Autism and a Political Career Collide in Dad's Two Worlds


All Kids With Autism Are Individual

Jaden's grandmother was the first to suspect autism when she read a book written by another mother, "Let Me Hear Your Voice," that described Jaden "perfectly."

All those with autism are different. "You have to be an expert at reading your own child," said Lake. "Jaden is unique -- he wants to talk but he can't. Other kids are completely silent."

Jaden gets excited about the film, "Sound of Music," Smarties (Canadian M&Ms) and being told concrete plans about the day's schedule. But he cannot articulate his feelings.

"People with autism have a real hard time, even highly functioning people," said Lake. "And they come across as odd -- and have great difficulty in their social lives."

So far, in a K to 12 school where Jaden has gone his whole life, his classmates have embraced him. He has been involved in musical theater, dancing in a production of "Oliver," and this year learning to play an old man, who walks across the stage with a cup.

But Jaden is incapable of telling his parents if he has a stomach ache and when his parents ask him, he might give a meaningless nod. "He wants to make us happy with the answer he gives," said Lake. "His default answer is yes."

They worry about his future, when they are not around to love and care for him, but hope Jaden can contribute with the skills he does possess.

"We have chosen to focus on what is in front of us," said Lake, not ruling out living or vocational opportunities "that are good for him."

Jaden has had intensive interventions -- about 36 hours a week — from age 2 to 5. Since then he has been in school with a full time aid. He can use an iPhone app to "communicate basic and concrete concepts," and his parents have chosen to focus on developing this as his primary mode of communication

Jaden's mother cried when he learned to kiss for the first time at age 11.

Lake, who worked for 11 years for his hometown ice hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers, said his relationship with Jaden surprises him in some ways.

"I am a very competitive person, so the idea of having a child with special needs would have terrified me," he said. "I had visions of my son playing in the NHL and graduating with honors. I look back and I can't imagine loving a kid more than I love Jaden. And I look back at every milestone and I'm every bit as proud of everything he's done.

"I always say that if we could snap our fingers and Jaden wouldn't have autism, we'd miss the Jaden we have now."

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