Living with autism: Jake Clementi’s story

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – April is National Autism Awareness Month.

With new numbers just released by the Centers for Disease Control, it can be easy to get bogged down in all the data. That’s why WKBN 27 First News is putting a face to this disorder.

Eight-year-old Jacob Clementi is the 1 in 68 American children with autism and the 1 in 42 boys with the disorder. But to his family, he’s just Jake.

“That’s my all-time favorite picture of these kids,” said Courtney Clementi, Jake’s mother.

Courtney Clementi can’t help but reminisce about her babies as she flips through old photos.Things have changed a lot since Jake was an infant, including his autism diagnosis nearly three years ago.

“It was devastating, it was. When you first get the news because your entire brain just gets overwhelmed and how do you fix it and what do you do?” Clementi said.

Courtney did her research and found the Rich Center for Autism. Jake now goes to school there year-round, at no cost.

“He loves it. He’s made friends, you know? He’s able to do the things that he does with the stemming and the different behaviors that he does,” Clementi said.

“We really do a lot of focus on behavior therapies to get them under control. Discrete trials, we utilized ABA [Applied Behavior Analysis] therapies,” said Melanie Carfolo, Rich Center for Autism Executive Director.

Even at home, Jake continues to learn and so does his family. Jake uses an iPad to play games. Technology helps because he has low muscle tone and can’t hold a pencil well but can easily navigate a tablet.

“It doesn’t matter how many books you read, you’re not getting a grasp on it until you live it,” Clementi said.

That’s why Jake’s family is so protective of him, including 11-year-old sister Bella.

“Great big sister, great big sister. She helps him out, she tries to get him involved in stuff when he wants to play,” Clementi said.

Courtney’s advice to other parents: If you have a gut feeling something is wrong, get an early diagnosis. Then figure out what works for your family, ask questions and don’t give up.

“You’re your child’s only advocate. That’s the only advocate these kids have is their parents,” Clementi said.

“There’s just more, a greater awareness I think. And parents, I think, are starting to ask more questions,” Carfolo said.

For Courtney, dinner time brings everyone together, a reminder of what’s most important in life.

“You have to keep going on and like my daughter said, we would never change him for anything. Because all the things that make him Jake is what we love like all those little twerks and stuff about him,” Clementi said.

The Rich Center for Autism has about 70 students and a waiting list. It has a number of events coming up in April as part of National Autism Awareness Month and throughout 2014.

Learn more about CDC data and statistics regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Autism Speaks: World Autism Awareness Day

Connect with Erika Thomas by liking her Facebook fan page to share your family’s personal story with autism.

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