Whether it’s shooting pictures or video, Ferguson High School senior Abraham "AJ" Cardenas has a knack for it.
"Anything that revolves around the camera is my speciality, it’s my passion," AJ said.
When the Miami-Dade school district needed a video to promote its contest to design a new logo, it turned to AJ to make it. Take it from us television pros, AJ’s video looks totally professional. He’s such a wiz with editing and shooting, he inspires his film class teacher.
"I don’t mind saying 'ok, I don’t know how to do this, let’s ask AJ,” said teacher Juan Moreno. “He puts a lot of himself into his work.”
There’s no question that AJ is tremendously skilled at shooting and editing video but to get to his level of achievement, he had to overcome something most students don’t have to deal with: AJ has autism.
"I feel like everyone goes through obstacles in life, as me with autism," AJ explained. "It used to be a hardship to me because when you’re little you are clueless about it."
Through years of working on socialization skills, AJ has learned things most of us take for granted, such as understanding non-verbal cues and making small talk. He says for much of his life, he would just freeze and say nothing at all for fear of saying the wrong thing in conversations.
"I would have social issues, making friends," AJ said.
Those days are behind him. AJ is an admires student at Ferguson.
"Everybody looks up to him," said classmate Gonzalo Fuenmayor, "because he's very courageous."
His film teacher, Juan Moreno, said when he found out AJ was on the autism spectrum, it made him appreciate his work even more.
"Other than just the artistic intelligence that he has, he also has an emotional intelligence that’s unlike anybody else, really, his age," said classmate Humberto Mendez.
AJ’s mother actually went back to college to earn a degree in child psychology so she could provide therapy at home for her son. AJ says battling through the effects of his disorder allows him to see those who have more severe levels of autism through a more understanding lens.
"I feel like I can communicate with them better because when it comes to an autistic person you gotta remember they are a completely normal human in a physical prison," said AJ.
So does this young man want to become a Spielberg or a Scorsese? AJ has his own idea of success, which is using his film-making ability to one day help the Autism community.
"With these skills that I have I can go and use them and not only help those but give hope to the parents of children with autism," AJ said, explaining that he’s a role model for other kids on the spectrum.
He hopes using a camera to break out of his shell may be a path others can follow, too.