Life is simple for Jake. Not because he is simple, but because he is happy. He does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He will sit in his room for hours, completely entertained by YouTube and train videos. He will pause videos and sketch the scene, or play them in slow motion and hysterically giggle at something which "normal" children would not even give a second thought to. He expresses his emotions – raw and honest. Seeing Jake's lip quiver when he is upset is enough to tear at anyone's heartstrings.
Jake has taste. He likes top-quality things – china, silver, grandfather clocks, antique books and trains. Trains are a passion he inherited from his grandfather and brother. He also loves maps. He will sit for hours and hours and draw maps of train lines from the West. His teachers know these things. They know Jake just as well as anyone. But he can't vocalize his hopes and dreams, so they are ignored.
Jake prefers to communicate in his own way.
Another time, Jake escaped from his grandparents' house, only to be found four or five hours later standing in a rain barrel with only his nose above the water. He was naked and standing on his tiptoes. His grandfather found him because he heard a faint giggle.
Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems, according to the Autism Society of America. Some theories being investigated are: a cluster of unstable genes that interfere with brain developm ent, problems during pregnancy or delivery, environmental factors, such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances and exposure to chemicals. Research has already shown that environmental factors, such as rising levels of heavy metals like mercury in the environment, are contributing to the rise in occurrences of autism disorders.
Autism spectrum disorders are the most common category of developmental disabilities, affecting an estimated 1 in 150 births, according to Autism Society of America. Four or five boys are diagnosed for every girl. One and one half million Americans have been diagnosed with autism. Jake is only one of them.
Melissa Bruen is a senior graduating with degrees in journalism and political science. This story was written for Journalism 213, Magazine Writing, taught by Professor Wayne Worcester.