For a long time, many people had the misguided belief that when autistic individuals had an intense interest or passion, it should be restricted. But research has shown that strong areas of interest can provide immense benefits, including personal fulfillment, self-regulation, social connections, and more. As Jonathan Boschen discovered, a deep interest can even eventually lead to a career.
An Early Love for Film
Jon didn’t learn he was autistic until after college, but when he was young, he realized he had a passion for film. He developed a deep interest in classic cartoons and old industrial films from the mid-1900s, and this led him to make films of his own. “I used to make a lot of movies growing up with my video camera,” he said. “My father let me use his little digital camera, so I would take pictures of some of my old toys, act out stories, and do stop motion with them. Then I would load the pictures into Microsoft PowerPoint, and we had a way we hooked that into a VCR, and I played back a piece of classical music and made an old fashion styled cartoon out of it.”
In high school, Jon joined a TV news class. The school had the camera equipment, but they couldn’t put the shows together. Once his teacher saw the work Jon had done on his own, he let him take the footage they recorded in class home with him to edit. “I was producing our news shows and the school liked them,” Jon said, “That made me realize that I could probably go somewhere with this eventually.”
Looking back at his high school years, Jon recalls he wasn’t reaching his full potential. “When I was in high school, I loved history and I loved video making, I loved art, I hated everything else. So I was like a C and B student,” Jon remembered. As he entered college, Jon received the support he needed for a diagnosed learning disability. He began to excel and became a member of the honor society by the time he graduated.
Jon didn’t like working with video tape, so he initially hoped to go into film preservation after college. He quickly realized, however, that his communications degree was not the background those programs wanted. After college, he found a job working the night shift at a local store, but made the decision to get back into creating films. “I found a filmmaking program in Waltham at the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts,” Jon explained. “Things were in HD now and there was a lot more potential and more exciting opportunities that weren’t available to me the years before.”
Jon’s talent continued to shine. The Boston Globe published a link to his student film on the Waltham Watch Factory, which led him to his dream job: creating instructional videos for a local company. “I grew up watching a lot of the old General Motors industrial films. And to me, I kind of felt like I was carrying the torch of these filmmakers by doing this,” Jon said.
One Door Closes, Another Opens
The contract to make the instructional videos only lasted for a couple of years. When he couldn’t find anything similar once the job was over, Jon moved back home with his parents and started working a customer service job. He had discovered he was autistic before he entered the filmmaking program at BU, and now he realized he needed support. “I came back home and got involved with AANE. I needed help because I was a little burned out. I didn’t know how to go about getting another job doing training videos, and I was in an unhappy work situation.”
Jon started working with AANE’s LifeMAP program, and he was matched with a coach who had a background in media and understood how the industry worked. “She knew how to help me,” Jon said. “She was helping me with my time management and balancing things, and also with some social-type stuff as well, which I needed. She knew the protocols in the business and everything, and it was that extra confidence that I needed to help get things going.”
When Jon discovered there was an opening at the local community access television station, he showed his work to the manager who hired him on the spot. The manager quickly saw the high production value of Jon’s work and his incredible attention to detail. For next few years Jon moved through the ranks, producing government meetings, history documentaries and other highlight videos. By January 2020, he had been promoted to Senior Producer. As the COVID pandemic took hold, the station became critically important to the four towns it served by covering school sporting events that families were no longer able to attend in person and local government meetings. “Every night there was a Board of Health meeting and it was a very busy time period,” Jon recalls. “Eventually I basically was the assistant station manager just because of all the work I was doing and my eye for quality.”
When the manager of the station needed to step away from the station for health reasons, he requested that Jon step into the role of manager. Within months, it became Jon’s permanent position. “There were all kinds of things that needed to be addressed, and I really stuck with it, Jon said. “It was very time consuming, but it’s been rewarding. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’ve appreciated what I’ve done with the organization, and it’s going well.”
Jon continues to work with a LifeMAP coach as the new demands of his job present new challenges. He also sees how his autistic traits make him good at his job. “I’m not probably the most social person. I seem to be very focused on my work. So I’m able to get a lot done and have my own interests like that. So I’ve been able to focus on that stuff,” Jon explains.
In his new managerial role, Jon is developing more skills like overseeing the refurbishment of the studio. He also hopes to mentor others. “One thing I do want to do is be able to teach people my ideas and concepts, because with a lot of the old industrial films, I apply a lot of those filmmaking techniques,” Jon said. “Even though they may be a little old fashioned and how they present stuff, people love them. I love my work.”
When asked what he would say to other autistic adults who may still be trying to find their path, Jon shared this advice:
“Just follow your passions, work hard, have a positive attitude, and don’t give up…. Don’t think things have been happy-go-lucky for me my entire life. There’s been some real down time, especially having depression and anxiety. I do, but I’ve learned how to cope with it. I found what I need to do to say, ‘Okay, this is temporary. I’m gonna get through this.’ So just hang in there and times will get better. And I think AANE as a resource with the support groups, the LifeMAP program, I think it’s very helpful and will really help encourage people. That’s what’s going to allow us to have a better society – to have more people happy and flourishing, and it’s possible!”
Check out some of Jon’s work and a few of his favorite industrial films!