Why Autism?

Baseball and Autism? As the author of The Legend of Mickey Tussler series, novels that feature as their protagonist an autistic teen blessed with a killer fastball, I have come to understand just how powerful the blending of the two can really be. While the two subjects might appear at first glance to be unrelated, one only need observe the two together to see that this union has the unique power to engender awareness, understanding, tolerance and ultimately acceptance.

My novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, is the story of a 17 year old autistic kid who is mired in the obscurity of a small farm in Indiana in 1948. In addition to his “condition”, which of course has no name at the time, Mickey possesses the remarkable ability to throw objects (most notably apples) with extraordinary velocity and precision. It appears that his life will never amount to anything more than the day to day toiling on the family farm under the cruel and watchful eye of his cantankerous father Clarence when a most fortuitous encounter with baseball manager Arthur Murphy, a man who himself is struggling with his own demons, alters the trajectory of each of the character's lives forever.

I wanted to tell a baseball story -- the genesis of the endeavor is my pure love for the game of baseball. I always thought that to combine my first love, which is baseball, with my passion for writing, would be a wonderful creative amalgamation. However, I did not want to re-tell the classic, trite tale that has been told before -- you know, the young talented nobody who is discovered and then makes good on the diamond. So that was a real impediment. However, I soon had the epiphany that if my character were unique -- special in another way too -- that would add a compelling wrinkle to the tale that has never been attempted. Conceiving Mickey Tussler as an Asperger’s kid was what unlocked the whole story.

I first became involved with a group called Best Buddies when I came to Oceanside High School as an English teacher. I was intrigued by how this club was able to foster awareness and acceptance for kids with special needs. My school district’s Best Buddies chapter is just one of the almost 1,500 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Our building’s group meets weekly – and promotes the spirit of the organization – pairing students with special needs with a student buddy to help foster socialization and acceptance for all involved. My work with this amazing group helped me to really bring my main character to life. After I began writing my first Mickey Tussler novel, I immersed myself even further in the culture of the Oceanside Best Buddies chapter – to ensure that I would do justice in my representation of a young man with autism. I have never looked back.

For those of you not familiar with my Mickey Tussler series (The Legend of Mickey Tussler and the sequel Sophomore Campaign), the novels chronicle the coming of age of young Mickey Tussler – a pitching phenom with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Mickey’s struggle for acceptance on a minor league baseball team during the 1940s helps to shape a story about overcoming obstacles, self-discovery, and the human condition. The first book, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, was adapted for the movie “A Mile in His Shoes” (starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder) which aired on cable television last year and is now available on DVD.

Working so closely with children with autism and teens and getting to know their families has been more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. My character Mickey is the embodiment of all the magic I have witnessed over many years and has become a wonderful vehicle for me to further connect with families of children with special needs and teens.
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Published on April 19, 2013 14:33
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