I usually refer to myself as a pretty busy guy. But even a cursory glance at Justin Canha’s weekly schedule makes me look like a bona fide slacker. At any given time, Justin has at least one part-time job working at a local bakery, sometimes two. He takes private baking classes, art classes at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, horseback riding class, volunteering at the animal shelter, working on storyboards for Dani Bowman’s animation studio, creating artwork for his Etsy site, preparing for a one-man show (more on this later). And then there is the evolving battery of behavioral therapy and professional training sessions, walking the dog, preparing dinner (Justin prefers to grill chicken outdoors year-round) and hiring himself out as a quick-witted cartoonist for birthday parties.
Justin’s time management has long been the domain of his mother, Maria Teresa, who shuffles and fans out her son’s calendar with the no-nonsense air of a Vegas poker dealer. This is serious business. Such decisions about how Justin spends his time now will determine how he spends it in the future, and whether he can successfully navigate the demands of adult responsibility in the coming years. For now, some of the brightest spots in Justin’s schedule involve opportunities to teach and mentor younger kids – some on the spectrum, others not. Currently, Justin is working as an assistant teacher in two elementary schools in New Jersey and as an art instructor at the McCarton School in Manhattan. It’s not uncommon for students to rave to their parents about Justin’s uncanny skill, his songs and jokes and ultimately, his example. “Art with Justin is always a given,” Briant Canha, Justin’s father recently wrote, “but now, what I considered to be Justin’s biggest weakness is actually his biggest strength: his interpersonal skills.”
Some parents fill their kids lives with an obsessive amount of activity that it demands a family flowchart. One student in my daughter’s first grade class is so busy, you have to book a slot for your kid to come over and play months in advance. Some parents do this out of fear or insecurity that their children might not measure up. Others hope to divert their kids away from the streets. Still other parents just want to give their kids a well-rounded childhood. For the Canha family, scheduling Justin is never centered around Justin surviving on his own, but rather, thriving and surrounded by friends and family who have his back – who wouldn’t want that kind of independence?
See Justin and Matt Savage teaching at the McCarton School in New York City: