Meet Jesse

When I was asked to write about a successful autistic consumer for Autism Awareness Month, immediately, I thought of Jesse. I tried to write about Jesse with the very standard “struggles to success” plot line. While what I wrote was all very accurate, it just didn’t seem to do Jesse any justice. He is simply too dynamic for a formulaic article.

However, background is important. Jesse has been diagnosed with autism. He came to NEBA about two years ago to learn employable skills, find volunteer placements, and eventually become employed. Jesse has completed all these goals and more. He attended the Career Ladders program and still attends each week; though his job and volunteer placements don’t leave him enough time for full days of class any more. Jesse currently works as an office assistant once a week at Health Resources, a doctor’s office in Hadley. He excels in all his tasks, which range from filing patient information to walking the office dog. Jesse also volunteers at the Hubbard Library, which he dusts while trying not to get distracted by the movies and music that call to him from the shelves. If that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Jesse volunteers twice a week at Dakin Animal Shelter.

Just like a list of diagnoses doesn’t accurately describe Jesse, neither does his resume depict the vivid person, who loves movies, music, books, dancing, peanut butter cookies, and keeps Charlotte, the Spider in his pocket.  When Jesse enters NEBA, he walks straight to the nearest person to tell them the latest news about his Johnny Cash CD collection. Jesse, NEBA’s social butterfly, travels from one person to another a reciting different movie line duet with each person, spanning films from Aladdin to The Wizard of Oz. While anyone can recite quotes and memorize facts, I have met very few people who feel the excitement of each one so deeply inside themselves and have the ability to infect others with their enthusiasm.

At Dakin, Jesse folds laundry, which I think most of us will agree, can get repetitive at times. To keep towel folding interesting, Jesse has started reciting stories. Each day I work with him, I get a different tale complete with accents, dramatic pauses, and flourishing gestures that only occasionally interrupt his folding. I have heard everything from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney Audiobook), with a particular affinity for Dr. Seuss. When I say that Jesse is reciting stories, I mean the whole entire book, along with copyright date, background on the author, and the occasional instruction to “flip the tape over.”

Jesse doesn’t just have a passion for movies and books but also for music, specifically Johnny Cash. He can list every song and CD Cash produced with the same information and detail listed on its label. When he plays the music that he loves so profoundly, you can see the excitement course through his body and be released as he sings and dances. Jesse doesn’t worry about what people think of him when he performs, something most of us could only wish we could reproduce in ourselves. He simply feels the music and wants to share the feeling with those around him, especially those in the audience he has collected beforehand.

Recently, Jesse and I have been working to creatively combine many of his interests. Every Friday, I help Jesse to write about one of his passions in a limerick. Jesse chooses the topic, checks the rhyming dictionary, and creates his own poems. I type and occasionally help cut out some extra syllables. Once again, the enthusiasm Jesse feels about these topics and about writing his own poems, barrels through him. We sit together at a computer, while Jesse grins and moves excitedly back and forth in his chair, formulating poems about every topic from Johnny Cash to Mr. Hoober-Bloob.

Jesse, like everyone else, goes through life with ups and downs, successes and struggles in addition to his Autism. However, he is so much more than this. Jesse loves his passions deeply and enthusiastically in an uninhibited way that most of can’t image or at least admit to. Just having the chance to appreciate his enthusiasm and to feel it rub off on those around him, is something I look forward to every week.

Do you want to learn more about NEBA and what we do, visit our website at http://www.nebaworks.com and sign up for our newsletter.

This post was written by Hannah Spiro, an Employment Consultant for New England Business Associates.