Jaidon Joseph Smith Educational Scholarship Fund provides resources and funding to deserving students in the Gifted and Talented/Learning Disability (GT/LD) program, who have overcome educational challenges to thrive at school and earn entry to a college or university. The scholarship is in memory of Jaidon, who tragically died in an automobile crash on June 9, 2021. The Smith family wants you to know who Jaidon was, why this scholarship is important to the family, and how it will benefit other students.
Jaidon was born on March 22, 2003, two days after his mother, Jessica’s, birthday. It was by far the most amazing gift that we – Jessica and Troy (Jaidon’s parents) – ever received, in so many ways. It turns out that Jaidon was the first and only grandson on both sides of our families, and he became the older brother to three sisters – Kyra, Laylie, and Mattea – who adored him, even when they irritated him and he wanted no part of them. In his own way, being the older brother gave him that little something extra, that added extra responsibility of being the oldest sibling and paving the path for his sisters’ own life successes.
Jaidon was incredibly inquisitive and creative in a very hands-on way. We were amazed and delighted to watch him explore his world by creating things or disassembling something only to reassemble it in a better way. It was always fascinating to watch his mind in motion, and it was always in motion. From very early in life it was easy to see that Jaidon was wonderfully mechanical and inventive, and he took to heart his extremely logical thought processes.
Jaidon loved to read and had a thirst for knowledge. It started when he was just four years old, and he advanced quickly from simple readers to encyclopedias of fish. Yes, fish. By five, he could walk into PetSmart and spend hours talking to anyone who cared to listen about all of the fish in each of the tanks. He would tell you which fish got along because they were “community” fish and which fish did not; which fish in each tank were pregnant, and so many other details that even the staff didn’t know, let alone care about.
In kindergarten, they had an optional reading program where the kids could bring home a book and activity to earn points for reading. Most kids brought home one book a week; some less frequently. Jaidon brought a new book home every night and finished more than 150 of them over the course of the school year. Later in kindergarten, teachers were pulling him into a book closet for 1-3 hours a day to provide him with higher level reading and math instruction. However, the school refused to let him attend a first grade reading or math group. It was then that we knew he needed more than that school could provide. This was also the beginning of a long road of testing, frustration, and diagnoses that would ultimately allow Jaidon to find himself.
In first grade, we transferred Jaidon to a school – Rock Creek Forest Elementary School (RCFES) – where his sister, Kyra, would also attend to be a part of their Spanish Immersion program. We hoped that Jaidon could enter the same program, so he could be challenged scholastically, but he wasn’t accepted. The disappointment of rejection eventually gave way to joy and relief because this school recognized Jaidon’s abilities and they were much better equipped to handle kids of various skill levels. Eventually, Jaidon’s younger sisters would join him and Kyra at RCFES.
When Jaidon was finally tested in the third grade, it was no surprise to any of us that he was identified as Gifted and Talented (GT). Because our home school GT program was located on the other end of the county, and because of other existing circumstances, we opted to keep him at RCFES. This ended up working well as they provided exactly what he needed. That is until he reached middle school.
In middle school it became very apparent that Jaidon was struggling in his new environment, where he had to juggle seven classes, teachers, teaching styles, and processes. Jaidon went through a battery of tests, where he was officially diagnosed with Inattentive and Hyperactive Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Executive Function Disorder (EFD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety, and Generalized Depression (he was also later diagnosed in eighth grade with High Functioning Autism (HFA)). It was at this point, we saw him struggle both educationally and emotionally. To provide an outlet for his frustration, he became very involved in Taekwondo, where he ultimately worked his way up the belt chain while also working as a junior instructor and sparring in tournaments. He continued his Taekwondo studies throughout high school and was very close to earning his black belt at the time of his death.
By nature of being our oldest child, he fell through plenty of cracks in the education system, as we had no inkling of his struggles or how to get him the help he needed. We also had little understanding of the impact some of these diagnoses and issues had on him. It took us almost three full school years—until he was well into his eighth grade year and after failing most of his classes in middle school—for us to finally get an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) in place with his school.
Once we had solid diagnoses in hand, we needed a game plan. We put our heads down and researched everything we could about his conditions. We feel strongly that the more you learn about something the more innovative you can be about dealing with it. We worked with ADHD coaches and therapists, with a fantastic psychiatrist for medication, and with each other to find ways to help. What we learned was that there really is no cookie-cutter definition for an autism diagnosis and that “spectrum” is a bit of a misnomer. “High-functioning” has nothing to do with the specific symptoms. It became very apparent that we needed to concentrate on exploring each of the autism-related symptoms individually and then find a creative way to put all of the pieces together in a way that would allow us to better understand the big picture.
When all was said and done, we fought hard with the schools to get Jaidon into a special needs program that provided him access to the support and accommodations he required to function within the schools and with his disabilities, and give him the greatest chance for academic success.
Through all of this we found that ADHD, in and of itself, really didn’t have to be a completely debilitating disorder. In fact, it actually allowed Jaidon the opportunity to be even more creative, energetic, and imaginative. Understanding how he “worked” allowed us to embrace his conditions and to take pleasure observing how his train of thought went down a winding path, taking him places where those of us who are neurotypical wouldn’t necessarily have gone.
Starting in ninth grade, Jaidon was enrolled in the Twice Exceptional (2E), Gifted and Talented, Learning Disability (GT/LD) program at Walter Johnson High School, which was incredibly helpful for him. It really was a life-changing event for us all. Jaidon finally got the support and services he needed to allow him to soar, in an environment where he could embrace who he was and how he functioned. Jaidon learned what it’s like being Jaidon. And as he adjusted, he began to overcome his struggles to understand and handle the cookie-cutter education structure, while being well-above average intelligence. He was able to work with his case manager, Mr. Christopher Cochran, to finally advocate for himself and show subject matter mastery to his teachers, but in a less traditional way that worked for him.
Chris took Jaidon under his wing; he had patience and grace every step of the way and for four years guided Jaidon from a kid who couldn’t pass a class because he operated outside of the traditional system, to a kid who knocked it out of the park and was able to be his own best advocate. It was the skills that Jaidon learned in the GT/LD program, and through copious amounts of therapy and support, that ultimately provided him with the confidence to become comfortable in his own skin and become the young man we always knew he could be.
We are forever grateful for everything Mr. Cochran and the rest of the team did to support Jaidon.
Now planted firmly on the ground, Jaidon joined the Robotics team, where he developed a close-knit group of friends. As a child with Autism, we knew this type of bond may prove difficult. Unbeknownst to us at the time, he found a home at Walter Johnson and settled in quite nicely. Since the accident, we’ve had the privilege to get to know his friends more intimately. We feel blessed that Jaidon found this group and they all became amazing friends. They formed such strong bonds over the years and as parents, to learn this, our hearts filled with pride. Jaidon thrived so well in this program, not a single one of his friends had any idea that he had Autism, or was even in the program until after he passed away. We take solace in that because it clearly allowed him to feel normal and function solidly within his own community.
While Jaidon was in high school, he was accepted into the apprentice program at The Kid Museum, where he morphed from a shy kid who wouldn’t make eye contact in the initial interview, to a leader within the program who made a huge impact on the kids he worked with, as well as his cohort and the staff. They were unaware of his issues or his involvement in the GT/LD program, but accepted him for who he was. And he flourished.
Jaidon always had a strong interest in robotics, aeronautics, engineering, computer science and eventually, bioinformatics, which he was excited to study at Towson University after graduating high school. He spoke of his plans to earn a PhD in bioinformatics, fascinated by the idea of meshing the science of genetics and data to discover new things.
On June 4, 2021, we sat in the stands of the Walter Johnson stadium, masks on, overwhelmed with emotion as we watched our first-born child walk across the stage to get his diploma. Given his very challenging educational experiences, we weren’t always confident that this day would come. We burst into tears of joy and his friends cheered for him as he walked across that stage. Touched and delighted that after many years of struggling to find himself inside of an alphabet soup of diagnoses, he finally emerged and created a wonderful life filled with friends and family, laughter and purpose.
On June 9, 2021 our world stopped. Just five days after graduating high school, Jaidon and three of his friends were involved in a horrific accident. Two of those four in the car died, including Jaidon. We like to think that they were all laughing and having a blast together, getting their first taste of independence, as they made their way on a post-graduation trip to a cabin in West Virginia to meet up with other friends. That is until the moment the rain hit and the car skidded out of control and rolled over an embankment.
Because of the transformational GT/LD program and the exceptional experience that we all had at Walter Johnson, we want to honor Jaidon’s memory by setting up a scholarship fund to be awarded annually to a deserving GT/LD student, who has succeeded in making their unique abilities work within the traditional classroom setting and gave themselves the opportunity to get into and go to college.
Although he was only with us for 18 short years, we believe that he moved mountains in a way only he could. In 18 years, Jaidon overcame many obstacles and was ultimately able to enjoy his life to the fullest. He accomplished more in his time that most people could in their entire lives. He will forever be in our hearts and eternally with his Papa. And we hope that with this scholarship, others like Jaidon can pick up where he left off and carry on the legacy he left.