Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Who is Jared?

Once a year my family celebrates Jared.
We celebrate who he is.
We celebrate all he has accomplished.
We celebrate that we are still moving forward despite whatever autism has brought our way.
We celebrate bigger than we celebrate on Jared's own birthday.
And boy does Jared celebrate too!

That day is the Saturday before Memorial Day each year - 
The day when the 5K Run/Walk for Autism happens.

When our family first began participating in the 5Kwe were just figuring out what autism was.

We knew how it affected Jared - no language, intense behaviors, all sorts of social difficulties.

We worked hard to keep our head above water each day, in a world that continually felt like it was trying to drown us.

But there was something about being at the 5K and feeling the acceptance and belonging that we felt from the people that were there.

And so each year we continued to be a part of that event.
In the beginning years, we participated as a family of five.
Walking together... pushing one or two in a stroller.
And then one year the Autism Society announced it was going to allow people to sign up in teams, and that year - Jogging for Jared began.

Over the years, as our family has invited those that are in our personal community, but not necessarily directly impacted by autism to join us at the 5K.  We have invited them to join us in that special day.
A day that not only raises funds for an incredible organization to be able to provide supports and services in the local area -- but a day that also, provides a day for the autism world and the community to come together.
A day that is about awareness...

This year, as I was waiting at the 5K finish line for Jared's 50 yard dash from the back of the motorcycle to cross the finish line, a bystander stopped me and said,
"Excuse me, can I ask you a question?  Who is Jared?"

She continued, "Everywhere I look I see people whose shirt says 'Jogging for Jared' like yours does, and I just have to know who is Jared?"

And she was right. 
There were 98 people at the 2015 5K who were wearing that blue tie dye shirt that said "Jogging for Jared!" And dozens of others who were supporting us in various other ways at other places that day.

People who were...
basketball players
football players
college students who met Jared last year in high school and who returned to be at the 5K
teachers from High School, Middle School, Elementary School and Preschool
church friends
motorcycle friends
football managers

People who each have impacted Jared's life in some way, and people whose lives have been impacted by Jared!

Tears filled my eyes as I told her that Jared was a 16 year old with autism who would be coming through the finish line here any minute, to receive a trophy and hug from his mom.  That's all I could tell her in that moment.  My emotions overtook my words.

I could have told her so much more...

I could have said JARED IS....

a brother
a basketball and football manager
a high school sophomore
a friend
a hard worker
a person who fights anxiety every day
a kids who absolutely loves school and loves his teachers
an advocate
a person who is very afraid of dogs and cats and unexpected noises
a student of the year
an avid VCU women's basketball fan
a son
a person who can bring out the best in others
a person with autism
a person who loves and accepts others unconditionally
a part of his community!

So many years ago I put in writing our family's vision/dream for Jared.  We decided long ago to set  short and long term goals to guide us as we navigated this thing called autism.   The written vision is long and every time I read it, it brings out my rawest of emotions.

Here are a just a few lines from our vision for Jared which was written when he was around 4 years old, and updated each year since:

Some of the short term dreams we have for Jared...
being invited over to a friends house to play,
being invited to birthday parties,
communicating needs, wants, and illnesses to others.
We see Jared as part of the community, not just someone who comes in and out of it
from time to time. It is important for him to be around peers who model age-appropriate
social and communication skills.
Some of the long term dreams we have for Jared...
develop a better understanding of nonverbal communicators and expand his social
language in all settings,
read at a literate level,
be considered a good friend,
hold a job,
live as independently as possible as an adult.

Tonight my heart is full!

For tonight I will sit and just embrace the moment and be forever grateful for a community embraces our dreams for Jared too.

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