Meet Shayne M.
Shayne M., 19
I am now able to navigate my way through every challenge that life throws at me, and become a stronger, better person because of it.
Shayne doesn’t remember much about how he felt when he was diagnosed with autism at 2-1/2 years old –– but his parents, Alice and Kersten, vividly recall being relieved to have an official diagnosis, yet also scared for their son’s future.
“I didn't really understand what his diagnosis meant so I didn't really know how to feel. By the time Shayne was born, I already had quite a few nieces and nephews and I could tell he was not advancing like the other kids,” said his mom, Alice. “He did not speak; he made no eye contact and would play with toys inappropriately. He would also obsessively line up his trucks and balls and would study them with his peripheral vision for five to ten minutes at a time. It was soon after realizing these behaviors that his pediatrician recommended that we enroll him in Easter Seals “Birth to Three” program, and it was there that he started receiving physical, speech and occupational therapies.”
“Shayne's journey with autism has been a learning and growing experience for all of us, but our faith is what has gotten us through the difficult times. Every child with autism has different abilities, and we made sure to never put Shayne in a box” said his dad, Kersten. “We eventually found the right schools, the right therapy teams and of course his creative learning program, Islands of Brilliance. Everyone eventually started to see the potential in Shayne in middle school and high school.”
While Shayne himself doesn’t remember being diagnosed, he recalls the many obstacles he had to overcome to fit in with his peers as a school-age child growing up in Milwaukee. Struggles with anxiety, socialization and even some anger, as a result of constant stress, would leave him reliant on his parents, therapists, teachers and mentors to help him steadily overcome his fear of being ostracized for being different.
“I have had to overcome plenty of challenges when dealing with life as an autistic student and person. I didn't know how to properly socialize and was constantly anxious. I was afraid that people wouldn't like me or think I was weird because of my disability,” he said. “I eventually got help from the right people and learned to deal with my emotions in a healthier way.”
Today, at 19, Shayne has blossomed into a creative, thoughtful, introspective young man in large part due to his to willingness to push through adversity to meet, and in many cases, surpass his goals. Whether it was learning crucial socialization skills to make friends, graduating high school as an honor-roll student, or attending college to study graphic design and digital production to pursue a career as a cartoon animator, when Shayne sets his mind to something, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that he is going to accomplish it.
Shayne credits his time at Islands of Brilliance, particularly the organization’s Digital Academy program, for helping him realize his special talents. Islands of Brilliance (IOB) is a learning experience developed specifically for children and young adults on the autism spectrum. Its goal is to change the way society views individuals with autism by using creativity, technology, and one-to-one guidance, to positively address personal perceptions of self.
“While I was in the program, I learned two things: one is that being creative means being able to work with what you have and striving to put in the time and effort to make the most out of your creation. The second is that knowing the right people and learning the right skills can take you to places where you never dreamed of.”
Shayne’s mom, Alice, says that enrolling her son at IOB in 2018 signified the beginning of his transformation into the driven, accomplished young man he is today.
“Islands of Brilliance helped Shayne learn how to apply himself and advocate for himself. As part of his major in college, he was required to complete a summer internship and did so successfully with their networking assistance. He completed an eight-week internship at Epic Creative, a local marketing and advertisement agency,” Alice said. “We thank God for sending us Islands of Brilliance; it is like the program was created just for him. If they had not come along when they did, I think he would still be that quiet, shy, withdrawn young man who would not make eye contact.”
Learn more about Shayne and his autism journey through his own words in this Q&A:
How has your autism helped shaped you into the person you are today?
I have put in a lot of work to become the person I am today. I used to not talk to people and be in my own little world. I tended to struggle with finding solutions to problems. Fortunately, I have the right resources and know the right people who have pointed me in the right direction. Thanks to them, I am now able to navigate my way through every challenge that life throws at me, and become a stronger, better person because of it.
In what areas of your life has your autism helped you excel?
I feel that I have accomplished more than anyone ever imagined someone with autism could. There were many times that I thought my autism would be a hindrance, but in some areas, it has become a strength. It has allowed me to be more creative with my art and come up with interesting solutions to problems. I have also noticed that I am able to remember details about events that have happened to me in the past. From there, I was able to learn from previous mishaps and fixed problems that I would have not been able to solve previously.
What are your passions in life?
My passion has always been to become an artist. Ever since I was 4 years old, I have had a knack for drawing and creating stories for my illustrations. I have been practicing many different types of art and started thinking about my future career. Growing up, I liked watching cartoons, as they were my main source of inspiration. So much so that I eventually went on my career path towards cartoon illustration and animation. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been training and preparing for that chance, and I feel I am getting closer each and every day. Design and drawing are my callings in life, and I hope to inspire other people like my favorite artists inspired me.
How has your journey at Islands of Brilliance (IOB) enhanced your life?
Islands of Brilliance has been a major influence on my development in the past few years. We first heard about the program through my case worker, who said that it would be a perfect fit for me. When we first signed up for the program, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. After a few minutes though, I immediately hit it off with the other students and mentors and learned a lot about traveling, social skills, and healthy living. I have made so many fond memories while at Islands of Brilliance, and I hope that I am able to make more memories in the future.
What have you learned during your time in the Digital Academy program at IOB?
I learned how to use 3ds Max (a professional computer graphics program) to create 3d models, which is something that I was never able to do before. It also gave me a chance to display some of my creative ideas. At the time, the Islands of Brilliance team was planning to develop a video game. I knew this was going to be an interesting challenge for me, and I was able to test the waters with what I could do as an artist/designer. My mentors have shown me some interesting techniques for how to draw in 3d. So far, I have made a bench, a Ferris wheel and a surfboard for the game. I was proud of what I have created, and it gave me a new sense of confidence in my abilities; so much so that I started doing 3d modeling outside of Digital Academy. It was also inspiring to see some of the creations other students have made.
When you reflect on your life to this point, what are you most proud of?
There are many things that I am proud of, and I often look back on them for inspiration and motivation. I was glad that I graduated from Milwaukee High School of the Arts back in May 2020. I am proud that I have the chance to go to Waukesha County Technical College to pursue my career in graphic design. I was glad I got the chance to go to Islands of Brilliance and take part in their workshops and programs, many of which have given me the chance to become more than just another autistic person. I am proud that I had the chance to intern at EPIC Creative and learn more about the graphic design and advertising businesses. But most importantly, I am proud that I can tell people about the experiences that helped me to become the man I am today.
What are some of your goals for the future?
One of my goals in life is to be a famous cartoon animator. I have been taking many different art classes and special activities that have helped me improve and gain the skills needed to be the very best in my field. Another goal is to be a kinder and generous person. I would like to support my friends and family and be able to do so in the best way that I can. Those things include donating money to my church, taking care of my parents when they’re older and being able to take care of a family of my own one day.
What advice would you give to other people with autism – specifically other adults on the spectrum?
I suppose the best thing I can say is that you should look for help and motivation in the right places. You have to find out who the right people are and the best course of action. Not only that, but you have to want the support and do the best you can to keep yourself on the right path once you get it. I know that there have been a lot of frightening, suspenseful and difficult things that have been going on in our lives recently. Nobody knows what the future has in store, but only you can make sure that it is a happy one.
What are five words that best describe you?
Intelligent. Thoughtful. Charismatic. Easygoing. Friendly.