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Rockford man with Autism living a successful, adult life

28-year-old Jon Clark and his mother Karla have a bond like no other, and it’s been that way since childhood when Jon was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - One in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. But what happens when those children become adults? During Autism Awareness Month, one Rockford mother has made it her mission to share her son’s success story - and his one-of-a kind personality.

28-year-old Jon Clark and his mother Karla have a bond like no other, and it’s been that way since childhood when Jon was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At first, Karla noticed cognitive delays around 4 years old, but points out disabilities can sometimes be caused by physical factors, as well.

“Jon never had a cleft pallet, but he had Velo-Pharyngeal Incompetence, so his throat wasn’t closing enough, so he was very hyper-nasal, it was hard to speak,” Karla said. “So he had some surgery and boom, like that. Now he’s never stops talking.”

Today, Jon works part-time at Goodwill, but like many things, that has slowed down during the pandemic. Though he keeps plenty busy with his other job, shredding paper to make into bricks as the perfect fire starter.

So far he’s been able to sell his creations at a number of local markets and vendors, including Rockford Art Deli.

“That keeps him busy, he’s got a nice big messy workshop in the basement,” said Karla.

“I try and keep it clean every once in a while,” Jon said with a laugh.

Like many spending more time at home, Jon turned to a familiar comfort: his love of music. He boasts that he has more than 30,000 songs in his library.

“I know words to pretty much all the 30,000 songs,” said Jon.

“It’s amazing, people with Autism, that connection with music is unbelievable,” Karla said.

When the pandemic first started, Jon passed the time by streaming videos of himself on Facebook, singing some of his favorite tunes. Meantime, on Karla’s Facebook page, she’s dedicated the month of April to sharing a new story each day about Jon, but in the process also providing helpful insights and new perspective on the disorder.

“There’s still such a mystery about Autism,” Karla said. “Unless you know somebody, you don’t know what to think.”

“You might think it’s all like Rain Man. An analogy I like to use is that if you’ve been to a wedding and there are eight bridesmaids and they’re all wearing the same dress, but it looks completely different on every one of them, that’s how Autism is,” said Karla. “It looks completely different on every person.”

Like any mother, Karla worries about her son’s future. Right now, Jon lives at home, but she fears what could happen to Jon after she’s gone.

“We’re living in a world where more people are going to be on the spectrum, so I think the biggest challenge for adults is housing,” Karla said. “The choices are limited, it’s a group home or not much else. So that’s where we really need to make a lot of progress.”

Recently retired, Karla is now able to focus more on her career as an accomplished artist and author. She attributes much of her success to her son.

“We clash just like any other kid and mom,” said Karla. “Sometimes he’s sick of me, sometimes I’m sick of him. Though we enjoy our dog Luna together. He really supports my writing, and he’s proud of that which makes me feel good. I support his bricks and we just help each other, we’re good buds.”

But even with a pair this close, there’s one thing off limits: they’re not friends on Facebook.

“I was unfriended years ago,” Karla said.

For those lucky enough to be Jon’s friend, he’s asking for donations for his 29th birthday this weekend on April 24, raising money for Autism Speaks.

“If I was his Facebook friend, I could donate,” Karla said with a laugh.

For those who would like to donate to Jon’s cause, donate here.

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