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Student, Family Cope With Autism
by Melissa Bruen

Melissa Bruen

J.T. sits at his family's dining room table in Marlborough, Mass.

"What is your name?" is more than a question to Jake: It is a trigger that sets off programmed responses: "My name is Jake Temple. I live at 127 Evelina Drive, Marlborough, Massachusetts."

If "What is your name?" is asked in any other way, no verbal answer will be given, only a confused expression of frustration and irritation.

It took years upon years for him to learn those words. They represent basic communication that could save his life. When he was younger, he used to leave the house undetected and go in search of swimming pools, even in the middle of winter. A neighbor once spotted Jake trying to lift the cover of his in-ground pool in January. Luckily, the police had already been alerted by Jake's mother, Robin, and were ready to return him home.

The family sits at the dining room table, enjoying Sunday dinner. Suddenly there's a big crash. It shakes the hutch and the furniture. No one seems to notice.

"That's just Jake redecorating his room," said Robin Temple, glancing toward the ceiling. "It's sad half the time I don't even hear him when he makes those noises any more."

Then, there's plunking accompanied by a labored grunting: someone exercising caution coming down the stairs.

"Say 'Hello,' J.T.," Robin says.

"Hello, J.T. Hello, Grandma," Jake replies. He then lumbers into the kitchen, walking on his tiptoes. It's chilly in the house, but he is wearing only boxer shorts. They are on backward. He opens the refrigerator and pulls out Hellman's mayonnaise, grabs two cans of tuna fish from the cabinet.

"Tuna fisssssh," Jake says as he slams the cans on the counter. "Brown bread. Two. Pweeze," he squeals.

By now, this has become routine for anyone in the Temple family mother, father, brother, cousin, niece and grandparents. These few words convey a lot, and took a lot of patience and hard work on all parties parents and teachers, and student to get him to utter, although they seem so minimal.

Every day is routine. Even the slightest change will upset him. Jake would like two tuna fish sandwiches on pumpernickel bread, cut in half on a round plastic plate, with a caffeine-free Coca-Cola in a can, with a straw. This is his lunch, after-school snack and dinner, most days. For breakfast he has toast and jam. Tuesday and Friday nights he gets cheese pizza from Family House of Pizza, his favorite. He won't eat pizza from anywhere else. Occasionally, he'll switch his order to get "double cheeseburger Donald's."