Senior Malik Wallace Connects with Other Students Through a Handshake


Credit to Amoolya Pandurangi

Senior Malik Wallace sits at his desk and does work in the classroom.

His food sits in the lunch basket, it was Bosco Stick day. He holds it in his left hand as he wanders about the cafeteria looking left to right, searching for a familiar face. He snacks on his food while weaving in between tables and students to find his friends.

He spots them.

A tap on the shoulder gets their attention.

He holds out his hand.

A handshake, and he’s off again.

“[Handshaking,] I think that’s his way of overcoming those social challenges,” senior Malik Wallace’s mother Andreea Whitley said. “He’s a gentle giant, a quiet person and a lot of times you don’t know what is going on in his head, but I think that he wants to have that ‘normal’ interaction with people. So, he goes out of his way to let people know ‘I’m here’, ‘I’m present’ and I think it brings him joy that people give him that energy back and they recognize him.”

Words aren’t the only thing to connect people. It’s the little things that make the moments special. A nod or handshake in the hallway can make someone’s day that much more meaningful. Wallace has been able to use those methods of communication to form connections to the students that pass him by in the halls.

“Seeing the challenges that Malik has overcome [has been rewarding as a parent],” Whitley said. “I remember when we started on this journey I didn’t know much about Autism, so I did not know what to expect. But I could just see the capability, I could see the determination, so I pressed forward in teaching him.”

According to his mom, it takes longer for Wallace to process what may have been said, or longer to respond to a question. But he overcame those challenges and was able to take on a new opportunity. By attending Lewis and Clark Career Center he learns essential skills like cooking and is able to build connections with other teens his age.

“[Going to Lewis and Clark] it’s giving him some skills, because we’re progressing into adulthood, so it’s giving him extra tools to use to move forward to provide himself the life he wants to have,” Whitley said. “Malik has goals and he has dreams and so going part of the day to Lewis and Clark is just giving him those extra skills to strengthen.”

Wallace’s first class after returning to FHN from Lewis and Clark is English class with Lisa Pentecost, there he builds his comprehension skills and learns how to format and send emails. Wallace finishes class with her then heads to science and then finally to math class with essential skills teacher Juli Smith.

Wallace walks towards Smith’s room, white sneakers shuffling across the floor. He stops at the top of the stairs, stands and waits for the stream of students to stop flowing and then calmly walks down the stairs to class.

In class they are guessing the prices of food at their favorite fast food restaurants. Smith writes the prices on the whiteboard and her students add the total with their calculators. Wallace turns in his chair towards the back of the room, a red and white mask pulled up on his face. He checks his answer with another student.

Smith tells them they can leave class early and get a head start to the busses. Wallace grabs his black backpack, swings it over his shoulder and makes his way to the door. He walks up the stairs and down the hall to the front lobby.

He sees SRO Mike Valenti.

He runs.

He holds out his hand.

One final fist bump before the day is over.

The bell rings and he walks out the doors to board the bus that will take him home to his family.

“We just love him,” Whitley said. “The love here is unconditional. Home is always going to be home for him, he always has a place here. I think we are everything for him and he is everything for us. He’s my oldest child and we started this journey together and I absolutely love him.”