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Autism affecting teen's football eligibility

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Posted at 12:12 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 08:00:43-04

A petition to allow an autistic student from Orchard Park Central High School play football during the upcoming season is gaining a lot of support.

Senator Tim Kennedy and the family of Jacob Kohler launched the online community petition that already has more than 700 signatures.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) denied Kohler the ability to play this year, his fifth and final year of school. NYSPHSAA says he was only eligible from his freshman year to his fourth year.

But the family has since indicated that Kohler was physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of participating in sports during his first year in high school due to struggles with his autism.

When Kohler entered high school, he was only 4'6" tall and weighed just 72 pounds, registering in the first percentile for both height and weight. He had a hard time consuming enough calories in a day to function, had a delay in motor skills and a hard time interacting with others.

"Throughout my years an an [occupational therapist], I worked with many children who experienced both physical disabilities and developmental delays, and I know first-hand how beneficial physical activity can be to help nurture essential social and motor skills," said Senator Tim Kennedy.

According to NYSPHSAA bylaws, a student's eligibility may be extended if it can be proven that "the pupil's failure to enter competition during one or more seasons of sport caused by illness or accident beyond the control of the student."

Now, Kohler, his family and his doctors argue his illness during his transition to high school prevented him from competing in any sports. The petition is circulating to give Kohler this opportunity now.