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School Assignment helps Autistic Boy Break Silence

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Johnny Blair is a 6th grader at Foothill Oaks Elementary School; and until recently, not many people had ever heard his voice.

“Just a year ago he wasn’t talking at school at all,” said father Peter Blair.

Diagnosed with autism, Johnny’s biggest struggle has always been communicating, but a mandatory speech assignment at his school has changed everything.

“His teacher graciously told him, ‘You can talk to me over the desk and give the speech that way,’ she gave him an option, ‘or you can do it with your peers in the classroom,” said Peter.

Johnny chose to do it in front of his peers, and he chose the topic himself.

“His goal was to persuade us as a school, and a district, that we should be celebrating and recognizing April as autism awareness month,” said teacher Jamie Gross.

The 4 minute speech was written by Johnny; delivered by Johnny, and completely memorized. He described how he felt in one word.

“Nervous,” said Johnny.

But he did it; and, he did it well.

“He took first place in the classroom, first place in the school. Then, he went to the district and took second place there,” said Peter.

It is a shining moment for Johnny and his parents.

Johnny shared part of his speech with CBS13.

“A lot of autistic people became very famous like Charles Schultz, who created the peanuts series and Toshi, who created the Pokemon series,” Johnny’s speech read. “However, many autistic people do not get the respect they deserve, how sad.”

Expressing himself in front of so many people has been empowering.

“After this he said, ‘Dad I want to talk, now, in front of a group. I want to talk to my friends,” said Peter.

Now Johnny does just that, in addition to making comic books, configuring computer games and drawing.

“His aspirations are great. He has his confidence about him,” said Peter.

It’s a confidence that is not going unnoticed at home or at school.

“He’s done an amazing job this year. He’s come a long way. He was nervous but he did an amazing job,” said Gross.

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