This is Jack.
I love this image because you can see the kindness in his eyes. He is a gentle soul with a big heart and desperately wants to do what is right. I loved Jack’s Stories of Autism photoshoot because he allowed me to document those quiet moments of solitude as well as his great pride in all that he has accomplished.
His mother’s essay follows:
“Stomp off the small yellow bus, open the garage door, shut the door, plop down my back pack, let the dog out, open the refrigerator door, take out food, prepare the snack, let the dog back in, sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy the snack, place dishes in sink, place iPod strap around my wrist, proceed downstairs with a gallop and walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, come upstairs to bedroom and spend a great deal of the night creating a world of my own. Through drawing, building legos, reading, playing my guitar/piano, or taking a bath, I’m able to release from the stimuli that is crowding all around me.”
This is our son’s routine. It is his world. It is what keeps him grounded, day in and day out from the unusual and fearful world of change. Yet change is a big part of our world that cannot be avoided. As his parents, our role is to help him succeed, embrace his gifts, abilities and positively contribute to society.
At 6 months and on, we noticed Jack’s eye contact towards us had diminished. Around 12 months of age, a regression of simple words took place. This led him down a very isolated path, and consequently, he was in “his own little world.” We watched him slowly detaching from us. Nothing could have prepared us for the news we were about to hear. We were overwhelmed with the reality that our little boy did indeed meet the criteria for a diagnosis of moderate to severe Autism. How could this happen? “He used to call out mama…He used to look us in the eye.” The fact that he may never talk again or look at us was a pain in which we had never experienced before. It took us to our knees.
Fear can have such a paralyzing effect. Researching this disease was new to both of us. With the help of his psychiatrist and physicians, we were able to qualify for Intensive (40 hours a week) ABA therapy. It was amazing having speech therapists, occupational therapists, ABA in-home therapy, music therapy, and many various adaptations/tools to use to promote verbal, social and physical skills. Great prayer, love, committment and time would tell of what would unfold.
As many years went by, Jack soon became increasingly verbal. By the age of 4, he was able to say simple words and become more adaptive to social settings. Where we went, he went. He needed to be a part of our world too. We noticed that his raging outbursts and temper tantrums lessoned as we used more and more transitional pieces like social stories. He spent all of elementary grades in the public school system. After great prayer & deliberation, my husband and I decided to home school Jack for a total of 5 years. We found that the more we worked one on one at home, the better he did. His older brother Joe, therapists, friends and family all rallied around to make home school a success! We are so proud of the progress he made verbally, socially, educationally, and personally. He had always enjoyed drawing and music but he took those simple gifts to a new level. With a talented therapist by his side, Jack’s skills were strengthened. Slowly she taught him how to play the guitar and practice different drawing techniques.
By the end of his Sophomore year, Jack was much more verbal, showed much more eye contact, had now increased his math/reading level to 8th grade, was able to prepare and cook meals, do laundry, vacuum, order meals at restaurants, assist in purchasing items, play the guitar in church, strengthen his cartooning techniques and write stories himself. He had certainly surpassed what many thought he was capable of doing! It was time to transition back into a more educational social setting. We were pleased to see how well he adapted in the special education program at Horlick High School and thank God for the support of many during this journey. Our faith, family and friends encouraged us to believe and embrace God’s word. Jack definitely took this to heart! “With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Jack has more friends now, takes an independent course in art, serves in an afternoon work program bagging groceries at Piggly Wiggly and is busy working on his movies. Of course his success, doesn’t negate the on-going challenges with Autism. For example, he has had many episodes of anxiety, and outbursts of aggression. Sometimes these occur when pressures, demands, multiple schedule changes or feelings of frustration overwhelm him. Other times, we are at a loss as to what triggered such emotions. But all in all, his art, music, family, prayer, journaling and many other sensory tools have helped him get through these rough patches. His art work has flourished indeed. Over the past year, a 2 hour feature film by Jack Herron called the “Lego Guerilla Movie” has been created, shared, and enjoyed by many.
Jack will cross the graduation stage this Spring knowing he has accomplished much and much is still yet to be accomplished. All the pain, sorrow and frustration that comes in living with Autism does not compare to the growth, abilities, gifts and achievements that has made Jack so special and unique! He influences us daily to strive to be more patient and graceful towards our own challenges…to face life believing “You are His (God’s) masterpiece”.
Amy, mother of Jack
To read more about Stories of Autism, click here.