A few years ago Jajuan Shaw, an autistic child currently attending Liberty Middle School, wrote a column - with some help from his grandmother, Betty Ray - that was published in the paper chronicling how he deals with disability and how outsiders see it.
Back in December of 2011, when the column was published, Shaw concluded it with the sentence, "God has blessed me with so much and my autism will not hold me back."
Jajuan was in the sixth grade then. He's 13 now and headed to the eighth grade. He's also a Special Olympics champion, swimming in the 25 and 50 meter and proving to himself, his family and any doubters he may have that his disability will not hold him back.
Shaw took the gold in both the 25- and 50-meter at the Special Olympics State Summer Games held in Atlanta at Emory University over the weekend. His grandmother Betty, a member of Macedonia Baptist in Conyers who has been raising Shaw since he was in the second grade alongside Shaw's grandfather Herman Ray, was there to cheer him on in the games, which included children with different disabilities from all over the state.
"Parents and friends and loved ones were cheering ‘Go Jajuan! Go! Kick, kick Jajuan! Use your arms! Go Jajuan! Go!' and he was first across in his event," Betty Ray said.
"Children of autism may or may not understand what you are asking them to do. They have an agenda of their own, so just to have these kids follow your directions is a plus."
Betty was excited to see that every child in attendance had an opportunity to do their thing. She said that it's amazing in itself when you're dealing with children with special needs that they could do those activities.
"You have to engage these kids in things, because they don't just ask you for this stuff. But you find their interest, and you make sure they get what they need," Betty Ray said.
"It is awesome," she said. "It's so amazing to see these children do what they do."
As Betty Ray watched her grandson, she said she noticed that there were kids that could not flatten their bodies laterally, but in order to compete in the swimming event they walked across the pool.
"Everybody has a place in these games," Betty Ray said.
This was Shaw's second year competing in the Special Olympics; he took the bronze and the silver last year.
Being autistic, Jajuan is not hindered from doing things any other child can do. Betty Ray said that he's a magnificent character on wheels and that he can ride a bicycle like a pro. He can also skateboard, according to Betty Ray.
"I think his main interest in life is to build a car. He gets on the computer and he builds cars and he wants to paint them," she said. "He even went into the garage one time (when) my husband had left some paint out that he had done outside. I went outside and my car, my only car, was painted white. It's a red [Honda Element]."
"I couldn't scream at him because I don't know what his thinking pattern was, but he was trying to give me a new car," Betty Ray said laughingly.
Shaw's grandparents don't let his autism hinder him from pursuing extracurricular activities. Shaw has played baseball for the miracle league in Conyers.
Betty Ray tries to keep Jajuan as active as possible.
"(Children with disabilities) don't have a place to call their own. They have nowhere. They just go to school and then they come home. My goal is to see that these kids end up with a place that they can call their own on Saturdays," Ray said. "Children with disabilities need a place to go."
Jajuan is in a self-contained classroom, and he has continuously made AB honor roll. Shaw only stayed back one year to repeat sixth grade because his grandmother felt like he needed a better grip on his social skills.
Betty Ray said that Jajuan is very good at math. Besides being a wiz on the computer, Shaw has all the basic skills of math locked down such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and percentages. She added that his reading comprehension isn't great but he can spell and he rarely misses a letter.
"If you don't understand what he's saying he will spell it for you," Shaw said.
"We might misspell Wednesday but Jajuan won't misspell Wednesday. He can hear the sounds that we don't hear. He can spell just about anything you can say, even though he might not be able to say it," Betty Ray said.
Apparently, Jajuan is a stud with the ladies too.
"He will walk into McDonalds and see a pretty girl and just immediately want to go hug her," Ray said. "Jajuan is a very good looking little boy and they think he just gets a little fresh," Betty Ray said laughingly.
Ray said they've worked on him doing just high fives, because sometimes people can get uncomfortable or they just don't understand that Jajuan doesn't mean them any harm.
"We don't have very many teachers that really understand how to teach children with autism. That's one of the problems in our school system I think," Betty Ray said. "We need to learn how to incorporate these children into our world."
"It's not easy. I know it's not easy for teachers. It's not easy for parents. It's not easy for friends and family. It's a very difficult thing to have to deal with, but they are our little human beings. Creatures from God and we cannot just overlook them."