When I first found out I had autism at 11 1/2, I often wished I had a role model to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. Now as a young adult, I’m blessed with the opportunity to take on the role of a mentor for so many young people on the spectrum like my mentee Jadyn. Jadyn’s mother Michelle reached out to me last year because Jadyn was starting her first year as a New York Jets Junior Flight Crew Cheerleader.
Jadyn had been cheerleading for two years with a local special needs squad and now was getting the opportunity to perform in front of 80,000 people at MetLife Stadium as part of a halftime show for the NY Jets. As soon as she told me about her daughter’s story all I could think was that this girl was a complete inspiration.
A few weeks later after Jadyn’s halftime performance, we did a highlight video of her journey to this point. The video quickly became a YouTube sensation with countless positive comments from our Autism Speaks family. After the video, I stayed in touch with Jadyn’s family, and later that fall I finally got to meet Jadyn for the first time at The Greater Morris Walk Now for Autism Speaks. I was instantly blown away by how adorable Jadyn was. Jadyn’s smile was infectious to me and everyone around her. I instantly fell in love with her.
We left the walk that day and met a few weeks later at the North/Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Later that winter we met again at MetLife Stadium to join Jadyn in playing the NY Giants Snow Bowl flag football tournament to raise money for Special Olympics New Jersey. While all of this was going on, I met more and more of Jadyn’s extended family that have circled around helping and being there for Jadyn.
Then last weekend came and we finally got to see Jadyn come back to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, now as a veteran New York Jets Flight Crew Cheerleader to perform again at the halftime show. This year, just like the year before, Jadyn’s energy and positivity were beyond words. The biggest success and change from the the year before was that Jadyn stood on the field by herself and her shadow stood on the sidelines. Jadyn, through video peer modeling and live practices, was able to learn and perform the routine with the other 200+ girls on the field.
Even though Jadyn has some difficultly with communication today, I couldn’t be prouder of her for following her passions. Cheerleading is something she really loves and to see her go after it makes me smile every time I see her. I wish we all had that fight in us, especially for what we love. I refer to myself as Jadyn’s mentor but for the most part Jadyn is really my mentor. I learn so much from her everyday and I hope she continues to progress to the point where all her dreams come true.
This one’s for you Jadyn!