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In this exclusive interview, Dani Bowman, a successful entrepreneur and star of "Love on the Spectrum," shares her unique communication story, insights on the role of stimming for autistic people, and her experience navigating love and relationships.


Dani Bowman is an inspiring individual who has made a name for herself in the world of animation and on the Netflix show Love on the Spectrum. In this interview, we explore her unique journey and how her passion for animation has led her to success.


Full Interview with Dani and Autism Digest --


1.   How did your interest in animation helped you develop speech and language? What strategies were most effective for you in learning to communicate?


I have always love animation ever since I could remember. I was animating before I could speak because I didn’t speak till I was almost 6, but by age 4 or 5 when watching my animation VHS tapes, I used to Play, stop, rewind. Play, stop, rewind. all day long.


I think my family was confused as why I kept rewinding the same film over and over again, but all I was doing was stopping at the same spot just a microsecond forward, and figured out that they were just drawings that were moved a little bit, so I tried to replicate that with my plush toys and a camera.


I would take a picture, move them, take another picture, and I would repeat process till the film is finished. Then I would ask my parents to develop the pictures, and then I would wait till I would get my little hands on the prints, and I would flip the pictures to watch the motion.


So yeah, I was doing stop motion animation before I realized I was doing animation. My family used animation as a way to reach me rather than taking it away! As a matter of fact, they encouraged it!


Animation eventually became the key to unlock my world.


For example, like many people with autism, I had a hard time understanding people’s facial expressions. When I was young, I avoided eye contact because looking at people’s faces used to frighten me.


There's something magical about cartoons—they captivate me and provide a sense of comfort. Their faces, with their simplicity and expressiveness, offer a welcome contrast to the sometimes bewildering and uncanny expressions of real people. The vibrant colors, diverse personalities, and a kaleidoscope of shapes and sizes in each character created a tapestry of comfort around me. But what truly sets them apart is the emotions etched on their animated faces, teaching me the language of expressions—what it looked like to be happy, sad, or mad.


Growing up, my favorite cartoons became my tutors in the school of emotions. They revealed the intricacies of facial expressions and the nuances of body language, crucial elements in human communication. There's an undeniable correlation between animated stories and the rich tapestry of human interaction.


Animation became more than just entertainment for me—it became a vital tool in understanding the world. It illuminated the path of my neurodiverse journey, offering insights into emotions, expressions, and communication. Most significantly, my deep connection with animation, intertwined with my journey through autism, has bestowed upon me a profound sense of purpose in life.


But did animation helped me with my speech? not at first—what helped in the beginning with my speech was music therapy.


For example, as a child, Chuck E Cheese used to be my favorite place mainly because of the animatronics that would sing “The Happy Birthday” Song and I learn to sing along.


Don’t get me wrong—I adored this place. However, there was a little musical hiccup that made the celebration a bit challenging. The electric guitar's relentless and annoying pitch in the background music drove me nuts. So, what was my ingenious solution?


Earmuffs on, full coverage, all the time. Loud noises? They've always been a thorn in my side, and spoiler alert: they still are.


But, here's the wild twist—brace yourself—my ultimate music therapy came from...Mr. Munch’s Make Believe Band of Chuck E Cheese!


I discovered that I'm not the enemy of loud music; I just need to vibe with the song. Enter the magical revelation that loud becomes lovely when the beats are right.


And you know what became my secret weapon for cracking the code of speech?

Singing along! This unconventional music therapy turned out to be a game-changer on my journey to finding my voice.


That wasn’t the only magic at that time.


One of the gifts I unwrapped on my 5th birthday turned out to be a crucial player in the "learning to talk" saga.


It was the V-Tech Little Smart Phonics from A to Z.


This magical device became one of the cornerstones of my journey to speech. Back then, my repertoire was heavy on echolalia, it was all part of the process.


However, the real breakthrough came when I realized that using my words was the ticket to getting what I wanted around the house. The make noise strategy was effective, sure, but there was a whole new level of empowerment in expressing myself verbally. Of course, getting there wasn't a walk in the park; cue the early crying episodes. My family had to master the art of holding back until I used my words, and let me tell you, it wasn't easy. But with time and persistence, I cracked the code.


But how did I cracked the code? Well my family used my love for animation to help me express myself with the animation words at first, then I started piecing my own words together eventually.


Keep in mind, this was over 25 years ago. There wasn’t much ABA therapy, or at least good ABA Therapy back then. Things have changed a lot since then in the ABA world thank goodness. But there’s still work to be done. So that’s how I first started by using my love for animation and music therapy by singing along to my favorite animation and happy birthday songs, and my family not giving in to my crying episodes unless I use my

words.


2.   Stimming is often thought of as a way autistic individuals regulate emotions and sensory input. Common stims include hand flapping, rocking, and repeating words or phrases. These behaviors can serve various purposes, such as reducing anxiety, expressing emotions, or enhancing focus. Could you share your personal journey with us to help us gain a fresh perspective on the role of stimming for autistic people?


Okay well…first of all. I cannot speak for other autistics, I can only speak for myself. Stimming is not just an “autism club”. I think anyone could stim, autistic or not. Just that some of us on the spectrum have more noticeable stims than neurotypicals especially if they are used for self-regulation and sensory input.


But other times they are just like twitches that we don’t even realize we are doing and has nothing to do with regulation or sensory input…more like Tourette’s.


For example, for me as a child I used to spin often to keep myself relaxed—that was to regulate my emotions. But other times I picked up habits like I used to make up strange sounds repeatedly—I didn’t speak till I was almost 6 years old. During that time, I used to imitate animals like horses, cats, and dogs. I would try to challenge myself to make the same sound. I would run around the house all day long barking, meowing, or whinnying like a horse. Just because the sounds were interesting to me, they had nothing to do with self-regulation or sensory input.


Some of us on the spectrum are aware of our stims and some of us are not. For example, I twitch my lips all the time, and I don’t even realize I am doing it, I think that’s more of a Tourette’s trait—Again it has nothing to do with regulating, it’s just a twitch.


Stimming can also apply to neurotypicals too, For example, some neurotyipcals could bite their nails or twirl a pen or pencil, or jump their knees up and down repeatedly. Those are stims because they are usually done to self-regulate.


You see? anyone could stim, autistic or not.


3.   You are the CEO of a successful business -- What are some of the challenges you faced when starting a business, and do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking of starting a business?



My aunt and uncle were the first ones who believed in me and supported me, even though I was just 11 years old. During that time, they were running their own business, so I thought it was normal for everyone to have their own business, I asked my aunt, “how could I start my own business?” She explained to me some basics details, but I don’t think she took me seriously because I was just 11.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize how hard it would ACUTALLY be to run a company.


However, My aunt and uncle did take me serious and helped me develop my company by helping me create a website, and start prioritizing my schedule because I was just 11. I didn’t understand I had to finish all my school work before working on my animation work because if I had my way, then I would only focus on animation. You see? They didn’t tell me I couldn’t do it, they just showed me what I need to do to make it happen, and they would explain the reality of running a business…which basically it was going to be really hard!


As I got older in college, I realized yeah...not so easy.

Well ever since, I been learning how to run a business while I’m running a business, and it can be REALLY Complicated! BUT I HAVE NEVER GIVEN UP!


Some of the challenges I have was getting the proper education to learn about business. That’s why I decided to go for my MBA. And as an artist with a BFA in

Animation, and then learning about business was not easy. It’s like switching from creative side to the logical side. Even though I received a Magna Cum Laude in my BFA in Animation, I was hesitant switch to business, but I learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to and I ended up getting a Summa Cum Laude for my MBA in Global

Strategy and Leadership…MUHAHAHA! I am taking over the world! But seriously! Even

though with these degrees, I still have many difficulties like maintaining my schedule and knowing when to take breaks. Sometimes I work 24/7 and my aunt has to remind me to take breaks. Yep! That’s what happens as a business owner…you get to choose which 24 hours of the day you want to work!


I am getting better at it, but I still struggle staying focused on the business side because sometimes all I want to do is work on my own animation project, but I know that for now I have to focus on developing my company first, and that’s really difficult being a creative at heart.


The journey has indeed been laborious, but the fulfillment and joy I derive from running my company DaniMation make every challenge worthwhile.


For anyone wanting to start a company.


First of all, there is no age limit!


Second, it’s okay to ask for help! Nobody does it alone. Get a strong team behind you of people that REALLY believe in you and your mission.


Third GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE! PUSH YOURSELF BECAUSE NOBODY is going to do it for you! Diligence and organization are the keys to a successful business.


Fourth don’t fear failure. Everybody fails…at one time or another, that is part of the learning process. No matter how bad failure may feel, you must keep trying as long as you can!


However, don’t compare yourself to others, everyone has different career paths, that is the reason why you must find your passion first.


Always be grateful for what you already have and you will attract more good things.

Take advantage of many networking opportunities depending on your passion and field. Take classes outside of college based on your passion and go to conferences and events.


And always remember…if you can see it, you can be it!

  

4.   Can you share with us some of your favorite moments or experiences from your time on "Love on the Spectrum"? How has the show impacted your life?



There are so many favorite parts from being part of this show!


One of my favorite parts was getting help and advice from my dating coach Jennifer Cook especially on how to approach intimacy.


The reason why it was important for me to bring up that subject to my date was because I have a lot friends on the spectrum that are asexual—which means they want a relationship, but no intimacy, and that’s okay for them. But for me, I was looking for a relationship that includes intimacy, and I wanted both of us to be on the same page.


I knew it was going to be an awkward conversation for people to see me asking that question, but I felt it was an important conversation to have with my date to be sure we are on the same page as far as what we would like from a relationship eventually of course! So we are good! But we are taking it slow!


Another favorite is how respectful the film crew have been including how they accommodate my schedules, and allowing me to be myself. As a matter of fact, I was the instigator who approached the director of Love on the Spectrum, asked him if it was okay to talk about intimacy and he gave me the green light.


I know I opened up the conversation, and that it would open up the floodgates to trolls and haters, but gheesh! Come on! People! Grow up! We are all adults! I am 29 year old, and Love on the Spectrum does a great job featuring the spectrum and our differences from the very innocent and sweet to the some of us like me that want to adult relationships that includes intimacy, and I wanted to show those differences between us.


5.   How does the portrayal of love and dating on "Love on the Spectrum" compare to your real-life experiences? Do you feel that the show accurately captures the challenges and triumphs of navigating relationships?


A couple of main for me when it came to real-life dating and dating on Love on the Spectrum was going on blind dates and speed dating. These where completely new to me. Before the show, everyone in the past that I dated I knew for a while as friends before going on a date.

 

Most of the time, the show accurately did capture my challenges and triumph of navigating relationships—which I am happy about except for my first experience in season 1 because like I said, I never been on a blind date before. I thought it was like a regular date like any dates I had in the past. I got carried away by his looks and charm, what learned from this experience is to “never judge the book by its cover”, I had never acted that way with a perfect stranger, and I did learn my lesson. Never do that again even if you are attracted to their looks. Although it was exciting to meet somebody new.


At the end of the day, he was a complete stranger.

 

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