OBERLIN, Ohio — A little kindness goes a long way, and that’s true for a Lorain County sheriff’s deputy who formed a special relationship with a 10-year-old boy with autism.
As the school resource officer at Firelands Local Schools, Deputy Cody Northeim’s job is about more than just keeping students and staff safe. It’s also about making meaningful connections with the kids he serves, like 10-year-old Ricky Hillis.
“I’d like to consider it like a big brother or father figure,” Northeim said of his relationship with Hillis.
Ricky has autism and for the last year, Northeim has been working with him daily. He also helped him through a recent rough patch when Ricky’s mom Stephanie Hillis said he began struggling in school.
“He just wouldn’t do anything. He pushed his food away. He didn’t want to do anything,” Hillis said.
She and school administrators turned to Northeim for help because of the relationship he’d started to form with Ricky. However, forming that relationship wasn’t easy at first.
“At first he wasn’t too fond of law enforcement, but it took a few times of showing him my police car and showing the lights and how everything works and now he pretty much knows all of our gear and everything in the car better than I know it,” Northeim said.
“Ricky had been scared of the police for a long time and it’s just due to a lot of things that have happened. And I worked with him really hard, like with the fire department and going up there with the sirens and the loud noises because with autism he doesn’t like loud noises,” Hillis said. “So I started with the fire department and then I went, you know to several different police departments, but he seems to have attached himself to Cody.”
Northeim’s efforts eventually helped Ricky gain 15 pounds and start looking forward to school.
“I started eating lunch with him every day and every once in a while I’d get him off the bus and walk with him to class, make sure everything’s going good,” Northeim said. “And we just continued that every single day and I still to this day keep eating lunch with Ricky and our relationship just started growing and I learned a lot about Ricky during those times.”
Hillis is thrilled by the relationship and Ricky’s progress.
“I think he’s doing a lot better. He’s more patient, he’s not as fidgety. He will work with Cody tremendously like Cody can pretty much get him to do what he needs to do,” Hillis said. “And if he’s having a bad day and they call him, he’ll come over and talk to Ricky for five, 10 minutes, and then Ricky’s switched around and can finish out the day.”
Then, her happiness grew tenfold after being surprised by this video of Ricky and Northeim reading a Christmas book together.
Ricky is selectively mute and doesn’t like reading in front of people, but felt comfortable enough with Northeim to read along.
“I got that on Christmas morning, and that was like the best Christmas present ever,” Hillis said. “I cried. I cried and posted it all over Facebook, sent it to everybody I knew.”
Northeim was humbled by the praise and said it’s all in a day’s work helping kids like Ricky be the best they can be.
“I’d like to see him also grow up and hopefully be in this position and be able to see him graduate one day too,” Northeim said.
Northeim is also hoping to change other students’ perceptions about law enforcement like he did with Ricky.
“We’re humans, we’re all the same. We’re all here trying to protect everybody and just do our job and the perks of this, being in school really weighs a big benefit by allowing us to be in a position to really impact our kids’ lives especially at a young age here at the elementary school,” Northeim said.
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