Led Bradshaw's son Jake was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with autism. Art therapy for Jake led to inspiration for Bradshaw, a professional comic book artist.
In a new episodes of Craig Melvin's "Dads Got This," Bradshaw told Craig about how his son's passion led to the development of a comic book series, "Jake Jetpulse." Five books from the series are currently available for purchase.
"He started drawing himself as this character, it was all he wanted to talk about," said Bradshaw, who has been a fan of comic books since he was a child. The father and son duo were soon "nerding out" over comics together, and soon, they were collaborating on "Jake Jetpulse."
"Jake was in the second grade, and (there) was a parent-teacher conference about his ability to remember, like sight words and spelling," Bradshaw said. "I was like 'Well, could I have a list of the sight words the kids are learning?'"
Bradshaw used that list of sight words to create flash cards for Jake to learn from — and on each flash card, he drew pictures of a superhero that looked like Jake, acting out each word or activity.
"(There was) Jake flying, Jake running real fast, so he learned the words 'run' (and) 'jump,'" Bradshaw explained.
The idea evolved into the "Jake Jetpulse" comic series, which combines superhero stories with educational activities.
Jake is "involved in almost every part" of the comic's development, according to Bradshaw, including creating characters and developing their backstories. If an illustration doesn't match Jake's vision, he's not shy about asking his dad to redesign the image.
"He sits at my side while I'm putting it all together so I get his stamp of approval," Bradshaw said. "Sometimes he'll say ... 'We need to go back to the drawing board.' Sometimes I like to lend my creative input, but I just give in. You know, there's no point in arguing."
Bradshaw said that the series has helped Jake develop new skills.
"His vocabulary started to build, he became more confident," Bradshaw explained. "It's like being a superhero. He started to emulate the character also. Even though it's a collaborative thing, it's more like a love letter to my son, where I can actually teach him how to be a good human being, to work your hardest, to do your best."
Jake told Craig that he has enjoyed working on the series with his dad.
"If you're diagnosed with autism, that's not bad," Jake said. "It's OK. You're still unique, and you can do anything."
"Do you have a favorite comic book character?" asked Craig.
"Yes, and that's me," Jake responded, laughing.
In addition to raising awareness about autism through the character of Jake Jetpulse, Bradshaw is also trying to educate people about autism spectrum disorder and foster a sense of community for parents. The Jake Jetpulse books have also been used as learning tools by teachers.
"As a parent, I wanted to creates something to show people that you're not alone. I wanted to show people that this does not define who their children will be," Bradshaw said. "There are amazing and exceptional individuals who are on the autism spectrum. I wanted to create something that gives people hope."