Hometown: Havertown, PA
Fine Arts, Class of 2011
Asked about the moral of the story depicted in his original screenplay, The Queen of Hearts, senior fine arts major Jonathan Dorfman gives a classic movie trailer tagline.
“Boy loses the love he wanted, but finds the love he needed.”
The film was written, produced and directed as a final project for his undergraduate coursework.
Just a few minutes into a conversation with Dorfman, it is evident that he possesses a number of traits necessary for great filmmaking: a zeal for life, superb comic timing and a unique lens through which experiences are filtered. For Dorfman, that lens is Asperger’s Syndrome, a milder autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal behaviors.
Dorfman was nine and a half when he and his family first learned of the Asperger’s diagnosis.
“Come on,” Dorfman jokes when asked to recall the reaction. “It was 1998. There was like one book on Asperger’s.”
It wasn’t until another ‘a’ word was used that Dorfman began to understand.
“According to my mom, I freaked when I learned that Asperger’s was a form of autism. Even in 1998, at nine years old, I knew that was not good.”
So, Dorfman’s mom read that one book on Asperger’s and continued to find the support her son needed to excel in school and life.
For Dorfman, the symptoms of Asperger’s are many: short attention span, difficulty maintaining eye contact, intermittent explosive disorder and dysthymia, or chronic depression.
“I easily go into what I call ‘screen saver mode,’” Dorfman explains. “I just stop listening.”
Despite his emotional and social struggles, Dorfman attended mainstream schools and was a good student. It was his experiences in the television studio at Haverford High School that set the stage for his college film career. Dorfman says that the studio was one of the few places where all were truly welcome.
“It wasn’t cliquey. They accepted me and in no time, I was one of the co-anchors of the school’s morning show. Then I became the first student to use the video mixer. I discovered a natural talent and felt at home there.”
But the option to major in film wasn’t immediately obvious to Dorfman when he reached college age. He had already defied great odds to get to this point and instead he pursued a familiar path — a special education degree to teach at the secondary level.
Dorfman bounced through three majors: math, history and psychology before serious self-reflection led him to follow his passion and pursue film.
But the real turning point for Dorfman came in 2009 when SJU opened the doors to its Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. He applied and was accepted into the Kinney SCHOLARS (Students Committed to Helping Others Learn about Autism Research and Support) program, receiving extensive training to work one-on-one with individuals with autism to improve social and behavioral skills.
It was a full-circle moment for Dorfman.
“The other SCHOLARS can sympathize with the program participants, but I can empathize,” he says.
Dorfman knew that his work as a SCHOLAR would afford him the opportunity to give back to kids like himself struggling to make friends and navigate life with ASD, but he couldn’t have realized it would land him a dream internship opportunity. While Dorfman was working as a counselor at last summer Camp Kinney, designed to bring children with ASD and their neurotypical peers together for summer fun and learning, Dorfman met NBC10 health producer Kathie McDermott. McDermott came to the Kinney Center to tape a feature and was immediately impressed by Dorfman. He was hired as her intern for the spring semester. Jon’s experiences at NBC10 have been invaluable. He performs research and writes scripts for stories, assists with editing and handles the Healthwatch’s social media presence, among other duties.
Much like the main character in his film, Dorfman got a little something unexpected.
“I guess the biggest surprise about Jonathan is that there is no surprise,” said McDermott. “I'm impressed by how open he is about having Asperger's Syndrome. I think his ingenuousness will go a long way towards finishing off stereotypes and misconceptions about the disorder. He is a natural advocate for others with the condition.”
Dorfman has already begun writing the next scene in his own life. He’ll walk with the Class of 2011 across the bridge spanning City Avenue to the tent on Gest Lawn. Pomp and Circumstance is the soundtrack. This is the cliffhanger. What’s next is anyone’s guess.
“Most people thought I wouldn’t survive in school past the age of seven,” Dorfman laughs proudly. “Look at me now.”