June 2020: Autism is No Match for Jake

tags: Kennedy Krieger School Programs

This story originally aired in August 2017

Dr. Jacqueline Stone: Today I am joined by Kelly Anastasi, a special educator from our Montgomery County School.

An assortment of Dr. Seuss books sit atop a carpet

Kelly Anastasi: I met Jake in 2012. He was a 4th grade student in my classroom and was a student with autism spectrum disorder. He could be very impulsive. At times he could get out of control and he had a lot of trouble with reading specifically, but also across a lot of academic areas. He had this one educational goal to read a single paragraph aloud and it was really tough for him. It could be frustrating and there is this one particular memory I have of him. He had decided that he was really going to do it this time. He was able to read each word individually. He didn’t skip any. He read it slowly. He read it carefully. By the end I was blown away that he had read the entire paragraph accurately and I looked at him, he had tears just streaming from his eyes and a huge smile on his face. He just hadn’t blinked the entire time that he was reading the paragraph and this image of Jake trying super hard, almost harder the really anybody that I’ve ever seen try that hard, has really kind of stuck with me.  

Jake is now going into 9th grade this fall and amazingly he is now helping to train first responders and law enforcement officials on how to work with individuals with autism. He was named a White House Champion of Change in 2015, as well as given the Maryland Governor’s citation award. It’s not easy for Jake still. He puts in hours with is parents getting ready emotionally using calming strategies to help him stay regulated. When I’ve seen Jake speak, he really radiates joy. You can tell how much he loves speaking in front of other people and that joy is contagious and it is inspiring to other people. All of us at the school who have worked with Jake from 4th to 9th grade are so proud of his progress and we’re really inspired by the work that he is doing to help others.

Dr. Jacqueline Stone: Inspiring Moments is produced for WYPR by Kennedy Krieger Institute. I am Dr. Jacqueline Stone.