Ryan Malhotra collects business cards from every West Shore car dealership he visits with his educational assistant Elise Pastro.

Honing his social graces

Malhotra, an 11-year-old Lakewood elementary school student, has a passion for cars.

Ryan Malhotra and his educational assistant Elise Pastro are frequent flyers of the multitude of car dealerships on the West Shore.

Malhotra, an 11-year-old Lakewood elementary school student, has a passion for cars, something his educational assistant utilizes to develop new social skills.

“He has always loved cars,” Pastro said. “I am just helping him learn by feeding his passion.”

For three years Pastro has worked with Malhotra, a boy she describes as special needs with behaviour interventions. The two also worked together three days a week during summer break.

She helps him with his school work and with socializing: helping read social cues and practising making eye contact when he speaks to others.

“One of my goals with Ryan is to work myself out of a job,” Pastro said. During the summer she would get Ryan and take him around to pick up his friends. “I would wait in the car and he would go up to the friend’s house, ring the bell and bring them back to the car,” Pastro explained.

Then they would drive to a dealership and Malhotra would approach a salesperson, introduce himself and his friends and ask to sit in vehicles. They also liked to pretend to race.

“We never called ahead, we’d just show up,” Pastro said, adding most businesses were happy to show Ryan and his friends around. Harold Youland, owner of Gold Star Auto Sales was pleased to see Malhotra’s passion for cars at such a young age.

“He asked if he could look inside the cars. They are all unlocked and I let him,” Youland said. “We have 50 cars on the lot and I think he sat in every one.”

Youland explained there is another special needs man in his 20s who frequents his business to sit in the cars.

“If a special needs kid has a passion for music you’d take them to a music store or a concert,” Youland said. “Taking Ryan to the dealership is the same thing.”

Before leaving each business Malhotra would thank the salesperson and ask for a business card. He remembers each of them by name. They’re keen on him too.

Alpine Auto donated a party bus ride as a birthday surprise for the business’s most frequent young visitor last week.

“I like to do stuff like this,” said Trevere Lefeuvre, an Alpine employee who volunteered to drive the bus. “Ryan loves cars and he’s a special kid. I’ve seen him at the lot two or three times. Most kids only come when their parents are buying a car.”