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Boy's focus earned him a spelling bee win

Jared Swope's mother says he overcame many challenges to be top speller

April 09, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

When Jared Swope learned he was going to be in the sixth-grade section of the Washington County Spelling Bee, he practiced nightly with his father and stepmother.

His father, Kevin Swope, would take on a German accent when testing Jared, 11, on words of German origin.

"The word we practiced the most was 'pickelhaube,'" Jared said.

As it turned out, pickelhaube, which is a spiked helmet formerly worn by German soldiers, was the winning word for the Smithsburg Middle School honor roll student at the March 13 spelling bee.

As surprising as that coincidence might be, it also might surprise people to know Jared has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

"I think Jared's doing very well. He's overcome a lot," said Jared's mother, Velana Swope, who lives in Hagerstown's West End.

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Asperger syndrome is a neurological condition characterized by peculiarities in speech and language, repetitive routines or rituals, clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, problems with nonverbal communication, and socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior, and the inability to successfully interact with peers, according to the Web site for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

While Jared has Asperger syndrome, he is high functioning, his mother said. He also has obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Velana Swope said.

Jared said one of his rituals is to make a certain face whenever he passes his reflection. He demonstrated by crinkling his face and sticking out his tongue.

"We're really trying to work on that," Velana Swope said.

Jared likes video games. Many boys do, but Jared's focus on video games is so intense that it is considered a symptom of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, as is his making faces, his mother said.

Jared sees a specialized therapist every two months to work on socialization issues such as teamwork, Velana Swope said.

Jared was a kindergarten student at Bester Elementary in Hagerstown when he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. He was repeating things and was afraid of things most children wouldn't fear, such as an overhead projector, his parents said.

"He had terrible night terrors," said his stepmom, Peggy Swope. Jared used to wake up and scream for hours because he couldn't differentiate between what was real and what was a dream, Peggy Swope said.

He couldn't understand concepts such as daylight and nighttime, or why it would rain, said Kevin Swope, of Smithsburg. Jared understands such concepts better now, he said.

When Velana Swope and her son would go on errands, Jared needed their stops to be in the order they planned or "his little world would just come apart," she said.

He still prefers certain routines, but is dealing better with change, his father said.

Teri Williamson, who was assistant principal at Bester, remembers sitting with Jared in class at the school or taking him to her office so he could let his frustrations out without disrupting class.

"I knew he was taking in way more information than we thought he was taking in, but his behaviors were so challenging," said Williamson, who is now principal at Fountaindale Elementary School.

Williamson said she cried as she read the story about Jared winning the sixth-grade spelling bee.

"I thought that it was fabulous because I always knew that Jared had it in him," she said.

Jared transferred to Smithsburg Elementary, where he could get more one-on-one attention in the classroom.

Jodi Long, who worked with Jared at Smithsburg Elementary, said his success at the spelling bee didn't surprise her.

"Jared really tries hard. He's a very intelligent young man," Long said.

He was a good speller in elementary school, and would help other students with spelling, she said.

Jared said his interest and proficiency in spelling probably stems from his love of reading. He said he enjoys reading funny comics and adventure books.

When other kindergartners were reading "Run Sally Run," Jared was reading more advanced books, Velana Swope said.

"He's a very lovable child," she said.

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