As the West Georgia Autism Foundation is gearing up for the First Annual Fundraiser in January 2019, members of the Board of Directors have been asked to tell their story about how they became involved. Here is my story; the good, bad, and the transformation inspired not by someone I looked up to, but a small boy. As the first-born male in my family, “success” was expected. “Failure” was not. Growing up with three younger sisters, I never had a brother to compete with. While this eased some of the self-imposed expectations and the expectations of others, the focus of my life was striving to be “the best” as an athlete, businessman, and lawyer. This, coupled with the high level of importance I placed on seeking approval from others, consumed me for over three decades. Second place equaled disappointment. For years, I struggled with my perception of “not being good enough” in any category. God did not like this unhealthy and unbalanced lifestyle. His most stubborn children, like me, take a while to see the truth. On December 18, 2005, a truth that would change my worldview arrived. Jason W. Swindle Jr. “Jake” was the first child my wife and I were blessed with. He was a healthy little guy. By the time he was two, I had already planned where we would hunt together in the future, what position he would play in football, and what type of law would be best for him to practice. He was just a smaller version of me. He would “succeed” in areas where I believed I fell short. Right? Early 2009 – Jake and I are going to the hunting camp, spending time in the yard, and playing with the football. But, he is not talking. Family members start to wonder why. Research is done by all except me. I knew that Jake must be stubborn and would talk when he was ready. There was no reason to research anything. Late 2009 – Family members begin to suggest that Jake be tested for autism. Autism?? Jake?? No sir, he would not be autistic. Although completely ignorant at the time, I thought I knew a little something about autism. It was all bad. It meant being retarded, unable to speak, and many other terrible things. No. My child would not be tested. Ever. As the days passed, I noticed that Jake was still not verbalizing back to me when I tried to speak to him. Also, the word “autism” continued to be discussed until I insisted that it not be spoken of in my presence. One night, my wife grabbed my shoulders and said, “Look here. Our son is getting tested. So, change the attitude and get with the program.” I finally gave in…….
Jake was diagnosed as having high functioning autism, or what is commonly known as “Asperger’s.” At first, I did not accept the diagnosis. We needed a second opinion. How could they know at such a young age? This was unacceptable. I was full of anger for days. I lived in a state of ignorance and denial. One day, my mother called from her home near Appomattox, Virginia. She is a nurse and very familiar with autism. She said, “Jake (which is what I was called as a child) why are you so afraid? Your son is autistic. You can either accept it and be the best father you can be or run from the reality like a coward. By the way, as you are deciding whether to man up, consider educating yourself a little on autism.” My mother got my attention. Jake is 12 years old now. I love him and his little brother, Reagan, more than anything in the world. Jake will probably never want to hunt or play football. Who knows what he will do with his many abilities such as being able to focus like a laser on a specific task and building anything you can imagine out of a massive pile of Legos? Today, I don’t care what he does if he truly does his best. His healthy development has been made possible by God, therapists, and his courage. I am most grateful that we have been able to afford therapy for him. You will never see a more heartbreaking situation than when a child’s family does not have the financial resources to afford therapy. Like everyone, Jake has struggled at times. He feels “different” and becomes frustrated. He has asked me “why am I like this?” “Jake, God has given you special gifts that you do not yet understand. You will realize them when you are older. More importantly, God made you exactly the way He wanted you to be. I love you just the way you are.” Over the years, I have taught Jake a few things. Little does he know that he has already taught me more about life and the true definition of “success” than any person I have ever met. Jake Swindle inspired me to start the WGAF. God instructed me to help the autistic children who suffer from the lack of resources to fund critical treatment, create awareness, and provide education about the number one challenge our state faces in the near future.