Tariq Karmy-Jones

Photo by Troy Wayrynen

Skyview student redefines “different”

Skyview High School senior Tariq Karmy-Jones is an exceptional student. But in many ways, he is like his peers. He takes Advanced Placement courses. He’s enrolled in several courses at Clark College through Running Start. He plans to get a bachelor’s degree.

Tariq is a typical teenager. After school he goes to the gym to run and swim laps. He plays basketball and soccer. He likes to go out to dinner. He enjoys road trips and family vacations. He looks up to his two older sisters. He has a sense of humor. He went to prom. He wants people to like him. He wants to be independent.

Tariq is like most students, but in one way he is different. Tariq has autism. He cannot speak. He communicates by typing on an iPad. He often doesn’t make eye contact. He feels nervous in new situations. Transitions cause anxiety. Things that seem simple are not.

Exercise and journaling help him regulate his anxiety. Tariq wants to be the same. He wants to be treated like everyone else.

Still, his intelligence and work ethic set him apart. In fifth grade, he tested into the district’s program for highly capable students, which he continued through middle school at Jason Lee. His test scores and grades have been excellent all through school. He maintains an A average in his Running Start courses at Clark.

“Tariq used to feel sorry for himself. Now he doesn’t,” said Tariq’s mom, Lorie.

Tariq’s parents, teachers and friends work with him, they support him, they challenge him. Andrea Esmay, Tariq’s paraeducator, helps him communicate in his classes at Skyview and at Clark. A private assistant, Morgan Joe, hangs out with Tariq outside of school and helps him participate in social activities like going to the movies. Morgan is a coach for Tariq, but he’s also a friend.

“Morgan takes me out, makes me be social, pushes me. He likes me,” said Tariq.

Last year, as a junior, Tariq participated in an event called BOLT at Skyview. The event allows students to connect with their peers by sharing their personal stories and talents. Tariq gave a speech before a full auditorium of students, parents and staff members.

His speech, titled “This I Believe,” was delivered using voice-assisted technology. “Autism is treatable, not a hopeless condition,” Tariq said with his device. “I believe that I can be independent. I believe all people wish for independence, but the irony is we all need help to achieve this goal. I cannot talk and I need help writing.”

Said Meredith Wales, Tariq’s leadership teacher, “It was a huge accomplishment for Tariq to share his story at the BOLT event. Our student body gained a more intimate look at Tariq as a motivated, intelligent and passionate individual.”

Tariq has advice for parents of children with autism: “Don’t assume your kids are dumb, are not listening and don’t understand.”

He also has a message for classmates and teachers: “Be supportive, be patient and don’t let me get away with stuff.”

When asked what he wants people to know about him, Tariq responded, “There’s a lot that I want people to know. That I want to be treated equal and the same.

“Autism can’t define me. I define autism.”

This and many more stories appeared in the May 2018 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools. Want more news about schools? Subscribe to our e-newsletter