Tuesday, May 27, 2008

JMac delivers hope for overcoming autism

Basketball feat provides basis for helping others to cope with condition

Four hundred people went to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Thursday to hear Jason McElwain, the Rochester-area man who has become a symbol for what some people with autism can accomplish.

Some of them, like Sandra Czajka, 54, came with their own dreams.

Czajka, who works at an agency dealing with disabled adults, looked at McElwain and saw what she wants her grandson Blake to be.

“If I ever see my grandson standing here looking like this, talking like this, one day I’ll be like, ‘My prayers were answered,’ ” Czajka said.

Blake, 7, has autism and is partly blind.

“We talk to my grandson, and we don’t know if he understands you or not because he ignores you,” she said. “But then if I specifically say, ‘What color is [the podium]?’ he’ll say, ‘brown.’ ”

As manager of the Greece Athena High School basketball team, McElwain, known as JMac, became something of a national sensation when he scored 20 points in four minutes — including six three-point shots — at the end of the last home game in 2006. He has been speaking publicly about it ever since.

“[Autism] made me want to be like the other boys,“ the 19-year-old told the audience at the Developmental Disabilities Day program in the convention center. “When I played sports, I was.”

McElwain’s feat got him onto “Oprah,” “The Today” show and others. He also had a book published, “The Game of My Life: A True Story of Challenge.” Columbia Pictures is working on a movie inspired by his life, which will be made within two years and will be produced by former basketball player Magic Johnson, according to David McElwain, Jason’s father.

Jason McElwain said he hopes more people are gaining a greater awareness of autism and people with disabilities.

Sue Mervine, director of family support services for the Learning Disability Association of Western New York, said she was thrilled to hear that Mc- Elwain would be speaking at the conference, which she attends each year.

“As a mom, I get tears in my eyes,” Mervine said, referring to how articulate McElwain is. “If I could put him on a higher pedestal, I would.”

McElwain now coaches the East Coach Fusion, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team based in Rochester for players 13 to 17 years old. He recently took the test to receive his general equivalency diploma. He says the possibility of college is “up in the air.”

He also currently works at a Wegmans bakery in Rochester.

Thinking of her grandson who has autism, Czajka said, “You come from a child who has so many problems and you look at this young man, and he’s such an inspiration.”

McElwain signed his book for her grandson and wrote him a message he learned from Magic Johnson: “Never give up.”

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