19-Year-Old Learner With Autism Launches Successful Career As Artist
One of the most important outcomes of education is yielding adults that are independent and able to thrive economically and socially. For learners with disabilities, this is often more difficult to attain. Enter iLEAD Exploration’s Kaydad Maseeh – a 19-year old non-verbal learner with autism – who is achieving those outcomes and more.
Kaydad is a successful artist selling his works through his website while also using his Instagram account to promote his art and connect with the greater arts community. Using oils and watercolor on canvas, Kaydad deploys unique techniques to produce what has been described as very contemporary, authentic creations.
Sketching It Out
Kaydad was initially diagnosed at nine months of age, according to his parents Dr. Fariborz Maseeh and Azam Maseeh. After attending special education programs in preschool and kindergarten, Kaydad’s family became disillusioned. Dr. Maseeh said they pleaded with the schools to have more occupational therapy. However, the family soon realized that they would have to create their own place to offer the best education for Kaydad.
“We eventually purchased our own equipment and hired our own occupational therapists,” said Dr. Maseeh.
The Maseehs started KIDA (Kids Institute for Development and Advancement) – a K-8 program that at one time was one of largest and most recognized centers for Autism in Orange County. Kaydad came to iLEAD Exploration for high school and was the first to graduate at 18 and stay enrolled in the Extended Learning Program. This program focuses on transition skills aimed at getting learners with disabilities ready for adulthood and greater independence.
Putting It On Canvas
Kaydad’s art journey dates back to 2008 when he first had art instructors at home. He eventually received art instruction at school as well. It was always important to incorporate an arts component, according to Kaydad’s mother Azam Maseeh.
“We had some wonderful art teachers along the way,” she said. “Most of the walls at KIDA are adorned with original works from Kaydad.”
Kaydad’s art has evolved in many ways, according to his family and staff at iLEAD Exploration. Although he has primarily used oil on canvas along with some watercolor work, he has also developed some unique techniques and approaches.
“Kaydad has incorporated many art mediums including using things like acrylic spinners on canvas,” said Sujan Pang, a board certified behavior analyst that has worked with Kayad through KIDA. “Every one of Kaydad’s pieces is unique and special. They are very abstract in nature and cannot be replicated.”
Kaydad’s family and educational support team realized that Kaydad’s art was not only going to be an outlet for him to express himself, but would also be a path for him to transition into a career.
Kaydad has embarked on a micro enterprise where not only expands his profile as an artist, but also communicates to the larger world.
“This is about growing Kaydad’s opportunities and exposure as an artist,” said Dr. Maseeh. “Social Media has given him exposure that would be hard to get otherwise.”
These efforts are designed to offer Kaydad a long-term path towards more independence.
“Many learners with disabilities are often not getting jobs or keeping them. Entrepreneurship is a game changer,” said Kristen Jones, a Lead Moderate to Severe Education Specialist with iLEAD Exploration. “Creating your own businesses can be such a powerful thing for our learners.”
In addition to the transition to independence and career, there is an academic aspect of all this work on social media and the website, according to Pang.
“This makes all of the reading, writing and spelling functional,” said Pang. “He’s now using all of his learning to publish on Instagram.”
Kaydad’s art has also been getting attention from a variety of audiences. He won an award at the Orange County Art Festival at the South Coast Plaza, had his art featured in the iLEAD Exploration 2021 High School Graduation Lookbook and had a recent piece featured and sold in the silent auction of the 40th Anniversary of the Laguna Art Museum. In addition to selling his unique pieces, Kaydad also offers his clients a customized card set of the art that they can use as greeting cards and personal notes.
It Takes A Village
Kaydad’s family is quick to point out that the iLEAD community has been an important part of Kaydad’s success by being able to create a customized learning plan for him to continue to move forward.
“We are grateful for all of the support from iLEAD. This includes not only the staff and resources, but the gift of flexibility as well,” said Dr. Maseeh. “This non-regimented, unique program for Kaydad has been essential.”
The iLEAD Family is equally grateful and appreciative of the collaboration with Kaydad and his family. Jones believes that this is what can happen when the entire educational team and family are committed to doing what’s best for each individual learner.
“This team meets every Tuesday. It takes time and effort,” said Jones. “When we do this right, it can be very successful.”
Team members are so proud of how far Kaydad has come in the last several years, according to Jennifer Shonder, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who has been working with Kaydad for eight years.
“It’s been powerful to see how he expresses himself and how he has inspired all of us,” said Shonder. “He’s really found his voice through this independence.”
Jones said that all the work with Kaydad has not only benefited him, but all of his educational team as well. She said this work will serve as a model for iLEAD as they continue to serve other learners with disabilities. She also hopes that Kaydad’s story serves as an inspiration for other learners as they create their own unique path towards becoming independent, productive members of society.
“This has been an inspiring and rewarding learning experience,” said Jones. “It shows me what can be done when we all work together.”
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