Approaching Autism Theatrically: One Man’s Journey in the “Foreign Language” of Social Communicaiton

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Stephen Volan struggled with navigating the minefields of society without realizing he had Asperger’s until he was finally diagnosed at age 37. Until then, holding down a job, maintaining close relationships, and reading faces and body language were all exercises in paralyzing doubt and frustration.

“To me, subtext is a foreign language,” he says. “I may be fluent now, but unlike most of you, I wasn’t a native-born speaker of it.”

Long before the autism spectrum was as widely discussed as it is today, Stephen had unwittingly begun overcoming its handicaps thanks to a serendipitous theater class at Second City in Chicago. In class, he learned to rely on a skill he could use without hesitation: his innate playfulness.

Despite his limitations, Stephen has become a community leader in his adopted hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. He’s a member of the city council, in his eighth year representing a district of 13,000. He teaches a course at Indiana University; he’s hosted a radio show for almost two decades; and he founded the city’s first internet access company in 1994.

And he’s really ridiculously hilarious. Watch Stephen’s amazing story.

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