This post is by Dee McVicker, of Exceptional Minds
Meet Christopher Chapman, the new face of young adults on the autism spectrum. He’s talented, involved and living life to its fullest potential as a student at Exceptional Minds, the first vocational academy of its kind for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Exceptional Minds Program Director Ernier Merlan, left, with aspiring visual artist Christopher Chapman
Exceptional Minds was started in 2011 by professionals in the movie industry to unlock the minds and talents of young adults on the autism spectrum and to prepare them for careers in multimedia, computer animation and post production.
Christopher is in his second year of the three-year Exceptional Minds vocational program, and expects to one day become a fulltime visual or audio artist.
“He started from scratch not knowing much about animation and computer graphics, and now he’s our go-to guy for website issues” jokes one of his instructors, Eddie Sotomayer. Christopher was the first of his peers at Exceptional Minds to earn his Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) Flash certification preparing him for employment in the computer graphics field, and was also one of the first to shatter the glass ceiling on autism employability. In addition to post production work, he maintains the websites of paying local businesses for Exceptional Minds, which was started as an answer to the growing number of young adults on the spectrum who are aging out of the school system with little to no career prospects.
Individuals with ASD are often underemployed or unemployed and live with their parents because their talents go largely unnoticed, according to Christopher’s father, John Chapman, Santa Barbara. “There is little help out there (for young adults with ASD). There is such a feeling of loneliness, isolation and abandonment. Exceptional Minds has changed that,” he comments.
Today, Christopher lives as an independent student in an apartment with a roommate and, like many young adults, has a passion for music. Often, he can be found at the Exceptional Minds studios with headphones on, putting music to videos.
“He has just blossomed,” says Christopher’s mom, Deborah McGowan, a Pilates instructor in Santa Barbara whose story is all too familiar to parents of children on the spectrum. Christopher was diagnosed as high-functioning autistic in his late teens, and after four years adrift at college, seemed to have reached a dead end. “He became more withdrawn the older he got and one day a friend told me about Exceptional Minds. We went down one Thursday afternoon, and of course Christopher didn’t want to go. He’s always reluctant to do anything new. Half the time I let him get away with it, but this time, I pushed. And that’s all it took,” recalls McGowan.
“For the first time in such a long time, he feels good about his future. Exceptional Minds has found talent and an intelligence in Christopher that nobody knew about,” says Christopher’s father. “He is blossoming and sometimes I don’t even know who he is anymore,” agrees his mom, remembering a young boy who liked to paint murals and listen to music, but somehow got lost along the way to adulthood.
Christopher Chapman is now studying for his next graphics certification, this one in Adobe Dreamweaver, and continues to be an inspiration to his fellow students at Exceptional Minds, four of whom also earned their ACA Flash certification in October, 2012.
Without Exceptional Minds, says John Chapman, “a lot of magical souls would be left to drift in aimless and wasted lives.”