Have you seen the latest superhero to join the ranks of comic book greats? Sure, like all superheroes, he has extraordinary powers, such as a "mathematical mind, artistic gift and an abundance of compassion." And like all superheroes, saving the world from heinous villains is all in a day's work. But there's one crucial distinguishing difference about Michael—he has autism.
The new series by Face Value Comics has taken an overdue, groundbreaking step in featuring a character with special needs. I'm only surprised that it took so long.
“Because some kids with autism may lack sufficient eye contact, they miss subtle cues growing up in life,” said Michael's creator, Dave Kot, who "gets" all the nuances of ASD, because he happens to be Autistic. “This is an opportunity for kids to have a hero like themselves.”
Illustrator Sky Owens exaggerated the facial expressions of the characters in order to help kids decode the emotional interplay between Michael and the other players.
“When he was sad, who comforted him and how? Or why were they sad? How did other people respond? Can I do that, too, with my friends?” said Kot. “In those small steps that a lot of us take for granted are very basic social building blocks.”
Because one of Michael's strengths is understanding his feelings, it's hoped that his ability will help kids become more cognizant of their own emotional barometer.
Fans, like Brian Rasmuson, are truly digging the new superhero, who finds himself "in a Steampunk world with aliens & robots...& LOTS of misunderstanding." (Because misunderstanding is something to which kids with ASD can totally relate.)
“I think these comics help people see that autism isn’t just a disability,” Brian said in the clip below. “It’s not all of who you are, but it’s a special part of who you are. Whenever I read this comic I think of that part of me.”
So much of the time kids with autism are being taught to do things differently—to essentially *be* different in order to fit in with the status quo—that it's refreshing to be told they are not only OK as they are, but that they are special in ways others are not.
Empowering kids on the spectrum in no way diminishes their struggles and challenges. But it goes some way to levelling the playing field so that children have a better awareness of their strengths and gifts. It gives kids who tend to be bullied and robbed of their self-esteem early on a chance to reawaken a sense of pride in themselves.
In Michael, kids finally have a relatable role model—one who isn't simply a robotic, geeky stereotype, but who has something unique and worthwhile to offer. A hero in his own right.
Frankly, I'm bummed that my five-year-old is a little young for the series, which is aimed at kids aged eight and up. But maybe in a few years, there will be other Michaels.
The bad news? Issue No. 1 has already sold out. The upshot? You can still nab a digital copy here while you order one from a good comic store near you...
Is Autism An Elitist Disorder?
10 Ways to support families who are living with a child who has special needs.
Photo credit: Face Value Comics
Imagine you have a million things to say, but are petrified every single time you open your mouth. Even introducing yourself fills you with such monumental dread, you avoid parties and social situations.
Stuttering is the butt of many a joke, but having a speech disorder is no laughing matter. Stuttering is caused by "abnormalities in speech motor control" and is largely an inherited condition. In rare cases, a brain or deep emotional trauma can bring on disordered speech.
When it comes to stuttering, though, the myths abound. It doesn't mean you are dumb. Nor does it mean you are nervous or stressed, though stress can certainly exacerbate the condition.
Teasing and bullying can lead to lasting low self-esteem to deeper psychological issues like depression and anxiety. The worst part: it's all avoidable.
My friend's son was lucky. He received weekly therapy for many months before he even started school. Now there is no trace of his impediment. Not all kids are as fortunate, though.
One in 100 people stutter—mostly males for some reason. Famous PWS include not only the great King George, played by Colin Firth in The King's Speech, but also Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe, as well as many other surprising names. Stuttering has hardly limited their achievements.
A speech disorder can be detected in children as early as two years old yet, as my friend can attest, therapy is expensive and can involve long waiting lists.
Greg O’ Grady aims to change all that. The support he received from The Speech and Stuttering Institute changed his life. Now he wants to help others achieve the same success. O'Grady has coordinated the Institute's third annual 1k/5k walk to raise funds for stuttering awareness.
“A Million Things I Need to Say” takes place at the Speech and Stuttering Institute (150 Duncan Ave.) on the Betty Sutherland Trail in Toronto.
For further information about the Institute or the walk, visit http://www.stutter.ca/walk/.
Not sure whether your child needs speech therapy? This resource may help.