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April 24, 2013

Autism foundation kicks off 5k, costume walk

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

METRO DETROIT — At first glance, Jack Price might seem like your ordinary 18-year-old.

Jennie Spring, a St. Clair Shores resident, for example, would describe first impressions of him in ways that paint a picture of a shy teenager.

“He’s tall, very gentle and keeps to himself. Quiet. He loves Halloween and loves Disney World — it’s the magical part he likes. He also loves sports,” Spring said.

His parents, former Detroit Tigers catcher/current color commentator Jim Price and mother Lisa, however, know the deeper intricacies of his mannerisms, what sets him off and where his boundaries from autism are.

“He shows the classic characteristics of an adult with autism. He’s a giant ball of anxiety. He cannot hold a conversation; you may be able to ask him a question — and he may answer — but he will launch into the topic of his choice or his obsession right now,” Lisa said. “He’s very gifted. He has an enormous vocabulary, a photographic memory and a very colorful imagination. He’s very loving and very generous.”

As parents of a son with moderate to severe cognitive impairment, the Prices are concerned about their only child living in a world in which autism is not always recognized and certainly not understood enough, she explained. That’s why they founded the nonprofit Jack’s Place for Autism — a one-on-one resource center for autism support, created in 2002 in honor of their then-7-year-old son.

This Saturday, the foundation will launch a 5k run and one-mile fun walk they are calling “Jack’s Jocks” to raise awareness about autism. The event will be held at Stony Creek Metropark.

Spring — with her business Creative Designs in Clinton Township, which creates fundraising material for the causes of Alzheimer’s, cancer and autism —is an event organizer for the walk.

Spring began the business to fundraise and promote awareness for issues that had personally impacted her; she runs the company with her sister, Maryjane Gaspar, a two-time breast cancer survivor from Grosse Pointe. Their mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s inspired them to adopt that cause, and upon meeting the Price family, they were moved to advocate for autism awareness.

“We understood the struggle of not knowing where to go for help, and part of this job is promoting awareness,” she said. “It wasn’t until we actually met Lisa that we learned a lot about autism.”

Lisa explained that Jack was diagnosed at the age of 3, when he was not walking, making eye contact or giving any verbal cues. After the diagnosis, she said, it was up to them to determine treatment and their future as a family.

“Doctors had no information, and you were basically left on your own as a parent. We were blessed to have people in our lives to support us in the process, but we saw that there was a need in the community,” she said, adding that the question that runs through their minds each and every day is, “What will happen to our son when we are gone? What will his quality of life be?”

Helping society understand autism and autistic individuals — in education, in families, in the work force — is one of the steps they are taking to make sure needs like Jack’s are met and that he is accepted by the community.

“He can’t write a check, count money. He’ll never drive a car, he cannot cook in a kitchen and he will never be able to live alone. Without a support system constantly in place, he will never be, at this point, able to achieve those tasks on his own,” she explained. “And now, going through the really ugly part of teenage years … the anger, frustration and depression of being a teenager. He’s trying to understand his place in the world.”

The ultimate goal of Jack’s Place, she added, is to create a life skills center that will function as a cooperative community of sorts for autistic individuals, where they can live, work and play in a functional society. It will be a micro-society, Lisa explained, with tasks like visiting the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, the laundromat and the jobs center.

“Our focus in not a cure — that’s a bottomless pit. We are trying to improve the quality of life while we wait for what science can provide us,” Lisa said, adding that, to date, Jack’s Place has served 7,000 individuals, families and agencies by acting as a navigator through resources and autism awareness events, like information days at Comerica Park, family days throughout the area and scholarships.

Spring said that understanding autism firsthand has changed her.

“I have — we all have — seen children and maybe think their parents aren’t doing anything to keep them on the straight and narrow, but sometimes they just have a condition that can’t be controlled like a normal child,” Price said, noting a recent experience at a market where a mother and teenage son were standing in line together.

“He had many of the indicators of autism. He was talking really loud and trying to wait very patiently for his lunchmeat to be sliced. When it was finally all done, it was a victory for him, right there in line. The mother looked over at me and said, ‘We have to celebrate the little successes,’” Price remembered.

“‘Of course you do,’ I said with a smile.”

Registration for Jack’s Jocks begins at 6:30 a.m. for the 8 a.m. 5k run. The one-mile costume walk will kick off at 8:30 a.m., and packets may be picked up in advance 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at Creative Designs, 39753 Garfield Road in Clinton Township.

Registration costs $25 for the 5k and $10 for the costume walk. Both races will begin at Eastwood Beach at Stony Creek Metropark, located at 4300 Main Park Drive in Shelby Township. For more information or to register, visit www.jacksjocks.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.