Living Loud on Land and Sea
By James Jagow
I was born with high-functioning autism which impairs social functioning. Communication for me was a grueling effort, but it was through music that I eventually was able to be heard. I was finally coming through loud and clear!
Public school was difficult however; there I learned to play the trumpet. With a blare of the horn, I was able to release bottled up emotions which finally found an outlet. The social demands of public school took its toll on me, and I was then homeschooled by my mother for the duration. Homeschooling gave me the advantage of focusing on music. I began playing the guitar in the seventh grade and quickly learned scales and licks, and was soon whaling away to my favorite rock songs.
Currently, I am the lead guitarist for the band Universal Mind which is comprised of people with various disabilities. It is our goal to send the resounding message that obstacles can be overcome and to encourage others to persevere through any challenges. FLAME is a similar band I perform with occasionally. The band has been featured in People Magazine (October of 2010 ) and on Good Morning America. I am a third year college student at Berklee College of Music.
In September of 2013, I took my first Norwegian cruise and attended band karaoke there. The ship band asked me back every night of the cruise. Music has helped me overcome many challenges and I am doing it loudly.
Lori, Jame’s mom’s perspective
Shortly after starting Kindergarten, my son, James refused to go to school any longer. James has Aspergers Syndrome and school was difficult for him. Sometimes he would get lost on the way to and from school. Withdrawal was a means escape from difficult social and sensory demands. Unfortunately, uninformed teachers took to disciplinary actions and James became even more frustrated. The became too much before his first year of elementary was complete and I faced threats of the school reporting me to Child Protection Services if I could not forcibly get him to attend school.
I quickly learned about special education laws hired advocates, became his best advocate in ensuring FAPE-an educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I studied the special education laws,and worked with advocates in the field. Advocating for my son had become a full-time job in and of itself. Eventually, we had a working relationship with the schools and his IEP would reflect an appropriate plan.
He struggled through the elementary years but did discovered that he had an interest in music. His teacher recommended he play the trumpet in the school orchestra which gave him a reason to continue to want to go to school for a while. Eventually, regardless of an appropriate IEP, Middle school brings about a new skill set in transitions that James was not equipped to face.
The eco of school bells, the chaos of crowded hallways brought demands James was not able deal with. Multiply this times 8 class periods five days per week and he was on sensory overload. Despite my efforts to advocate for James, the transition was more that he could bear and before we could meet with the school district to plan accommodations for his transition, he refused to attend school and this time for good. He was a 13 year old drop out.
The biggest problem with dropping out of school at 13 is that the law won’t allow it due to compulsory attendance age being 16. Once again, I was told that Child Protection Services would be called if James did not attend school. An awful humiliating dilemma for a parent who wants nothing more than to see their child succeed.
It was then that James asked me to homechool him. I was a single parent raising James by myself and the idea of adding homeschooling to my already full schedule was not exactly the answer I was looking for. Besides, he is entitled to FAPE and why should I have to do the schools job for them ? These questions flooded my mind. After a few moments of consideration, I decided that my son’s education was the priority and we began homeschooling the next day.
My challenge was to motivate him to desire to learn and after completely losing interest in academics while in the public school system. His narrow interests were pretty much limited to music and video games and he was obsessed with it.
I remember reading about Michael Jordan’s father encouraging his son to focus on his athletic strengths and not his mathematical weaknesses. I decided to do the same with Jim’s musical strengths. We began by using music to relate to each subject. Some call in Unschooling, but it was really about whatever would motivate him to want to learn and I had to get creative to do so. Music history, math and music connection, physics of sound, writing about musicians, reading about his favorite bands were our curriculum. Before the first year was over, James academic scores jumped two grade levels and was learning to love learning again
We took field trips to museums and war reenactments allowed James to experience American history.We swam with the dolphins to encounter marine biology. We bred fish, took tennis lessons, guitar lessons and used any positive means that would would encourage learning. A homeschool grant allowed us to took trip to Walt Disney World to study culture at Epcott’s World Showcase. These experiences were now beginning to impart meaning in a tactile and visual way that was not otherwise possible in a traditional classroom. The big scary world was becoming a little less frightening.
After a few years James wanted to be with his peers, but was not ready to go back to high school. We would visit our local community college where I am an alumni for activities and one day he wanted to try taking a music class. At the age of 15 he, enrolled in a one credit music course as a non-matriculated student for a minimal amount of money. In college there wasn’t the pressure of changing classes all day, every day. He could handle one class a few times per week. We supplemented our homeschool with college for the duration of homeschool. He made friends with time with musical peers who shared his interest. For the first time my James enjoyed going to school and making friends. He eventually graduated from our local college with a certificate in music production by the time he finished homeschool with straight As.
James now 25 years old continues to love to learn and is matriculated at Berklee College of Music where he has made the Dean’s list. James is a gifted rock guitarist, composer, and film and video game score. He has been the winner of many awards for his music and featured on radio and television. James tours with various bands and is living loud.
Counselor, Photographer and “ Roccer Mom”
Photography be DeCarr Studio