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Playa del Rey resident Rio Wyles has all the wellness symptoms of autism. He doesn’t like to make eye contact in conversations with strangers, and seems eager to run away from such situations. Autism drastically affects mental health, leading to social, verbal and nonverbal communication problems, but when the 21-year-old grabs a microphone he suddenly turns into Soulshocka – an ambitious rapper who has been part of Performing Arts Studio West for the past two years.
The entertainment company caters to adults with developmental disabilities, including Asperger’s syndrome, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and others. Its founder, John Paizis, has been an adult special education teacher since 1980 who, in his spare time, was also was an entertainer. Paizis realized great benefits could come from combining the two, especially for the wellbeing of those affected by autism.
‘Being able to look somebody in the eye and effectively communicate is super important for these guys,’ Paizis explained, adding that his company puts performers into situations ‘where the curriculum kind of forces them to do that by doing acting scenes where they need to have eye contact with people, where they need to vocalise, where they need to be heard.’ It’s not just rapping and acting that’s available to Paizis’ clients; they can also take classes in singing, song writing, music production, and dance.
According to Paizis, ‘Music classes are fabulous for them, and a lot of the population has a proclivity toward music since they were kids, especially some of our high functioning kids – so communication, body language, being able to put their best foot forward in any kind of social situation, that really helps.’ As Rio has wanted to be a rapper since the age of four, this company has been of monumental help to his wellness.
Rio says that, if he hadn’t found his passion for music early on, ‘I’d either be in a group home, or … yeah. Music has the potential of getting me out of the hole. So pretty much, it got me out of the grind.’ When he and his mother stopped at a record shop to have a browse, Rio’s mum asked him if he would like to work there someday. He replied, ‘No, I want to be a rapper and own my own label. You gotta dream bigger than that Mom.’