Meet the Future Face of Technology - Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Technology FieldsMeet the Future Face of Technology - Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Technology Fields

Supporting Minnesotans with ASD to Get Jobs in Technology Fields

Student on Career Path in the Arts, But Not Sure Which One

Malcolm Roach
With a creative mind that never quits, college student Malcolm Roach, who has Asperger's, is gifted in digital arts, and expresses himself through script writing and video production. He entered college more than prepared due to the strong instruction and guidance he received at the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

He's a young man on the move, almost constantly, but although the final goal hasn't been established he's making steady progress. Minneapolis college student Malcolm Roach is now appearing on stage in St. Paul in a play focusing on a mother raising a son with Asperger's, a subject he knows well.

While Roach is the narrator in "Autistic License," and doesn't have many lines, he's on stage for the entire production. "I'm there, but I'm not intruding or anything," he observes.

Roach, currently a freshman at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), is a graduate of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, a state school in Golden Valley that he credits with reinforcing his desire for a future in the arts sphere. Once he completes his studies at MCTC, he plans to earn his bachelor's degree at the Minneapolis College of Arts and Design (MCAD).

At Southwest High, he had an educational assistant who traveled with him from room to room. It was there that he decided he wanted to go into the filmmaking business, but he had no access to equipment. The Perpich Center for Arts Education (PCAE) seemed to be the best choice, and Roach says getting accepted was a really big deal. He says his mother cried when she heard the news. "I was still in sort of a shock."
The PCAE admission process was three fold—send in your basic information, provide two film pieces that you had already produced and then shoot a short film on a subject chosen by the PCAE staff. "It was some random words that you had to conform into a movie of sorts," he said. Then they decide whether you will receive an interview and, if so, you have to go around the school with a small digital camera and put together a story of sorts. Only then are personal interviews given, one at a time. He recalls a "lot of it was about spontaneity and your previous work."

Roach's former teacher at the PCAE, Linda Saetre, describes him as brilliant, articulate and extremely good with digital art. Though he originally sought out filmmaking classes at MCTC, he found the courses to be less challenging than the PCAE, more of a repeat of what he had already learned, said Saetre. The PCAE guarantees placement in a postsecondary college.

Roach describes his memory as selective, not photographic. He can forget items in a school textbook, but with a fantasy, science fiction novel or game, he remembers everything. "It's hyperfocus. I'll focus on one thing more than another," said Roach.

One outlet for these talents was Roach's "Machinima," or machine cinema productions. He would take a video game, play the characters, record the footage and do a voice over so it looks like the game characters are saying what's been recorded. The Halo series games are popular for this form of digital art. Roach developed an elaborate script, but never got started with filming or producing.  "My goals are everywhere, and my mind is everywhere else," he says, joking.

Malcolm Roach

For a major film production, Roach spent four years in planning before starting the work as a high school senior. A Hollywood screenwriter visited the PCAE and looked over Roach's script. It was written around two main characters whose adventures were based on Roach's own life experiences with his 14-year-old brother. The screenwriter said it was almost perfect, said Roach, but suggested that he add more antics to one character in particular.

Afterward, the Hollywood writer asked him about his college plans and gave him his number. Roach said he would think about it, and now wonders what might have happened if he had called back. He does, however, feel he's on the right track at MCTC and his plans to attend MCAD.

In his spare time, he likes to work with Legos, enjoying their rules and structures, as well as reading science fiction and fantasy books. Roach describes himself as an ISFJ personality, Introversion, Sensing, Feeling and Judgment, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. "I can interact socially, but I need to be on my own to recharge." Extroverts can be on their own for a while, but recharge by interacting with people. Roach does the opposite. If he doesn't recharge with time on his own, he becomes overwhelmed.

He describes his intuitive abilities as strong. If Roach walks into a room of people talking, he can sense what the attitude is, whether it's a hostile or passive environment. The judging aspect fits with his practice of taking in as much information as he can before he acts. This may involve running scripts and character development ideas past people to gauge their interest. With that feedback, he then decides if he'll continue the project.

An interesting aspect of people with autism is a difference in communication skills, the college student explained. While being more perceptive to moods and social environments, Roach has a hard time reading facial expressions, except for major ones such as happy and sad. He cites a study on autism in children where those with autism tended to read people's mouths, rather than watch their expressions.

Though it's probably too soon to guess where Roach may begin his career, his talents and interests should take him far. He said his only weakness is an inability to finish a project. Many are in process. "All the self-discovery and I still don't know where I am," he quipped.