or other sensory issues—but that doesn't change the public health reality of the pandemic.

"My son has autism and lots of sensory issues," wrote Joan Dukovic. "He's having a real hard time wearing a mask. I could probably get a medical exclusion from his doctor, but I wouldn't dare!! He will have to learn to deal with it. I've raised him to be a responsible citizen, which sometimes requires sacrifices."

"Today we were buying some plants at an outdoor vendor," she continued. "He let me put his mask on him and wore it as we shopped for about 15 minutes. Then he wanted to take it off. We were nowhere near anyone else, but I gave him the choice of wearing it or going to wait in the car. He chose the car. Which is where this woman belongs, in my opinion. We're all in this together. If you can't wear a mask to help keep others safe, stay home! Order delivery. Kindness matters, especially when it might keep people from getting sick or dying!!!"

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Upworthy reached out to Dukovic to learn more about her and her son's unique perspective and experiences. She is a single mom to her 30-year-old son, Chris, who has severe classic autism and is functionally non-verbal. Dukovic mentioned that her son is prone to meltdowns, which can include yelling and physical aggression. She claims it's been difficult getting him to wear a mask in public. But she knows it's important to teach him to do it anyway.

"When I first realized that he would need to wear a mask, I knew I would need to help him develop the skills and tolerance he'd need," Dukovic says. "That's basically what we've been doing for his whole life whenever a new challenge presents itself."

She consulted with her network of friends—her "village" she calls it—and got some great ideas. Some were using visors for their adult children, but Dukovic knew that would also be a challenge for Chris because of his sensory difficulties.

"But I totally believe in him, and he believes in himself," says Dukovic. "So, we're doing it incrementally. I started by wearing a mask in his presence but not asking him to try. Then we had a graduation drive-by parade where I knew his peers would be wearing masks. Before we left the house, I told him everyone would need to wear their masks if they got out of their cars. And we tried it out, but he wouldn't put one on. But when we got to the meeting place and he saw friends wearing them, he agreed and let me put one in him. Peer pressure at its best!"

Joan Dukovic

Dukovic says that she believes Chris will build up a tolerance to mask-wearing over time. "I'm not sure how much he understands about the virus," she says, "But he knows germs can make us sick. And he knows it's important to be kind and respectful to others."

"I believe in the Golden Rule," says Dukovic."I believe we all have a responsibility to look out for each other. This virus is highly contagious, and a lot of transmission involves pre- or non-symptomatic folks. People are suffering and dying from it. If my son and I can do something as simple as wearing a mask, I believe it's our civic duty. And, well, it's really not simple for my son. Not at all, but he's still a member of society with the same responsibilities as all citizens."

The same responsibilities as all citizens. That truly sums it up. This is an act of collective solidarity we're being asked to participate in to protect our fellow Americans. What could possibly be more patriotic than making a sacrifice for the greater good of your country?

For the folks who resist wearing a mask even though they are perfectly capable of doing so, Dukovic has some advice:

"I guess my message to anyone thinking about not wearing a mask is to think hard about your decision. Think about the essential workers and all the nurses and doctors and people on the front lines. Think about the vulnerable older population in nursing homes who would most likely die if one of their caregivers brought the virus into their facility. Think about them gasping for breath, alone and scared. Ask yourself, is it more important to be 'right' or "'free' or 'comfortable,' or is more important to be kind and considerate in order to prevent the suffering of others and possibly save someone's life? If my son can do it, anyone can do it. And should."

Well said, madam. And well done raising a responsible citizen who can serve as an example to others.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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I almost didn't create this post this week.

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