Using your disability to the best of your ability

Senior Jake K. mimics his mother bothering him about his grades while sophomore Becca M. tries to get his attention during One-Act practice. Jake played the lead role of Aaron in “The Crayon Map.”

Allegra H.

Playing in the band’s drum line, medaling two times at State Speech and acting as the lead in this year’s One-Act production isn’t that bad of a high school record. In fact, many people would love to have that many achievements listed on their resume. While these accomplishments in and of themselves are impressive, what may be even more extraordinary is that they were achieved by embracing autism.

Senior Jake K., an active student of David City High School, doesn’t let his disability slow him down. Instead, he uses it to his advantage. Jake has autism, which in his case means he struggles with social skills, communication and some components of education. Despite these daily challenges, he is genuinely brilliant when it comes to his talents.

“My mom told me in autism, it’s a disability where you don’t read right, but she also said that with your autism you have the ability to memorize right away,” Jake said. “Like with the One-Act, I memorize my lines and everyone else’s.”

Speech and One-Act have been two of Jake’s strongest activities because of his advanced memorization skills. This knack for memorization and characterization wasn’t new to Jake when he entered high school.

“When he was little he could watch a movie or a cartoon—one he really liked, especially funny ones—a few times and we would catch him reciting it later word-for-word and acting it out, too,” Jake’s mom Laura said. “With this it seems he has found his niche in high school with One-Act and speech.”

Through these activities, Jake has been able to develop his talents even further by practicing his characterizations with speech and One-Act coach Jarod Ockander.

“I have never had a student able to memorize all of the various parts to the degree that Jake can do. Jake uses his abilities to put himself fully into his character,” Ockander said. “In this way, I don’t feel like he’s acting… he’s actually being that character and feeling the same emotions that those characters would feel in that situation.”

Even though Jake thriving in speech and One-Act is now considered a norm, Jake wasn’t always expected to become the talented actor and speaker he is today.

“We never thought Jake would have been involved with One-Act or speech 10 years ago.  In grade school, Jake was very shy and embarrassed easily. Now [he] is so much more outgoing,” Laura said.

With the help of special education teachers, like Tiffany Heins, throughout Jake’s elementary and high school career, Jake has not only been able to culminate his talents, but also find how he can use his strengths to compensate for his weaknesses.

“When I’m reading a book, I like doing different voices. I can picture the character, what he looks like, if he’s creepy, and then he’s going to be like, ‘I twist the necks of all who oppose me!’ Jake said. “If I read a book, I can picture the book in my head like a movie and can read with expression.”

Although Jake excels at memorization, he struggles with aspects of education that come easily to others such as vocabulary, reading, writing, and communicating. Despite these challenges, Jake finds ways to not only enhance his learning with his gifts, but also to help other students with their comprehension, Heins said.

“In reading class, he is a valuable asset because he can take those character roles and can make the story come alive,” Heins said. “The story is much more meaningful to them [other students]. They get more out of the story, and they can recall more information that a character shared.”

In the future, Jake plans to utilize his talents by pursuing a career in acting. Right now he’s looking for colleges that he thinks will be the best fit for him and his future career.

“I think a lot of people are stereotypical about individuals with disabilities. Just because you have a disability, it is not an inability. You can do whatever you want and become whatever you want,” Heins said.

With this motivation in mind, Jake plans to pursue his dreams and one day achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a movie star. While Jake will never be completely free of his obstacles with autism, he will always have talents to help him embrace it.

“Although there are still characteristics of autism that [Jake] has no control over, and he will continue to have struggles the rest of his life with social skills and communication, he at least is willing to put himself out there and take constructive criticism to become a better person,” Heins said. “He has not used his disability as something that’s limited him, he’s used it to his advantage.”