Finding the Laughter in Autism

aspiecomic1You’ve likely heard the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine,” more times than you can count. When it comes to his performances, 20-year-old Canadian Michael McCreary is counting on the fact that comedy really does make a lot of things better.

Michael is known as the “Aspie Comic,” and he’s been doing stand-up comedy routines since he was 14. In a profession that relies on a quick wit and making connections with strangers in a crowd, Asperger’s may seem like an improbable fit. However, Michael says that his autism provides the fuel for his comedy. “Comedy is one of the only mediums that turns failure into a strength — turns it into a weapon that you can use to entertain people.”

During tough times in grades 7 and 8, his parents encouraged him to write out his feelings in a journal. The journal soon gave way to any piece of paper he could find, and the venting soon turned into punchlines. As so many comics before him have also discovered, Michael realized that when he made fun of himself onstage, he could get the last laugh.

Michael describes himself as an extrovert, and compares some social situations to drowning, attesting that it’s hard to be surrounded by so many people every day and be unable to form a connection with any of them. His comedy helps him form that connection through laughter. While some may say the laughter is coming at his own expense, as he makes jokes out of some of his life experiences, Michael is only too happy to do it. “It’s less like a comedy show and more like group therapy,” he said.

Of his performance, his mother says, “I love the way…the audience responds to it… There’s a lot of people who follow him that are also on the spectrum…and it helps teach them how to manage it, how to laugh at yourself, how to laugh at other people or laugh at people who laugh at you.”

Michael has performed more than 150 times, mainly at autism conferences, but is working on going more mainstream; to reach more people in his quest to redefine “normal.”

As for his audience, Michael says: “I’m hoping that they laugh first, and learn second. I’m hoping they have a good time, but retain that we can also laugh…we also have a sense of humor…we can belong as well.” When asked to define “we,” he clarifies, “People with Asperger’s, autism, on the spectrum, you know? We also have a sense of humor.”

Recipe for Success: Young Chef With Autism Gets His Dream Job

Autistic Chef1

Photo: Kate Geraghty

Every story about somebody successfully pursuing their dream is a story worth telling. When that person has to overcome more than the usual roadblocks to pursue that dream, their success becomes even more heartwarming. Such is the case with Jack Studholme, a 20 year-old living in Australia.

Jack, who has autism, just landed his dream job as an apprentice chef at Catalina, a very popular restaurant in Sydney. While he always liked to help out his mom in the kitchen, it was the completion of a hospitality certification at a TAFE institution (in Australia, TAFE institutions provide “technical and further education”) that opened the door to his future.

Social media also played a part—Michael McMahon, the owner of Catalina, first saw Jack’s photo on Facebook. Jack was dressed in his chef whites, receiving an award from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s (CPA) Transition to Work program, which assists people with various special needs. Next to Jack’s photo was the hashtag #hireme, and the social media plea worked.

Samantha Lawler, Jack’s mom, said that the Facebook photo had many wonderful responses, including McMahon’s. Jack interviewed with the restaurant management and then had a two-day trial, to see whether it was the right environment. It wasn’t easy for Jack at first—he had to overcome sensitivities to heat and noise, as well as the usual pressures of learning new skills and working in a busy restaurant’s kitchen. But he had help from the CPA, and his co-workers.

“We have around 34 kitchen staff here…and they have all taken him under their wing. Everyone loves caring for him and they respect him, which makes me really happy,” explained restaurateur McMahon.

Jack works three days a week at Catalina, under the supervision of the head pastry chef. He has various tasks, including making the daily bread from start to finish, washing salads, and plating. Jack is happy, as his mother explained: “Working at Catalina has definitely changed Jack’s life and has given him real belief in his abilities.”