Here is a picture of me and my nephew Jajuan. It was taken when I visited home in April of this year (2013).
My nephew loves all things cars, and he has a mind that is gifted in fixing them…well the toy ones anyway. I do believe that he will be able to repair real cars one day. Jajuan is an honor student, he loves riding his bike, and taking pictures. Did I mention he is a champion swimmer and an Olympic achiever? Well, I just did! He also is great at rollerskating. My Jajuan is funny, and he actually loves his vegetables.
Do you know what else is pretty unique about my nephew?
He has Autism.
Jajuan is not completely disabled or retarded. He does things differently, and he does not communicate like others; however, as you can see he can do things like any other kid. Yes you will know that he is different when you meet him, but he is extraordinarily awesome!
I started writing letters to Jajuan a few years ago because I was inspired by a video about a father with a daughter who was severely autistic and could not communicate verbally. One day the daughter, Carly, begins typing her thoughts on the computer and her father found that his daughter was extremely bright, funny, and well-versed. He finally found the key to unlock the mystery to her world and their relationship grew.
Carly, has a more severe case of Autism than my nephew, but as you can see she also has abilities that the outside world would never really know. Autism is a spectrum disorder and children with the diagnosis will have a varying array of abilities and challenges. These children are different, but they are not disabled because of Autism itself. Unfortunately, some children do have other medical issues in addition to Autism that the public automatic assume is part of the disorder.
Notice that I did not say that I have an “Autistic nephew,” because I do not want this to define him. He is Jajuan Nazir Shaw. He is perfectly and wonderfully made by God just like you and me. He is my hero because he faces a world every day that is cruel and dismissive. I am sure he receives attention that he doesn’t really want to have because people simply do not understand what gifts he brings to this world. He is my hero because despite all of this, he perseveres through it all.
I am learning how to appreciate him more and advocate for his independence. My mom, affectionately known as Nana, has done a wonderful job at being his number one fan. She was very instrumental in recognizing that he was not meeting certain milestones when he was a baby and thus began this marathon of making sure he has every advantage that any other child should have.
I used to write my nephew just so he would hear my voice through my words since I live over 800 miles away. Now he writes me more than I can keep up! His most recent letter from him came a few days ago:
Aunt Dana knows she had better find a van toy for this boy when he comes to visit! Notice he makes sure to tell me his birthday is August 31st. I know this child is in my family because when I was younger I made sure people knew my birthday! I am excited that he and my mom are coming to visit for the Labor Day weekend, and we will definitely be hitting the sand on Fort Lauderdale Beach. I am expecting the unexpected. We will be celebrating Jajuan’s 13th birthday. We have a teenager y’all!
Lord thank you for bringing all of us Jajuan, this gift that we never imagined would bless us in such mysterious ways. I know you have plans for him. Plans for his prosperity and not for harm. Plans that will be more than we could ever have imagined. Lord guide him and keep him all of his days.