This Autism Acceptance Month, the Mission Society is featuring a series of conversations about how we can evolve our education system to work for all students. Led Bradshaw co-created a comic with his son, Jake, to show him his inner superhero - and to use Jake's biggest passion to help him develop literacy and communication skills. Now the pair are spreading their message to other young people and educators. You can follow their journey on the Jake Jetpulse website, or on Instagram and Facebook.
During career day in my second grade classroom, my teacher asked each of us to say what we wanted to be when we grew up. There were a handful of firefighters, doctors, and nurses, and I faintly recall one little girl who wanted to be a fairy mermaid princess. When it was my turn, I said “I want to draw Saturday morning cartoons and comic books!” It was a defining moment for me as I shouted my dream into the universe - one that would alter my career and impact my life as a parent.
Today, I’m fulfilling the hopes of my younger self by collaborating with my son Jacob on a series of comics and workbooks titled, The Adventures of Jake Jetpulse. Our books are about an incredible boy born with amazing superpowers, and his team of crime-fighting friends. But they have also become about so much more than I ever could have imagined.
Our Origin Story
Jake has always been a starry eyed young boy who loves superheroes, with a closet full of costumes, capes, and enchanted swords. From the time he was three and a half years old, superheroes were more than the subject of every conversation - they were his life. As a self-proclaimed comic book geek, I thought it was awesome that we both shared this common love.
However, during preschool, Jake’s teacher noticed that his intense focus on superheroes often diverted the students’ attention away from class. Conversations about her observations led to a series of evaluations and his eventual autism diagnosis.
In my subsequent Google searches to learn how I could best support my son, I came across a wonderful website full of creative art therapy exercises and hand-picked several of the ones I felt that Jake would enjoy. The first was an “emotions chart”, which instructed Jake to pick a color that described his mood for the day. The exercise helped me understand what Jake was feeling, by allowing him to express himself in a way that was more accessible and comfortable. Over time, I started to introduce new, similar drawing techniques to engage Jake and help him learn.
A Heroic Transformation
Our lives truly changed when Jake drew himself as a superhero for the first time. He immediately lit up, using his imagination to develop a complex and expansive comic universe that I helped translate into our Jake Jetpulse series. The project became a way for him to learn vital skills - writing, reading comprehension, communication, and more. Beyond the academic impact, he really began to see himself as a hero.
Suddenly, all of the things about his autism that made him feel different became his superpowers.
Jake’s nightmares became the villains and monsters in the comic, and when his alter ego defeated these bad guys, he was able to conquer his real-life fears. When he was feeling embarrassed for needing headphones during class to help mitigate sensory disruptions, we incorporated headphones into his superhero costume. We even included it as a story hook to explain what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder.
People would often ask me, ‘Is there any way you can get Jake to stop talking about superheroes?’ And I went the opposite way. I asked, ‘what if we leaned into his love of superheroes? What if we learn to communicate in his language instead?’ When I followed my gut and engaged more deeply with his interests, I had a way to show him the power of being who he is and watched him learn with enthusiasm.
Jake Jetpulse to the Rescue!
Eventually, we realized just how impactful it is to use engaging stories and your passions as learning tools. We began sharing Jake Jetpulse with other young people. We have supported other parents and teachers in creating their own lessons using our workbooks. My hope is that they are inspired to continue to find the classroom resources that resonate best with each of their students.
Moving forward, I want to show more people that you can have an amazing comic with action and adventure, as well as educational value. I want other students to see an autistic character that is not defined but empowered by their unique interactions with and perspectives on the world. I want every student to be embraced, so that no one feels left behind. Ultimately, I hope that Jake Jetpulse teaches all young people that they have what it takes to be heroes.