Jake Dameshek / UCLA Pathways

I would like to introduce you to my son Jake Dameshek. Jake was diagnosed with late onset Autism at two years old.  Jake had already hit all his critical milestones, he was talking, walking and in fact ahead of schedule compared to that of his fraternal twin. Then a few weeks before his second birthday, we noticed that he had regressed. He was no longer responding to his name, and he had completely withdrawn from his twin and family around him. Within 6 weeks all language disappeared and Jake had been reduced to an eight month old baby level. It was as though someone had kidnapped our son. This was 1999 when the awareness of autism seemingly reaching epidemic proportions was becoming more widespread. What we were experiencing with Jake was becoming all too familiar with others.  In fact, we had several close friends and other family members enduring the same heartbreaking experience. We didn’t cry we got busy! 

 After having a Pediatric Neurologist formalized the diagnosis of Autism, Jake started at 24 months old with 40 hours a week of combined therapies. This rigorous schedule went on year round with no breaks. Jake entered into the Laguna Beach School district at 3 years old. His private therapy dropped to 25 hours a week when he started in the school system. The combination of the excellent team that LBUSD put together and the private therapist's we were working with worked tirelessly to help my boy. I read everything I could put my hands on. I attended conferences and seminars.  I explored diets, nutrition supplements, I asked question, and never stopped advocating for my son. It was how I coped. When Jake entered into kindergarten, he had started to have language return, albeit slowly. He was also starting to interact with family again and somewhat respond to his name appropriately. It appeared as though all the hard work was pedantically paying off. Nonetheless, over the next 12 years of school Jake encountered so many challenges and difficulties, both academically and socially. He was never able to mainstream in elementary school but instead remained in a Special Ed Classroom. His fraternal twin Sam was his hero and his protector on the playground. As Jake grew and matured there were several things we discovered. He had what was called splinter skills. His memory in specific areas of interest — music, theatre, movies, superheroes — was astounding! His knowledge about any of his favorite things, such as "Phantom of The Opera," Phil Collins, or the band Queen, was encyclopedic. He also loved to play music! He played Piano, Drums, and he loved to sing and dance. He was combination of Peter Pan and Forest Gump in his innocence, simplicity and beauty.  Socially he was still very shy and depended on his brother to facilitate friendships and interactions. Of course, Jake wanted his own friends, but he struggled to develop this relationships, Instead, Jake adopted all of his brother Sam's friends as his own "best friends,” and they all accepted Jake as a peer. The Laguna Beach School system became Jake’s sanctuary and as he transitioned from elementary school to middle school and then middle school to high school Jake continued to flourish and became well known and beloved in the school and the community.  
By the time Jake was entrenched in High School, everyone knew Jake. The joke was that if Jake ran for Mayor of Laguna Beach he’d win in a landslide.  The kids at LBHS embraced him, were protective of him, and championed his interest and passions. He was a regular at every dance show, and every theatrical performance, He participated in 2 dance shows himself garnering standing  ovations for his performances. He even attended both his Winter Formal and his Senior Prom.  The coup de grace of Jake’s development and place amongst his peers was the honor bestowed upon him as being elected Homecoming King by his fellow students during this — his Senior — year. Jake graduated from High School on June 22nd 2017.  

Now, perhaps the most difficult period for Jake is unfolding.  The sanctuary that has given him comfort and peace and helped him grow is gone. Whereas all of his peers are going off to college, or other places and starting to write the next chapters of their lives the next chapter for Jake is unclear, unwritten. Although he struggles to articulate it, it’s clear that’s he’s nervous, he’s scared; he’s sad. Jakes splinter skill “gifts" and abilities place him in a grey area in terms of his disability. In some areas the deficit is significant, and in other areas he is considered high functioning. Outwardly it’s often hard to tell Jake is special needs, yet inwardly he is a nomad different from the mainstream and also different from other special needs young adults. Trying to find an appropriate adult transition program that would benefit Jake, while still helping with his maturation, and not just serve as a capitulation to his handicap has been hard to find.  Most programs were designed for students whose disabilities were more severe then Jake. These types of programs would prove to be a stifling setback for Jake for a life in which he has continued to make progress. Fortunately, there is a program that seems almost tailor made for Jake and others like him. It is the UCLA Pathways program! It is a program that only accepts twenty students per year. Young adults from all over the globe apply for acceptance into this special program. We toured the program, met with the program directors and as I drove away that day I knew in my heart of hearts this is where my Jake needed to go!! It’s a place that can position Jake positively for the next chapters in his life.  Despite the immense costs and the difficult odds in gaining acceptance right out of high school we knew we had to submit an application for Jake. To that end, Jake progressed through the various levels of the process, with the final stage being an in person interview with a panel. Not surprisingly, after the panel met with Jake and entered his world we received notification of Jakes acceptance!! This is a gift, and amazing blessing. This is the ticket for my son and his future.

As with most things that are special, coveted, there is a cost.The cost of the Pathways program is, which runs for 2 years, is $51,000.00 per year. ($102k total) This includes room, board, tuition.  Jake will actually live on the UCLA campus just like other UCLA students.  He will learn how to live independently, while attending and auditing classes at UCLA in the areas where he is passionate and has abilities. He will also be placed into a job/internship that will be found based on his skills and strengths. He will have the opportunity to flourish. 

We have applied to the scholarship committee for what little scholarship awards money is available as well as for financial aid. Unfortunately, the decisions for these types of grants and aid are only issued in August, after the various commitment date requirements to the program have passed. Although we are hopeful there are no guarantees and, failing obtaining the necessary assistance from some outside source it will be very difficult to meet the financial burden required for Jake to attend the Program. 

This Go Fund me page is being launched for two reasons- Jake wants to have a sense of independence and  would like to contribute a portion of the total cost for his tuition. Secondly the cost of this program is not affordable to we his family. It is our hope that between what we as his parents contribute, possible financial aid and scholarship opportunity that we will be able to make this dream opportunity come true for our son. It is painful to be a parent and see the solution for your special needs child so readily available, yet know that in the absence of outside help may be beyond reach. Consequently, we are seeking to raise $35,000.00 + to help defray the costs of Jake to attend. Naturally, if we do obtain scholarship, or aid any of those amounts will be reimbursed to those that contribute through this Go Fund me offering.  

This two year program will continue to change Jakes life! It will provide him the opportunity for a real future!

Let me say thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and for your consideration.

Kimberly O’Brien-Young
(Jakes mom~)


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Kimberly OBrien Young 
Laguna Beach, CA