As author Marguerite Elisofon's daughter, Samantha Elisofon is the inspiration behind the book My Picture Perfect Family: What Happens When One Twin Has Autism. Though Samantha got an autism diagnosis as a child, she's gone on to have a rich life. Now, the gifted singer and actress is starring in the award-winning short film Keep the Change, which will be released in 2017. I caught up with her via email to learn more about her work, what growing up was like for her, and what hopes she has for her own future.
JP: Tell us about yourself.
SE: I'm 25 years old and graduated with honors from Pace University in the spring of 2014. My greatest passions are performing arts and musical theater. My favorite hobby is singing. I'm a member of The DreamStreet Theater Group, which supports adults with various learning disabilities. Right now I'm a busy bee performing for DreamStreet Roars Live Cabaret in May, and in June, I'll be in two musicals: Charlotte's Webb and Twisted Fairy Tales.
I also work part-time at TLB, a music school for young children ages 4 months to 5 years old. For a career, my goal is to perform as a singer and actress, and show the world what I'm capable of doing. I'm also really hoping to share my love of music with young special needs children.
I don't have any pets now. Sadly, Sparky, our Norwich Terrier, died suddenly from cancer two years ago in my twin brother's arms. When I'm not rehearsing or taking voice lessons, I like to hang out with my boyfriend and get together with friends.
What does being autistic mean to you?
The question of "what it means to be autistic" is very complicated. There are many ways to explain my feelings. I hate being labeled because I have social challenges and struggle with being flexible in my routines. Also, thinking abstractly can be very difficult for me. But I still don't like being called autistic. That's not my name. I'm Samantha.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about being autistic?
First of all, I'm not autistic. I'm on the spectrum. I wish more people knew that people on the spectrum are capable of having relationships and feel very motivated to persevere and succeed in their work.
How has your life changed since you were a child in terms of autism?
People today have a much greater understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum and are often more accommodating and compassionate than when I was a little girl. People used to criticize me and my mom when I had meltdowns; today that doesn't happen so much.
How would you characterize your relationship with your twin?
My relationship with my twin brother is a work in progress. We are very different, and he lives in California. Although we don't speak often, we love each other very much and try to celebrate birthdays and holidays together. I wish I could be more socially appropriate like my brother. Sometimes I feel hopelessly jealous, which has interfered with our relationship.
What are some of your hopes and dreams?
My hopes and dreams are to star in more movies, like Keep the Change, a romantic comedy about a young couple with autism struggling to find romance and navigate the neurotypical world. I'd also really love to sing and perform on Broadway and television. When the time is right, I'd like to get married and maybe have a family, too.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope to continue to show the world my talents and to become an ambassador for others on the spectrum like me.