By Debra Muzikar
Brent Anderson, like many on the spectrum, has a literal mind.
Is that funny?
Yes, it can be.
I talked to Brent and his mom Linda about their book “Unintentional Humor.”
“Humor is the universal human bond. We can all find a common bond through humor,” Linda says.
“The most important skill in raising a child with special needs is a good sense of humor. You can’t take yourself too seriously. Teaching Brent humor allowed Brent to be accepted socially,” she continues.
Linda shares how she coached Brent to learn humor.
“Instead of asking him how he did academically at school each day, I would ask him what was the funniest thing that happened that day. I didn’t want to compare him through academics to the other kids.
“We did a lot of knock-knock jokes. He still does them today at age 28.”
She suggests having a laugh library in your home filled with books of jokes.
“Teach your kids new jokes,” she said. “Otherwise you’ll have to hear the same joke over and over again.”
Brent and his younger sister Jenny are very close.
“I never allowed Jenny to say to Brent things like ‘that was a stupid joke’ or make fun of him for telling the same joke over and over,” Linda says.
She relates how having a sense of humor has helped her parent Brent.
“The more a child struggles, the more a sense of humor is needed,” she continues.
“I had to teach Brent sarcasm. Autistic people often have difficulty understanding sarcasm. Brent will ask me ‘Do you really mean that or are you being sarcastic?'”
In 2010, Linda founded Gund Publishing Company. In 2012, Gund Publishing offered their first book, “Unintentional Humor: Celebrating the Literal Mind.” The book took twenty years to compile. It is a view in single comic strip form of how Brent sees the world.
Brent and Linda tour the country speaking at conferences sharing the humor of the literal mind.
Their cartoons are used in both regular and special education classroom settings and are popular with speech therapists.
“They can be used for all kind of students, not just Autistic students. Speech therapists find them useful to teach idioms,” Linda says.
Linda is in the process of creating a curriculum for educators.
“Learning should be fun,” she says.
Brent not only speaks about the literal mind, he is a spokesperson for Training for Independent Living (TIL), a transition program through the ARC in Ventura. He graduated from that program in July of 2013 and moved into his own apartment.
“The program taught me how to live by myself,” Brent says.
Linda, a single mom, felt all the hard work Brent and her did has paid off.
“The TIL program enabled Brent to learn basic life skills, such as meal planning, banking, budgeting, shopping, cooking his own meals, so he can live independently. It’s an incredible comprehensive program and we are proud to support it.”
Brent, in his time off, loves to watch action-hero movies. He’s designed his own action figures based on the Chinese Zodiac. He’s attended Comic Con in San Diego the last six years.
One day he hopes to create his own action-figure comic book series based on the characters he’s created.
Brent has an affinity for animals. I’ve observed Brent take on the characteristics of the animal you are talking about. One time we were talking about a leopard and Brent starting walking like a leopard as he talked about it. It was really incredible to watch. I believe Brent to be an animal empath, kind of like Temple Grandin.
Brent loves to visit the zoo, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries. He’s close to his dog Jessie, a lab. My son, Kevin, also loves Jessie and has painted her.
“We always planned our vacations around Brent’s love of animals,” Linda says.
Both Brent and his sister Jenny are involved in autism. Jenny runs the Celebrate Autism Foundation, a nonprofit which is dedicated to creating opportunities for people like her brother on the spectrum.
Jenny shares her mom’s passion for helping Autistic young adults reach their dreams.
LInda and Brent are available for bookings through their website Unintentional Humor. Brent is speaking at the ARC National Conference in New Orleans October 1 – 2. He has two presentations. One on Unintentional Humor and the other representing the ARC TIL program from Ventura.