All Christian Ranieri wanted was to be heard. The 14-year-old boy with autism has gotten national attention ever since a YouTube video of him trying to speak at a board of education meeting went viral. His mother, Carina Ranieri, spoke to the International Business Times exclusively about her son wanting to be the voice of autism after he was dismissed at a public forum.
Christian, who has high-functioning autism, was suspended from Northport High School on Long Island for two days after he yelled at teacher out of frustration on Sept. 27. His Individualized Education Plan wasn’t being followed, Christian felt, which is what prompted him to act out, but he doesn’t believe a two-day suspension was fair.
At the meeting, the school board's president, Stephen Waldenburg Jr., halted Christian from speaking in front of the participants, and that has outraged many people.
“This is about a child working three hours on a speech to voice his opinion and to keep his dignity,” Ranieri told IBT. “This is about a young man taking his life into his own hands.”
Speech didn't come easy for Christian when he was diagnosed with autism at age 5. Since then, he's come a long way, his mother said. The video has garnered more than 35,000 views in two days and people from Australia and New Zealand have reached out to Christian through his Facebook page, which has gotten nearly 1,500 likes.
“It was supposed to be a therapeutic out for him,” Ranieri said about her son reading his speech at the board of ed meeting. “Who would listen to him?”
Christian and his parents made an appointment with district superintendent Dr. Marylou McDermott, but it was canceled and the family was referred to other district officials.
“I didn’t think I would be putting him in the line of fire,” she said about the way Waldenburg dismissed Christian at the meeting. “I couldn’t understand what was happening.”
The video has gained attention because it shows how the school dealt with someone who has a development disability, Ranieri said. “There’s such a low level of expectation.”
A more complete name for autism is autism spectrum disorder. The disability effects everyone differently, but Christian is able to express himself eloquently. “He just wants to succeed,” his mother said. “He has dreams.”
Christian has already been asked to speak at the Self Advocacy New York Conference (SANYS), where he is a youth ambassador. He considers himself the voice of autism, Carina said. “I’m going to speak for everyone -- even the people that can’t. I’m the lucky,” Christian told his mother. “I’m the one chosen to this.”
In an email to IBT, Christian added: "I want to thank everyone for their support but this is not the end, this is the beginning of change.” His mother continued, “He just wants to be the voice for all of those without a voice.”