Today, he attends a school in Mission Viejo for children with special needs and can read and write a one-paragraph essay.
He enjoys puzzles and computer games, but has trouble making eye contact with others and answering questions.
Jason and his sister, Natalie, 13, sometimes have trouble explaining to their friends how their brother is different.
“They don’t know what autism is; they think he’s just a weird kid,” Natalie said.
That’s why the Cernius family helped found the Walka for TACA walk-a-thon at Newport Harbor High School. The annual event raises money for Talk About Curing Autism, a Costa Mesa nonprofit that provides support and education for families dealing with autism.
Jason’s other sister, Ariana, started the Walka for TACA event last year when she was a senior at Newport Harbor, but has since moved away to college.
Jason said he wants the fundraiser to become an annual event at Newport Harbor and has taken over planning for this year’s walk-a-thon.
Natalie, an eighth-grader at Ensign Intermediate School, also is volunteering at the event.
Last year’s inaugural Walka for TACA event raised about $10,000 for Talk About Curing Autism, said Lisa Ackerman, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Autism is often called a “silent epidemic,” because families affected by the disorder are often so stretched to the limit of just caring for their children with the disorder that they don’t have time to hold fundraisers or to try to raise public awareness about it, Ackerman said. The Cernius family is the rare exception, she said.
“That’s what is so hard about autism,” Ackerman said. “It’s a disease that takes the entire family just to survive the day, so it’s rare to find someone who has the time, desire or money to help because they are so impacted.”