Family: Portland teenager denied national trip because he has au - KPTV - FOX 12

Family: Portland teenager denied national trip because he has autism

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Loreta and Niko Boskovic at their home Friday. (KPTV) Loreta and Niko Boskovic at their home Friday. (KPTV)

A north Portland teenager and his family are sharing their story, after they say he competed for a national trip and won – only to be told he can’t actually go simply because he’s autistic.

Niko Boskovic is a high school sophomore who is smart, funny and passionate about things like chemistry and world politics.

But he won’t tell you that with his words; he communicates his opinions and interests one character at a time through a letter board.

His family started using it roughly three years ago and were blown away by the depths of his mind and personality.

“The first time we got more into what do you think about x, y or z, it was fascinating. It was fascinating to finally hear his voice,” Niko’s mother Loreta Boskovic said.

At school last fall, he learned about the United Nations Educational Pilgrimage for Youth, a contest put on by a national nonprofit created by the Odd Fellows Lodge in which students compete for a trip to the UN.

Niko wrote an essay about Ukraine, got letters of recommendation and met with judges who were very impressed.

“They said that both in the written [portion] and the interview, which he did using the letter board, that he was a clear winner out of everyone,” said David Scheer, the secretary at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge in north Portland.

Loreta Boskovic planned to pay her own way to accompany her son on the trip and act as his interpreter.

But when she started making the arrangements, she said she was told by leaders of the national nonprofit that the trip wasn’t a sure thing for Niko after all.

“I kind of worked up the courage and called the Board Chair of the UN program and asked him what’s going on with this, and was basically told we can’t support people with disabilities, we’ve had people in wheelchairs before, we’ve turned them away too,” Loreta Boskovic said.

Now, they’re fighting back.

“I wanted to go to educate people about autism…. I have very little patience with people who dismiss me because of my disability,” Niko told FOX 12 through his letter board. “Someday I want to study science and hopefully times will change and this type of nonsense will stop.”

Niko called his rejection an issue of civil rights, and his mother agrees.

“People with disabilities have just as much right as everyone else to be included in our society,” she said. “And for some reason, we’re still just not quite there yet.”

Now, attorney Gordon Magella with Disability Rights Oregon is taking up Niko’s case. Magella told FOX 12 he’s reached out to leaders with the national nonprofit to get an explanation but has yet to hear back.

“It really was quite shocking to me… It is frankly one of the most blatant cases for discrimination that I have seen in quite some time,” Magella said, adding that Niko wanted to be an ambassador for other people who have autism. “I think this was especially hurtful because he thought this was going to be a great opportunity.”

“It’s disappointing and it’s disgusting and it really has made many, many people upset,” added Scheer.

Now, Odd Fellows Lodges from around the state are throwing their support behind Niko and his family. Scheer said a vote was taken at the Peninsula lodge in north Portland that they will not participate in the contest again until an anti-discrimination policy is enacted.

Sadly, even if organizers change their mind, it’s likely too late for Niko to attend this year as the trip is planned for July and logistics are well underway.

However, his family hopes organizers will change their minds and allow Niko to go next year.

“We take this very seriously and would like to see Niko be able to participate in this activity just like anyone else," Magella said. "That’s really all he wants and I don’t think it’s a big ask.”

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