On March 31, we will join our director Gerry Wurzburg (Anschutz Distinguish Fellow @ Princeton) for a screening and conversation 4:30pm McCormick Hall. April 1st we have several session with students on campus- conversations with Gerry’s seminar students, talking about Art (Larry) and Advocacy (Tracy). In advance, Princeton Senior Claire Neuthern asked Larry Bissonnette a few questions as part of her Senior Thesis on “Activism and Autism”.
From your perspective, what effect did being diagnosed have on your life? Do you see that as a significant turning point in your life?
People practically lacked knowledge about autism when I was younger so I lacked diagnosis until I was an older adult. Helping to make a big difference in my life was my art and with communication I found a voice.
Do you have pride in being autistic?
It’s more pleasing to me to be seen as an artist, noteworthy not for autism but for artistic talent.
What message do you want people with disabilities to take away from the film?
Would want them to know that opportunities to make movies offer name recognition or ways to deliver positive images about disability so the need for good looks is less important than having a loud communication device.
What message do you want parents of people with disabilities to take away from the film?
That inclusion in the community is the most important thing to advocate for.
What do you wish the general public knew about being autistic?
People are people. Larry is a person first. Autism is one of my personal attributes along with being an actor and artist.
What do you think about the public’s perception of autism?
It’s appearance driven and promoted like a disease needing a cure.
1. Tell us how the documentary has informed your subsequent career.
I looked at myself as producer of, looks perfect in outsider art museums, art but not actor in a movie that would lead to major shifts in attitudes and understandings about autistic people who don’t speak. Now it’s a mission I am working on and not just a career.
2. Did you think about what you wanted to do career wise as a child? If so, what were your thoughts then?
Usually touching on this topic is a potentially losing proposition because the idea of a career passed me by more because of people in society’s lack of promoting the issue of autistic competence.
3. How has your AAC device helped you in your work?
Larry produces a rough approximation of speech. It’s probably ok for giving orders for beer and burgers but not adequate to make serious presentations at conferences so it fortifies my credibility as lecturer.
4. What do you consider your triumphs to be in your work?
Awesomely attended film showings and presentations.
5. What do you consider your struggles to be in your work?
Making myself loosen up to change my routines to follow a path of creativity and opportunity.
6. What are your career goals for the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?
Larry wants to continue painting and presenting as an advocate for change in societal attitudes about disability.
7. What kind of advice would you give to younger individuals living with autism about their future work?
Land in a, more open to possibilities for exploring your talents, community and participate in regular education classes, learning not just facts but acting intelligent through your communication skills.
8. Describe a typical day for you at work.
I do lots of free drawing everyday and once a week, I do one painting defined by washing lots of paint on the canvas to produce a finished work.
9. Please tell us how your career began.
I learned to paint in the institution probably did it initially to escape boredom it later coalesced into an avenue for personal expression.
How would you describe your experiences of making a movie together?
Partners in adventures of two wild and crazy guys with autism who type lots of intelligent ideas but do dumb things like wear shorts to Oscar-like events and need prods to have salad for dinner.
What was your communication like before you could type?
Picture a loudmouth person yelling for his mostly basic needs and that’s me.
How would you describe your art?
Its primitively made art. Not art taught in colleges like Vassar.
Do you have any interest in taking college classes?
I went to school of hard institutional life. After that I more want lots of my learning to be in social situations with attractive coeds.
What advice do you have for teaching our students?
Little like seeing your students perform a hit song with a very polished voice. They just needed the right door opened to show their talent supported typing was my door.
For parents, what suggestions do you have for developing the communication of our children?
Like you to let your kids play with iPads working on communication in social situations like fast food restaurants in the mall with other kids.
Take advantage of every opportunity to live life like kids who live on your street.
How do you like talking to students in schools?
Larry loving times to connect more because they are open and free in their thinking.
What changes would you like to see in society to have people with autism more accepted?
People are people first. Someone like me has to make sport of analyzing my autism and get people pondering about place of autistic people in society, not as oddballs but as having normal aspirations for American Idol kind of lives.
On his relationship with Tracy:
I am like wild partner of Obama, Joe Biden. I act impulsively and Tracy pulls me into the circle of reason.
On what teachers can do to support the learning of their students:
Learning is prompted by belief in each child’s intelligence, not standardized testing. Give students a love of learning rather than a fear of failure.
On the process of making art and movies:
Painting is intuition expressed through pictures, pushed out like ocean waves from your hands. It’s more like inner impulses. Movies are more like playing with images and sound to create looks into emotions.
How has your communication changed since you started typing?
I love to order potentially expensive steaks by typing filet mignon.
On the process of communicating through typing and speaking:
Placing iPad in front of me is a signal to get off my butt and plentifully share my malicious sense of humor. I love talking but need more practice to make Obama- like oration.
People like me are too darn opinionated to limit our communication. Looking at people like tea partiers make me verbose.
Why do you need the support of touch to type?
Your question leads Larry to sloppily type. It’s lack of potentially purposeful movement. I lose practically all my focus without touch like the president on prompter.
On what it is like to work on trying to change your own behavior:
Working on mopping up my autistic patterns is like working on more lasting love between political parties. Ordering me to stop (my behavior) doesn’t help. I need calm, reducing anxiety, patient patterning of my actions into something productive like typing.
Larry owes his ordering of self to people around him placing words of encouragement on his partly bald head and more people like Larry potentially may live passion driven rather than behavior pushed lives.
Opposing popular Obama is like opposing the wildly lowest temperatures of the winter in Vermont. Learning to acclimate to the cold peacefully will enable you, now totally warm in front of a fire radiating heat outwardly to mostly frigid spaces in a room, to look on having heat as a life giving resource which needs to be efficiently used and conserved.
President Obama has keyed on leaping out on the lands of opportunity and opening paths towards individual access to economic prosperity for all people. Politicians of all parties need to swing their inflexible legs over the fences dividing each other, swallow their past prejudices about the role of giving life to the downtrodden, government and look to the promise of America as the possibility country.
The plight of more apples freezing in the orchards of Vermont is what I more immediately worry about but I do peer out beyond our borders and see our connection to the powerful forces of political change. I see the changing of old guards to new patterns of compassionately spread laws to protect our environment and freedoms to be looked on equally regardless of our differences.
Now I could use a cold beer after placing hot ideas on the always cool iPad.
It’s the new year and it’s good to make resolutions about learning new things and breaking old bad habits like needing to eat, lately hard to limit after the holidays, massive amounts of artery-plugging food.
It’s practically impossible to execute plans to live up to your resolutions because personally, using autism as my excuse allows me license to stay stuck on old routines and to act tapped out on the energy to learn new ones. I am like the poverty of Appalachia, a powerless to change his autistic patterns person, linking his inner makeup, time and again, to external action.
Perhaps my primary resolution then is to kick out this paradigm of placing autism on the altar of blame and instead launch myself into the world of personal responsibility for one’s actions. Let’s, of course, leave some leeway for an occasional trip to McDonald’s and, noteworthy for their obnoxiousness, tantrums in airports when planes cancel and Larry has to drink Budweisers in a strange hotel.
Happy New Year to all our loyal movie wannabe star fans.
It is the time for watching all the Christmas lights prettily lighting up our lawns and looking-bare trees. Let’s make promises to practice lots of eating and opening of large presents but more importantly, open out our voices in prayer for the people in Sandy Hook, Connecticut who looked with sorrow at personally heart-wrenching scenes in their community over the last few days.
Peacefulness of this otherwise chaotic time of year and little words of hope need to be preserved, cleansing us of pain and making into positive pictures of the future, powerfully presented ideas about acceptance of differences in our society.
I want to live amongst the same people in my community as everyone else, owning the same rights of expression as my more verbal neighbors so please let’s speak out like more proud to be Americans and occupy not Wall Street but the communities of politicians and urge them to make laws that collect prepared with love beliefs about people’s abilities and spread them across all communities in our country.
Knowing the election will need lots of loudly caring, going forward like opportunistically last time to vote for president, favoring Obama, voters, I am nervous and tasting mainstreaming of, popular with tea party, ideology getting directed at the impoverishing of people with disabilities and people of, imbedded in for generations, poverty.
Powerfully pushed by climate change, Hurricane Sandy has lapped up on the shores of Mitt Romney’s campaign and plopped large loads of wet sand on, looking more shallow now, ideas about privatizing lots of, lending helping hand to less privileged, people assistance.
Please look carefully at ordered like lands in a tea party platform ads for Romney and place yourselves in a one room shack in a poor neighborhood. It’s place of men and women in this country to support each other in lasting out our difficult times. Let your conscience look at the issues and not your wallets.
(Larry and Tracy were in Phoenix, Arizona last week, presenting at the Director’s Institute conference. They delivered a keynote presentation to 750 Arizona educators on the theme of “All People Want Communication.” They also had the opportunity to show their film and have an extensive question and answer with conference participants. Larry’s opening comment at the keynote was “It is treat to be in oven-baked Arizona.”)
It’s practically last place on earth, peeling off clothes does not help, Larry would live because it is like a pottery oven here in Arizona. Powerless people last one second in, looking so dry, parched landscape.
Lots of time we spent inside in air conditioning, lip syncing our typed words on our iPads to lots of people driven to learn and participate in lively discussions about the presumption of competence in lettered school environments.
Towards the improvement of schools in Arizona, I am picturing a world where kids without speech can look around appearing really different but acting like they can learn ordered texts like all apple pied students of Arizona schools.
It was a pleasure to come here as primarily snow-oriented Vermonters and heat up people’s opinions on inclusion and communication for all.
It is time to put away our, periodically worn for summer, shorts and bathing suits and arrange our schedules to make apple pies. Leading the way into this last stretch of summer will be, now in her nineties, my mother with her birthday this weekend.
It is always an occasion to celebrate our large, more younger than older, family, uniting to eat large amounts of food and socialize together. The main part of the very productively put together meal is a roast pig which is meatily delicious if you are a pork fan. The other really nice part of the celebration is the gathering of my mother’s loved ones on both sides of her to show their respect and appreciation for her spirit and passion for life.
I am a more than luckiest man on earth to still have my mother around to communicate with and share meals with. Money can never buy you comfort for your soul. It is your family and friends that inspire your sense of community and belonging.