Jake Jetpulse is a comic book superhero, created by Led Bradshaw and his son Jake. Like many famous superheroes, Jake Jetpulse leads a super team through various battles with original villains, but, unlike most other comic heroes, Jake Jetpulse has autism.
Bradshaw is a full-time cartoon illustrator and living in Brooklyn, said he has always loved comics, including Batman, the 80s classic “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” and ThunderCats.
“All of those cool cartoons … I ran home from school every day to watch,” he said.
Bradshaw quickly introduced Jake to these cartoons, and the two of them immediately bonded over the colorful adventure stories.
But in preschool, teachers began sharing concern about Jake being “very self-directed.” In school, the “dominant topic” of Jake’s conversations was superheroes, to the point of being a distraction in class. After some evaluations, Jake was diagnosed with autism at three-and-a-half years old.
“[At] that point, I really didn’t have an understanding of what autism was,” Bradshaw said. “So, I did a lot of research, I really went into depth. The more information I received, the more I found different methods that there were to help.”
Being an illustrator himself, one of the methods catching Bradshaw’s attention was art therapy.
So, everyday after school, Bradshaw spent 25 minutes with Jake introducing art therapy methods he found online, just to see if Jake “would enjoy doing them.”
They started with an emotions chart. Jake used colored markers or colored pencils to describe how he felt, using red for angry, yellow for happy, and blue for sad. After that, he started drawing scenes with specific colors to represent his emotions. Led would say “draw me a sad picture,” or “draw me a happy picture,” using the colors from the previous exercise and their meanings.
From then on, Jake really started to show interest, and their after-school sessions turned into a “full-fledge art lesson.”
Jake eventually used his new-found skill to draw his nightmares.
“I was able to really get an idea of what it is that bothers him,” Bradshaw said. “We would then give it a silly name so he could kind of get his power back, and I would create some kind of a story.”
He bought a spray bottle from a 99 cents store, filled it with water and called it “monster repellant spray.” Led would “spritz” Jake every night before going to bed.
“Little did we know that these same techniques I was using to help him get over his nightmares, they would eventually turn into some of the characters that were in the story,” Bradshaw said.
One of Jake’s art therapy prompts was to draw himself as a superhero using his best qualities. With this prompt, Jake created “The Invincible Super Jacob.” He loved the exercise and started drawing more characters, and dressed up as his own creations while he played around the house. Bradshaw followed him with a voice recorder, just trying to “get as much of it as I could.”
“As a parent, I get so many different kinds of advice,” Bradshaw said. “But instead of trying to distract him from his special interests I decided to take the other road and embrace his special interests.”
After Jake struggled to learn how to read sight words, Bradshaw tried something new. Taking all of Jake’s artwork, which he kept, Bradshaw drew a superhero in Jake’s likeness. He made flashcards and workbooks with the character, so in third grade he started “grasping small words and sentences.”
From there, Bradshaw collaborated with Jake’s teachers to “get whatever the work was for the week,” and he would turn lesson plans into superhero-based mazes and puzzles. He ended up creating both a reading and math activity book for Jake.
“I asked the teacher if it was okay to bring a bunch of them to school to share with his friends, and that’s pretty much where it started,” Bradshaw said. “We noticed the kids enjoyed them. And from that point on I started to make more.”
He wanted to create a comic that was “fun for both neurodiverse and neurotypical children.” The books incorporated characters with certain “traits and nuances” young readers could identify with, while also teaching early audiences what autism is.
The art technique in the Jake Jetpulse comics is very specific, using thick and dark lines to outline facial expressions as “subtle visual cues,” so parents can read with their children and practice body language recognition.
While certain things, like sensory overload, “other people see as a weakness,” Bradshaw said it is their job to turn those things “into an actual superpower.” For example, Jake wears noise-cancelling headphones every day to school, which “focus his power.”
“But at the beginning, [he] didn’t like them at all,” Led said. “So that’s the reason we incorporated them into [his] superhero suit. Instead of being a hinderance or anything like that, they became … like Cyclops’ Ruby-Quartz glasses in X-Men.”
Jake’s experience brought to mind other children who might be “self-conscious” of wearing noise-cancelling headphones when “other kids don’t,” so Bradshaw wanted to bring a “coolness factor” children can be proud of.
The ultimate take-away for parents is to “be your child’s best advocate,” Bradshaw said. “The moment that I was able to connect with him, embracing his special interest, I was able to open up a whole new world [of] learning and understanding for him, and for the both of us.”
Bradshaw and Jake plan to write many more comics, as well as start to create therapy materials and social media channels for children with autism.
Jake’s favorite character in the series is Jetpulse, because “I like myself the way I am.”
For young children just diagnosed with autism, “There’s nothing to be afraid of because you can achieve your goals one day. I care for [you]. Mistakes are okay. I bet you can be successful,” Jake said.
To see Led and Jake’s comics, check out https://www.jakejetpulse.com