Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eagle Scout with autism plans his future

From Jeff Barr's column in The Gazette in Kalamazoo, Mich.:

ALLEGAN, Mich. -- He wears his sash proudly, 24 badges strong.

His khaki shirt, adorned with various pins, ribbons and patches, signifies a decade of dedication.

This is a Boy Scout of the highest order -- an Eagle Scout.

The rigorous requirements to become an Eagle Scout include tough tests, and the majority of scouts do not make the grade.

Jeremy Combs (pictured), 19, faces an even bigger obstacle than most. He is autistic, which is no small problem when trying to fulfill the requirements of various achievement categories to reach Eagle Scout.

"It's the hugest thing he's done in his life so far," said his mother, Marie Combs, a substitute teacher in Otsego, Allegan and Hopkins.

"When he has his big shebang Court of Honor (induction ceremony) on Sept. 19, I know I'm going to cry. I won't be sobbing, but there will be tears in my eyes."

Among the badges to be earned for Eagle Scout are first aid as well as citizenship in the community, nation and world. There also are requirements in communications, personal fitness, emergency preparedness or lifesaving, environmental science, personal management, swimming or cycling, camping and family life.

Jim Combs has been a huge supporter of Jeremy, both as his father and as a Scout volunteer. Scoutmaster Tom Hoffman and his father, Curt Hoffman -- a former major player in Scouts himself -- have gone the extra mile in working with Jeremy.

His autism symptoms include anger outbursts, problems socializing and loud speaking. Not only do these prove to be challenges in everyday life, they also added an extra degree of difficulty as Jeremy made the 10-year trek to Eagle Scout.

"Sometimes I get upset, and sometimes I get real mad," he said. "I try to control it, but it gets pretty hard."

Jeremy realizes there is something different about him. He spends a lot of time by himself. He has never been invited to a birthday party.

He understands he doesn't quite fit in, according to his mother, but he forges ahead.

He is an inspiration -- a young man who might long ago have given up on his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout who has driven through the difficulties.

Jeremy is now a student in the adult education classes at Allegan High School, and he is pointed toward another goal.

"I really want to graduate this year," he said. "It would really mean a lot."

Jeremy has put his mind to something, and something tells me he's going to succeed.

I will remember my chat with Jeremy Combs. The next time I have a hangnail, perhaps I won't complain.