By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
The results of the 5-kilometer race Saturday at Hoover’s Veterans Park had already been posted and the winners had received their awards.
But one more prize was doled out, one which didn’t go to the swift but to a group that helps families dealing with autism.
Arlicia Sims accepted the Charitable Partner Award at Saturday’s Walk for Autism for Jory’s Journey, the nonprofit she and her husband Jarrod formed to educate, empower and inspire families as they negotiate those with autism.
“They are an inspiration,” said Bama Hager, program director of Autism Society of Alabama. “We have loved Jory’s Journey and the work that they’re doing in Birmingham City. They’re doing some great work and they’re working very closely with Birmingham City Schools and they’re working very closely with therapists in the Birmingham area.”
Jory’s Journey accounted for 85 of the 400 to 500 people who participated in this year’s Autism Walk. They generated between $7,000 and $10,000 for the fundraising event.
“Arlicia and Jarrod Sims found parents in the Birmingham area and pulled them together,” Hager continued. “They were parents who may have felt that they didn’t know anyone else with autism or they may have felt isolated. What Jory’s Journey has done is brought this group of families together from West End, from downtown, from central Birmingham.”
Jory Sims is the couple’s youngest son. Jarrod calls him a special child, one whose autism is not as extreme as what is experienced by some.
“If we don’t tell you that there’s an issue with autism, you may not know it,” said the father, who credits his wife with paying attention and not dismissing Jory’s symptoms.
Jory was diagnosed when he was 3. Now he’s 9 years old.
“She wouldn’t listen to folks who said, ‘He’ll grow out of it,’ or ‘he’s just delayed in his speaking,’” Jarrod Sims said. “She went ahead and got him tested and sure enough, he’s on the spectrum. Now we’ve got to make sure that he wins.”
Winning for the Sims family has included moving from Birmingham to Hoover and having Jory in aggressive, twice-a-week therapy sessions. It’s also about providing support for other households dealing with autism.
Jarrod admits he initially dismissed the significance of the therapies. He has since seen his son make strides.
“What you see is a kid who wasn’t able to tie his own shoe or delayed in that effort now doing that, a kid who couldn’t button his shirt now doing that,” he said. “He’s been on the A-B honor roll and I attribute that to his mother being consistent and deliberate about the therapies.”
During Saturday’s walk, members of Team Jory flashed placards with various hashtags, including #MyWonderfulChild and #NotDoomJustDifferent.
“Having a child with autism isn’t a death sentence,” Arlecia Sims said. “It’s just that they live a different life, they live a different way, they have different idiosyncrasies. It’s just raising a child that’s just a bit different.”
Another placard – #VoteYesHB284 – urged support for Alabama House Bill 284, which gives families living with autism more insurance coverage.
“It’s necessary because most therapies for children who are autistic are very expensive and they’re limited,” Jory’s mom said. “Insurance companies pay for some but they don’t pay for a whole lot. That leaves families having to pay for a lot of it themselves.”
Jarrod said that house bill will help, but not families who lack independent insurance. Therapists do not to accept Medicaid, he said.
“This is one of the least identified, least funded disabilities that we have, especially among African American communities,” said Denise Peagler, a board member of Jory’s Journey, which Tuesday received a resolution from the Birmingham City Council and a proclamation from Mayor William Bell. “There’s no awareness, no education and there’s no funding. I want to be a component in the awareness, helping people to understand what’s available, early diagnosis and how important that is, and the services that are available.”
Jarrod Sims, president of Syms Contractors, said they named their autism support organization for their youngest son and his sister, Hoover High sophomore Journey Sims.
But the name has an obvious meaning.
“It is a journey,” the father said of life with autism. “This is true navigation. Our efforts are to help folks navigate the autism life.
“This organization is making sure we bring resources back to the underserved community,” he continued. “We’re fortunate to have the ability to take care of Jory in that manner but I believe that all kids could do the same thing, make the jumps if they get access to the therapists.”