Monday, September 11, 2006

More to the J-Mac story

I found this story a couple of weeks ago in the Indianapolis Star. It took me a little while to post it but here it is.

Jason and the Colts: a special success story

August 27, 2006

It lasted only 240 seconds, but the story caught the attention of a nation. Earlier this year a high school senior, diagnosed and living with autism, came off the bench to make what his coach and teammates thought would be a token appearance. Four minutes later, his team and classmates, and later, the world, were astonished. The 5-foot, 6-inch former team manager had scored an unbelievable 20 points, including six three-pointers that tied his school's record.

In that 240 seconds and the widespread media attention that followed, numerous myths about autism were shattered, hopefully forever. We professionals in the treatment of autism and other developmental disabilities cheered loudly. Jason McElwain -- known to many as J-Mac -- had shown the world in an extraordinary public way just what young people with developmental disabilities can do.

As time passed, so did the initial positive fervor over Jason's public achievement. National media coverage on autism subsequently labeled the neuro-disorder as "America's Silent Epidemic," chronicling how the condition profoundly impacts one in every 166 children, including students in Indiana.

Suddenly, in a very public arena, Jason's story emerged again, this time close to home. Hoosier parents and professionals dealing with autism were delighted to learn that the Indianapolis Colts had embraced young Jason as a member of its equipment staff. As Colts Coach Tony Dungy explained to The Star: "He wanted to get some football experience and felt we were a good team to come to. We're happy to have him."

Our pride and appreciation for the courage and insight of the Indianapolis Colts in doing this cannot be adequately expressed. When a toddler or young child is diagnosed with autism, the world can seem to cave in for the child's family. Autism, better described as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because of its complexity, can be unusually difficult to deal with, as in severe cases the child often cannot speak or relate in a normative way to his or her peers, family and community. There exists today no known cure and dealing with autism can be exhausting. Without proper understanding and professional treatment, the pervasive condition can be frightening to family and intensely frustrating to the person with autism.

When the Colts brought in young Jason to be part of their equipment staff, they did far more than a good corporate deed. They celebrated a young man's notable achievement, declaring to the world that people with autism can overcome their personal challenges. It is a celebration to be long savored by parents and professionals alike.

At Damar Services, we build better futures for children and adults facing life's greatest developmental and behavioral challenges. At our southwest Indianapolis campus and in our many community living opportunities in Central Indiana, we treat and support hundreds of children and adults with autism, mental retardation and severe behavioral issues. But regardless of the challenges they face, every child and adult at Damar is regarded as a unique person, deserving of the rights and dignity shared by their peers and community. This focus pays off handsomely, as 90 percent of those we serve experience success and a higher quality of life as they return to their families and communities.

This is why the effort by the Colts is so important. It illustrates and confirms to the world that people with autism and other developmental disabilities should receive a full chance at life. It also confirms that Jason's success represents a validated role model for those who struggle daily with the complexities of autism.
The season may not have begun for the Indianapolis Colts, but in the eyes of Damar Services and the families whom we serve, they are already world-class champions.

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