Rich Janssen, a lifelong Ronan resident and involved community member, has an autistic child.
His son, Jake, was diagnosed with autism May 31, 1998, when he was 2 years old. At the time, about one in 1,000 children were autistic. That number has risen exponentially through the last 15 years to one in 50 males. One-third of those diagnosed with autism develop epilepsy. Jake is among them and was recently diagnosed with diabetes.
Even so, Jake seems like one of the happiest children you’ll ever meet.
“He’s a blessing and he’s really humbled me to what’s important in life,” Rich said. “It’s not anything arbitrary or anything that you can lose, and it’s made me much more sympathetic to those with a disability ... anyone with a disability is on our short list of going to heaven pretty quick.”
Having been integrated into Ronan schools since he was 2 1/2 years old, Jake will graduate with a high school diploma this spring and has the option to walk with his class at graduation.
“He’s been in the Ronan school system his entire education career, and the majority of the kids love him. They’re his buddy and they protect him,” Rich said. “Cody Mock, Dallas Jore — I have a soft spot for that class and those boys ... they know Jake and they care, and I’ll never forget them for that.”
Jake’s 16-year-old sister Jenna described several instances when people who didn’t know Jake or understand autism said something cruel, but Jake’s classmates stood up for him.