College-going Houston-area student uses autism to excel in sports, academics and music
HOUSTON – Jackson White is an outstanding high school football player and honor roll student while studying Japanese and teaching himself to play six instruments.
“Piano, guitar, ukulele, electric guitar, bass and kalimba,” he says.
Jackson is also autistic.
“I was much slower in my work, so maybe other kids would go to recess, and I would stay inside and keep doing my job,” he recalled of his early years at the primary school.
His challenges began before he was born. His mother gave birth to him on the day of the baby shower, 12 weeks early. He weighed three pounds and eight ounces.
“Most babies want to be snuggled, hugged and kissed, but this was a problem for him,” says his mother Jaishelle White.
For the first two years of her life, White underwent lung treatments and ear surgery. He also showed signs of developmental delays and sensory issues.
“He was only eating gallons a week of goldfish, granola, crackers, crunchy things,” his mother says.
Around the age of 4, Jackson was diagnosed with autism and ADHD with sensory integration disorder, which can mean extreme reactions to sights, smells, sounds and touches. His mum says she took a controversial approach by not telling him about his diagnosis and instead enrolling him in a variety of sports after learning he would have poor motor skills.
“At four he got on the swim team, he was a point guard on his basketball team at four, he started playing baseball around five, fencing, soccer, lacrosse, athletics, discus – anything we could say to him in it, we put it in,” says Jaishelle, adding “gymnastics” to the top of the list.
Jackson later learned of his diagnosis while attending The Joy School, a campus for students with learning differences and disabilities to help them transition into traditional classrooms. During this time, his parents kept him enrolled in therapy programs that included the integration of speech, occupation, water, music, sensory and food. The family also incorporated techniques such as skin brushing and having him wear a wetsuit under school uniforms.
“It’s exhausting, but love kept me going,” Jaishelle says.
Current high school senior Lamar is now a 5’11”, 190-pound wide receiver. He says most of his classmates don’t know he has autism. Instead of sharing his diagnosis, he continues to move and stay focused.
On weekends, he receives wide receiver training from Patrick Barriere of Performance_Houston at Tom Bass Park. Barriere says over the past three years he’s seen Jackson become more vocal and isn’t surprised by his accomplishments. “He sees these other guys doing it, and he’s like, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ It is the will and the determination that inhabit it”, explains Barrière.
Jackson is heading to Houston Baptist University in the fall on a full scholarship. His mother is now an autism specialist and educator.
“I tell people who have children who seem to be a little developmentally different to have their child assessed so they can start early interventions as well, because that really helps,” she explains. .
She adds that what seemed like a handicap 14 years ago is now one of Jackson’s greatest strengths.