Never Give Up Hope…

May 28, 2011

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Late May is school awards season here in Southern California, so Monday found me sitting in my son’s school auditorium.  The highest honor at his middle school is an award called the Head of Schools. It is given every year and the student’s identity is not revealed until their name is announced at the ceremony.   Read what the Principal said about this very special student during the introduction:

This student works towards each task with incredible diligence. He wants to always do the right thing, and is an example of work ethic.  Usually turning in assignments early, even the big projects, he always strives to do his best.  He is a joy to everyone around him. His smile lights up the room and his laugh radiates joy from the wonderful person he is. You cannot help but be happy when you are around this student. His love of others is evident in his care, loyalty, and admiration of his friends. He is a continual blessing to school.

What an amazing testimony!  What a beautiful description of the power of a positive attitude!  Who is this phenomenal young man you ask?

My son Jeff!!!!!!!!    Jeff Ackerman was awarded the Head of Schools award!

It was a great moment sitting in the audience listening to his friends clap and watching Jeff receive this very special surprise. It brought tears to my eyes.

Any parent would be proud in this moment.  For me, the parent of a child with autism, it is a full-blown miracle!

12 years ago, when we were told Jeff has autism, we were given a very scary list of things Jeff would never do:

-        He would never talk

-        He would never go to school

-        He would not love or show emotion

-        He would never have a normal IQ

-        He would never make a friend

-        He would never read

-        He would never go to college

-        He would never get married

-        He would never have children

We were told autism was a lifetime condition which meant Jeff would most likely need placement in a home once we grew tired of caring for him, or when we died.

After years of therapy and medical intervention unique to his needs, Jeff has changed a lot of what we were told. Jeff is a walking miracle.

Since that day, Jeff has gone from the “never” boy to receiving the highest honor his school (the one he would never attend) can bestow.  He has been applauded by his peers and is regularly invited to friend’s (the ones he would never make) birthday parties.  He loves books (the ones he would never read) and his favorite is the “Lightning Thief.”  Based on what my friends with teenage boys tell me, he says “I love you Mom” FAR more often than most boys his age, and has engaging conversations with us that are fun and purposeful.

Jeff’s diagnosis has not shaped his life or outcome. Jeff is the bravest, hardest working kid I have ever known. Day in and day out he wears his big Jeff smile – the one we were told we would never see. His whole family is so very proud of this hard working, adorable kid. When we raise the bar - Jeff always rises to meet the challenge.

Jeff is the boy that can and will soon be a man that will. Parents new to this autism journey need to understand that cant’s - with hard work - will turn into cans.  Never give up hope for your child because, like Jeff, the future is not written for our kids.  The story is waiting to unfold and surprise us all.

I can’t WAIT for Jeff to knock his next “would never” right out of the park. I look forward to high school and college graduations, to dancing with him at his wedding, like I did with his sister at hers.

After all, he is the winner of the prestigious Head of School award.  A boy who can accomplish that can accomplish anything!