Find out the inspiration behind an organization that aims to educate and empower.
BY Ingrid Simone, Toca Boca Executive Editor
Article originally published in Toca Boca Magazine
When Jodi Murphy’s son, Jonathan, was 9, he would pace in the corner, have one-way conversations and avoid eye contact. Now, at age 29, Jodi says, “he’s a guy who can command the stage, make you laugh, entertain and engage you with a twinkle in his eye.”
It hasn’t been an easy road. Jonathan has Asperger syndrome. Jodi’s years of advocating for and supporting her son not only helped set a positive trajectory for Jonathan’s life, it also inspired Jodi to create an organization that can do the same for other people with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Geek Club Books.
Geek Club Books, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has a twofold mission: 1.) educating the public and creating awareness around autism and 2.) helping to empower adults on the spectrum through opportunities for meaningful work using their own talents and abilities. They do this through technology and the art of storytelling.
Jodi has many personal stories to draw from.
When Jonathan was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome at age 13, it was both the end and the beginning of long journeys. Although he’d struggled with fine-motor skills and learning disabilities when he was younger, professionals dismissed Jodi’s autism concerns — high-functioning autism just wasn’t on the radar in the U.S. quite the way it is in 2015. Still, like many parents of undiagnosed kids on the spectrum, Jodi knew.
Tackling the challenges
The family tackled Jonathan’s issues one at a time for years. With occupational therapists, who helped with his fine motor skills and dysgraphia. With private tutors, who helped him with math and keeping up with classwork. With the school therapist, who helped him with social situations.
School was especially challenging. Jonathan would say in the class he could hear drip of the faucet, tick of the clock, pencils going — it took all of his concentration to tune that out and tune in to his teacher. Soon, kids discovered how to get to him, and the bullying began.
Eventually, the family found the right school for him — environment where he could thrive, and be free from bullying.
When the diagnosis finally came, there was a sense of relief — on Jodi’s part, and on Jonathan’s, who learned that there wasn’t anything wrong with him, his brain was just wired differently. “The diagnosis just confirmed what I already knew in my heart,” she said. “It didn’t change how I felt about him or how I feel about his future.” Because they were already doing everything he needed to thrive, including having him in the right learning environment, they simply stayed the course.
Running with interests
One of the key decisions the family made was that whenever Jonathan showed an interest in something, they ran with it. Eventually he showed both an interest in and an aptitude for acting, and with the support of his family he got involved in community theater. And today? Jonathan is a voice actor, appearing in video games, audio stories, apps — he’s even the voice of a major amusement park.
“When he would do something using his own talents and abilities, that’s when he would grow,” Jodi says. “Autistic kids need unconditional love, but that’s not enough. They have to contribute — that’s where you get self-esteem. They need to be able to say ‘I helped, I contributed, I did something good.’”
The Geek Club Books mission
Through Geek Club Books, Jodi wants to dispel myths and humanize autism for general public. Through interactive apps and other technologies the organization offers “stories about autism for acceptance and understanding in the classroom, on the playground and in the community.”
Jodi is also building the Penfriend Project, a team of writers in their 20s and early 30s who write articles about their own experience being autistic or raising a child who has ASD. In addition to providing the writers a platform to share their stories, the project also aims to inspire autism families.
“When parents and families hear from and see adults on the spectrum who are really happy with who they are,” Jodi says, “they can say ‘There’s a future for my child. It’s not all therapy and struggle. There is hope.”