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Can Autism Be A Laughing Matter?

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Can autism be a laughing matter? Michael McCreary thinks so.

The 19-year-old from Orangeville, Ont., makes no secret of the fact that he has Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

In fact, the up-and-coming "Aspie Comic" has launched a career on the back of his quirks, his constant need for attention and -- his words -- his inability to shut up.

Over the past few years, 20-year-old McCreary has performed his act, Does This Make My Asperger's Look Big?, countless times across the country, eliciting belly laughs and raising autism awareness along the way.

It's hard to believe that as a child this articulate and jovial young man had delayed speech and was, at age five, diagnosed with autism. As a kid, McCreary often spoke in movie quotes, a speech pattern known as echolalia.

By grade three he had penned a SpongeBob play and performed as The California Raisins in a school talent show.

Though he was a natural performer, life wasn't always a barrel of laughs for McCreary. In elementary school, he admits that though he wasn't "bullied a lot in the traditional sense, I was more ostracized. It was a very lonely time." He struggled to fit in.

Every day when his parents would ask how his day was, McCreary would sound off. His mother introduced him to journaling so he could better express himself. "I enjoyed not just writing down my experiences, but crafting them into stories to make them more entertaining."

Not only did the process of jotting down his stories prove cathartic, it helped him find the humour in everyday moments. Writing gave him a voice, when no one seemed to be listening.

By happy coincidence, McCreary eventually crossed paths with David Granirer, author of The Happy Neurotic and founder of Stand Up For Mental Health, who mentored him through stand-up comedy workshops at age 13.

Instead of steering clear of sensitive topics, McCreary was actually encouraged to mine his diagnosis for material the way Granirer had with his own bipolar disorder.

Much like comedians who poke fun of their race, sexuality, or bodily insecurities, McCreary takes on the taboo of his neurological disorder with a lighthearted approach. He hopes that his jokes will resonate with people, helping them see the humour in their own situation.

If the world of autism is intense and often challenging, then it's also punctuated by moments of hilarity. McCreary shines a light on those moments, giving audiences permission to laugh out loud. For families affected by autism, it's a much-needed chance to let their hair down and see the funny side of their reality. For the uninitiated, humour provides the perfect segue into a conversation about ASD.

Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely -- but then, the best jokes quite often are.

McCreary likens his act to slipping into a cold pool. "There's that initial hesitation, the abrupt discomfort that follows then, ultimately, relief that you're finally into it."

Maybe laughter truly is the best medicine, even where autism is concerned.

Catch Michael McCreary performing alongside Toronto comedians Nile Seguin and Evan Carter as part of the fundraiser, LOL for Autism on June 16, 2016 at CBC's Glenn Gould Studio.

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