MTV is putting a spotlight on the ups and downs facing those with disabilities as they transition to adulthood, with a documentary-style series following a 21-year-old with autism.
Chad DenDanto, now 23, is one of three young adults featured on the network’s “World of Jenks” premiering Monday at 11 p.m. ET. The show, beginning its second season, features host and documentarian Andrew Jenks living with each subject for a year and filming their journeys.
In addition to DenDanto, Jenks also follows Kaylin, a fashion designer who has battled cancer, and D-Real, a street dancer who overcame his gang lifestyle and hopes to inspire others.
DenDanto — who is diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, which is on the autism spectrum, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — first appeared on the show in 2010 as the subject of a half-hour episode. But now Jenks takes a more in-depth look, moving into DenDanto’s Port Jervis, N.Y. home and tagging along for what’s described as the “biggest year of his life.”
“We realized (at MTV) that we had an opportunity to humanize and destigmatize what it’s like to have autism,” the show’s host, Jenks, 26, of New York, said. “One in 88 American children have autism now. It’s something prevalent that could use more mainstream media attention.”
DenDanto’s television debut nearly three years ago showcased not only the daily issues he faces having autism — including hypersensitivity to smells and noises, such as his classroom bell or cars honking, or severe anxiety over deviation from his schedule — but also his sense of humor and his sensitivity to being treated differently.
This season, viewers get to know DenDanto as he graduates from high school, tries to find a job and begins dating.
“During the first episode you’re thinking, ‘OK, one of the guys on the show has autism. That’s what his story is about.’ After the last episode you realize Chad is really funny, he has a great relationship with his girlfriend, he loves food and Italian culture and fart jokes, and you just know him as Chad. Autism no longer defines him,” Jenks said.