This guest Q&A post is with my dear friend Dani Bowman, a young adult with autism who founded her company, Powerlight-Studios at age 11. Now 20, she has worked professionally in the animation industry since 14, premiering 5 award wining animated short films at San-Diego Comic-Con each year for the past 4 years, that include voice overs of Joe Mantegna, Tom Kenny (Sponge Bob), and Stella Ritter in her projects, as well as other voice actors on the autism spectrum. Knowing the special talents of people with autism, Dani employs others on the spectrum at Power Light Animation Studios as musicians, artists, and voice actors. Dani combined her six passions, Autism Advocacy, Public Speaking, Animation, Illustration, Fine and Visual Arts, and Teaching Animation to young adults on the spectrum and other disabilities in hopes to inspire them to follow their dreams.
Dani for her efforts won a scholarship through our organization KFM Making a Difference and was on our list of 10 Inspirational People with Autism.
Kerry: Hi Dani! Can you share with our readers a bit about your journey on the autism spectrum?
Dani: When I was first diagnosed with autism, the doctors told my parents that I would never amount to anything, that I may never speak, that I may never graduate high school, that I may probably need care all of my life, and that I may had to be place into an institution.
After I was first diagnosed, I was put into special Ed since age 5. Although Special Ed may seem helpful, it did not challenge me as much as general Ed. And when I took my first general Ed English class in the 11th grade, I realized I was way behind with my studies; nevertheless, I kick up the storm and got an “A”.
I did graduate high school…with a 4.0 and honors, and I am attending Woodbury University as a junior this semester with majors, Animation and Business. I’m taking a business major because I need to learn the business-side of how to run my animation company. And as for not amounting into anything, I started my company when I was 11 years old, and it’s been successful for the past 6 years. I illustrated and published 5 books, and I premiered 5 animated shorts at San Diego Comic-Con each year.
I also travel around the country teaching animation to children on the autism spectrum.
I’m a public speaker, speaking around the country including my keynoting last year’s conference, OCALICON in November 2014, and speaking alongside Temple Grandin in May 2015, an event about autism and employment, and this fall I will be keynoting at the Oklahoma Autism State Conference. Just to name a few.
My life’s goal is to change the world’s perception of Autism, and show the potential that individuals with autism like me have, and to follow your dreams on or off the spectrum, but always have a plan B.
You certainly wear many hats in our community! What is one of your favorite parts you like about being an autism advocate today?
My favorite part about being an autism advocate is inspiring my peers on the autism spectrum, it’s great when they come up to me and tell me that I changed their lives by something I said in a speech or watching what I do, or something I said to them personally.
You’ve done so much with autism & film from your cartoons and film camps. Do you think our community is doing a good enough job of portraying autism in film and television?
I don’t think so, though there are some TV shows and films that include characters with autism including an autobiography film about Temple Grandin. When I watched the autobiography, it blew my mind, seeing how filmmakers did a great job of how they portray Temple’s life so accurate enough to help me understand that anything is possible.
Despite commercial and critical successes, there should be more films and TV shows that portray the positive sides of autism.
At this point other than Temple Grandin, it seems like we’re mainly portrayed in a bad light, they need to show more the positive side of autism because there are a lot of us, who even though have struggles with autism, we are succeeding. We are not all a tragic story.
We know you’ve done some amazing work with Joey Travolta! How did that relationship come about?
Joey and I first met in 2009 when I started my animation company. I pitched some of my work to him, and he was blown away by my work. Even though he could not help me produce my work, I asked him “How can help you?” and so he had me teach animation to his students on the spectrum at his film camps. Then the following year, he hired me to travel around the country with his crew, teaching animation at his film camps.
What can we expect from you next?
My first day of Woodbury University will start in two weeks, and this November I will be speaking at the Oklahoma State Autism Conference about my journey on the autism spectrum, how my school life have been, and how did I started my animation company (and how it became successful for 6 years). And I will be working on my next animated short to premiere next year at Comic-Con since I have an open slot each year, but ultimately my goal is to make my company Power Light Animation Studios as large as Disney or Warner Bros, but in a autism/disabilities friendly environment. That is my ultimate goal.