Autistic 11-year-old has dream of “Jeopardy”
For the fifth-grader at Shawsheen Elementary School to make it to the show, his parents had to out how to come up with the money needed to get to the "invitation only" round of testing. After a story about Gabriel appeared in the Greeley (CO) Tribune, readers raised enough cash and donated airline miles and lodging so the entire family could make the trip.
"I am overwhelmed," said Gabriel's mother, Jessica Harris. "I think I am still in shock."
Gabriel has his own special reason for wanting to land a spot on a 10- to 12-year-old segment of 2013 Kids Week. He wants to prove to others that kids with autism spectrum disorders are no different than their peers.
For Gabriel's parents, it's about letting him chase a dream, because much of his life is different than his peers.
Gabriel was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome just two years ago. Asperger's is diagnosed mostly in males and involves poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, few facial expressions and other peculiar mannerisms. Most are diagnosed between 3 and 9 years old.
Gabriel can be hard to calm down. He does have meltdowns. He does have outbursts. He does say rude things. And for all those reasons, he doesn't get to do all the other things kids his age do, said Jessica Harris.
"He has social anxiety," Jessica said. "He has a hard time controlling his emotions, and that causes issues in his life. People call him rude, but he's really not. He's just honest and doesn't know how not to say things sometimes."
There is no question about Gabriel's intellect, however. He reads at a high school level, and perhaps more importantly, knows his Jeopardy!
The son of Aeolus. He betrayed the secrets of the gods and was punished by Hades.
"Who is Sisyphus?" Gabriel shouts out before the contestants even push their buttons.
In Colombia, it is known as "El precio es correcto."
"What is, 'The Price is Right?'" He correctly answers again.
He died in his sleep on Jan. 6, 1919.
"Who is Teddy Roosevelt?" Gabriel says ever so calmly, causing his parents to laugh at the ridiculous amount of knowledge that keeps him glued to the TV every night for the game show.
Gabriel first started watching Jeopardy! in 2008 and hasn't missed a show since. In October, when they announced Kids Week online testing for 10- to 12-year-olds, he was at the computer almost instantly to take the test.
"Do you know who the Baby Ruth candy bar was named after? Grover Cleveland's daughter Ruth. Most people think it was Babe Ruth, but it wasn't."
Jessica said Gabriel has always been obsessed with letters and words. By kindergarten, he was reading at a fifth-grade level.
Gabriel has passed the first round of testing. Only those that pass the test are invited for an in-person test, and the turn-around time is quick, usually — two to six weeks from the time the contestant takes the first test.
Gabriel took the online test Oct. 30 and is scheduled to interview on Dec. 15 in Culver City, Calif., which is a suburb of Los Angeles. There, he will take another 50-question test and if he passes that, will go through a mock game show to see how he does in a "live taping-like" environment.
No one is worried about meltdowns on stage. Gabriel said he knows there will be a lot of strangers and he has to take the test without his parents in the room, but they have talked a lot about what to expect and how to act, and that he knows he'll be OK.
"I don't worry about it," Gabriel said. "I will be OK. I know my mom will be outside."
Critical thinking challenge: Gabriel is pursuing his dream. What dream are you pursuing? If you aren't pursing a dream now, what's stopping you?
Define these words: meltdowns, mannerisms
- Posted on December 9, 2012
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