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A Carroll County family created a comic to help their daughter cope with pandemic disruptions

From left, Vince, Debbie, Joe and Julie Brusio have been working on a comic book called "Debbie Fights Coronavirus!" that is intended to help people with autism understand the coronavirus and the upheaval it has caused.
From left, Vince, Debbie, Joe and Julie Brusio have been working on a comic book called "Debbie Fights Coronavirus!" that is intended to help people with autism understand the coronavirus and the upheaval it has caused.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Deborah “Debbie” Brusio finds it scary and confusing that schools are closed and her home has become her classroom.

Debbie, a junior with autism at Century High School, has had a hard time adapting to the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted her daily routines. She frequently checks to see if she can return to school, but they’re still closed. To help, her family worked together to make a comic, “Debbie Fights Coronavirus,” to help Debbie and other kids with autism understand and cope with the pandemic.

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“It’s a tangible form of what is a popular term being used now, ‘edutainment,’ and that is educating people and entertaining them at the same time,’" said Vincent Brusio, Deborah’s father. "It’s portable, it’s full of color, it’s a PDF format so it can be seen on any plane, any tablet, any computer because of the universal application.”

Debbie Brusio holds the cover art for her family's comic book called "Debbie Fights Coronavirus!" that is intended to help people with autism understand the coronavirus and the upheaval it has caused.
Debbie Brusio holds the cover art for her family's comic book called "Debbie Fights Coronavirus!" that is intended to help people with autism understand the coronavirus and the upheaval it has caused.(Dylan Slagle)

The comic begins with Debbie confused and scared about why she can’t go to school. It shows Debbie gradually adapting to life at home during the pandemic. Debbie recognizes something has disrupted her life and her family helps her understand why and adjust her routine. Eventually, she becomes comfortable with the new routine.

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Vincent Brusio was in charge of publishing the comic book. Debbie’s mother, Julie, used her teaching background to edit and oversee production. And her brother, Joseph, who attends Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, helped with the artwork.

The comic went live March 31 on the coronavirus page of the website for Pathfinders for Autism, a Cockeysville nonprofit that offers support to improve the lives of those affected by autism.

A real estate agent now, Vincent Brusio used two decades of experience writing and creating comics to teach his daughter things like social distancing.

“Creating social stories to help her came naturally to me because people with autism, they think in pictures, they process ideas in pictures rather than words,” Debbie’s father said. “School was closed and she was having a very hard time trying to understand why her life was turned upside down.”

As he worked on the book, Vincent Brusio thought it was something that could help others, and the family has received positive feedback since releasing the comic.

“We had professionals from health care organizations to government employees that work with Maryland State Department of Education that said they wanted permission rights to print it out in pamphlet format so that they could use the comic,” Vincent Brusio said.

The comic has been translated in languages such as Spanish, Portugese and Japanese, he said. The comic has drawn so much attention that the family started a Kickstarter online fundraiser to be able to make printed copies. They raised $350 and is now mailing out signed copies.

“The response was so incredible," Vincent Brusio said.

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