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Auburn starting linebacker Karibi Dede, right, works with Vicente Ortiz, 6, in an autism class at Yarborough Elementary School in Auburn last week. Dede spends three hours a day, five mornings a week as a graduate student trainee teaching practical skills through play.
AP Photo by David Bundy
Auburn starting linebacker Karibi Dede, right, works with Vicente Ortiz, 6, in an autism class at Yarborough Elementary School in Auburn last week. Dede spends three hours a day, five mornings a week as a graduate student trainee teaching practical skills through play.

Linebacker
loves to play

Dede teaches austic children
practical skills through play

AUBURN (AP) — Karibi Dede lines the kids up in a row of chairs like a train on rollers, then calls out "All aboard."

The children shout the names of places they want to stop as Dede pushes them around whistling like a train.

A good enough football player to be a starting linebacker at Auburn, Dede is also pretty good at the "Train Game."

Dede spends three hours a day, five mornings a week as a graduate student trainee at the Autism Center at Yarborough Elementary School, teaching practical skills through play.

"Kids with autism don't know how to play. So this is a big deal," Dede told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Wednesday.

Both Dede and the "Train Game" are popular at the center.

"It's the best game," 6-year-old Michael Reese said. "Mr. Dede is the best."

Dede graduated in May with a degree in rehabilitation and special education.

A senior on the football field this fall, he is earning credits toward a master's degree in exchange for his work at the center, but that's far from the only reward.

"Working with these kids makes me feel like I'm making progress and that I'm actually helping to change someone's life," Dede said.

The children at the center range in age from 3 to 16.

The center's mission is to make them more independent.

Dede is more notable to the center for his gender than the fact that he's a football player. Dede is one of only two males out of 34 instructors/volunteers at the Autism Center, while boys outnumber girls 4-to-1, co-director Dr. Robert Simpson said.

"We are very fortunate to have him," Simpson said.

Dede already had plenty of experience interacting with people who have behavioral and learning disabilities.

His 27-year old brother, Bereni, and a 19-year old sister, Destiny, both came up through the special education system.

Dede said most of the children don't know he plays for the Tigers, but it has helped in at least one case.

"One of the most troublesome kids at the center asked me to sign a football," Dede said.

"Since then he has had a good attitude around me, just not around everyone else."

Dede hasn't asked any of his teammates to join him at the center because, he said, "they're not ready."

But he relishes his chosen career for the chance it gives to help others.

"Not too many professions give you the opportunity to have a big impact on other people's lives," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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