Jada B: Shattering misconceptions in the autism community
Written by Danisha B. (Jada’s mom)
My daughter Jada is a remarkable 17-year-old who wants to be accepted and included. Diagnosed with autism when she was 7, Jada refuses to be labeled and limited in what she can achieve. She knows that autism is a part of who she is, but Jada also knows that she is more than just a girl with autism. I am so proud of her because Jada wants to be a voice for other autistic girls. She is inspiring change in her local community by showing others that autism does not have a “look.”
Jada is currently a junior in high school and thriving! She is adored by her family, friends, and teachers and was recently selected as Miss Photogenic 2022 in her school pageant, which is a huge deal because Jada’s autism makes it difficult for her to maintain direct eye contact, especially in photos. I’m so proud that my daughter continues to knock down barriers and educate her peers on autism.
When Jada was younger, life wasn’t always as easy for her. The summer before kindergarten I noticed a change in her learning. Jada could count to 100 and knew all of her colors, but then all of a sudden, she couldn’t count to 10 and couldn’t complete her ABC song. She also had to do everything by a set routine. It was a complete meltdown if we deviated from that routine, and I’m not talking about your typical toddler temper tantrum. I knew then that something was wrong. Eventually, her teacher suggested that I have Jada screened for autism. We took her to the University of Virginia and had a series of tests done and that’s when she was diagnosed.
After receiving the news, I immediately started panicking about what my child’s future would be like. Will she be able to go to college? Will she be able to live on her own? How will her peers react to her? In the Black and African American communities, people have heard of autism, but many don’t know what it means. It’s gotten better over time, but there hasn’t always been a lot of resources available to parents, especially in the African American community. You may get a pamphlet or some documentation once your child is diagnosed, but that’s it. So, if a parent is uneducated about autism, then the child will lack the assistance they will need. There needs to be more resources and specialists readily available in the African American community and I think that’s where Autism Speaks comes into play.
After my initial shock wore off, I knew that I had to become Jada’s advocate. I sought out occupational therapy so that she could learn self-care. At the time, Jada struggled with dressing herself with zippers, buttons, and tying her shoes. I also sought out nutritional therapy because Jada only ate about five different types of food and enrolled her in speech therapy as well. Even though Jada was verbal, she struggled with having conversations with others. Jada couldn’t grasp the concept that a conversation is a two-way thing.
Now ten years later, all the therapy helped tremendously. The best advice that I would give to other parents is to do the research - I highly recommend autismspeaks.org if you’re looking for access to resources and to further educate yourself on autism. And advocate for your child, it makes a world of difference.
Learn more about Jada through her own words in this Q&A:
How does your autism make you unique?
I am normal. God just made me extra special.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
I wish I could drive like my other friends.
In what areas has autism helped you excel?
I have an excellent memory.
How has your family supported you through your autism journey?
They attend all of my activities.
What makes you most happy?
My friends and family.
What are some of your proudest moments?
Some of my proudest moments are being selected as a Homecoming Maid, winning Miss Photogenic in my high school’s pageant and participating in the Special Olympics each year at my school.
What are your some of your goals for the future?
I want to go to college, get married and become a model.
What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds?
Just be yourself and ignore the bullies.
As a black, autistic teenager, what changes do you want to inspire to help create a kinder, more accepting world for people like yourself?
I want to show the world that autistic people can look like anyone.
What does black history month mean to you?
It means that Black lives matter.
What five words best describe you?
Pretty, smart, joyful, nice and cool.