Jacob Artson completed his coursework, participated in extracurricular activities and will be graduating this month, just like so many other high school seniors in America.
But Jacob is not an average student. He is an anomaly.
Artson has autism, but that did not prevent him from finishing high school; in fact, it pushed him. He has minimal verbal abilities and communicates by typing on an iPad. This method enabled Artson to do his schoolwork and earn a high school diploma from Emerson Academy in Studio City.
[See the other outstanding graduates here]
“It is exciting, and I am proud of myself,” Artson typed as his mother, Elana Artson, gently touched his elbow to prompt him to continue sharing his thoughts. “I loved [school] because it challenged me.”
Being treated like every other student, Artson said, made the social aspect of school one of his favorite parts. History quickly developed into his favorite subject, helping him explore “how we understand our environment and try to make the world a better place.” Martin Luther King Jr. became his focal point for grasping the world and his disabilities.
“As my mom reminds me, no one calls MLK a black activist; he was a civil rights leader because he had advocated for human dignity, and that is my goal as well. I may use my personal experience with autism as a base just as MLK used his personal experience as an African-American,” Artson said.
Artson has served as a keynote speaker at several conferences throughout the nation, promoting the message “that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.” With his iPad, he puts together presentations and a person of his choice speaks his words. At a conference for TASH, an association in support of people with disabilities, he also used MLK as the reference point for his message.
Aside from traveling the country part-time to engage in conversations about inclusion, Artson has been focused heavily on his coursework. His inability to speak has provided ample time to listen and contemplate “many fascinating ideas.”
“Autism makes it very difficult to move my body in a functional way and that makes me frustrated and angry. However, I can still have a successful, fulfilling life if I don’t let anger control me,” Artson said. “I try to remember that it just distracts me from my goals.”
His parents, Elana and Rabbi Brad Artson, have continuously offered support, which got him through high school and encouraged him to one day pursue a college degree, although in the immediate future he plans to take a break from the academic scene. In the meantime, he said he will continue to share his experience and develop the skills needed for college.
“I have been fortunate that my family gave me the desire to be a believer and inspire others to overcome their own obstacles by never letting me use autism as an excuse,” Artson typed. “I want to make the world a better place by helping others see that everyone is made in God’s image and it is our job to find the part of God hidden in every human being.”