By Nicole Gonzalez
For the News-Gazette
Most teens in today’s day and age reach over for a smartphone and spend countless hours staring at its LED screen.
Fifteen-year-old Jerhemy Molano reaches over for a few gardening tools and he’s ready to start his day.
At 6-foot-2, Jerhemy towers over the small cabbages in his garden. His eyes twinkle with
joy as he kneels beside them and observes the leafy greens he has just planted.
What makes the Osceola County teen different from your average teen gardener is that he is on the autism spectrum.
As a child, Jerhemy went through multiple diagnoses before counselors concluded that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, which according to the Autism Society is a disorder placed within the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
The Autism Society states that those with Asperger’s Syndrome may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. They are proficient in knowledge categories of information. Jerhemy’s interest in gardening is a perfect example of this.
“When I was a little kid, I liked going into my grandparents’ backyard a lot,” says Jerhemy. “Every time that I would take a bite out of any fruit that was back there it was really good and I started thinking to myself, ‘If I don’t have to go to the supermarket, why don’t I just plant it here?’”
Jerhemy recalls planting corn with his grandparents when he was a younger, “but it didn’t actually grow.”
As time went on, Jerhemy was able to learn gardening basics from his grandparents and by reading books in the library. He likes to conduct research on ways he can improve his gardening skills.
“Reading gives me knowledge and lets me learn about things that I didn’t previously know about,” says Jerhemy. “Some books have taught me how to grow certain herbs and others give me tips on how to fight off pests.”
Jerhemy’s former elementary school teacher from Sunshine State Elite Academy in Kissimmee, Noemi Velez, recalls his interest toward reading.
“He always had his nose stuck in a book,” Velez says. “I remember he was always carrying around different books about plants and animals and he knew every little fact about them.”
Long hours at the library gave Jerhemy the knowledge to improve his garden. It is now filled with an assortment of chives, peas, peppers, cucumbers, cilantro, and just about anything else you can name.
“I even have a red delicious apple tree,” Jerhemy says proudly. “People say that they don’t grow in Florida, but they should come to my garden and check it out.”
Jerhemy’s passion for gardening seems to benefit the whole family. According to his mother, Karimar Figueroa, it’s nice to see that her son is able to actually go outside and do something that makes him happy.
“Being out in his garden means the world to him,” says Karimar. “He can be there for hours on end because it’s ultimately what brings him peace.”
Sensory issues are a major characteristic regarding the autism spectrum disorder. This means that sights, smells and sounds easily influence those who are on the spectrum. Jerhemy says that the smells from different herbs and plants in his garden are what keep him at ease.
“I have morning glory in my garden and there is just something so satisfying about going out and being greeted by the sweet smell,” says Jerhemy.
According to the National Autistic Society, some autistic people have daily timetables so that they know what is going to happen and when. Routines can become almost ritualistic in nature, having to be followed precisely with attention paid to the tiniest details.
“Right before school each morning he will go to the garden and water the plants,” says Karimar. “Then when he gets back in the afternoon, he’ll spend more time in the garden to fertilize and take care of them.”
Jerhemy is happy to have the support of his family when it comes to his gardening hobby because they can all gain from it.
“I got a little stem of oregano brujo and it grew to be a giant bush,” says Jerhemy. “When I collect from the bush I can usually fill up like a bag or two, and my family really enjoys that.”
Jason Sosa, 15, is also autistic and one of Jerhemy’s fellow classmates. His own hobby has to do with technology, and he was able to share his thoughts regarding the importance behind having a hobby while on the spectrum.
“It makes us happy to work on something that we love,” Jason says. “At the end of the day, having a hobby is priceless.”
Jerhemy’s future goals and aspirations revolve around gardening and having his own farm in Puerto Rico.
Karimar has mentioned that if she would need to move to make Jerhemy’s dream of having a farm come true, she would do it in a heartbeat because she knows that he has a green thumb and that he is positively committed toward his garden.
“Time flies when I’m out in my garden, so I would definitely see myself gardening in the future,” Jerhemy says. “I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have my garden.”