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

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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