7-year-old with autism spreads awareness, laughs with joke book
The blog and book have gained support from around the world
Stalen Venator was just 21 months old when diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
He's now a seven-year-old in Oromocto whose favourite hobby is to make others laugh.
Stalen, who doesn't speak, has used an IPad to communicate his jokes on Facebook each week for the last two years.
Recently, he and his mother published a joke book, titled Jokes are for Everyone, to spread awareness about his condition and share his favourite puns.
"My hope is that people will realize that a life lived differently is not a life less lived," said Chrystal Venator.
"Even though Stalen has autism and uses a device to communicate, and has medical interventions, he can do anything.… We have dreams and hopes for him and he's just an amazing person."
Venator said Stalen has always been a "trickster," playing practical jokes on his family members and therapists.
When she and her husband bought Stalen an IPad, they decided to incorporate humour into the technology, along with basic uses, including spelling words and saying his name aloud.
"We found it was a great way to connect him with other people," said Venator, "He's becoming more proficient each day."
Venator began a blog, called Stalen's Way, to share the family's journey with Stalen as his life progressed with autism, and the health issues that came alongside the condition.
"I was writing as my way of coping and telling his story and it just kind of took on a life of its own."
The blog has attracted people from around the world, including Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.
Followers now send Stalen jokes to tell. They tune in each week to see him tell them.
"He practises all week so he can hit the punchline perfectly, so that's become his weekly thing — Stalen's jokes of the week," said Venator.
Venator said that's what prompted her to help him publish a book filled with his finest jokes. "I did it as a project to empower him."
Stalen helped with every aspect of the book's development, from choosing the colour of the book and the art graphics inside.
"We have support from all over the world and that definitely helps fill our tanks with hope," said Venator.
She said Jokes are for Everyone is now in a library in Texas, and other children with autism have followed his lead, telling his jokes online using a similar technology.
How it began
Chrystal Venator said concerns about his condition began when Stalen was 13 months old.
"He had a lot of first words, but then one day it was just like he went completely silent."
Venator said people had a hard time connecting with Stalen. If he was in a room with other people, he would feel alone.
He began showing signs of frustration with the inability to speak.
"There were things he wanted to tell us, there were things that he wanted and he didn't have a way to communicate that," Venator said.
Venator said Stalen quickly became intrigued by technology, seeing his parents use their cellphones. That sparked an idea to utilize a device to help him communicate.
"We gave it a try and it just kind of took off," said Venator.