Autism currently affects 1 in 68 children, and is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. Reports further show that 500,000 teens in the U.S. diagnosed with autism will transition into adulthood over the next decade. BASTARD fanzine sat down with model and advocate Jacquelyn Jablonski to have a conversation about the realities of having grown up with autism in her family, and learn about her mission to provide hope for the future of these young adults with autism and their families.
Written by The BASTARD Child
Since it’s first labeling in 1943, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) has been a controversial topic because doctors and scientist have yet to find a definitive cause of the neurodevelopmental disorder. While the cause of ASD remains speculative, according to Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, the disorder is “characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behavior.”
Recently, rapper 50-Cent was scrutinized for unknowingly mocking an autistic airport employee; claiming the teen was high on drugs while at work. He has since apologized to the boy and his family for the “misunderstanding” but being misunderstood is one of the greatest obstacles that people living with autism have to face everyday. The lack of awareness combined with the complexities of autism causes people to assume in a similar manner as 50-Cent did with the airport employee. This incident sheds light on the need for increased education regarding complex disorders of brain development. With over 3 million people diagnosed with ASD in the U.S. (that’s more than the population of Chicago) and tens of millions world wide, we individually need to learn to have love, compassion and respect for those who are living with autism.
“It was definitely tough at times. When Tommy was first diagnosed, my family and I didn’t understand what autism was. When I was young, I didn’t want to believe it was a lifelong condition.”
Few understand this quite like Jacquelyn Jablonski, a recognizable face in fashion having appeared in campaigns for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Jacquelyn’s younger brother, Tommy, was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 2. “It was definitely tough at times. When Tommy was first diagnosed, my family and I didn’t understand what autism was. When I was young, I didn’t want to believe it was a lifelong condition. I would get embarrassed at times for example, when he would have outbursts in public, but as I got older I learned to embrace those moments.” The bond between Jacquelyn and Tommy has compelled her to use her resources as a high profile model to bring awareness to ASD. Now as Tommy is transitioning into adulthood, along with hundreds of thousands of other teens with autism, Jacquelyn saw the need to help this population’s passage into maturity. She founded the nonprofit organization, Autism Tomorrow.
Autism in individuals is as unique as the individual themselves. While some excel in abilities with visual, musical, and academic skills others have significant disabilities preventing them from ever living on their own. “Tommy is on the severe end of the spectrum and will be unable to live on his own. This doesn’t mean he cannot excel at a job. When he is taught a certain skill he becomes obsessed, a common trait in people with autism, and capable of accomplishing the task efficiently. For example, when Tommy was taught to clean at school he became so fixated and focused that he did not stop until the room was spotless. Of course, there are many levels of severity and different frameworks for these young adults to consider when their schooling ends.”
“Autism Tomorrow deals with tomorrows challenges today providing hope for the future of these adults with autism and their families.”
Resources for adults with autism can be harder to come across as these individuals “age out” of their schooling. Jacquelyn’s family being faced with the challenges of what lays ahead for Tommy, who is now 21 years old, is what inspired her to launch an organization. “Autism Tomorrow deals with tomorrows challenges today providing hope for the future of these adults with autism and their families. 1 in 68 children with autism today will be adults with autism tomorrow.”
In 2014, with the encouragement of her management team at IMG Models, Jacquelyn began to realize her desire to establish an alliance that would address the needs of adults living with autism. Autism Speaks, an organization that Jacquelyn has been vocal about over the years, has been supportive by providing her with valuable resources to help her organization flourish. With “patience,” a trait she credits Tommy with instilling in her, over the past two years she has worked selflessly to realize and establish the nonprofit organization that will offer grants to transition programs for these adults with autism when their schooling ends.
Autism Tomorrow kicks off their first fundraising event on Tuesday, May 10th at MILK gallery in New York City. The event will feature a silent auction of art works donated by the industry’s top photographers. Tickets are available via Eventbrite and if you are unable to attend the event you can still Be Accomplished at Selfless Tasks And Righteous Deeds by making a tax-deductible donation. 100% of the proceeds will go to benefit various transition programs through Autism Tomorrow.