It doesn’t take much to make David ‘Bubba’ Jernigan Jr. happy.
Reading and writing things down on his calendar. Watching the weatherman on television or sitting outside watching a storm roll in. Pulling cars apart and putting them back together. The simplest of things make David happy.
“If Bubba isn’t with us he at his grandparents shop pulling apart cars,” said his mom Melissa. “He has been taking apart and putting back together carburetors since he was two years old. He knows more about cars than the average adult.”
And he loves to give hugs.
“Most autistic children don’t like to give hugs but he loves to give everyone hugs. He gives the best hugs in the entire world.”
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and David is his parent’s inspiration.
Born a week before his due date, David weighed 4lbs 15oz and measured 19”, however, as far as pregnancy goes there were never any signs of any complications.
“The entire pregnancy was normal and I never had signs that there were any issues,” said Melissa. “He was hospitalized for testing for a few days are having him, but everything came back as normal.”
But Melissa and her husband David would soon realize that their precious son was not like other children.
“He didn’t cry or laugh much,” said David. “He was not able to crawl and actually army crawled for a bit before he just started walking and by the time he was two he had very little motor skills and had issues speaking.”
Doctors were baffled by his case as he did not fall into the “guidelines” for typical autism, but David and Melissa knew something wasn’t right.
“He was in speech and occupational therapy and had almost no results,” explained Melissa. “He is a child who is extremely sensory seeking.”
By the time David was ready to start school, Melissa had quit her job so that she could stay at home and give him the proper attention and care he needed.
While he loved school, David quickly fell behind the other students and that’s when his parents began digging deeper.
“We knew in our hearts that he had something deeper about him to understand and that he needed help,” said Melissa.
For the next three years, it became their mission to find answers and they refused to take “no” as an answer.
“It took from 2015 to 2018 to find results,” said David. “He saw six different doctors and required genetic testing to find out that he, in fact, was extremely different and rare. He has a genetic disorder and he is high functioning Autistic.”
In April of 2018, the Jernigans finally got the answers the knew all along and it all made sense.
“His biggest challenges are in day to day life and using basic skills we all take for granted,” said David. “Tying his shoes, buttoning buttons, and doing simple tasks correctly.”
“He is messy with everything he does but he is extremely smart,” added Melissa.
Despite it being “strongly suggested” to put David in a special education school due to it being “a lot to handle”, he still attends a public school.
“We have fought for Bubba to stay where he can advance in education and be the best version of himself,” said Melissa. “He attends a success lab that helps him learn more to his pace, but he still must meet a lot of the same requirements as the other kids.”
Autism is a spectrum, there are some high functioning autistic children, like David, which means he can put himself in social situations, speak, and do most tasks even if they are not completely correct.
“The biggest misconception about autism is that each child is the same, that they are ‘textbook’,” said David. “However, every single autistic child is different.”
There are some autistic children who are non-verbal and do not know how to cope with people or social situations, loud noises, etc. Children with these characteristics would be on the lower functioning side of the spectrum.
“Each child is special and unique, they all have their quirks and are usually extremely obsessive over certain things,” said David. “My son is obsessed with the calendar, weather, and cars.”
“He is also very brave; he has endured more than some adults,” added Melissa. “He is constantly teaching me how to be better and do better. He perseveres every day. He is also a protector; he will stand up for anyone that is being mistreated. That fact that he has empathy is incredible with his diagnosis. He is very, very different.”