Home > Physical Challenges > "Autistic Student"
Student, Family Cope With Autism
by Melissa Bruen

Melissa Bruen

J.T. is perhaps most content in his room, where he enjoys going online and watching train videos.

Jake turned 14, last October. But unlike most 8th graders, he is not looking forward to the move to high school. School is just school to him.

Jake was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder when he was 2 years old. His pediatrician knew to look for the early warning signs because his 4-year-old brother, Daniel, had been diagnosed recently. There is no known single cause for autism, but brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism. There can be a genetic link, which can run in families.

Jake is tall for his age, has dark brown hair and fair skin. He has two precancerous sunspots on his cheek, which serve as a reminder of his bad luck. He looks like any kid his age, except for the fact that he walks on his toes and has a baby face.

It took years of effort to get Jake to speak. He knows words, but would prefer remaining silent and just going about his routine. His parents and family have to continually force him to use words to say what he wants. In elementary and middle school, Jake was in an applied behavioral analysis program. Applied behavioral analysis teaches children how to learn by developing skills in attending, imitation, receiving and expressing language, pre-academics and self-help, according to autismsocietyofct.org. But in August, Jake moved to the high school, which his parents feel was ill-equipped for children with special needs. They feel it is too easy for special needs students to merely be kept busy shredding paper, sharpening pencils and taking gym classes.

Jake's parents are very involved in his education. They founded the Shining Stars of Marlborough, a nonprofit organization that raises more than $10,000 annually for students with disabilities. His mother writes letters soliciting donations from local businesses, and organizes a benefit concert, yard sale and walk every year, as well as being very involved at both her children's schools.

Jake's parents are realistic, but they want him to reach his full potential. They acknowledge that he will probably not attend college or even get married, but they know he is capable of much more than his teachers give him credit for. He is very artistic and loves music. He enjoys decorating and making place settings by the dinner table.

Sometimes it's a struggle to get Jake to let other people into his life. He is content shut in his room, as long as he has a working printer, high-speed Internet and his movie collection. And food. Food is a big issue, Jake used to be much too thin, but in recent years he has been packing on the pounds. He doesn't know he is supposed to care about his appearance. Most days he wears gym pants, a baggy T-shirt, Sketchers sneakers, topped off with a hat from his collection. His favorite one is black, fitted and has the intertwined "HC" that is the Hudson Catholic High School logo.