The day after his high school graduation, a young man left his foster home and headed for Monrovia to reside with his grandmother. A day he had been waiting for, for the past five years.
PCC student Aaron Jackson, 25, grew up in Milpitas. During his childhood, Jackson was diagnosed with autism with a minor learning disability. Jackson did not speak as a child and when he was first tested, they diagnosed him as deaf. As a result, he was sent to a special preschool in San Jose. Nevertheless, at one point during his time there, he started talking and when tested again, they realized that he was not deaf, but in fact, autistic.
Throughout Jackson’s youth, his parents were repeatedly put away due to their severe drug habits. And when Jackson was 14 years old, the state was forced to remove him from his parents and place him into a foster home.
“Well, I kind of have to say that it was a learning experience and a growth experience to really know my resiliency and how much character I have,” Jackson said. “Because I have never been this far away from the people I’ve loved before in this capacity.”
Living in the foster home was very challenging for him, as the state would not allow him to move in with his grandmother early on given that his aunt, who had her own drug problems, was living with her. Jackson’s grandmother and aunt had lived with him during his childhood but they both relocated to Monrovia to take care of his ailing great-grandmother. With both his parents in jail and no family nearby to help him, Jackson had to rely on his own strength to get him through.
“It was kind of a blessing really when I think about it more and more,” Jackson said. “That this might have been the right situation to guide me through life at that period of time. My family at that time was still really dysfunctional.”
When he was finally able to live and reconnect with his grandmother, Jackson was excited about furthering his education. In fall of 2009, Jackson started his journey at PCC and became a broadcast journalism student.
“I originally liked sports but I’m not physically gifted to play sports, I realize that,” Jackson said. “So this is something I wanted to get into because it involved sports, that was my first thought. But I really grew into liking news and working in television production as well”
Jackson credits the disabled student program and services for helping him with his positive experience here, as well as the two counselors that have worked with him along the way.
“I’ve seen two counselors throughout the years, Bianca Richards and Rosemary Scott. They have done a really good job of guiding me through my journey here at PCC,” Jackson said. “They have really helped me out as far as which courses I need to take and what educational path that I need to take overall.”
Rosemary Scott, a speech pathologist, first met Jackson in 2009 and remembers him initially as “hesitant, unsure and insecure but [he] always knew that he wanted to be in broadcast journalism.”
Scott worked with Jackson a lot inside and outside of the classroom. In spring of 2010, Jackson took SPEECH 120 (which is no longer offered) with Scott, where she would regularly videotape Aaron presenting in class. They would both review the tape so they could see his progress, including what he needed to improve on.
“Aaron is a great example of diligence and hard work and an open “can-do” attitude,” Scott said.” I have always told my students, ‘Attitude is the real disability.’ Aaron has taken his skills and talents and made it work. He is an inspiration to other students.”
Individuals diagnosed with autism are often characterized by a difficulty with social interaction. In spite of this, Jackson has loved his time spent in his broadcast journalism and TVR classes.
“Generally, I’m probably someone who would prefer to work on solo assignments but I’ve really enjoyed working with others on projects and working on projects with others on our own time,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping to experience more things rather than just being confined most of the time when I’m not on campus.”
Currently, Jackson is still living with his grandmother, alongside his mother and uncle. Now that he is reconnected with his mother, Jackson is enjoying rebuilding their relationship but longs to claim his independence.
“Unfortunately, I still might cling onto my mother too much and be dependent on her,” Jackson said. “Hopefully I can develop more and become more independent from the needs of my mother because she has to take me to and from places so maybe I can break away from that at some point.”
With studies showing that those with autism are less likely to live independent lives, there are some who are successful and Jackson hopes to be one of them.
“Hopefully, I’m working at a job I love and hopefully in Great Britain…either in broadcast journalism or work in television production…and hopefully a family to provide for over there,” he said.