BELDEN, Miss. (AP) — Along the yellow brick road of life, Lisa Martin met her three compatriots in her sons, just as Dorothy met the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion.

In her youngest, Charlie, she found her lion — the precocious brute — always ready to "put 'em up." In George, she got her Scarecrow, carefree and loyal. But much like the Tin Man, her eldest, Jack, didn't speak at first along their journey. In fact, it was at the age of 5 before he called out for his mom and dad for the first time.

"Autism makes me different from everybody else, but it also makes me special inside my heart," Jack Martin said of his disorder with which he was diagnosed at age 3. "It helps me stay true to myself and helps me confront my fears and helps me do special abilities."

Now at age 11, Jack is on the honor roll in his fourth-grade class at Pierce Street Elementary in Tupelo and his mother calls his potential "limitless."

"As a child, he wouldn't look at us," Lisa Martin said. "Seeing your child struggle with anything is hard. We didn't know what he was capable of. Now he turns everything I saw as a challenge for him into a positive outlook and how he can be a positive change. I like to think we have a good outlook on it now, but I'd be lying if I said we haven't struggled in the past."

Being around people, swimming, lights and sounds are just some of the factors that make Jack anxious on a daily basis, but he has his own methods for combating those feelings.

"I try to focus on my breathing while being aware of my surroundings," he said.

But while he sometimes has bad days, there are many things that uplift Jack and make him happy on the better ones.

"Going to the park, eating at fancy restaurants ... well, any kind of restaurant, playing at recess with my friends and spending time with my mom," he said.

When he's not reading or playing soccer, he enjoys watching videos of comic book heroes like Superman, Batman and The Flash on his iPad.

"They do good deeds and fight evil and help people," he said. "I want people to know about goodness and compassion for others so they can help their community."

Jack has had his own personal heroes in his life, according to his mother.

"We've never had a teacher who didn't give Jack 110 percent of their effort and energy and I wholeheartedly believe that the things he's capable of now are absolutely because of his therapist and teachers," Lisa Martin said.

Jack said he struggles finding the right words to say sometimes, but continues to see autism as a challenge instead of a setback.

"It always makes me go to higher levels of my potential," he said.

The past six years have seen Jack grow in ways his family couldn't imagine, and he has plans for his future.

"I thought about being an animal doctor, but then I realized I have allergic reactions to animal fur," he said, smiling. "I haven't figured out what I'll do yet."

For now, the Martin family continues to commemorate any milestone their boys reach — not just Jack.

"Before, I saw Jack as being limited, but he continues to remind me that's not what he is," she said. "Having lived with this, it has made us such a more grateful family who celebrate everything."

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com