A diagnosis … and a pricey treatment
I fought hard to find out what was wrong and why Jarred was not speaking or talking like our first child Kelsey had. In the midst of finding out that Jarred had a disability called autism, I had our third child, Dylan. I kept searching for the answers and refused to give up on Jarred. I found out about the Lovaas Program, a one-on-one program centered on Dr. Ivar Lovaas’ research in Los Angles, Calif. This intense program requires 40 hours of one-on-one therapy with a child on a weekly basis. I wondered how I was going to raise the money for the treatment that Jarred needed. In five years, I raised around $100,000 to pay for the intense behavior modification. Jarred had only one chance. I was not about to look back on his life and think, “What if?”
We fought and won a seven-year lawsuit with Fort Bragg schools that ended in federal district court in 1997. Jarred’s lawsuit changed the laws for kids in North Carolina, allowing them to receive the services that they are entitled to. Jarred allowed people to see that autism is not “the end,” but a means of educating others about this disability. Children can recover if they receive intense behavior modification services at a young age and the results are life-changing.
In the end, a new beginning
Jarred was the sunshine in our lives. He died on June 10th, 2011, in our home. We had an accident and Jarred was called home to be with the Lord where he is whole and no longer has the barriers that autism had on him on this earth. Jarred taught me unconditional love, to never quit and to believe in God and in His power to heal if it was in His plan. Jarred taught me about the innocence of children, a quality that can never be bought. He was innocent and trusting. He made me stronger, and accepting of others who are different. Autism didn’t define Jarred; he was a winner no matter what.
The story of Jarred, our son and teacher started on April 24th, 1992, which was no ordinary day. A baby was born, changing our lives along with thousands of others. It was a beautiful spring day in Blytheville, Ar., and why not? Jarred was a beautiful baby boy. He grew up with his sister Kelsey, who was older by 14 months. Soon after Jarred’s birth, the Air Force sent our family to begin a new chapter and an unforgettable journey in Fayetteville, N.C. The first few years with Jarred were hard. Something was not quite right with his development and the milestones that he should have been reaching at various times. His language was not developing and his ear infections were numerous. Temper tantrums were not once or twice a day, but 10 to 15 times a day. Walking through a door was a major complication. His fits of terror and cries were painful and unbearable. Jarred was hurting.
Every step is a gift
Before we heard about the Lovaas Program, I prayed to God on my way to work one morning. I said, “God I know that my child has autism, but please help me find a way to reach him.” That is exactly what God did. We reached Jarred and the journey has forever changed our lives. We put the Lovaas Program into practice in our home and started intensive behavior modification when Jarred was 4 years old. I wanted to hear his voice -- to hear him say that he loved me. He said, “Mama,” for the first time at age 5. He was 7 when he first told me that he loved me. I never took anything for granted in my life, because I knew that everything Jarred did for me was a gift. Things that you assume everyone knows how to do had to be taught to Jarred -- eating a cupcake, bouncing a basketball, snapping his pants. Jarred worked hard to succeed until the day he left us.
Hope in helping others
Today we honor Jarred’s memory by starting The Jarred Bryan Sparks Foundation to help families and their children who have autism. We want to honor God and our son by helping as many people as we can. Our goal is to teach the world that people who have this disability are to be treated with dignity and respect always. Our dream is to open The School of Hope in Fayetteville within the next four years, where we can educate, motivate and inspire others to never give up and to always believe that with God, “All things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 was Jarred’s favorite Bible verse).Jarred changed all of us, and made us better people. I was honored to be his mother, and I know that I will see him again one day, completely healed. I thank him for changing my life, and for being the greatest teacher I have ever known.