The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)


March 23, 2011

Caught in the 'Middle' -- Life imitates art for TV star

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 — TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Atticus Shaffer said he doesn’t have to work too hard to get into character – a 9-year-old who is self-described as “clinically quirky.”

His grandfather, Roy Shaffer, says the fictional Brick Heck on “The Middle,” a sitcom about a somewhat traditional family from Indiana, is quite similar to his grandson.

“He believes he’s pretty close to the Brick character in ‘The Middle,’” Roy Shaffer said. “He says, ‘That’s me.’”

Atticus — named for the lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — co-stars in the ABC TV family comedy, which first aired in 2009.

The show depicts a middle-aged couple raising three typical kids in Orson, Ind., a fictional town that looks to be somewhere in central Indiana.

The notably non-dysfunctional Heck family includes dad Mike (a quarry manager), mom Frankie (a used car saleswoman), and their children — Axl (a slightly rebellious teenager), Sue (a socially awkward early teen), and Brick (a 9-year-old who is “clinically quirky” as his teacher says).

On the show, Brick thinks of his ever-present backpack as his best friend and repeats the last word of his comments with a secret-sounding whisper to himself. In real life, Atticus gets home-schooling from his mom, tutoring on the set of the show, and enjoys pets (dogs, cats, birds, fish and a rabbit) and hobbies such as Scouting, chess and Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments, which he attends with his dad. Atticus is also learning German.

Atticus was born with osteo imperfecta (commonly known as “brittle bone disease”) and has to avoid situations that might lead to bumps or falls. Thus, “you never see him running and playing with a ball” on the show, said Roy Shaffer, a native of Terre Haute.

Though he’s dealt with broken bones, Atticus told the New York Times in 2010 the disease doesn’t define him. “It just adds to my colorful personality,” he quipped.

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