A bright future: Waukon High School senior with autism prepares for graduation, college

Mayo Clinic Health System helps Waukon's Jackson Perkins overcome obstacles for a brighter future

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – With the right support, anything is possible. One Waukon (Iowa) High School senior faced an uphill climb through his battle with autism. A La Crosse program helped turn this young man’s obstacles into accomplishments.

Sunny days lack the light they shine when the future appears gray.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Stefanie Perkins as she fought back tears.

That’s how Stefanie Perkins felt the day her son received a diagnosis that affects 1-53 children in Wisconsin.

“The future to us is scary,” Perkins said. “My brother is autistic as well.”

Jackson Perkins struggled with things that came easier to kids his age.

“We remember he kinda talked, but when we saw the videos – he didn’t talk at all,” Perkins said.

Children on the spectrum have a tough social life.

“It’s hard to make friends when you’re autistic,” Perkins said.

Simple things like using scissors or buttoning a shirt take months of practice.

“Skipping and hopping — all those kinda things that we just kind of assume that we can all do,” she said.

“I just think that the biggest challenge is trying to get through all the struggles in life,” Jackson said.

Fifteen years have passed and a lot has changed.

“I am going to be a senior this year,” Jackson said.

Anyone who meets Jackson today would have a hard time believing he couldn’t talk.

“Everybody’s helping me make my future bright,” Jackson said.

Mayo Clinic Health System pediatrician Dr. Lee Johnson helped Jackson develop into a future high school graduate.

“Jackson has made just astonishing strides over the last 10 years,” Johnson said.

“Now he can drive, which is a huge thing — which we didn’t know if he would ever be able to do,” Johnson said.

Partners in Excellence Autism Therapy Centers in La Crosse and Dr. Johnson helped Jackson form a realistic future.

“Jackson has just been a delight,” Johnson said.

Jackson proves his progress with good grades and a college plan.

“Planning to attend community college in Des Moines for baking,” Jackson said.

“He absolutely loves it,” Perkins said. “He bakes every single day.”

Support allows Perkins to see the sunlight on her son’s path ahead.

“Gonna try and be a pastry chef and have my own bakery,” Jackson said.

“Very proud. He’s amazing,” Perkins said.

An unpredictable future transformed into a career path where Jackson found joy.

“I’ll be able to do what I’ve always loved,” Jackson said.

Jackson and his family uncovered the light that was always there, they just had to change their perspective to see it.

“It allowed us to see how special he is and what wonderful things he’s brought to our life and our family,” Perkins said.

Jackson’s family created the Jackson Perkins Education Scholarship at Central College in Pella Iowa for students majoring in special education.