When they joined up to rehearse at the beginning of April, it marked the first time in over a year the members of the band Flame were playing music together in the same room.
“It’s been weird being on Zoom, but now that we can all be together, it’s much better,” said Andrew Carpenter, the band’s lead singer.
The first song the group chose to practice, “I Am Me,” is one they already know by heart, especially Carpenter, who wrote it about his own experience growing up with autism.
"I Am Me" is a song about having a gift and now showing off that gift, like having it deep inside and no one else knows you have it,” Carpenter said between takes.
Like Carpenter, each member of Flame has been diagnosed with a developmental disability. The 24-year-old first joined about a year after he became a student at Transitions, an organization in Fulton County that serves teens and young adults living with autism spectrum disorder.
“Thanks to Transitions and all the experiences I’ve had, I’ve evolved into someone who doesn’t mind being up here in front of people,” Carpenter said.
That confidence wasn’t always there. Andrew, who’s already completed the Transitions program but still pops into the occasional culinary class, says when he started, something as simple as participating in a group was overwhelming.
What You Need To Know
- Throughout the month of April, Transitions in Fulton County is celebrating Autism Awareness Month
- The organization helps teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders navigate college and the start of the careers
- Individuals who have graduated from Transitions have joined together in the band, Flame, which has toured around the country
“I remember ,when I first came here, I was quiet as a mouse,” Carpenter said as he cut up spinach for a dish his class was making together.
“That young man was very shy. He was friendly but he was a shy young man,” said Jennifer Feagles, director of the Transitions program.
Feagles says the program is successful at helping young men and women with disabilities gain more independence because mentors blend social, wellness, and independent living skills with a more traditional education.
“Social skills can be very difficult for a lot of our students and young people in general, so to find a place where students can feel accepted and be themselves with all of the idiosyncrasies that make us each who we are is pretty incredible,” said Feagles.
Transitions serves students from across the country and offers housing to those who don’t live within driving distance. The program offers two different tracks for students who are either interested in starting their careers or heading off to college.
After earning his associate's degree, Andrew now spends three days a week working at a local sporting goods store.
“It’s just an amazing feeling because I have done things I never thought I could ever be able to do,” Carpenter said at the start of a shift at the store.
Tops on his list of accomplishments is getting to sing with a band that has toured the country and overseas, allowing him an opportunity to share his gift with the world.
“To see where he has grown and see where he’s gotten to, it’s just amazing,” Andrew’s mother, Esther, said at the end of Flame’s practice.
“The most fun part of my day is when I’m up here with these guys doing what I love to do and there’s no feeling like it,” Andrew said.