When his son, Chase, began nearing adolescence, Chadd turned to resources on the internet — such as YouTube — looking for guidance on what to expect.
But as a dad to a child with autism, he found that the World Wide Web came up short.
“Every parent who has a child with autism wonders what their child will be like when they hit puberty, or how they’ll be in high school, or after they graduate,” says Chadd. “I saw YouTube channels featuring autism as a topic, but they always featured toddlers or young kids.”
“There was a huge void of channels showing the experiences of adolescent or teens or young adults with autism.”
So in 2008, when his son turned 10, Chadd decided to help fill that void.
He started Kimock7, which at the time was a mix of Chadd singing, playing guitar, and performing skits, as well as videos of Chase achieving things any parent would want to capture.
“There were certain things that Chase was beginning to do, and certain milestones he was reaching, that he couldn’t do before,” Chadd explains. “Until he was about seven, he was nonverbal and only repeated words. So, say, sledding down a hill at age 11 by himself, these were things he did later than typical kids because of his autism.”
Eventually, one video which Chadd captured in 2016 when Chase was 16, set Kimock7 on fire.
“We were sitting on the couch, and I caught Chase in a super good mood. Very engaged, and laughing and smiling,” says Chadd. “He kept trying to manipulate me and talk me into taking him back to this friend’s house we went to before.”
Chadd decided to start recording the exchange.
“It can be really hard to have a conversation with your son who has medium-functioning autism,” says Chadd. “I thought the video was just adorable, and a great example of how a father can engage with his teen son even though he has autism.”
“I wanted to show that there is a way to communicate that many people have never seen before. I wanted to share it with the world, because Chase had come so far due to ABA therapy and schooling and hard work on his end, as well incredible support from his mother, stepfather, sister, and grandparents.”
Almost two years after the video posted, someone shared it on Reddit. That same day, the video got 400,000 views. From there, it went viral on Facebook, achieving several million views.
“In the video, you can see my excitement. Here is my son: a completely happy 16-year-old boy. Many people don’t see that perspective of autism.”
“People hear the word ‘autism’ and they have a belief system that it’s this sad and terrible thing. I’m able to change those beliefs on YouTube and around the world,” says Chadd. “That’s become my goal.”
Since the video went viral last September, Kimock7 has continued to grow with about 300 new subscribers per day. In just five months, it’s gone from 1,500 subscribers to over 55,000.
Chadd regularly posts videos of Chase and himself engaging both inside and outside of the home, documenting the everyday realities of autism. He also posts vlogs which show how Chase manages his autism symptoms. The videos inspire hundreds of comments per day, as well as letters. Chadd says most viewers tell him how they bring hope to both people with autism and their parents.
Helping dads find ways to communicate
“The diagnosis of autism is every emotion that you can imagine — from shock, horror, and uncertainty to sadness, depression, loneliness, and isolation,” Chadd says.
“My ex-wife and I had a healthy daughter, and then we had Chase. When we realized he wasn’t meeting any milestones a typical 1- to 2-year-old does, it was devastating. As a parent you feel helpless.”
“For a lot of dads, it’s difficult for them to accept that their son has autism. He’s not going to play organized sports, you probably can’t take him to the ball game, and you may not be able to hang out with your friends and their sons, because their kids won’t have autism and most likely will have a hard time relating to your son,” says Chadd.
“There is a lot of shock and heartache that takes place for the father.”
Dads often tell Chadd that his videos help show them ways to interact with their sons. While Chase’s activities — such as drawing or playing on the computer — are often solitary and nonverbal, Chadd says he’s found ways to get involved.
“I’m naturally goofy, silly, and comfortable in front of a camera. Not every parent is going to be like me. We are all different. But my hope is that I inspire fathers to find their own ways to connect with their child,” says Chadd. “I get Chase, and understand what makes him happy and sad, how he communicates nonverbally, and how his emotions flow.”
Raised by a less-engaged sort of father who wasn’t too playful or openly affectionate, Chadd says he wanted to help raise his son differently.
“I love my dad, but everything I give to Chase is what I wanted as a teenage boy from my father: affection, love, interaction, playfulness,” says Chadd. “I had to accept and embrace Chase’s autism. Because I’m divorced and I don’t live with him, my time is limited. So when I am with him, I make the most of it.”
Planning for the future
As any child ages, different challenges begin to present themselves. And while many parents may focus on trying to save for their kids’ college education, Chadd says parents like him have other concerns: “A child with autism typically may not got to college.”
In the early years of Chase’s life, his parents threw all their money into intervention services for him.
“Many families across the world go into debt trying to help their child with autism. In my mind, everything has to be invested in the early part of [the] child’s life to really make an impact — to reset the brain and get it on a course for functional and verbal language,” explains Chadd. “There are some autism individuals who can grow up and be nonverbal and still be functional in society, have a job, and live alone, but it will be more difficult if they can’t speak.”
He notes that a large percentage of people with autism will live with a parent into their 20s and 30s for safety and monetary reasons.
“You can look at the future, but really focus on today and getting them the best services now. A big part of a child’s future is going to determine how well in the first decade of their life he can cope with his autism, and learn to communicate, and learn to calm himself down during meltdowns,” notes Chadd.
What does Chadd hope for Chase’s future?
He’s happy to note that Chase will graduate from high school this June, and will continue to attend a local school that specializes in teaching life and occupational skills. But while Chase has a long way to go, Chadd hopes that someday he could be fully employed and independent.
“We started teaching him how to check out at the store, how to hand the credit card to the cashier, and take the bag of items when it’s handed to him,” says Chadd.
And he plans to continue vlogging the skills Chase develops into adulthood.
“I’m just the director behind the scenes. In the end, it’s Chase doing it all, even if he can’t comprehend how much of an impact he’s making around the world,” says Chadd.
“Each vlog allows people the chance to see a day in the life of a teen with autism and how he struggles, copes, interacts, finds joy, and brings joy to others in his life.”