STATEWIDE WIN

Lo­cal child with autism takes gold

The Covington News - - SPORTS - SHA­KEEM HOL­LOWAY shol­loway@cov­news.com

A few years ago Jajuan Shaw, an autis­tic child cur­rently at­tend­ing Lib­erty Mid­dle School, wrote a col­umn — with some help from his grand­mother, Betty Ray — that was pub­lished in the paper chron­i­cling how he deals with disability and how out­siders see it.

Back in De­cem­ber of 2011, when the col­umn was pub­lished, Shaw con­cluded it with the sen­tence, “God has blessed me with so much and my autism will not hold me back.”

Jajuan was in the sixth grade then. He’s 13 now and headed to the eighth grade. He’s also a Spe­cial Olympics cham­pion, swim­ming in the 25 and 50 me­ter and prov­ing to him­self, his fam­ily and any doubters he may have that his disability will not hold him back.

Shaw took the gold in both the 25- and 50-me­ter at the Spe­cial Olympics State Sum­mer Games held in At­lanta at Emory Univer­sity over the weekend. His grand­mother Betty, who has been rais­ing Shaw since he was in the sec­ond grade along­side Shaw’s grand­fa­ther Her­man Ray, was there to cheer him on in the games, which in­cluded chil­dren with dif­fer­ent dis­abil­i­ties from all over the state.

“Par­ents and friends and loved ones were cheer­ing ‘Go Jajuan! Go! Kick, kick Jajuan! Use your arms! Go Jajuan! Go!’ and he was first across in his event,” Betty Ray said.

“Chil­dren of autism may or may not un­der­stand what you are ask­ing them to do. They have an agenda of their own, so just to have these kids fol­low your di­rec­tions is a plus.”

Betty was ex­cited to see that ev­ery child in at­ten­dance had an op­por­tu­nity to do their thing. She said that it’s amaz­ing in it­self when you’re deal­ing with chil­dren with spe­cial needs that they could do those ac­tiv­i­ties.

“You have to en­gage these kids in things, be­cause they don’t just ask you for this stuff. But you find their in­ter­est, and you make sure they get what they need,” Betty Ray said.

“It is awe­some,” she said. “It’s so amaz­ing to see these chil­dren do what they do.”

As Betty Ray watched her grand­son, she said she no­ticed that there were kids that could not flat­ten their bod­ies lat­er­ally, but in or­der to com­pete in the swim­ming event they walked across the pool.

“Ev­ery­body has a place in these games,” Betty Ray said.

This was Shaw’s sec­ond year com­pet­ing in the Spe­cial Olympics; he took the bronze and the sil­ver last year.

Be­ing autis­tic, Jajuan is not hin­dered from do­ing things any other child can do. Betty Ray said that he’s a mag­nif­i­cent char­ac­ter on wheels and that he can ride a bi­cy­cle like a pro. He can also skate­board, ac­cord­ing to Betty Ray.

“I think his main in­ter­est in life is to build a car. He gets on the com­puter and he builds cars and he wants to paint them,” she said. “He even went into the garage one time (when) my hus­band had left some paint out that he had done out­side. I went out­side and my car, my only car, was painted white. It’s a red [Honda El­e­ment].”

“I couldn’t scream at him be­cause I don’t know what his think­ing pat­tern was, but he was try­ing to give me a new car,” Betty Ray said laugh­ingly.

Shaw’s grand­par­ents don’t let his autism hin­der him from pur­su­ing ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. Shaw has played base­ball for the mir­a­cle league in Cony­ers.

Betty Ray tries to keep Jajuan as ac­tive as pos­si­ble.

“(Chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties) don’t have a place to call their own. They have nowhere. They just go to school and then they come home. My goal is to see that these kids end up with a place that they can call their own on Satur­days,” Ray said. “Chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties need a place to go.”

Jajuan is in a self-con­tained class­room, and he has con­tin­u­ously made A-B honor roll.

Shaw only stayed back one year to re­peat sixth grade be­cause his grand­mother felt like he needed a bet­ter grip on his so­cial skills.

Betty Ray said that Jajuan is very good at math. Be­sides be­ing a whiz on the com­puter, Shaw has all the ba­sic skills of math locked down such as ad­di­tion, sub­trac­tion, mul­ti­pli­ca­tion, di­vi­sion and per­cent­ages.

She added that his read­ing com­pre­hen­sion could im­prove, but he can spell well and rarely misses a let­ter.

“If you don’t un­der­stand what he’s say­ing he will spell it for you,” Shaw said.

“We might mis­spell Wed­nes­day but Jajuan won’t mis­spell Wed­nes­day. He can hear the sounds that we don’t hear. He can spell just about any­thing you can say, even though he might not be able to say it,” Betty Ray said.

Ap­par­ently, Jajuan is a stud with the ladies too.

“He will walk into McDon­ald’s and see a pretty girl and just im­me­di­ately want to go hug her,” Ray said. “Jajuan is a very good look­ing lit­tle boy and they think he just gets a lit­tle fresh,” Betty Ray said laugh­ingly.

Ray said they’ve worked on him do­ing just high fives, be­cause some­times people can get un­com­fort­able or they just don’t un­der­stand that Jajuan doesn’t mean them any harm.

“We don’t have very many teach­ers that re­ally un­der­stand how to teach chil­dren with autism. That’s one of the prob­lems in our school sys­tem I think,” Betty Ray said. “We need to learn how to in­cor­po­rate these chil­dren into our world.”

“It’s not easy. I know it’s not easy for teach­ers. It’s not easy for par­ents. It’s not easy for friends and fam­ily. It’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to have to deal with, but they are our lit­tle hu­man be­ings, crea­tures from God, and we can­not just over­look them.”

Sub­mit­ted photo/ The Cov­ing­ton News

Par­ents and friends and loved ones were cheer­ing,

“Go, Jajuan! Go!”

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