Mahaiwe screening to shed new light on autism

Wednesday October 31, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Alford resident Michael Forbes Wilcox says he always knew he was different from other people.

He said it wasn't because he had been a model for Norman Rockwell, worked on Wall Street as a principal for Morgan Stanley, or served with various political campaigns.

The revelation came when Wilcox read British author Mark Haddon's 2003 mystery novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

"This was the book that made me realize I was autistic," said Wilcox, who was 58 at the time of reading it.

Though not explicitly named in the story, the novel has become popular in culture because its protagonist thinks and behaves in a way synonymous with people who are autistic, have Asperger's syndrome or are savant.

Wilcox was officially diagnosed with Asperger's in 2007 at age 61. He is now 66.

On Saturday, Wilcox will speak about his connection with the book and being a self-described "activist Aspergerian" following an "autism-friendly" 2 p.m. encore broadcast of London National Theatre's theatrical production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." The event take place at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

Beryl Jolly, executive director for the Mahaiwe, said this is the first event of its kind at the theater.

"The idea came out of the broadcast itself, when we first showed it here in September. We then thought about how could we benefit a broader community," she said.

On Saturday, individuals or groups of people can reserve seats for the screening. Jolly said Mahaiwe staff will be mindful of personal space, light and sound -- all which can dramatically affect an autistic person -- when seated.

"We wanted people to be relaxed and be seated more comfortably," Jolly said.

The Mahaiwe executive said she decided to add a question-and-answer component to help connect people in the autism community.

"If we give them the opportunity to share stories or resources, there can be a ripple effect," Jolly said.

Wilcox lauded Jolly and the Mahaiwe for their efforts, noting that being autistic or being the loved one of someone with autism can be isolating. Many autistic people can appear anti-social because their behaviors are cognitively hard-wired in a way that's atypical to most peers.

"I'm proud of being autistic, but it can be difficult being in a world that doesn't accept it," said Wilcox.

He said when he realized his diagnosis, he went to The Bookloft in Great Barrington and purchased about a dozen copies of Haddon's novel to give to friends.

"If you want to understand me, read this book," he'd say to them.

Wilcox said that by having a better understanding of himself has allowed him to progress greatly in life, particularly enabling him to better relate with others what his experiences are.

"There are a lot of reasons to be interested in autism aside from being autistic," he said, "If they come [to the event] on Saturday, maybe other people would want to share their story as well."

To reach Jenn Smith:,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go

What: "Autism-friendly" screening of London's National Theatre "Live in HD" encore broadcast of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," A question-and-answer discussion will follow. Note: Performance is recommended for ages 13 and up.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington.

Tickets: $10 general admission.

Reservations/information: or (413) 528-0100.


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