Autistic Oregon Teenager Wins National Essay Contest, Award Denied Allegedly Because Of His ‘Disability’

Heartbreaking news out of the state of Oregon after an autistic teenager named Niko Boskovic learned United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth in New York had reversed their decision to accept his national-award-winning essay allegedly simply because of his autism.

Niko Boskovic entered the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth’s national essay contest in November and learned that he had won the contest in January. A few months later, however, the autistic teenager from Oregon learned he was being denied his award and his autism was supposedly to blame.

A man pressing an "equality" button on a touch screen display
Autistic teenager just wants to be treated like everyone else [Image by thodonal88/Shutterstock]

KOIN 6 News spoke to the teenager’s mother, Loreta Boskovic, in order to learn more about Niko and the award he had been denied. Loreta revealed to the news outlet that her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. She also revealed that Niko uses a letter board in order to communicate with people.

“He uses the letter board to spell out each letter to make sentences and do homework and communicate with friends.”

His mother went on to explain that autism hits every single person a little differently and it was Niko’s language that was hit more than anything else. Fortunately, Niko has been able to communicate with his friends, family, and the world around him using his letter board.

It was the board of the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth – which operates as a national non-profit organization – that denied Niko the award after previously telling him he had been selected as a delegate.

Using his letter board, Niko told KOIN 6 News he wanted to be a voice for other people like himself.

“I want to stress that I belong here and people like me aren’t going anywhere.”

The start of Niko Boskovic’s winning essay for a national contest that was sending 300 teenagers from around the world to the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth located in New York this summer can be read below.

“The reason I chose to focus on Ukraine was because I had heard a lot about it on the nightly news. I was interested because of the horrific injustices happening there for so many years. Getting news like that interested me because of my background.”

His mother went on to tell KOIN 6 News that anyone who read the award-winning essay Niko wrote could see the autistic teenager was “extremely eloquent” even though he required a letter board to communicate.

Niko entered the national essay contest with the help of the Peninsula Odd Fellows in Portland. David Scheer, the lodge secretary, also spoke to KOIN 6 News about the organization’s decision to deny the autistic teenager his award after telling him he had won. Scheer claimed that he can’t be completely sure why the committee decided to reject Niko for the award.

“It’s real difficult to give an answer because the committee that is on the national level will not talk to us, will not answer. We tried to contact them on that, we asked for a written explanation. All that we got was our check back and refusal to even answer our phone calls.”

David Scheer also noted that he was both “disgusted” and “absolutely appalled” by the decision to deny the autistic teenager the award he was previously told he would receive. The only response Scheer has received is that delegates were not allowed to have a chaperone accompany them.

“All that the email said was I’ve been instructed to inform you that the quote-unquote special delegate will not be accepted and that chaperones are not accepted.”

Scheer noted that he was especially annoyed by the use of the word chaperone which implies Niko – as an autistic teenager – needs someone to make sure he doesn’t get in trouble. Truthfully, someone accompanying Niko would only do so to operate as his voice.

According to Niko’s mother, the 15-year-old has been successful at Trillium School located in Northeast Portland. Niko lives in a community with people who know and accept him for who he is. So, this situation has taken Loreta, Niko, and his entire family by surprise.

“We’ve found our niche in the community and people know us and they know Niko. So it’s surprising to me to be in a situation where they’re like, ‘Whoa no, sorry we can’t handle the disability, we don’t accept disability.’ Just kind of boggles my mind, to be honest.”

Loreta clarified that she is not angry about what has happened, but she would like officials at the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth to reach out and find some sort of solution to this problem. Niko’s mother was also slightly annoyed by the use of the word chaperone as it was a poor choice to describe the person who would have accompanied Niko on the trip.

“I mean, you chaperone a dance, you chaperone a bus trip when your kid goes to the zoo. This is going and being his support, his communication interpreter.”

Niko’s family reached out to a lawyer through Disability Rights Oregon named Gordon Magella. Magella noted that he was shocked when he learned about this case as it was a blatant example of discrimination.

“I haven’t seen anything this blatant in a long time. You know, it’s 2017. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has been around for almost 30 years, and to see something so profound and blatant was just surprising to me.”

Gordon Magella noted that he “can’t fathom” any reasoning for Niko being denied the award other than he’s autistic.

“It’s really that simple and that blatant.”

KOIN 6 News has reached out to officials at United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth for a statement regarding why they denied Niko the award and if it truly was because he’s autistic. The organization has yet to respond.

The Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, which raised the money to help pay for Niko’s trip after winning the award, “has been absolutely phenomenal,” according to Niko’s mother. The Lodge raised $1,600 which they want Niko to use to go on any trip he wants regardless of if the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth decides to change their mind again. Loreta plans on taking her 15-year-old to Washington, D.C., this summer with the money.

During the interview with KOIN 6 News, Nico also used his letter board to let his mother know how much he appreciates her for fighting for him.

“You have been my hero. Please never stop fighting for me.”

Do you think this organization denied this autistic teenager from Oregon his award for the national essay contest simply because he is autistic? Do you think the organization should get in trouble for what has happened? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Featured Image by Sabphoto/Shutterstock]

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