KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — To really know Jennifer Poore, you first must understand her philosophy about life. Rather than assuming something cannot be done, she is more inclined to approach a challenge with the attitude of ‘let’s just try’. That attitude informs her roles as mother, wife, and teacher. Mom to two beautiful children, her 17 year old son, Marston, has severe autism -- and the family has embraced that spirit to encourage him to reach his potential.
She spent a decade as a first-grade teacher, then time in the preschool classroom – woven together with a deep love of children’s literature. All of that comes shining through when she talks about Marston.
"In our family, we’ve always sorta been like “let’s try it” with Marston. It doesn’t always go well, but that’s okay. Just because he can’t express a like or a dislike about something doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be interested in it. I guess I’m just super passionate about always giving him chances and exposure," she says.
Marston is 17. He understands a lot but has difficulty processing information. He can give one word answers but cannot carry on a full conversation. Jen approaches his challenges from the ‘least dangerous assumption’. "What it means special ed-wise, or really for any individual in life is that you should never put limitations on what you think someone could learn. And to not assume first that they have to prove skills before they show you they’re capable of doing something."
As early as preschool, she advocated for Marston to be in the classroom with his peers, and not in special ed. "This was a successful experience. Kids loved it, teachers loved, the parents loved it, it was a beautiful experience all the way around. I taught him how to read using Dick and Jane books from the 1940’s. Those kind of books are great when you’re a six-year-old, a seven-year-old. But then you start to get older, his reading level has sort of stayed in this early fluent area. And the books don’t move on really," she says.
So she did what any good teacher would do – and took matters in to her own hands. "I thought, what if I wrote my own books for him? And what if I called it the Marston Series?" and began creating books that would be suitable for her son. They are chapter books, inspired by experiences that have been meaningful to Marston. Included are real photographs, because Marston learns better from actual pictures versus illustrations. He narrates the books. To date she’s published three books and – always the consummate teacher – workbooks to go along with each book to enrich the potential learning. Marston loves the books.
"I just showed him the one about Little Sebago Lake which is his favorite place on earth, pretty much, and he just lit right up … there’s a part of me that thinks he’s like “Boy, I wonder if everybody’s in books…maybe everybody has books that are written about him"... I’m just all about not limiting his life. And trying to give him as many places as possible to show us what he can do."
With Marston as her inspiration, the ideas keep coming. While shopping for a greeting card for her son, she had a similar inspiration. "Wouldn’t it be nice if there were cards that were made for this population where again real photographs, and not juvenile ideas and the message is – again – controlled vocabulary and simple so that someone like my son could understand it and enjoy it." She’s created two sets of greeting cards for holidays and birthdays – marking milestones in a way that Marston can read and understand. All the while, Jen is pushing the limits of her own potential.
"It is my hope to bring the light, the positive benefit, the positivity and hope to this situation and sort of tell the stories about the good things that have happened in this journey. Nathan and I say it all the time – we wouldn’t be the people we are right now without our son and the ways he’s opened our eyes to what’s important. If you’re not giving him opportunities and experiences and places to try new things you’re in danger of forever making his life small. And what a tragedy that would be."
Jen's approach to everything pushes the limits of the potential outcome, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her publishing company is called Bring the Salad, and she plans to create eight books in the series, with the hope that her books will reach other parents and family members who want to help their children or even adults with disabilities. You can see the books and workbooks she has already created here.