Soaring with Eagles
June 11, 2013
By Justin Lester
Autistic youth earns Scouting’s highest honor
With a combination of courage and a bit of help from friends, anything is possible.
Just ask Jason Callans, a freshman at Issaquah High School. The 15-year-old was diagnosed with autism at age 3 yet is thriving in a variety of activities among his peers.
Jason’s most recent achievement is one he has been working toward for nearly a decade. In March, he was awarded the Eagle Scout badge, representing the highest possible rank for a Boy Scout.
In order to earn the honor, the final task for Jason was a community service project that entailed building benches at Lake Tradition with his troop. The impressive part: Jason was the leader of the group, supervising his peers and making sure everything was executed correctly.
“All the work he put in was worth it,” said Brian Callans, Jason’s older brother. “I’m so proud. The fact that he’s able to be part of the group and accomplish what he did, it’s just great.”
Autism is actually a complex set of neurological disorders, known as autism spectrum disorders, which impair social, communicative and cognitive functions, according to the Autism Science Foundation. Despite that, some people with autism have average or above average IQs.
Jason became an Eagle Scout with minimal exceptions made for him because of his autism. His success is also a testament to the loving support of his family and friends.
For one, Brian is an Eagle Scout himself and his role in Jason’s life has expanded from big brother to mentor. Brian is also part of a club at Issaquah High School in which members take time out of their days to interact with students who have special needs after school.
Jason also has three younger sisters: Megan (13), Stephanie (10) and Carrie (6). At the Callans’ house in Issaquah, the girls treat Jason virtually the same way they treat their eldest brother. They even give Jason a hard time now and then just as every set of siblings does. But away from home, Brian and the three girls go out of their way to be extra faithful to Jason.
Their father Joe has accompanied Jason on some of his trips with Boy Scouts. He said his son has become less reliant on others due to the continual support he has received.
“Early on, I was involved with him as more of a safety valve,” Callans said. “But over time, he’s proved that he’s a hard worker, and he gained more and more trust with us. He’s very functional and self-sufficient.”
Obtaining the Eagle Scout badge isn’t Jason’s only accomplishment. He plays trombone in the school band and is a member of the Eagles swim team. He also plays piano; he’s taken private lessons for the past five years.
Jason also loves Spanish and enjoys its vocabulary, which he uses when he goes on kayaking trips with his troop.
“Mojado means wet,” he said. “I count to 100 strokes in Spanish.”
Jason’s network of support — including community members — all contribute to his success. The swim team’s coaches and captains set aside time to teach him how to dive and do certain strokes. Leaders of Jason’s troop always give him as much of an opportunity to partake in events and earn medals as any other Boy Scout. And his band director has created an environment so Jason doesn’t need an aide when he plays any more.
Above all, it’s Jason’s friends who have made the difference.
“Jason’s special need brings out the best in his peers,” said Christine Callans, Jason’s mother. “They know what his strengths are and they’re really good about including him. When you watch them interacting, they’re typical boys and joking around. But when it comes to taking care of someone, you see this maturity in them.”
Jason still participates in Boy Scouts and is hoping to gain post-Eagle Scout honors. The plan is for him to graduate on time and possibly go into a career of music.
Justin Lester is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.