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Disabled Comsewogue High senior turns to stage

When it comes to talking about theater, Tom King - who has seen "Rent" and "Spring Awakening" a total of 21 and 14 times, respectively - is never at a loss for words.

But the senior at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station, who suffers from stuttering and motor tics, is not one that's content to watch from the crowd - in theater or life. Despite his disabilities, he most enjoys ruling the stage.

"Singing has become my comfort zone," said King, 17, who said he doesn't stutter when he performs. "Theater has the power to convey messages in a way nothing else can, and I love being a part of it."

King's story began on Aug. 23, 1991, when he was born three months premature with a grade-3 brain bleed at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, where doctors told his mother he wouldn't survive the night. He spent 40 days on a respirator before coming home that November.

At school, he had myriad diagnoses - ranging from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to nonverbal learning disorder - and worked with district speech therapists until the fifth grade.

"It wasn't really working," King said of therapy and devices like a Fluency Master, an electronic aid for stutterers. "Still, there was never a time I didn't speak because of my stuttering. I try to stay positive."

As a freshman and sophomore, King appeared in Comsewogue productions of "My Fair Lady" and "Fiddler On the Roof" before discovering Our Time Theatre Company, a group for teens who stutter. There he wrote "Cherish Every Moment," a one-act play about a stuttering child and his grandfather that was staged at Cherry Lane Theater in Manhattan in December.

King's other involvements include Relay for Life, Musicians on Call and "Night for Jason," a district talent show that benefits cancer research. He was also named a student of the year by the Long Island Association of Special Education Administrators.

King plans to study liberal arts at Suffolk County Community College this fall.

-- Michael R. Ebert

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