Hey there—Amy Kossow of Word for Word here. Earlier this year, The Pastures of Heaven artists workshopped Chapter 4, the story of Tularecito. This was the first story which playwright Octavio Solis wanted to look deeply into, so we all had a chance to do in-depth reading work, outside research, and to break out text selections (more or less in Word for Word fashion) and improvise scene work from that story.
As it happens, my outside research assignment was about the etiology of Tularecito’s disability. Taking cues from the text—the early teeth, the over-sized upper body, the delay in language and other signs of developmental disorders—my research led me to Soto Syndrome, an actual, named disorder which included these markers. There is a savant streak, as with autism, which can manifest in children with Soto, and Steinbeck gave Tularecito a savant gift with art-making. He makes amazing, astonishing murals of animals, covering every surface of the school.
To get a sense of what that might be like for him, check out the video below of a young autistic man who shares this particular savant gift. It really blew me away, to see him in action. In the Steinbeck story, Miss Martin, the “mean teacher,” tells Tularecito that he has a gift from God, and watching this video, I begin to get a sense of the power of this sort of mind; as limited as it is in many other areas, it is almost as if all its energy is directed to this one area, leaving little left for the more mundane skills we ‘”typically developing” folks have. The frantic way that Tularecito defends his art from destruction makes him more, not less, human, in my eyes, even though he becomes so violent. Breaks my heart, really.