- Michael D. Clark Staff Writer
For Butler Tech student Nick Simmer, who lives with autism, the future as an entrepreneur is drawing into sharper focus.
Simmer is a talented artist and cartoonist, who has come up with an unusual idea to help teachers understand the challenges of students with autism.
The teen from Hamilton is starting his own business — “Turn Autistic To Artistic” — offering his cartooning skills and insight to teachers who can use customized comic strip illustrations to help teach life and coping lessons to their special needs students.
It’s a novel idea that now also has national recognition after Nick, who attends Butler Tech’s Transition to Work Program for special needs students, entered a national competition.
He just finished second in the University of Iowa’s Jacobson Institute scholarship competition for young entrepreneurs, winning $1,000 toward his start-up business.
“This scholarship will have a significant impact on Nick’s future and we are honored to be a part of this opportunity for him,” said Jake Krause, a project life instructor who works close with the teen.
Once his business starts Nick would solicit special education teachers via the internet and offer for a fee to draw a customized, social story cartoon for a student. The teacher would video conference with Nick and provide him details about the student’s particular special needs are and Nick in turn would draw up illustrations to show the student how to best cope with challenges or handle situations.
“Nick is a talented artist but he also has a unique perspective and point of view that is truly genuine. As special educators creating social stories, we are sometimes having to draw on past experiences or best guesses as to how a student with special needs is feeling in a particular situation,” said Krause.
“Nick truly puts himself in his artwork and develops strategies that he uses to manage the world around him,” he said.
Nick proudly shows a cartoon he drew for a teacher illustrating some techniques the instructor can use in making an autistic student more comfortable at a school pep rally. The cartoon showed the student wearing head phones — to muffle the rally’s loud noises — and sitting next to the exit to better ease the student’s anxieties in that situation.
Nick’s text accompanying the cartoon also suggests having a friend or adult who the student is comfortable with, sit next to them to further ease them.
“The reason I do what I do is it helps me relieve some stress issues and it helps me look at things more clearly,” said Simmer.
“From the perspective of an autistic person … it helps me to do a lot of things I couldn’t do before, like learning how to draw while being self taught. When I started it (art work) was all squiggled lines.”
“It is really satisfying to me because I really love to help people out. With Turn Autistic To Artistic it really captivated what everyone who had autism and other disabilities have in store …I could see through their eyes … and in their hearts …and it really does satisfies a lot of people,” said Nick.
Krause said “the unique thing about Nick is he has the drive and the courage to go on and apply for the (Iowa institute) scholarship like he did.”
“They (institute officials) could see how passionate he was about helping other people,” he said.