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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 62
Gender: Male
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Location: Long Island, New York

25 Jul 2017, 2:01 am

A father’s journey with his autistic son inspires ‘Greenport,’ a tele

When filmmaker Tony Spiridakis’ 18-year-old son Dimitri was three years old he was diagnosed with autism, and it was the boy’s unique symptoms that led Dimitri to the unexpected place he often finds himself these days — in front of a camera.

“Some autistics don’t speak,” says Spiridakis. “But Dimitri was hyperlexic; he was verbally incredible, a super reader; he inexplicably had a great vocabulary at a young age. He loved to memorize things.”

Dimitri often exhibited what appeared to be highly inappropriate responses to situations, but after studying his son’s actions carefully, Spiridakis realized that there was a certain logic to what Dimitri was saying.

“For example, he would see a movie, take a quote from the movie and plug it into a situation where it will just come bursting out of his mouth,” says Spiridakis. “You’d think it was a non-sequitur but it’s actually connected and that’s what I pieced together about his inappropriateness.”

It is Dimitri’s story that is at the root of the television comedy “Greenport,” the pilot for which was shot almost entirely in and around the village.

It started years ago with an idea Spiridakis had for a feature film based on his experiences raising a boy who he found to be extremely funny, but who was often perceived as being inappropriate.

“I saw past his inappropriateness and I saw him as using his behavior in a way that was more communicative than disruptive,” he says. “I felt that there was an organizational component to his behavior and so rather than make him feel like he was a bad child, which he’s not, I explained to him that he had to learn the difference between being laughed at and being laughed with.”

Spiridakis taught Dimitri that if you’re being laughed at, it means people didn’t get the joke so they’re put off; they don’t know if you’re safe or ‘normal.’ But if they’re laughing with you then you’ve discovered and unlocked what it is to be funny.

“I told him if you can be funny, you don’t have to be trapped in your autistic world; you can invite people in so they’ll follow the joke and if they follow the joke they’re not going to be afraid of you. So I put him in Second City in Los Angeles where he did improv.”

Dimitri thrived at comedy improv and audiences loved him.

“It’s like getting paid to mess around,” says Dimitri. “I really liked doing it.”

Spiridakis and Goldman hope that “Greenport” will be picked up by a television network or independent financial backing will allow them to make 10 more episodes.

Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

"The lunatics have taken over the asylum" - The Specials