Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” will celebrate these unsung community members and bring to light their quiet contributions.
Most true everyday heroes are reluctant to be recognized, and Orem resident Jared Stewart is no exception. But his work in the field of autism over the past 10 years has directly affected hundreds of lives, and indirectly touched thousands.
Stewart is the education department chair at ScenicView Academy in Provo, a non-profit transitional school serving adults with autism and learning disabilities. He started at ScenicView as a teacher, and then quickly advanced into designing the school’s curriculum to best serve and adapt to every individual student. Even as a department chair, he still teaches at least one class every trimester, including the new student intake class.
“I’ve worked with every student who’s come through these doors at ScenicView,” he said. “I want to bring hope to individuals with autism and related conditions and their families. And this is where I can do it.”
Stewart believes all aspects of autism research, treatment and services are essential at every age, but his passion is working with adults with autism. He believes, and studies agree, many higher functioning adults with autism come into their own in their 20s and 30s. Sadly, once a student has reached this age, most, if not all, services have dropped off.
“Adults on the autism spectrum, especially those that are higher functioning, are a forgotten generation,” said Marty Matheson, ScenicView executive director. “There is next to nothing in services as they get to be adults, but Jared is a great advocate for these services, and for empowering this population.”
Under Stewart’s leadership at ScenicView, students are given the services they need according to their own goals. Curriculum is completely customized for each individual student — with services that address their emotional, social, professional needs, in addition to academic skills. For autistic adults, and their parents, ScenicView is often the first place they have been seen as a whole person, with all needed services, even lodging, housed under one roof.
“The one thing I love hearing is the parents talk about the hope, the skills, and the empowerment Jared has helped instill in their child and them as parents,” Matheson said.
Isabella is a Provo mother who has benefited from Stewart's stewardship for almost 10 years now. Her autistic son started working with Stewart when he was about 17. Her son is very bright and high functioning, but has struggled with social settings, verbal communication and anxiety for a number of years.
“Before, he’d sit in therapy sessions, and say maybe a word or two," Isabella said. "But Jared understands his feelings and what he’s going through, and Jared is the only one my son will talk to. He doesn’t really talk to anyone, but he’s open with Jared, and tells him what’s in his heart and mind."
Stewart has worked with Isabella’s son, who is now 27, counseling and supporting him through the fits and starts and steps of earning a college education. Isabella’s son is now attending Brigham Young University, and expects to graduate soon with a philosophy degree.
“Jared helps my son from his heart. He is good at knowing when to push and when to stop. The push has to be just right, at the right time, and Jared knows when to do it. He knows my son through and through,” Isabella said.
Because of Stewart’s work, Isabella said she feels hopeful that her son will be able to be independent and have a full life — something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.
In addition to his focus on each student as an individual at ScenicView, he also works to help others understand the autistic world. Named the 2011 Educator of the Year by the National Association of Private Special Education Centers, he is a regular presenter at autism conferences. In just this month, he presented at the Generations Conference in Salt Lake City, at the Utah Valley University Conference on Autism, participated in the Autism Council of Utah’s Uplift for Autism event. He finished out the month last weekend by keynoting the Southwestern Autism Conference in Cedar City, where he also presented four different breakout sessions. He teaches at UVU’s Passages program, and teaches an autism-centered social work class there as an adjunct faculty.
A married father of three children, Stewart doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. He has a fire and a quiet strength that will continue to change and strengthen the way our community serves those with autism.
“I’m so grateful for Jared. ScenicView Academy is blessed and better as an organization because of Jared Stewart and his leadership,” Matheson said.
For Stewart, his passion comes from a desire to instill hope in those that struggle with autism. He has a profound belief, one he shares with his idol Temple Grandin, who he met this month — that autism is not a condition with only the horrible downsides that many mental illnesses are known for.
“Autism isn’t something to be feared, but something to be nourished in the right ways. Every person on the spectrum has something unique to contribute — I see that all across the spectrum,” Stewart said.