When Robert and Amy Sparks’ son, Jarred, died in an accident in June 2011, it brought to the forefront an idea that Amy, a Cumberland County school teacher, had long fostered.
She always wanted to open a school for autistic youth, said Robert, an Air Force retiree who had previously been stationed at Pope Air Force Base.
The school would be called the School of Hope and would be geared towards children with autism, a disorder with which Jarred was diagnosed at age two.
Autism affects the normal development of social and communication skills.
The Jarred Bryan Sparks Foundation, founded by Robert and Amy, held its first Spring Festival, June 2, at Pine Forest Middle School.
The Sparkses want Families to join them in their hope of bringing a school for autistic children to the region.
“This isn’t about Amy Sparks. This is about a community coming together. This is much bigger than one person,” Amy said.
There, students will learn based on applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior techniques, which stresses that children are more likely to repeat behaviors that are rewarded, said Amy.
“ABA is a repetitive way of teaching that stresses no matter what the disability, there’s always a consequence for behavior,” said Cheri Black, a JBSF board member and an educator with 16 years of experience teaching children with autism.
Autistic children will also learn to use life skills appropriately. For instance, students would learn to pay for their school lunches, which teaches them how to give and to receive change, Amy explained.
With ABA therapy, Jarred was able to say the word “mama” by age five; he was able to say “I love you” by age seven and to speak thousands of words by the time he died. But, ABA, like any specialized education, is expensive.
“We’ve got to have an education that’s meaningful,” Amy said. “My dream is that money will not stunt someone who has a diagnosis of autism from getting an education.”
Fort Bragg brings people from all over the world, said Amy. It’s the duty of parents here not to let children with disabilities slip through the cracks because parents and educators don’t know what to do.
One of Jarred’s hobbies was swimming, said Kelly Ambellan, another JBSF board member and one of Jarred’s former teachers. He liked swimming against the waves.
In so many ways, the School of Hope will swim against the waves of what is currently available for the education of autistic children in this region.
The Sparks Family is taking the same fight that they had for Jarred and putting it into this community, Ambellan said.
“We want a school where parents don’t have to explain because we all understand. I understand autism because I lived autism,” Amy said. “Children who have autism are not here to be taught — they are here to be teachers.”
For more information about the Jarred Bryan Sparks Foundation, visit www.jarredbryansparksfoundation.org.