Participant – KEEN Greater DC-Baltimore (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now)
A few years ago, the idea of sharing and taking turns did not compute in the mind of Jeremiah Collins, and the social landscape, particularly around his peers, would easily send this little boy with autism into a full-bodied, screeching, screaming, overwhelming meltdown of tears. Fast forward to today, and you’ll discover that Jeremiah, now 11 years old, has learned to keep his emotions in check and is a sweet, caring, social butterfly who loves to play with others and be in the spotlight. He has learned to self soothe, says his mother, Kendra Collins. From time to time she will hear him working through his emotions out loud. “He’ll say, ‘Jeremiah is angry’,” she says, and will instruct himself to count.
Kendra attributes much of Jeremiah’s social-emotional growth and sense of self to his time spent participating in KEEN Greater DC’s Sports, Music and Soccer programs. Jeremiah has been a KEEN athlete since 2011, and his mom says that the consistency of the programs and the opportunity to expend energy and see familiar faces who have become friends has been key. “He really enjoys KEEN and looks forward to it,” she says. Jeremiah is so wired for a structured schedule that his body knows when it’s a KEEN day, and he does not like to miss it. “He has a sense of belonging at KEEN. It is his group,” Kendra says, and there’s nowhere else in his life—outside of his family–where he has that.
While Jeremiah loves to be social and talk, his speech isn’t always clear, and this issue encourages new goals and causes some fears in the mind of his mother. “I would like to see him develop greater friendships, maybe have real dialogue and connection with people, so making friends and having friendships will become the norm.” Even though Jeremiah is very outgoing, he can be hard to understand and the timing of what he’s saying and what he’s doing can be off. Not only do these idiosyncrasies make it hard for him to really connect with others, they also raise concern with his mother that he could become a target for bullying. “He’s so open hearted, I’m afraid he won’t recognize when he’s being bullied, know how to defend himself or articulate to me what’s happened,” she says.
As Jeremiah navigates his tween, teen and young adult years, KEEN will always be a place where he knows he will find friends, have fun and belong.