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Catholic High senior with autism creates atmosphere of acceptance

This is National Autism Awareness Month. Jack Grimley is the first to tell you, he's a little different. He welcomes the chance to talk about it so, hopefully, you'll understand him and others who live on the spectrum of autism.

"In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day. We thank you for the gift of life..." Senior Jack Grimley gives the prayer every day at Catholic High School. Public speaking is one of his many gifts. It's a gift that helps him share his message of acceptance. "Whenever I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. It's a mild form of autism that makes everyday social interaction a little difficult. Some of the symptoms that I've suffered from are, among others; I'm not very good at picking up on subtle social cues like sarcasm or body language. I often have very strong, almost obsessive interests such as music and American history."

Jack uses the music to ease those difficult social interactions. He calls these gifts his ice breakers. I say these because he's accomplished in guitar, piano and voice.

Alan Manning is Jack's American History and Government Teacher. "I don't really think of Jack as having a disability in an obvious sense. He loves to talk and he's not afraid to give his opinion. He raises his hand; likes to participate. And that adds to everybody's learning in the classroom."

Jack purposely works to create an atmosphere of acceptance. He talks candidly about the challenges of autism and Asperger's to make it comfortable for people to approach him; to ask questions, to understand. "Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's what you have to do if you want people to have a favorable impression of you. That's what you really have to do. If you want people to really understand the essence of who you are; you have to be open, you have to say something."

The compassion he seeks is the same compassion he gives to others. Makenna Thorsen didn't hesitate when Jack asked her to the prom. "I was going through a difficult time in my life and we would just talk about different things and he wrote me this letter that saw deeper than what other people saw."

That compassion and a constant sense of humor. "I'm a triplet. I'm a triplet. The only boy; which means I gotta earn my keep."

He's pretty good at that "earning his keep" thing. He recently helped lead a fundraiser that brought in $25,000 for scholarships for students to be able to attend Catholic High. Jack shared his story of being different and finding acceptance; an acceptance that he wishes the world would embrace. "Always try to treat people with kindness and respect even if they don't reciprocate. Just be yourself and keep your expectations reasonable. That's what I can say."

Yes, Jack Grimley's a little different; but then, aren't we all?

Angels In Our Midst is brought to you by the Studer Family Children's Hospital at Sacred Heart.

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