A boy with autism is being hailed a hero after he saved his classmate’s life, who was choking on an apple, using the Heimlich maneuver. Remarkably, the boy learned the trick from the hit American animated television series, SpongeBob SquarePants.
Brandon Williams, 13, was eating lunch at Barnes Intermediate School’s cafeteria last week when he noticed that classmate Jessica Pellegrino was choking on a piece of apple. He immediately rushed to her side and wrapped his arms around her mid-section and gave a sharp thrust to her diaphragm, and she spit out the piece of apple.
When stunned administrators asked Brandon how he knew to correctly implement the Heimlich maneuver, a first aid procedure used to treat upper airway obstructions by foreign objects, the boy with autism shrugged modestly, saying, “Learned it on SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Since Brandon attends a special-needs class, he is assigned a paraprofessional, the retired NYPD Officer Brian Griffin, who said the school authorities were pleasantly surprised to find out that the boy with autism had such special capabilities.
“The cafeteria is always very noisy, but I heard the kids calling me. I was ready to jump in, but Brandon had it. He was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Some people may have preconceived notions about autism, but these kids are intelligent, loving, just amazing kids.”
However, his parents were not as surprised, admitting Brandon has an excellent memory, according to New York Post.
“His brain works like — well, like a sponge,” said his proud father Anthony Williams. “He picks up on things that most of us would miss, and files it all away in his head, and he can recall it all in an instant. That’s how he knew instantly what to do. And we’re glad he did. We’re proud of him.”
13-year-old Jessica Pellegrino could hardly contain her gratefulness. She and Brandon were good pals before the incident, but now they can hardly be separated.
“He saved my life,” said a resplendent Jessica. “He is awesome and cute.”
Jessica’s mother was thankful that Brandon was there at the right moment. “Last week the news story was horrible,” Debra Pellegrino added, referring to tragic Williamsburg first-grader Noelia Echavarria who was declared brain-dead after choking on a sandwich in her Brooklyn school cafeteria last month. She was taken off life support on October 30.
When the boy with autism was asked if he remembered the episode from which he recalled the Heimlich maneuver, Brandon said, “Yes, the one where SpongeBob SquarePants chokes on a piece of chocolate.”
To celebrate his heroism, Brandon and Jessica’s seventh-grade classmates threw a party for them, happily emphasizing the fact that they are a closely knit group in which everyone claims to have each other’s backs.
Some adults in Brandon’s school even suggested that he should be awarded a medal for his actions, but the boy disagreed. “I don’t need a medal,” he said. “I’m good.”
The whole incident once again sheds light on the way kids with autism can often perform inconceivable acts of heroism. It also begs for a better understanding of autism on the larger part of society, which is often guilty of having preconceived notions about girls and boys with autism. If Brandon can learn so much from SpongeBob SquarePants, we can surely learn a lot from Brandon.