“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”
So says the poet Rumi, one of the greatest scholars of myth and morality in human history. And as millions of parents and caregivers can tell you, this famous quote will never hold so true for any other group of people as it does for those on the autism spectrum. That’s why we get the same letter every day – or rather, a new version, with slightly different twists and turns, of the same narrative arc:
“You wouldn’t believe just how much of our own child we saw in Owen. She has a deep and abiding passion for X. The second we started validating that affinity – no matter how strange it seems to society, nor how exceptionally fanatical she is about this one particular area – that’s when she finally let us into her world. That’s when we were finally able to help her become her fullest, truest self.”
Perhaps this is why parents of individuals with ASD (along with the aids and support workers who dedicate their lives to the cause) are that much more driven to share their unique gifts with the world – partially out of the pride that anyone would have for a loved one’s accomplishments, but also because they are determined to open the rest of the world’s eyes to the astonishing aptitudes for art, creativity and self-motivation that can come with the diagnosis.
“As a society, we put entire categories of people in the discard pile,” Ron says. “We owe it to them – and to ourselves, because it’s in the enlightened self-interest of a culture that strives for full participation and productivity – to unearth the hidden talents and compensatory strengths that so often lie buried within these left-behind populations.”
One of the heroes in this vital mission is Brook Serrano, a career adviser at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She assists university students and alumni with disabilities – “a term I use reluctantly,” she adds – with landing employment opportunities in creative industries. She recently reached out to the Affinities Project to share some inspiring stories about the ASD young adults she’s worked with, noting that she has witnessed very clear affinity trends among them toward film, animation and video games.
“These students are so phenomenally talented,” writes Brook. “I’m pleased to see opportunities for them to use their skills slowing sprouting up. Organizations such as yours are critical for connecting not only parents but also people like me who serve as helpers and advocates. I feel strongly that we can be creative and help everyone find work that they are good at, enjoy and that adds value to organizations. In my role, I must find those who are open-minded and sensitive to differences and also can see the value in the skills that our ASD citizens bring us as a society.”
As an example, Brook told us about one about-to-be graduate in particular, named Sam. “When Sam is involved with anything film related, he totally opens up and is engaged,” says Brook. Like Owen, “he relates to the world through films.”
Below is a video is of an experimental play that Sam wrote called IN, which was recently produced by a SCAD student club. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that this piece of theater completely blew us away over here at the Life, Animated headquarters. The play is about it’s like to live with autism, delving into Sam’s obsession with film as a child and taking the audience through his daily life struggles, along with the astounding compensatory skills and coping mechanisms he’s developed in order to rise to his challenges. It’s an engaging, eye opening, and beautifully written and performed exposition of the rich inner life of autism – what so many of those on the spectrum wish neurotypicals could understand about how they experience the world. The message, as Sam’s character states: “for each weakness, there is also a strength.”
Watch the captivating performance below:
This second video is an interview that Brook conducted with Sam and the two student co-directors of the play, demonstrating the integrated nature of the project. Artistic ventures like this provide a model for other schools looking to up their inclusivity level – a two-way street of learning between neurotypicals and the neurologically distinct. “In my view, it’s an example of the outcomes of integrated and inclusive education that many young adults have grown up experiencing,” Brook explains. “It’s wonderful to see how neurotypical students can support, grow with and learn from their ASD peers through collaborations like this one. I’m hopeful for the future of the world of work when I see these dynamics.”
But playwriting is far from Sam’s only forte. Among his many creative talents, he can also do shockingly accurate impressions of his favorite characters – just like Owen. From Family Guy’s Cleveland to Planet Earth’s David Attenborough, Sam absolutely nails each character and their dialogue. Check out a sample of them below. (Warning: you’re going to think it’s Seth MacFarlane, but we promise – it’s really Sam!)
The “British narrator”
Marvin the Martian:
With these uncanny impressions, you can literally hear for yourself an entirely different side of the overwhelming sensory perceptiveness that characterizes autism.
As Sam himself so eloquently put it: For each weakness, there is also a strength.