A Shippensburg University Art major, Ernest’s love for art began when he was a child participating in Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.’s behavioral health program. Art was central to his therapy.
“When you’re born with Autism, society’s norms separate you from everyone else. You’re seen as the individuals who periodically lost control of his emotions. In social situations, you’re the first to make things awkward; your level of social cognition ranges from being antisocial, to barely surpassing the social skills of normal people. I’d assume that’s what my mother thought of me, when I was born, and thus I was introduced to the Youth Advocate Program,” he said.
Ernest wrote about his childhood in his application letter for the YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education Scholarship. Recipients of the $1,000 award are young people served by the organization and their family members who may use the funding in pursuit of their education and career goals.
“Now, I’ve found that sketching and/or writing out my frustrations proves successful in easing my nerves. Also growing up, I never considered socializing with others, due to my pet peeves towards making eye contact with others, and my lack of fluency in speech.”
Empowered through his therapy, Ernest took speech classes in elementary and middle school. By his sophomore year in high school, he had become a member of his school’s Art Attack club, where he gained inspiration to start a comic book series.
“I have become a social butterfly eager to meet new people. Simply put, the Youth Advocate Program was my overall foundation that not only got me through my early years, but also instilled the motivation within myself to find new ways to adapt in mainstream society.”
Diana Matteson, YAP’s Director of International Programs who served as Ernest’s art therapist continues to advocate for him and recommended him for the scholarship, which he opted to use for a Mac laptop.
“I can recognize what an intelligent, empathetic, kind and trustworthy young man he has grown into. With the support of a loving and attentive family, a community of support and YAP staff, Ernest has overcome the challenges of an Autism Spectrum diagnosis and developed his strengths,” Matteson wrote.