For the Opelika Observer
Jake Helms, an Opelika native, celebrated his 22nd birthday in an extravagant way. On June 4, a ceremony was held at the Opelika Police Department to recognize Helms as a Special Community Liaison for the autism community and Opelika Police Department.
Helms, diagnosed with nonverbal autism and epilepsy, has been a catalyst for more than 10 years to bring autism awareness to the Opelika Community. He has done several impressive tasks to better his community including cleaning his mile from Adopt-a-Mile several times a year, as well as other areas of the town in an effort to keep Opelika beautiful. Helms is also a Gold sponsor of the Hungry Caterpillar Sensory Park and raised funds for Storybook Farms for the 20 under 40 class.
Helms’ involvement with the community allows first responders to get to know him so they can better understand and recognize the characteristics of those with special needs. Individuals with autism are seven times more likely to have interactions with law enforcement than their peers. Additionally, according to autismsociety.org, “Approximately one in five young adults with autism spectrum disorder will interact with a police officer before the age of 21.” Because of these statistics, Helms and his mother, Luanne, have coordinated the training of more than 385 first responders in Autism Risk and Safety Management in East Alabama.
Aside from being an exemplary citizen of his community, Helms loves playing basketball, tennis and all things first responders. In 2018, he spent his birthday collecting hundreds of patches and challenge coins from departments all over the world by mail. Helms proudly displays his impressive collection in his room. He has also had the honor of “being a police officer for a day” courtesy of the Valley Police Department. Additionally, after his 22nd birthday party and ceremony at the Opelika Police Department, Helms had plans to play basketball with the Opelika Fire Department.
Luanne works hard to support his interests and provide him with many opportunities to interact with others. “As Jake’s mom, I’ve always done my very best to allow Jake to live his best life,” she said.
Although Helms is nonverbal, Luanne surrounds him with people and engaging opportunities. She encourages other parents to do the same.
“If I can help other parents put their kids out there and help them to do the best they can then it’s worth it,” she said.