Healthy Living

How Jon Stewart Highlighted Autism Awareness

How Jon Stewart Highlighted Autism Awareness

Photo: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear by Cliff (flickr)

When there was a slight glitch in the segment Jon Stewart had planned, he had no problem improvising in the best way - bringing awareness to autism.

Carly's story

Carly Fleischmann is only twenty-two years old. She is nonverbal and has severe autism, but she's already making her dreams come true. Ever since she was inspired by her friend Ellen DeGeneres, who helped her tell her mom she loved her, and Oprah Winfrey, she knew that she wanted to have her very own talk show.

She faced a lot of skepticism, as she is nonverbal, but she didn't let that get in her way. Although she was diagnosed with autism and oral-motor apraxia at the age of two, rendering her unable to speak, she found a way around it. When she was ten years old, she started to type to speak to her friends and family. This is still a bit of a struggle for her because of her poor fine-motor skills, making even the simplest of messages take a while to type, but it has acted as a way to break the boundary of communication.

Despite her difficulties, she explains her own view, "my voice is loud and powerful," and it certainly is. Not only that, but she is able to make her celebrity guests feel particularly comfortable, given that she knows how it feels to be uncomfortable in situations that many others would view as routine.

Not only is she the first nonverbal celebrity talk show host, with famous guests like Channing Tatum, but she is also acting as a source of inspiration for other nonverbal people and their families. She offers advice to parents via her social media and website. She highlights that everyone's experience with autism is individual, and wants everyone else to know that. She explains, "I think the biggest misconception is that if you meet one person with autism you've met them all, when in fact, when you meet one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. We are more than just the label, and if we are going by labels, I have OCD, scoliosis, selective mutism and Oral Motor Apraxia."

She also wants to teach those who are neurotypical what it is like to live with autism, and how to be more compassionate. In a video production called "Carly's Café: Experience Autism Through Carly's Eyes," she took the seemingly routine experience of going to a coffee shop, but showed just how difficult it can be for someone with autism by highlighting the scents, noises, and sights that can be extremely overwhelming.

Despite her understanding of what it's like to be overwhelmed, there's one place where she feels at home - on camera. She explains, "it's funny, being in front of a camera or an audience is what makes me feel the most comfortable and relaxed. It's hard to be on all the time, meaning it's hard to control my body or control the elements that are trying to come into my head all at once."

Night of Too Many Stars

When Jon Stewart heard of Carly's story, he knew that he wanted to telecast her journey at his celebrity-packed autism fundraiser, Night of Too Many Stars. She was also set to interview Stephen Colbert on stage during the event, but there was a slight mishap; however, both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart handled it magnificently and used the opportunity to give a voice to autism awareness.

While she was interviewing Jon Stewart, her OCD got the best of her when she noticed the golden confetti on the stage. She became very distracted and as a result the interview was cut short, but that didn't mean that autism awareness was put to the side.

Jon Stewart handled the situation well, and said that doing talk show segments live is a massive undertaking, and that one episode of The Daily Show could sometimes take three weeks to film.

He went on to compliment Carly, "it also shows you something really important because she is a brilliant interviewer and a really funny person, and people with autism have challenges and obstacles to get through ... She's awesome and she's super funny and smart."

Stewart also took complete responsibility for the mishap, and realized that shooting out golden confetti earlier in the evening was a terrible idea.

Colbert also handled the situation with grace, and made sure to approach Carly later on in the evening to explain the situation, and promised to do the interview with her another time, without the golden confetti.

He also told the audience "I wanted you to know that Carly's distraction had nothing to do with her autism and has everything to do with her OCD. And I really want to do this interview with Carly. I got a peek at her questions and honest to god this was going to be a real interview and we're going to do it in the future."

He went on to say that the questions he had seen were hilarious and joked, "no matter what happened, at least you didn't bring out Sean Spicer," which was referencing what many referred to as a mistake he himself had made while hosting the Emmys.

Despite the mishap, Night of Too Many Stars still raised major awareness, as well as funds for autism programs. NEXT was part of the sponsorship, and works towards bettering these programs.

Carly's future

While this individual interview might not have gone exactly how she might have liked, nothing can get in Carly's way. She is continuing with her show, Speechless with Carly Fleischmann, and has had even more celebrity guests like Whitney Cummings and James Van Der Beek; she even wrote a song for a major country artist as well.

She plans to continue her show, but she also wants to expand to having her own show that is aired on television, write her own sitcom (she already has a pilot script!), and create her own reality show. However, this show will not be like anything you would see on E!, it would follow those with autism to give insight into their lives, struggles, and accomplishments.

She also wants to continue the work she has done in giving parents of children with autism awareness; however, there is one thing she wants them to know above all else, "if I could give parents one piece of advice, it would be that your child is in there. They need you to help them reach their potential, and they can achieve more than you think they can. Your mission is to help your child become the best they can be... just like every other parent. Whatever stage your child is at, you're there to help your child find their voice and learn how to use their voice, in order to better their lives."

This advice has changed how many parents view their parenting style, and has helped many. By sharing her own experiences and insights, and even when simply joking around with celebrities, she offers many who would not otherwise understand a glimpse into the life of someone with autism, changing everyone's perspective one interview at a time.