JACOB'S STORY: "I am more than what people see."

JACOB'S STORY: "I am more than what people see."
Posted on 12/30/2019


“I am more than what people see.”

At age five, Jacob Elliott was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Five years later, following a full battery of tests performed by a psychologist, Jacob was correctly diagnosed with Autism.

While Jacob’s first years of life showed some delays in learning, behavioral concerns, and temper tantrums, it was the next few years that would bring him the greatest challenges.

Now a junior at Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High School, Jacob, 18, wants to tell his story. His passion for helping other young people who face similar obstacles is very real. “I wouldn’t change anything that has happened to me. My journey, as hard as it has been at times, has made me who I am today,” said Jacob. “And today, I am happy. I am an achiever. I have learned coping skills and I accept what has happened to me. I have discovered my gifts. God has a purpose for me—and I know He has a purpose for other young people, like me.”

Jacob adores his parents, Jim and Mary Elliott, who adopted him at birth. “When they adopted me, they didn’t know how much their lives would be changed and the challenges they would face as parents; but I am so blessed to be a part of my loving family,” said Jacob.

It was during Jacob’s early toddler years while enrolled with the Child Development Center (CDC) at First Baptist Church in Hickory, where some of his learning challenges were first noticed. “I am told that I had abnormal behaviors, tantrums, and I didn’t pay attention,” said Jacob. “But I am considered ‘high-functioning’ with my autism—and I know that has been a gift. I am impatient at times—I want everything to hurry up. I can’t react accordingly, as it seems my brain moves faster in one direction, sometimes off track.”

Since he was just a young boy, Jacob has been a patient of Dr. Munoz, who specializes in psychiatric services. “Dr. Munoz has been with me through it all—since the beginning. I couldn’t have progressed without his medical care and the patient, loving support from teachers and counselors. There’s a team of people in our hometown who have wanted nothing but the best for me,” said Jacob.

When Jacob’s school life began, he carried the extra load of not “fitting in” while facing learning and social challenges. Elementary school years were filled with transition—as Jacob’s parents enrolled him in different schools, attempting to find the environment that was best suited for Jacob.

Jacob’s daily routine was never a routine, as a child with autism may face communication disturbances, a lack of understanding social cues, and fits of crying or screaming—whether it’s to express needs or the child is responding to a “seemingly chaotic” environment that creates sensory overload. It’s different from case to case, child to child.

For three of his elementary years, Jacob was enrolled with Cornerstone Christian Academy, known for small classes and one-to-one assistance. “Many of the teachers at Cornerstone are trained to work with students with learning disabilities,” said Jacob. “The teachers gave me a lot of attention and they helped me to catch-up. I am especially grateful for Ms. Chapin-Stamey and Ms. Frye. I will always remember how they treated me with love and respect,” said Jacob.

Following his time at Cornerstone, Jacob was enrolled for just a few months in a school that was not a match. With daily bullying, Jacob regressed. “My behavior, in response to the bullying, became so much worse. It just never stopped and I couldn’t get a break from the verbal attacks. Then other incidents happened-- incidents that could have broken me. It was devastating, the deepest nightmare in my life. I was treated for severe depression as the lingering trauma was haunting. Again—it was Dr. Munoz, new teachers and new counselors in my path who helped to pull me up,” said Jacob.

Now a middle school student, Jacob’s family supported his fresh start with Hickory Public Schools. He attended the seventh and eighth grades at Grandview Middle School. The experience was a supportive one—as he discovered administrators and teachers who truly cared about his success, not just with academic growth, but with Jacob finding Jacob.

“I was given a fresh outlet in Mrs. Willard’s art class to explore a new process. She told me to be myself, and to explore a new, creative path. Mrs. Willard is an amazing teacher. I also won several art awards while I was at Grandview, local and state awards. I know that the principals have changed over the years, but I really liked my Grandview principal at that time, Mr. Joplin. He was amazing and encouraged me with my involvement in sports. I loved working with Coach Teague at Grandview, too—playing football and baseball. At Grandview, I received amazing support, guidance and encouragement from teachers and school leaders,” said Jacob.

Athletics proved to be a great outlet for Jacob’s energy and the guidelines of a team sport provided him boundaries and goals. “I loved playing football—both at school and with a recreation team. I also played basketball, but unfortunately, I injured my right knee and had surgery. That was the end of my playing in sports.

“I was growing up and it was time for high school. I was nervous but I had heard about Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High (HCAM) with Hickory Public Schools,” said Jacob. “It’s a regular high school—but smaller with some really cool academies for technical interests and careers, like nursing, culinary, Adobe design, and theatre. I planned a visit to HCAM and as soon as I walked inside—I knew, immediately, this was going to be my school. And HCAM has a great counselor, too—Ms. Kummer. She is a listener and she has given me support through many of my stumbles. While I’m mentioning some wonderful people at HCAM, I need to include our School Resource Officer, Anthony Calicutt. He is an encourager and we have a strong trust.”

HCAM was clearly Jacob’s school of choice, but unfortunately, memories of earlier incidents that caused his severe depression sent him into a long-term condition that eventually mandated around-the-clock care. “From one hospital to another, and then to a group home for nine months, the professionals worked with me and taught me how to use coping skills. It was not easy. I had to sink before I could swim. I didn’t drown—as I wanted to get better. The combination of past crises with my autism made it almost unbearable -- for me and everyone around me!” said Jacob. “But my parents were incredible through this whole ordeal. They just wanted to find the best help out there. Some kids don’t have supportive families to get them through these obstacles, but my parents were a constant in my life, then and now,” said Jacob.

While receiving residential treatment over the next nine months, Jacob discovered a new love for music, writing and theatre performance. “I loved the arts world when I was very young, but sports just got in the way. It’s all about timing. God’s timing. I put together a parody to a song from the Broadway show, ‘Hamilton,’ re-arranging the lyrics to tell my story. My history teacher loved my performance—and it snow-balled into additional performances for several elected officials, as well as a performance for the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Foundation, held at the Fillmore in Charlotte. Race-car driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was sitting in the audience! I was really honored,” said Jacob.

Life was looking up for Jacob, and it was time to return home to his family. “It wasn’t easy for any of us, at first, as I had to adjust and my family had to re-adjust to having ‘me’ – the kid with autism – back in the house,” said Jacob. But everyone was ready to move forward and Jacob was ready to return to his beloved HCAM.

“I was also anxious to spend time with my younger brother, Caleb, and I especially wanted to visit with my grandmother, Sudie Hicks, who lives in Lenoir. She loves me, unconditionally, and I am so thankful for having her in my life!” said Jacob.

Back on campus at HCAM, Jacob enrolled in the theatre academy and studied digital graphics. “I’ve been working with theatre teacher, Mrs. Jackie Finley, and I am doing really well,” said Jacob. “My life has changed forever. I have performed in the theatre showcases and I performed a song from ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ a Broadway show that addresses teen social anxiety. Mrs. Finley works with me to stay focused and to pay attention. She can be strict, but hands-down, she is always there for me with kindness—as she is with all of her students. She is the best!

“Mrs. Finley and our HCAM Principal, Mr. Eric Puryear, have given me tremendous support in producing a daily news show called ‘HCAM Live.’ I arrive early each morning and set-up the graphics and computer programming for the students who will anchor the program. It’s a dream come true!” said Jacob.

“This year has been a miracle in my life. It is hard with the transition of new teachers and a new principal. I really appreciate the support from our previous principal, Ms. Rebecca Tuttle, who is now at Hickory High. But I also love having Mr. Puryear, too. People can complain about transition, but transition has been a steady force in my life. All I’ve known is transition. Transition can help us to grow. We have an atmosphere of acceptance at HCAM, unlike other schools. There’s a sense of quiet and calm which makes it a good fit for me,” said Jacob.

According to Mrs. Finley, Jacob is a welcomed addition at HCAM. “Jacob is a very enthusiastic and talented young man who has been through so much. However, Jacob has acknowledged and embraced his differences, turning what many would call disabilities into strengths and talents. His passion for the arts, especially in theatre, goes beyond what a youth of his age would normally be. He is kind to others, although he has been a victim of bullying. He has accepted the fact that he is different, yet has turned this into a positive asset.

“Jacob was so excited when approached by our principal Mr. Puryear to take on this task of recording and making ‘HCAM Live’ a real thing. Jacob began acquiring equipment needed to set up and record, such as a special camera, lighting equipment, a green screen, his personal home computer/laptop and the program all of which he put his own, hard earned money into. He is one of the students who makes HCAM a great place for any student to attend and a great place to work,” said Finley.

“I love having this kind of enthusiasm and energy that Jacob brings to class every single day. I have never seen any student so willing to please. In doing so, he has conquered great achievements and he will continue to do so as he prepares for his future endeavors once he leaves HCAM, which will be a sad day for me!” said Finley.

As for the future, Jacob, like any young teen growing into adulthood, has dreams. “I still have the rest of this school year and my senior year. I plan to stay at HCAM in the theatre program and graduate from HCAM. As for college, I would like to attend a school that offers technical theatre to match my interests. Western Carolina University, perhaps. I’m looking at options. And yes, I would like to meet the right person one day and have a family. My parents taught me some very strong family principles – how to be polite, caring, loving, and how to get through the toughest of times,” said Jacob.

Jacob, who has a driver’s license and works an average of 20 hours every week at Target, possesses a good sense of time management between school, producing a morning TV show, working enough hours to cover his car insurance and gas, and keeping up with his Twitter page dedicated and designed (by Jacob) to support ASU football (APP State Sports News and Facts). In addition, on Sunday mornings, he arrives early at Corinth Reformed Church to help with any technical, production needs.

And if school, work, and church aren’t enough to fill Jacob’s calendar, he also enjoys community service such as the trip with his father to help organize shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse. The Elliotts enjoy athletics at Appalachian State University (both of Jacob’s parents graduated from ASU). Jacob also expressed interest in helping to coach recreation football, one day.

Jacob shares that everyone is nice to him at HCAM, and there’s no bullying. However, he admitted that he sits by himself during lunch. “That’s OK—I just stay busy with working on my computer programs,” he said. “I know I am different, but if the students want to sit with me, that would be fine, too. Either way, it’s OK. I’m going to be OK.

“I am more than what people see,” said Jacob. “I have talent, I have a desire to please, and I have a heart. It’s been very hard; but my life has changed, forever. I thank God and I thank all of those caring individuals who believed in me and continue to give me a chance.”


HCAM Live: https://youtu.be/yRDtyR9F0pA
Jacob’s Behind the Scenes at HCAM Live: https://youtu.be/6utLHZaQZmw
Jacob performing his parody at the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Foundation event: https://youtu.be/H4ofEV1Ed-0

Story written by Beverly Snowden, HPS director of communications. (A special thank you to Jacob and his family for sharing this journey! Jacob--you are an inspiration! We are proud of your achievements and wish you the very best! Stay the course and many blessings to you!)

More photos on the Hickory Public Schools Facebook page--Jacob with his family.

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