By Debra Muzikar
“Being typical can never be extraordinary.” Jodi Murphy, Geek Club Books
Jonathan from a young age would pace around the coffee table imitating the voices on the television shows he watched.
When asked what he was doing, Jonathan replied, “I’m doing an episode.”
No one imagined that Jonathan’s recitations would lead to his current career as a voice-over actor.
Jodi Murphy, the parent of two children is a storyteller for positive change. She has recently created a nonprofit – Geek Club Books. Jodi, with her son Jonathan who is on the autism spectrum and daughter Molly have designed a digital interactive children’s book series.
Jodi talked to me the other day about her children, her new ventures, and raising a child on the autism spectrum.
Jodi’s inspiration is her children. Her oldest Jonathan is now 29 and living with four roommates in Redwood City. Jodi helps Jonathon with the administrative details in managing his career. Her youngest child Molly lives in New York.
“Jonathan was a good student in language arts. As a teenager, he recited Shakespeare and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He has a natural love of the theater, literature, and film,” Jodi says.
A turning point for Jonathan was at age 11 when he switched from a public school to an out-of-the box private school that specialized in learning disabilities.
“He moved to Stanbridge Academy in San Mateo,” Jodi says. “He felt safe there. He was no longer bullied. Then we enrolled him in voice work and acting courses.”
Jonathan’s voice has given him an opportunity to earn a living.
“At the theme park California Great America in Santa Clara, it’s Jonathan’s voice you hear as the voice on all the rides and for the show announcements. Hundreds of thousands of people hear the voice of a person with autism,” Jodi says.
Jodi in the last couple of years has partnered with Jonathan and her daughter Molly to create autism story apps. Molly writes the stories and Jonathan narrates them. “We wanted to go beyond the story to both entertain and educate,” Jodi says. “Over the last two years, the creative idea has blossomed into a project to a movement or initiative for positive change.” They recently became a 501c3 charity.
The stories are about Jonathan’s experience at his schools. The first of the Mighty League story apps is “The Terrible Taunting” about a student who is bullied.
The second app which she is asking for funding on indiegogo is “The Horrible Hug.” People can get cool incentives for donating.
“Jonathan wasn’t engaged when we moved him to the new school. His teacher created Project Hug. Anytime they saw Jonathan they’d give him a big hug. This helped Jonathan. It brought him out of his shell.”
Jodi aspires to tell interactive stories about other autistic people in the future.
In the meanwhile, she has created the Penfriend Project which gives Autistic writers a platform for expressing the written word. Currently Lydia Wayman has a column Autistic Speaks, Megan Amodeo has the Autism Insider, and Shayla Hearn has My Shaynanigans. Next month they are adding a vdeo blog by filmmaker James Sullivan.
Recently Jonathan spoke at the Orange County Book Festival doing original adaptations of fairy tales.
“He does every single voice. He performs with puppets such stories as ‘The Three Little Hogs’ which is a take on ‘The Three Little Pigs.'”
Jodi left her career as a freelance marketing specialist and lifestyle journalist to devote her attention to Jonathan.
Now besides Geek Club Books she has partnered with two other autism moms, Sharon Cummings and Sharon Fuentes, to create a new online magazine – Zoom Magazine. Jodi is the Creative Director. Their first issue premiered this last week.
They are currently seeking submissions from Autistic people, parents, and siblings for their next issue. They also have a cool spot where they focus on milestones.
Over the years, Jodi has seen much improvement in how Jonathan feels about his autism.
“He used to not want to admit he had Asperger’s. Now he embraces it. He says it’s part of who I am,” she says.
I guess that’s what we all want for our children – to be proud of who they are.
You can hear Jodi on Autism Brainstorm with Kathleen Tehrani.