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Autistic students played with an 18-wheeler in an event to bring smiles — and awareness

Boston Higashi School student Ethan Rome enjoyed his time behind the wheel Tuesday. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Boston Higashi School student Ethan Rome enjoyed his time behind the wheel Tuesday. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)John Tlumacki

RANDOLPH — Children at the Boston Higashi School enjoyed a fun-filled day with an 18-wheeler truck brought to campus Tuesday by Teamsters Local 25 as part of the union’s efforts to support autism education, awareness, and research.

More than 100 students with autism, ranging in age from 3 to 20, pretended to drive, beeped the horn, and toured the back of the truck, said Michael Kelly, the school’s executive director.

“It was a big thrill for them,” Kelly said. “All kids love to see big trucks.”

Paul Fanning, the Higashi school’s chief development officer, said most of the students are nonverbal, but the excitement in their expressions was clear.

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“They see big trucks on the road all the time,” Fanning said. “This is an opportunity they never would have had if it was not for the [Teamsters].”

Local 25’s primary charitable mission is to support families and individuals with autism, a spokesman for the union said. Sean O’ Brien, the local’s president, drove the truck onto the school’s Randolph campus.

This is the fifth year the Teamsters have been supporting the Boston Higashi School, and the relationship is “becoming stronger and stronger, which is fantastic,” Kelly said.

The union’s interest in autism support was inspired by many of its members’ personal experiences with autism among family members and friends. In less than 10 years, the union has raised about $5 million for autism research, education, and awareness, the union said in a statement.

“[The Teamsters] will do anything they can to support kids and families that deal with autism,” Fanning said. “We have a solid relationship with them and that continues to grow.”


Katie Camero can be reached at katie.camero@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @camerokt_