PROVIDENCE — Growing up in Cumberland, the Rodriguez brothers spent long hours playing basketball.
Jose M. Rodriguez Jr., a 19-year-old Babson College student, said his 18-year-old brother Joel M. Rodriguez, who has autism and is attending The Met School in Providence, didn’t like organized games much. But he loved playing H-O-R-S-E — a game in which two players try to match each other’s shots — and doing trick shots. (“He said we were Dude Average instead of Dude Perfect”). And he loved Celtics legend Paul Pierce.
So the Rodriguez brothers had a perfect moment when they stood in the spotlight at center court March 26 during a Boston Celtics game — and then posed on the parquet with Pierce.
“It was awesome,” Jose Rodriguez said. “We got a standing ovation, and when we looked straight ahead we saw Paul Pierce sitting courtside. We got to meet ‘The Truth.’”
They were honored as part of the “Heroes Among Us” program that the Boston Celtics launched in 1997. Presented by the Mass State Lottery, the program honors those who “through their unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, have made exceptional and lasting contributions to our community.”
“Inspired by his younger brother Joel and his challenges with autism, Jose founded Tasium, the world’s first fidget-infused apparel company,” the program explained. “Tasium’s clothing provides built-in fidget toy outlets to help people with autism relieve stress and anxiety in a productive manner. Since 2019, Tasium has helped over 2,000 people with autism, and has donated shirts and thousands of dollars to autism-support organizations.”
Jose Rodriguez launched Tasium (an anagram of “autism”) in January 2019 when he was involved in The Met School’s entrepreneurship program, E360. He began producing T-shirts with interchangeable fidget toys attached, and in October 2020 he won Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s 15th Annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, a type of “Shark Tank” for young entrepreneurs, taking home a $12,000 prize.
But Rodriguez said he and his brother had never been to a Celtics game. And on March 26, they not only attended the game against the San Antonio Spurs, they also got to stand on the TD Garden floor, soaking in the applause of more than 19,000 fans.
“Even people in the nosebleed seats were standing,” Jose said. “It was crazy.”
They watched the Celtics crush the Spurs, 137-93, and he joked that the Rodriguez brothers inspired Jaylen Brown to score his 41 points.
Rodriguez said Tasium is now extending its product line beyond shirts to include hoodies, sweaters, and sweatpants with fidget toys attached. And as part of autism awareness month in April, the company will sell the same clothing without toys attached, calling it the “Ally” line of apparel, he said.
“I can match with my brother and show that I am standing with him and supporting him,” Rodriguez said. “It’s for parents, families, friends, brothers, and sisters of those with autism.”
Rodriguez said he recently took part in a TEDxBabsonCollege Talk, identifying three practical steps that anyone can take to help build “a more inclusive world.”
First, he said, people can educate themselves about the challenges and needs of those around them, helping to better connect with and understand others. He said his uncle always told him to “learn a little bit about everything because then you can connect with everyone.”
People also can practice “active listening” by “being present in the moment whenever you have a conversation with anyone,” Rodriguez said. “That would make a big difference because a lot of people feel unseen, unheard, and unloved. As humans, we need to feel seen, loved, and heard. It’s not a desire — it’s a real need.”
And people can become allies and advocates for others, Rodriguez said. “If we don’t stand up for each other, who will?” he said. He once opened the door for a woman entering a grocery store and was surprised that she didn’t say thank you. But he said his aunt told him: “True kindness doesn’t expect anything in return.”
“An inclusive world doesn’t happen overnight,” Rodriguez said. “But if we all take these three practical steps and implement them in our lives, the world will be a better place.”