06/13/2014 10:09 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2014

Teen With Autism Had Trouble Connecting With His Classmates. Then He Became Their Mascot.

For 13-year-old Andrese Duke, who has autism, making friends with his peers was a challenge. At least until he put on a mask.

Duke attends Grand Blanc West Middle School in Grand Blanc, Mich. where he has secretly taken on the identity of school mascot Victor E. Bobcat, according to MLive. Dressing up as the mascot has given normally-shy Duke the opportunity to dance and perform in front of the school and high-five and hug his classmates, who don't know who's inside the costume.

Autism spectrum disorder is "a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD, and that it is nearly five times more likely to affect boys than girls.

Duke told MLive that he likes being able to cheer up other kids in his school while he's dressed as Victor E. Bobcat. His teacher Raymond Haden said that the sense of purpose and importance he's gotten from his new role has given him the ability to communicate with peers, and that it's "spilling over into other areas of his life."

And it also has helped him feel better about himself.

"Before I was the mascot I didn't really find anything confident about me," Duke told MLive. "I was just a regular kid until when I became the mascot, I feel confident in me."

Watch the video about Duke's experience as the mascot above and head to MLive for more on how he took on the role of Victor E. Bobcat.



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