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Autism Doesn't Hold Him Back: Chef Alexis Inspires with Culinary Success

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Alexis learning at Southwestern College
Alexis learning at Southwestern College

As a young man with autism, Alexis has a passion for cooking. He loves the creativity and precision of it, and the way food brings people together. Alexis knew that it wouldn't be easy to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. With his hard work and dedication and the assistance of Toward Maximum Independence (TMI), a nonprofit serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, he was able to achieve his dream!

Alexis enrolled in the Southwestern College Culinary Arts program which provides real-life practice and experience in the art of cooking. Students learn the theories behind professional cooking, train their palate to become an expert in distinguishing flavors, work to increase the speed in which they can operate in a kitchen, and encourage teamwork and a collaborative atmosphere. Alexis was nervous about how he would do, but he was determined to succeed.

Alexis receiving his certificate
Alexis receiving his certificate

A client with TMI for six years, Alexis worked with his TMI Tailored Day Services Facilitator Vanessa Lopez to be able to thrive in the program. He initially struggled with transitioning from in-person services to remote classes during the pandemic, but he faced the challenges head on with Vanessa's reassurance and support. Vanessa explained to him that things don't always go as planned, but that change can be a good thing. Alexis grew to feel comfortable with the change and confident in knowing he had the support he needed to move forward with the program online.

The program was challenging, but Alexis excelled, all while holding a part-time job at Chili's restaurant. Alexis learned a great deal about the culinary world and received his culinary certificate this year.

“My hope for Alexis is that he continues to further his education, as well as expand his social skills,” said Vanessa. "With one foot in front of the other, we continue to move forward.”

Alexis having fun at SeaWorld!
Alexis having fun at SeaWorld!

In his free time, Alexis enjoys putting puzzles together, shopping and going to amusement parks. His favorite is Disneyland! He enjoys sharing with people that he was the top student in his math class when he was in high school. He is very proud of his accomplishments, as he should be!

"Every day is a new day for progress," said Alexis.

Alexis is an inspiration to other people with autism who wish to pursue their dreams. He has shown that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Congratulations, Alexis!

(Thank you to Vanessa Lopez for contributing to this story.)


TMI clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are a part of our Tailored Day Services (TDS) program are encouraged to self-direct and participate in determining their program day. We are here to help our clients plan their day their way. With the anticipation of maximizing life satisfaction, this exciting program tailors our client’s day based on their personal choices, hopes and dreams.


Founded in 1981, Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and veterans with disabilities. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living Services and Family Support Services. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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