Springdale native Tom Jackman is one of four individuals recently recognized for their volunteer efforts on behalf the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Lieut-Gov. Frank Fagan presented Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medals to Jackman, Elaine Dobbin, Barbara Hopkins and David Vardy during a ceremony at Government House in St. John's July 2, 2013.
© Submitted Photos
Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan and Springdale native Tom Jackman
Jackman, who now lives in St. John's, has a form of high functioning autism known as Asperger's syndrome. It hasn't stopped him from living life to the fullest.
He is a member of the National Advisory Committee for Adults on the Spectrum at Autism Society Canada and holds the self-advocate seat on the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jackman was featured in the documentary "Autism Grows Up" which was highlighted during the second Annual Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Vocational Conference that took place at Canada Olympic Park Conference Centre in Calgary June 6-7.
He wears a white and blue St. John's Ice Caps jersey in the film and talks about living a full and interesting life.
"I guess I'd have to say it's not along the lines of normal but what is normal?" Jackman asks.
Jackman's mother, Jen Jackman, is also featured in the documentary. She says when she looks back on her son's earlier years she knew he had social problems but thought it might be attributed to the fact that he was the youngest, biggest and smartest child in his class.
"We never really considered the fact that he had autism," she says into the camera.
Jackman was in his late twenties before he was diagnosed with Asperger's. His childhood years were difficult, he says. He found it hard socializing with other children and was bullied as a child.
"People were kind of mean to me in high school (Grant Collegiate)," Jackman said during a recent telephone interview."
Jackman says he always knew he wasn't like other children. However, he says, it took many doctors a few years to diagnose Asperger's.
"But, reading and researching the info on it, made it fall into place as I could see that I, for sure, had many signs and symptoms of it," he said via-email.
When asked about the symptoms of Asperger's, Jackman forwarded numerous articles and other information by e-mail.
The information notes that people with Asperger's have difficulty in forming friendships and relationships and finding a suitable job. Motor development may be delayed which can cause clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements.
Unlike many affected by other forms of autism, however, people with Asperger's do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development.
Jackman may still have a little trouble interacting in social settings. However, he is self-confident and knows what he excels in most.
"I'm really good with facts, numbers and research. I got a lot of smart qualities. And where I'm living a lot on my own in St. John's, I've gotten a lot more independent... You have to make your own friends and I'm getting better at that."
As an advocate for people with autism, Jackman has spoken at various provincial and national conferences.
He tells his story to help others understand that people with autism may be different but are not disabled.
Jackman is a stage operations volunteer with Targa Newfoundland and also volunteers with Rogers TV and well as several other community groups. He also works part-time at St. John's Curling Club.
When asked if he has had any role models over the years, Jackman refers to Temple Grandin and Tony Attwood. Grandin is the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world, he says.
"I had breakfast with her, before an autism conference in St. John's."
Attwood is a clinical psychologist based in Queensland, Australia and is widely acknowledged to be the world's leading expert on Asperger's.
"I met him at a conference in Winnipeg. I spoke with him before he had a chance to do his presentation."
Jackman says advances in technology have helped people with autism communicate with society. It's important for people, particularly parents, to educate themselves about autism, he says.
"Even people with severe autism can get out their message through with iPads."
That message, Jackman says, is never give up hope.
"I go to conferences and I meet a lot of parents. Moms are happy to see how I turned out. It gives them hope that things will be all right with their children."
When her son was diagnosed with Asperger's, Terri-Lynn George thought about Jackman. The two attended the same high school in Springdale.
George says Jackman was a quiet student. He didn't associate with the other students or participate in any school events.
"I contacted Tom because I wanted to make sure I didn't do anything to make his life harder. I told him about my son's diagnosis and he reassured me that I'd never done anything to hurt him."
George's son Christopher George was nine when diagnosed with Asperger's. He's now 14 and has no trouble telling people he has autism, his mother says.
"Next to Tom, Christopher is one of the most proudest autistic people I know. When he meets someone he'll introduced himself saying 'Hi, my name is Christopher. I have autism.'"
George says she was delighted when she heard that Jackman had received a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.
"Tom taught me my first question in autism - never ask a question if you're not prepared for the answer. He's so deserving of this award."
To email Tom with well-wishes and congratulations, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org