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Guest Blog: Screenwriting Grad with ASD, ADHD Reflects on Building Confidence at TFS

Editor’s Note: Jake DeBruin is a Class of 2021 graduate of Toronto Film School’s Writing for Film & Television program. He agreed to write this personal essay about his learning experience at TFS in recognition of ADHD Awareness Month. 


I’ve always been a very creative person, but I was never able to fit into any mould that regular school provided, but because of the support of Toronto Film School, I was able to achieve something that a lot of people in my life never thought would be possible.


Let’s go way back, to when I was just a wee little lad. I didn’t start talking until I was four years old and my poor mom thought there was something seriously wrong with me.  When I was finally diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when I was 6 years old, things started to make sense to my family.


Since my diagnosis, I have been to so many doctors, psychologists, behavioural therapists, language and speech pathologists, naturopaths and psychiatrists, that I can’t even count. My parents tried me on a multitude of medications and then off of them, and then back on them again.


I’ve had therapists tell me that I would never talk, would never read, would never have a relationship with someone, would never do any kind of schooling, and would never be independent.


But because of my amazing luck finding TFS, and the amazing teachers here, I have been able to build confidence in myself that I never thought I’d have. Every single teacher I had throughout my program has been a key player in helping me to defy a lot of the negative predictions made by some very pessimistic professionals. At TFS, being on the spectrum has been a benefit, not a detriment, and that has really changed my outlook on life.


Childhood photo of Jake DeBruin and his older sister, Caroline.


My older sister was always an exceptional student and athlete. She played some crazy level of hockey, even in the U.S., and is now a lawyer on Bay Street. Sometimes I would think that I wasn’t quite good enough for my parents because my sister, Caroline, was so good at everything. But I always had one thing that my sister did not: a weird ability to create characters, stories, and interesting situations. My mom would sometimes wonder what I would possibly do with this talent, and until I stepped foot at TFS, I wasn’t sure either.


When I first started writing the material for my courses, my mom would read some of my stuff, and she’d tell me that some of my creations sounded a bit insane. She would tell me to make this tamer or less crazy, but I refused and handed in all my work just how I wanted it. I have to say, I never once received one negative comment!


Anytime I handed in anything, all the criticism I got from every teacher was truly helpful and they seemed to respect my weird ideas and always, always, tried to work with my stories and gave me really good feedback and even more ideas to help with the success of my work.


So, after seeing that there were people who thought my work actually had some value, my mom decided to stop asking me to keep things “normal” and just told me to write whatever I wanted and to let my imagination go wild. And so, I did!


I have written so many comedies, dramas, commercials, documentaries, news items, public service announcements, etc., that I feel like I truly understand the process behind any show or movie I now watch, thanks to this school.


Now I have a new focus in life. Even though I’m back working at my dad’s company making in-house posters, I want to sit in front of my computer and come up with more whacky ideas! TFS has taught me that my creativity and imagination have a meaningful place in my life, and in this world, and now that I know how to write ideas as a mini bible, a beat sheet, an outline and even a script, this is what I want to do!


I was even taught how to pitch ideas to producers, so I hope I get to do that, too, someday. But most importantly, now that I know that my ideas aren’t crazy and that my teachers actually found merit in what I can think up, I have gained a whole new level of confidence and self-worth. And after all my life challenges, that’s a priceless thing for me.


Jake DeBruin with his Thinnox award


When I was younger, I was part of a design school called Thinnox and I won an award once for academic excellence in animation and design for an animated short I did about a sea character that finds his ocean is polluted. I was inspired because of the many scuba dives I’ve done. (I am a certified scuba diver). I knew I had a talent for something, but I wasn’t quite sure what.


Jake DeBruin performing improv on the Second City stage


I also did years of live improv at Second City and loved being on stage. So much so that in high school, I was asked to be on the improv team. I also won an award in the Locally Developed English class in high school for getting the best mark in the class! I’ve always been one to think outside the box, but TFS allowed me to put all my talents into one big, amazing course that allowed me to do all the small things I was good at and actually create some pretty awesome work, with the help of my teachers.


I don’t really know what is next for me, but I don’t know if I’m ready to let go of TFS yet! I think there is so much more here that I can learn!


I have so much to be proud of and I am so grateful for the time and patience of all the staff since they are the ones that made this journey such a worthwhile adventure. I know I couldn’t speak when I was a wee little lad, and I know I made my parents worry for so long, but I’m happy to report that my mom actually brags about me now to people, and I know that she is proud of my achievements. And she deserves that, especially when there were so many uncertain times with me.


Thank you, TFS. Goodbye, and maybe, who knows, we will meet again!


Jake DeBruin