When My Son With Autism Was Awarded a Letterman’s Jacket

In the spring of 2000, our doctors told us that my son, Jared, has autism.

Until that moment, I didn’t know anyone who had been diagnosed with autism. The only thing I knew about autism was from a 1988 movie called “Rain Man.”

We had a child who wasn’t talking, who had behaviors that made it almost impossible to be out in public and who doctors told us “would never _____.” And that blank was full of so many things.

Autism entered our family’s world that day.

I was determined to do all I could to have Jared be a part of his community. I involved him in all sorts of things. Sometimes it’s worked and sometimes it didn’t. Autism can be like that.

I held fast to a decision that Jared belonged in his neighborhood school and to his community. It wasn’t easy. There were many days when I wanted to give up. But there are days when I smile and say to myself all of this work has been so worth it.

May 23, 2015, was one of those days.

This past year in high school, Jared had the opportunity to be one of the managers for the Cosby High School varsity football team and the varsity girls’ basketball team.

He loved every minute of it. Well, except for the beginning. New things tend to cause anxiety for Jared, a huge amount of anxiety. This was no different.

As a matter of fact, the first weeks of these new experiences had both Jared and myself in tears. But we chose to push forward and hoped the school community would accept someone with differences.

This school did just that. They have shown over and over again they understand belonging, they understand community and they’re accepting of differences.

Tammy Burns the mighty.3-002

We saw that in the high school football players who accepted Jared as part of the team. They encouraged and talked with him as he cheered them on and filled their water bottles. They also locked arms with him as they marched onto the playing field.

We saw that in the high school basketball players, who weren’t concerned in the least about having a manager who may do an odd dance on the sideline or hold his hand over his ear as his sensory issues took over and who saw him as a part of their team.

On May 23, 2015, the school held an assembly to award the girls’ basketball team their state championship rings. The student body assembled in the auditorium. The team and the coaches sat on the stage, and Jared sat right there on the stage with them. One by one, the players and managers (including Jared) were called up to receive their state championship ring.   

I was overwhelmed with emotion to see how the team, the coaches and the school as a whole exhibited complete acceptance and belonging.   

At the end of the assembly, it was announced that a special award was being given. I listened as the most incredible words were spoken about my son. I watched his face grow more and more curious. Then I cried as they called him up and gave him a varsity letterman’s jacket. I could hardly breathe as I watched the players, coaches and the entire student body rise to their feet and cheer and clap for Jared. He proudly slipped on the jacket and stood on the stage with a smile that said more than any words can say.

It was one of those moments in life you live for. The local news ran a story.  I watch the news clip often and I’m always filled with gratitude, humility and pride. Not just pride in all that Jared accomplished, but pride in humanity as well.

Follow this journey at Our Life With Autism.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone went out of his or her way to make you and/or your child feel included or not included. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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