Aspergers Syndrome and understanding others

Many people often don’t understand what goes on in the mind of a person with Aspergers Syndrome. Because of their lack of social skills, there are many things that they don’t understand when relating with people. One of the important skills someone on the autistic spectrum needs to learn is insight. A simple definition of the word insight is understanding another person’s actions, thoughts or behavior. One question you might ask when you notice a person doing something unusual is “why do they do that”? For example, at the Computing Workshop summer camp I worked at this summer, I noticed that one of our students would ask if he could be excused to go to the restroom. I noticed that he would ask to be excused when he was working with a staff member that he wasn’t used to working with. My assumption of this situation was that he would ask to go to the bathroom to get out of the stress from working with a different staff member. I also thought that he feared the person would make fun of him for whatever reason. This is one of the things that many kids with an Autistic Spectrum disorder may do to try to get out of a stressful situation. There are two reasons why I wish the staff members worked with this particular student on this issue. First off, in many public schools across America, you have to ask to go to the restroom before you could go. There is also a sign out sheet you have to fill out, and you had to include four things, your name, the time you left and returned, and the reason why you were leaving the room. If this student was in school, and he would constantly ask the teacher if he could go to the restroom, they would most likely say something like “no, go sit down and do your work”. At computing workshop we had a very similar situation with another student, but this particular student had a more severe case of autism, and was also diagnosed with Down Syndrome. He was not able to communicate like most people do, instead he would use a special computer device called a Dynavox.  This device gave him the ability to communicate his emotions and needs, such as when he needed a restroom break or a snack break. He had two therapists working with him the day the staff members noticed this incident, and during instruction time he used the Dynavox to communicate that he needed to go to the restroom. The one therapist rudely snapped at him and said “it’s not time to go to the restroom, it’s time to work”. We didn’t really understand what was going on in this students mind, and what if he really needed a restroom break? A few minutes passed, and he stated that he needed a restroom break on the dynavox again. The therapist then said her usual “it’s not time for a restroom break, it’s time to work”. I then noticed the student get up and try to walk to the restroom himself, then the therapist restrained him and told him to sit down.

As I have said many times before, there are people who push students on the spectrum to learn social skills, when they demonstrate ignorant behavior like this that shows a lack of social skills. I am going to tell you another real life example, it all began my freshman year in high school. Eighth period, the last class period of the day, I had this real grouchy and bitter math teacher. I noticed that everyday she would make a negative statement about her students, or work in general. An example of something she would say was “Out of all the students in this school, (student) is the one I hate working with the most.” At first I decided to just sit there and ignore her negative statements about the world. That changed until I noticed her say something very rude to a student with high special needs. It was the end of the class period, and the students were getting ready to leave school for the day. The teacher was sitting at her desk, not doing anything at the time. This student started a conversation, which sounded something like “I haven’t seen Mrs. (teacher) at all today”. The teacher responded with a real irritated tone of voice “Well, maybe they just didn’t want to see you”. I was shocked when I first heard her say that. I never imagined that a school teacher would say something like that. This student was only having a casual small talk conversation with the teacher, and she was doing nothing to offend her. And the question I was asking myself was “Why would she say something like that to a learning support student?” My guess was that she was in a bad mood, as usual. I mentioned this to my mother that night, and she emailed the principal about the situation. The next day I noticed she wasn’t in school, and my assumption was she got a one day suspension for her mess up. Weeks passed, and I still kept asking myself why she was so bitter and mean, and I came to think that some time along the line, bad kids may have taken advantage of her. That was the only explanation I could come up with about this situation. People that have been mistreated usually will turn mean, grouchy, bitter. This is obviously not an excuse to say something that rude to a learning support student, but it is the only explanation I can come up with.

Parents, you absolutely must teach your Autistic child about being insightful, it is a very important skill to learn. Not understanding someones actions or behavior may cause them to make fun of the person, which could get them into trouble in the near future. There are many things people don’t understand about Autism and Aspergers, and there are many things people with Autism and Aspergers don’t understand about interacting with other people. It really could benefit them in the long run.


Aspergers Syndrome and Change

Have you ever had to do something that you really didn’t want to do? Have you tried to do everything you could to avoid doing it? In most cases, one thing that is impossible to avoid is change. Everybody has to deal with it in some point of their lives and you also may have tried everything you could to avoid it. This is a very common trait for children and adolescents with Aspergers Syndrome, even a small change in their daily routine can cause depression or even a total meltdown. For example, lets say you and a friend planned to get together for the weekend, when at the last minute your mother says no.  Most neurotypical teens would hurry up and get the job done, while one with Asperger’s Syndrome would have a total meltdown. Of course, it depends on their personality, but something as simple as that could cause a person on the spectrum to have a total meltdown.

I just gave you a general example of what can cause meltdowns, but social skills groups need to teach aspie children to cope with change appropriately, if they deal with the situation inappropriately, they could end up getting in severe trouble in school, or even ruin their chances of getting a job. The most recent change that I had to go through was moving from Freeport Area Senior High school to the Lenape Vo Tech school in Ford City PA. Right off the bat, the first thing that really worried me was the feeling of not knowing what to expect. All sophomores from Freeport have the opportunity to come to Lenape their junior and senior year, but I don’t particularly want to talk to most of those people because I already know them. I wanted Lenape to be a fresh start for me, I wanted to forget about my negative experiences at Freeport and meet new people. The thing that stresses me out about Lenape now is that it is still “cliquish”, just like your typical high school. Most of the people from Lenape seem to only want to associate the people they already know from their home schools, they really don’t seem interested in meeting new people. It’s hard to meet new people when they are not interested in meeting new people. One common trait in kids with Aspergers Syndrome is that they take longer to adapt to major changes than a nuerotypical teen. Social skills are natural for neurotypicals, and they are able to go and make friends right away. One thing I wish secondary schools would do is assign special needs students and aide or a responsible upperclassman to help them find their classes and get their bearings. This would especially help middle school special need students who are just trying to get use to having more than just one teacher, and helping them get their way around the school. Back to the Lenape story, I had no difficulty finding my classrooms, but it was just meeting the new people that I had a problem with, and their being uninterested in getting to know me. Another change that has been really hard to deal with is the long bus ride. My bus has to pick me up at 6:10 in the morning, and the homeroom tardy bell doesn’t ring until 7:48. I usually don’t get back home until around 4:00 in the afternoon, so my bus ride is over an hour long both ways! There really isn’t anything they can do about that, because it is the only bus that picks us up around our area. I know that complaining about the situation will not help, so the better thing to do is to just deal with it. I really hope that things turn around, and I hope that the people will be more open than they have been. There are a few changes about Lenape that are inevitable, such as the long bus ride, so my best advice for you is to just deal with it. Complaining doesn’t make any type of change better, it will only make it worse. Yes I do grumble about getting up at 5:15 in the morning sometimes, but I am at least going to a place better than Freeport.

Another change that probably has upset me more than anything in the past is friendships ending. This is especially sad when you have been friends with this person for a very long time. Like I mentioned in my blog about dating, they may get a boyfriend or a girlfriend and act like they are their number one priority in life, they just simply don’t want to talk to you anymore. When they start rejecting phone calls, ignoring emails and text messages, and avoiding social time with you is when it becomes time to end the friendship. A situation similar to this happened when I started junior high, I had a friend that I hung out with all the time, named Jason. During elementary school, we would always go to each-others houses, go out and do things together, and talk during lunch time at school. We went to places like the zoo, walks down the trail, and when it was still open, we would go to the Freeport Community  Pool together. This all changed when junior high came around, he started hanging out with different people, and completely forgot about me. He would start rejecting phone calls, and avoid social time with me, he would make excuses like “sorry, I’m to busy”, or “I just don’t feel like being social today”. I didn’t know how to deal with it at the time, so I just sat there and would cry about it. This wasn’t the only thing that upset me, but the fact that I didn’t fit in with anyone in the first place contributed to my depression and loneliness. I talked to my parents about the whole situation, and they told me to just move on. As I mentioned in my blog about dating, I would maybe attempt to “break the ice” and talk to the person about your feelings, if they talk to you rudely, then I would move on and find someone else to be friends with, it may be hard to find a new friend, especially if you are on the spectrum, but there are other people out there. My friend Aaron from Computing Workshop just started college this year, and he is attending college not to far from where I live, so I hopefully will be able to see him on occasions that he is free. I understand that he is not able to talk to me every single day of the week, because he will be extremely busy, but I know that he is still my friend. If anything happened to our friendship, I would feel even worse than I did when I ended my friendship with Jason. But, I am pretty sure that won’t happen.

As I said in the beginning, change is one of the inevitable things in life.  If I could go back in time, I wish I could  go back and deal with it differently. Using what I know now, I could have changed the way I dealt with it. I hope you found this informative, and I hope that you will use this to help a child on the spectrum in the future.

How did I deal with bullies?

Bullying has been a large problem in schools for many years. It happens in almost every school in the entire world, and has been the cause of many school shootings. The two largest ones were The Columbine High School Shootings on April 20, 1999, and the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007. No matter where you live, every single person in the world has been through some type of bullying at least once in their lives. Whether it be physical, verbal, hazing, emotional, indirect or cyberbullying. The website says that the two main reasons kids are bullied are because of their appearance or social status. Reasons for why their social status may be low are their religious beliefs, gender, perceived sexual orientation, or skin color. This cruel behavior not only affects the person being bullied, it affects school teachers and administrators, the student body, and even a whole community. In this blog entry, I wanted to tell a few of my bullying stories, and how I dealt with them.

I never really was physically bullied, because I was taller than almost everybody in the school, but I have been verbally bullied, and cyberbullied. Freeport Area School District has a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, and in every classroom they have a sheet posted about what it is, and the consequences you can face for it. On the bottom of that sheet it said that it is supposed to be posted in every classroom in every school building. I just finished my sophomore year this year, and they just started requiring every teacher to post one of these in their classrooms. I remember one day I was an office assistant, and they just finished photocopying all of these sheets. I was supposed to walk into every classroom and place these sheets on the teachers desks. In one of the classrooms I went to, I handed the sheet directly to the teacher, and they just crinkled it into a ball and threw it into the recycling bin. This is living proof that a zero tolerance policy isn’t enough. “Social skills” groups try to teach kids on the autistic spectrum how to stand up for themselves to bullies, but there have been many situations where the victim gets in trouble and not the bully. Far to often, the bully pushes the victim to the limit until they have had enough, and the victim end up physically hurting the bully. Of course, this is when a teacher sees this happen, and the victim get the punishment. Far too often teachers end up giving the one minute long “don’t do that again” speech. The bully will obviously pay no attention to this, and think “I hate this person, so I’m going to bully them even more.”

As I said before, I was never really physically bullied. The only two types of bullying I ever experienced were electronically and verbally. Freshman year was by far the worst year out of all my years in school. There was one student named Cody that made school even worse for me. He was considered our “class clown”, and was also one of the trouble makers in the school. I am about six foot, and he would have to be even more than a foot shorter than I am. He thought that because he was “Mr. short class clown” that he had the right to make fun of other people. He would always make kissing noises and say things like “I love you Derek”. I noticed he would do this in places like the locker room, where the teacher’s didn’t usually supervise the students. I noticed that he would also do this to try and make the other students laugh, which he usually didn’t succeed because nobody payed any attention to him in the first place. I didn’t want to tell on him because I was afraid that he would make fun of me even more if I did, so I just kept it quiet. I also noticed that he would try to do these strange and inappropriate behaviors to try to get a reaction from me, which he didn’t. I just kept on ignoring him. When he noticed that I ignored him, he would ask me “What’s wrong Derek? I’m only trying to be your friend.” He seemed to think that I had trouble understanding whether someone is really trying to be my friend, and who was not. I’m obviously a lot smarter than he thinks I am, and he thought that I would fall for it.

My freshman year was the time I also had a Myspace profile. I remember getting a friend request from a guy named Michael. He did one of the things that many bullies do to people, pretending to be nice. The incident started off when I asked him what he was up to. Keep in mind that I had no idea this was going to happen, then he started sending me pornographic pictures of himself, and Cody. I text messaged him a message demanding he stopped, then he sent a message asking me if I wanted to fight with him. After he sent me about four more pictures, I called him and said “If you keep sending me this pictures, I will report you to law enforcement.” He responded saying something like “wow, that’s gay”. The end result left about 30 pictures from him on my phone. The next day I reported him to the principal, and he gave the two boys the usual “don’t do it again” speech. My next period class was gym, and Cody was in it. I walked into the locker room and he started telling everybody this ridiculous story that he and Michael were sending pictures of his arm, and that I accused them of sending pornographic pictures of himself to my phone. Sophomore year, I had to sit behind him in my Drivers Ed class. He always performed the rude tricks he always tried to perform on me, making the kissing noises, and saying “I Love You”. Of course, nobody paid any attention to him in the first place. My mother and I finally had enough and they talked to the guidance counselor once again. Yet again, he gave the typical “don’t do that again” speech. As usual, the behavior continued until I put my foot down and went to the guidance counselor myself. They finally decided to kick him out of Freeport. They said this kid also had some other behavior issues that were effecting his performance in school. They didn’t say what they were, and I really didn’t care what they were. I was just happy that I didn’t have to deal with him in school anymore.

Unfortunately, not all bullying situations end in a positive note. One of the things that happens to people that have been bullied is that many of them become bullies themselves. They might think “I don’t have to deal with this, I can do it myself”. Bullying has also lead to many teen suicides, one of the most notable being the death of Ryan Patrick Halligan, a thirteen year old from Vermont that was physically bullied and cyberbullied by students from his middle school. The students befriended him so they could get his personal information, and later humiliate him about it. On the morning of October 7, 2003 Ryan hanged himself. John P. Halligan, Ryan’s father discovered the cyberbullying on Ryan’s personal laptop. Ryan’s story was on the PBS TV show Frontline, on a special titled “Growing Up Online”. Mr. Halligan later discovered that he had an online relationship with a girl he had a crush on. Ryan apparently told the girl “something too personal”, which Ryan thought would be funny. Immediately after he said that, the girl started a rumor that he was gay. The girl told Ryan in person, “Ryan your a loser, I was only pretending to like you online for a good laugh”. Ryan then said, “it’s girls like you that make me want to kill myself.”

Stories like this are the reasons for why I think a zero tolerance policy isn’t enough. I would never think of doing something as extreme as Ryan did, but bullying did affect how I trust people. I am doing better at understanding who my friends are and who they aren’t, but it still is hard. When I ask friends if they want to get together, and they say they are too busy, I have the tendency to worry that they have may have something against me, or that they might later try to make fun of me. When I meet new people, especially peers, I have the tendency to worry that they might have something against me and not want to talk to me, or that they might trick me into thinking they want to be my friend, when they really want to use me and make fun of me. There are times when my friend Aaron doesn’t have the time to hang out with me, and I understand that. I have known him for a long time, and I understand that he is still my friend. Bullying caused me to worry about things like that, and I’m getting better at improving my confidence around new people. I’m not going to let one or two bullies bring me down. If you can sense that someone is being bullied, be sure you tell an adult as soon as possible. Think of the consequences that could occur if you don’t do anything about it. I really hope you found this blog informative, and I hope that you will show this to someone who may have trouble with bullying in the future.
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How can an Aspergers Teen know who their real friends are?

You probably have learned from experiences in my other blogs that my high school years have been a nightmare for me. I was isolated ever since I was in the junior high, I was teased verbally, but I was never physically bullied by anyone. I’m guessing that was because I was taller then everybody else in school, and they thought that I would try to do something to get revenge back at them. During my years at Freeport High School, I was verbally harassed and isolated so much that I didn’t really have that many friends in school. I didn’t really have the skills of making and keeping friends, and because I was bullied so much, I didn’t really have the confidence to reach out to people. When someone would say something to me in the hallway, regardless of whether they were being friendly or mean, I would just walk by and ignore them. I tended to generalize about people, and think that all of them were going to try to do something that would embarrass me, or cause me to be verbally harassed even more. That contributed to my depression and social anxiety quite a bit. I also had trouble understanding who my real friends were, and who my real friends weren’t. In the second paragraph, I will mention a guy named Eric, who I thought was my friend, but turned out not to be.   In the third paragraph, I am going to mention Aaron, who I talked about in my last blog entry.

Eric and I were in the same homeroom together ever since we started junior high. He was in my homeroom since we were in the junior high, and we also went to the same gym together. In eighth grade, he would repeatedly talk about me in front of his friends, he would call me names like f***in retard, and just say tons of other horrible things about me. During freshman year, I had a my space account and he added me as a friend, I accepted, because at the time I assumed that he matured some and grew out of the whole gossip thing. I would chat with him on aim, and he seemed like he was being friendly to me, and not making fun of me. A few months passed by, and I sent him a message asking if he wanted to hang out that weekend. He replied saying something like “I’ll see, maybe.” I sent him a message a few days reminding him about it, and he said “No I can’t, I’m too busy.” A few weeks passed, then I asked him if he wanted to hang out again, then he answered with a flat “no.” After that, I would try to instant message him, and he would either ignore me, or tell me he didn’t want to talk. A month passed, and it was the start of summer going into my sophomore year in high school. I sent him a text message the next morning asking him how we was doing, then he snapped at me and said “you woke me up at twelve forty five last night”. I asked him what he was talking about, then he said that I text messaged him in the middle of the night and it woke him up. I looked in my sent messages, and it said that it was to him. I realized that I meant to send it to somebody else, but I accidentally sent it to him. I told him that I sent it to the wrong contact, and he just said “whatever”, then ignored me. I got angry about it, and started sending nasty messages to him. That obviously wouldn’t make him interested in being my friend, which he wasn’t interested in it when I first started talking to him. It was obvious that he didn’t want to be my friend in the first place, and I shouldn’t have escalated the situation by sending rude comments to him on his phone and his Myspace.

Aaron and I, however went to my summer computer camp program, Computing Workshop. As I mentioned in my last blog, he was a real laid back, and shy type of a guy. I worked with him periodically during the first two summers I was in the workshop, but I never really got to know him. During our summer 2008 program, I got to hang out with him and have some social time with him during the camp. I sat next to him on the couch, and I noticed him pull out his phone. He showed some of the pictures and the ringtones he had on it, then I asked him if I could have his number. He gave it to me, then I gave him my number. I remember after he gave me his cell phone number, he very nicely said “you can call me anytime you want to talk to me.” Going back to Eric, I asked him if I could have his cell phone number, and he made an excuse that said something like “I can’t give you my phone number because I get prank called a lot.” I thought he was joking around at the time, than I later realized that he was trying to avoid me. When I asked him if he wanted to hang out, he would give me answers like “too busy, sorry” or even just a flat “no”. Aaron, on the other hand promised me that we would be able to hang out, and he would explain to me why he didn’t have time to do it. He would not give me general answers like Eric did. This past summer, we did get a chance to hang out. We would go out and buy ice cream, and he also invited me to his house. That was something that nobody has done in a long time, and I am very happy for that.

I have a better understanding now of who is my friend and who is not my friend.  I am better off without people like Eric anyway, so why should I even worry about him? Since I’m not going to Freeport this year, I won’t have to see him in the first place. Like I have said in almost all of my other blogs, I won’t let mean people get to me and bring me down. I won’t let them interfere with what I go to the Lenape VO Tech school for, which is getting training for a job I will enjoy in the future. Also, Eric wasn’t interested in being my friend, so he obviously didn’t appreciate me for the person I really am. What kind of a friend wouldn’t appreciate you for who you are? A quote from Arnold H. Glasgow states that “A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” A true friend goes out of their way to help you, and does not use other commitments as an excuse to not help you. Aaron is not able to spend time with me all three hundred sixty five days of the year, because he lives about thirty minutes from me. When he tells me that he’s not able to spend time with me, he does a good job explaining why he is busy. After that, I would suggest that you ask them what other day they are going to be available. But remember, if you are in dire need of help with something, be sure to explain that to them. Also, if they say something like “too busy, sorry”, they are obviously not a true friend. A true friend never makes excuses like that.

One more tip to remember, everybody is different. Not every person in the world is going to be your true friend. You might show interests in being their friend, but they won’t show it back to you. If they don’t show interest in being your friend, don’t take it personally, it’s their loss. Best friends are rare, you will only find them once or twice in life. And again, make sure that this person accepts you for who you are. I hope you find this blog informative, and I hope that you will show it to someone who may have trouble making friends in the future.

Do social skills groups help all students on the spectrum? (part 2)

In my previous blogs I talked about the problems I had in high school, how overall public high school experience could be improved for students on the spectrum, and how social skills groups really didn’t help me. One of the things that many autistic students have complained about school was the educational material covered had nothing to do with their interests. I understand how they feel, I have been through that situation very many times. Going to school and learning topics that you are interested in makes school so much easier. Starting this fall, I am attending the Lenape Vo Tech School in Ford City, Pennsylvania for opto electronics. Opto electronics requires some very high level math that I never really had experience in before. The math they taught me at Freeport was only the basic math that most people my age already should know how to do, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and fractions. I have to tell you that the basic math bores the hell out of me, and the only way my school ever taught that was through books and worksheets. In one of my other blogs I also talked about how my math teacher would give us these very large worksheets with about thirty multi step problems, and she would expect them to be completed by the next day. I hated her class more than anything in the world, not only because it was a lot of work, but it also wasn’t interesting. The teacher didn’t even like teaching the subject, everyday she would complain about how “boring and tedious” it was. This woman is one of the many teachers out there that need to retire, they won’t try anything new, and they don’t try to make the material interesting. I could even tell that the other teachers don’t like her, sometimes I would hear them make references towards her. If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, and your school districts faculty and staff won’t cooperate with you, it is time to find another school. End of story.

Aside from the lack of social skills, one of the common characteristics of a child or teenager with Aspergers Syndrome is that they have very limited interests, some may be computers, history, star names, buses, or airplanes. Because of these limited interests, it makes it very difficult for the child or adolescent to communicate with other people. My obsessive interests varied over the years, when I was a little kid I was interested in fans, I was fascinated with fans because of the spinning motion that came from them. I remember when I was around three or four years old, my mother would bring me to the old Bi Lo foods store in Natrona Heights, PA. In the front of the store, where all the check out lanes were, a ceiling fan hung from the ceiling. Every-time I saw it, I would obsess about it. Not only did I obsess about the ceiling fan, I obsessed about the fans inside the giant freezers that helped keep all of the produce cool. During one of our weekly trips to that store, I became so mesmerized by the fan that I stared at it, and I disappeared into my own world. My mother told me that during that store trip, we were buying food for my sisters birthday party. My mom was so focused on buying food for the party that she forgot that I was standing there. About thirty minutes later, my mom went back to the aisle she accidentally left me in, and there I was, staring at the refrigerator fan. I stared at the fan for about thirty minutes. After that situation, my mom probably knew that something was wrong with me, but she didn’t know what.

When I was about five or six years old, I started kindergarten at Buffalo Elementary school in Sarver, Pennsylvania. We were in a two room school house that was not too far from the main Buffalo Elementary Building, which held students from first to sixth grade. I remember the first day of school, I rode the school bus for the very first time. I really enjoyed the noise the engine made, and I got along really well with the driver, a woman with the name Sandy. I came home that day real exited, and I told my mom about how much I enjoyed the bus ride. Every day since then, I would spend countless hours every day pretending I was driving a school bus, I would make all of the sounds that the busses would make, and I would even pretend I was the driver yelling at the kids. I would always yell things like “sit down and shut up”, and when I would do these things outside, the neighbors all looked at me like I was crazy. I never even paid attention to my neighbors reactions to my awkward behavior, I didn’t care, I was in my own little world.

I stayed interested in school buses until I was in about the third grade, than I had a new obsession. It all started in my third grade classroom with Mrs. Casey, my third grade teacher. They were completely remodeling our entire school, and they opened the first half of the building. On that particular day, we were getting ready to walk to lunch. When I got in my assigned spot in the line, we heard this very high pitched, screeching noise, and at first I didn’t know what it was. I looked around and noticed that it was the schools new fire alarm. The alarm was also equipped with flashing strobe lights, which really hurt your eyes when you looked at them. As soon as we got outside, all students were all allowed to go back into the building, and the third and fourth graders were instructed to go to lunch. Ever since then, I had an obsession with the fire alarm and the day we had an unscheduled fire drill when we were supposed to go to lunch. It was about three weeks after the whole fire drill ordeal, I brought it up during lunch, as I did everyday, and a student blurted out “we’re tired of listening to you talk about the fire drills, find something else to talk about.” I kept silent for the rest of the lunch period, because I didn’t know what else to talk about, the fire alarm was my obsession at the time, I was interested in nothing else but the fire alarm.

About four years later, I moved onto the junior high school. Freeport Junior High was a very old building that was built in 1923. It had absolutely no airconditioning, and had two floors. In seventh grade, I had most of my classes on the second floor, and in eighth grade, most of my classes were on the frist floor. Going from a brand new, air conditioned building, to an ancient non airconditioned building was the change I dreaded the most. I grew out of my obsession with fire drills and the fire alarm, and I noticed that everybody else started to change from the cute little kids they were in elementary school. All of the social groups called “cliques” started to develop. Many of the people I was friends with in elementary school forgot about me and went into their own “cliques”. I didn’t really know what to do with myself, I didn’t really fit in with any of the “cliques” that everybody else fit into. I was an outsider. I had some aquaintences in junior high, but I was afraid to ask them if they wanted to get together on the weekends because I was afraid they would say no, or say something really rude about me. I obviously didn’t talk to any of my friends from elementary school because they were all only interested in their own cliques, and not interested in me.

As the spring of my seventh grade came near, my parents told me that they were going to the same summer camp that I already went to for about four years. It was a program called Summer Express and was held at Northwest Elementary school in Butler, PA. I didn’t want to go to this camp because I was already involved in Wesley Wonder Kids, which went from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, and the summer express camp went from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. This camp was designed for kids with ADHD, and it was mostly an outdoor recreational camp. We spent more than half the day outside playing games like kickball, soccer, volleyball, and wiffle ball. It was also an educational camp, and there were two hour long classroom sessions of math, reading and art. It had a point system, and you would earn points for positive behaviors and you would loose points for negative behaviors. At the end of the week, you had a set amount of points you were supposed to earn, and if you didn’t earn them, you would have to stay at the school and do chores like picking up garbage and cleaning the school. I earned every field, and I was already more mature than most of the kids. I knew that because the kids that didn’t earn the field trip at the end of the week would have screaming meltdowns. I hated having to be around the kids that didn’t know how to handle their frustration appropriately, and I also hated being stuck in a classroom doing worksheets, reading stories, having to stay outside and play recreational games in the 90 degree heat, and having to get up at 5:30  in the morning for the camp every day. The bus that was supposed to bring me to the program everyday picked me up at 6:40 in the morning, and the ride lasted for over an hour because there were about seven other kids they had to pick up, and they were all from different towns.

I explained to my mom that I wanted to go to a different program, and one where I could promote my interests. The director from the Wesley Wonder Kids program recommended a summer camp called Computing Workshop. It was held at LaRoche College in McCandles, Pennsylvania for the first three summers I attended, and this summer it was held at the Community Day School, in the heart of the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. The program taught computer classes for students that are on the Autistic Spectrum, or that have other differences that limit them from learning advanced computer skills in their regular school, such as mental retardation, or down syndrome. The program also has a social skills component, social skills groups are held once a week, and usually last for about and hour and thirty minutes. Starting last summer, I had the opportunity to be in charge of the social skills groups. We play the computer game The Sims 2, which is a life simulation game where you can create your own virtual people, and move them into their own house. In the game, you can buy your everyday appliances and furniture, give your characters jobs, and now, you can even give them their own pets, or move them into their own apartment. The program also teaches real life skills such as finding a job, paying bills, and social and interpersonal skills. I have been attending this program for about four years now, and I am now considered a “staff member in training”.  In the past, Computing Workshop has taught students that are now staff members.

I am grateful that I am able to attend this summer program, because it has given me the opportunity to learn the skills to making social relationships. It has given me the opportunity to make friendships with people I never would have gotten to know if I wasn’t in this program. One of those people is a guy with the name of Aaron Barker. Aaron is a cool, but quiet and layed back kind of a guy that would get along with just about anybody. He is an avid sports fan, and participated in wrestling when he was in high school. He and I don’t have all of the same hobby interests, but we have the similar personality traits. I feel much more comfortable being around layed back and low key people like him, than loud and in your face people, like most kids in my high school. He is one of those people that as soon as you started to get to know, you knew he would be willing to talk about anything that was on your mind. He is one of the most wonderful people that I have ever met in my life, and is great at giving advice when you have something bothering you. He mentioned to me about why I shouldn’t let other people’s actions toward me bring me down, and it really changed the way I thought about other people. Sure, there are people that will try to make fun of me and bring me down, but I will not let them get to me. It makes no sense to worry about those one or two people that are mean to you, because there are a lot of nice people out there, you just have to try your hardest to find them. Sometimes, people won’t come to you unless you come to them. Before I met Aaron, I never really had that one true friend that welcomed me, stood up for me, and wouldn’t use people like me to make them look better than everybody else. I am very hopeful that this friendship will last for many years, and I am hopeful that he will never forget the impact he made on my life.

The point I wanted to make in this blog was that students on the Autistic Spectrum and Aspergers Syndrome can learn things their intersted without help from their school, whether it be computers, music, art, or science. I also wanted to proove that with the right help, they can learn the social skills they need to know for life. Social skills groups don’t work for everybody, especially for people like me. High school doesn’t last forever, the awful people there won’t mean a single thing to them after they graduate, so don’t worry about them. I am hopeful that you enjoyed reading this, and I am hopeful that you will show this to someone that needs help. I pretty much answered the question for myself, social skills groups don’t work for all students on the spectrum.

Do social skills groups help all students on the spectrum?

We all know that one of the Symptoms with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome is the lack of social skills. When a person with Aspergers Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism reaches the years of junior high and high school, some, but not all aspies are notoriously bullied, teased and picked on. Along with low social skills, students on the spectrum have trouble understanding other peoples minds, aka “mind blindness”. Many people say that repetition, structure, and authority are the way to teach students on the spectrum the social skills they need for life. I unfortunately have to say that I strongly disagree with the repetitious authoritarian teaching style. This blog will tell you why I feel that way.

I went to the Wesley Wonder Kids group in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. They held two hour sessions, and I went two times a week. I started out in their “social pathways” group, which was for younger teenagers that were in their middle school years. In this particular group, all group members were required to address each staff member as Miss or Mr, followed by their first name. Their director, whose name I will not mention told me the reason they want the members to address staff members as “Miss or Mister” was because they wanted the children to feel that the staff members were the authority, “you do it my way, or the highway.” I could function a lot better than the kids in this group because they showed some behaviors that were rather immature. One behavior I noticed with the members of this group were when we would do group activities, they would always argue and work against each other and not with each other. I remember one particular instance when we were getting ready to put together a Haunted House for Halloween, one of the group members wanted to put a decoration in the front of the room we were working on, while the other student wanted it in the back of the room. They kept arguing about it for about ten minutes, when a staff member finally came and broke it up. They could have come up with a resolution to the conflict in not even fifteen seconds, when they instead argued about it for about ten minutes. These particular group members were middle school aged, and I was high school aged. Another behavior that I noticed with this group was that when a group member would do something to me that I didn’t like, they would just keep on doing it. One group member was constantly kicking a chair I was sitting in, and I already asked him to stop three times. The first time I asked him to stop doing it he answered me with a flat “no”, the second time he made a very childish giggle and then kicked the chair harder and faster. I remember there was a staff member sitting next to me, but they were not paying any attention to the situation, because she was having a conversation with another staff member about topics that were non work related. I walked up to them and told them what the problem was, and they snapped at me and said “I am in the middle of a conversation right now, you are interrupting me.” I then gave up and sat somewhere else. If I asserted myself, I would probably get in trouble.

I was in the social pathways group for about three years, my mother spent about a year trying to convince the program director that the older teen group was the right option for me, and for some reason she disagreed with me. From what I heard from her, I was not being “verbal” enough. Going back to the situation about the kid kicking my chair, I WAS BEING VERBAL, AND THE STAFF MEMBERS WERE PREVENTING ME FROM DOING IT. After about a year of arguing with the director, we finally compromised with her, and I got into the older teen group. The older teen group had less structure and authority than the social pathways group, for example, the group members didn’t have to address the staff members as “Miss or Mr”, they were allowed to call them by their first name. In the social pathways group, the group members didn’t have to have a staff member walk with them if they needed to go to the restroom or get a drink, which I liked a lot better. I couldn’t stand having a staff member sit right outside the door of the bathroom, it’s more irritating then having a teacher stand over your shoulder and screaming at you about not doing a math problem “right”.

Despite the older teen group having less structure and authority than the social pathways middle school group, which I liked a lot better, there was one thing about the program directors attitude that irritated me more than anything. Sometimes when we were doing an activity I didn’t like, I would make an occasional noise, it was my way of trying to avoid a situation. I don’t make noises constantly, like people with severe autism do, it only happened once or twice during the group. One of the staff members pulled me out of the group, and said to me “If you make one more noise, (program director) will demote you to back to the younger group.” The first sentence out of my mouth after she told me that was “if she demotes me back to the younger group, I will not come to Wesley anymore.” My impression is they were trying to threaten they would do things like that to try to get me to stop making noises, which DID NOT WORK. I make silly noises to joke around, I’m not trying to disrupt or annoy people with it. Besides, there were kids in the group that had worse social skills than I had, and that had more rude and exhibited more rude and inappropriate behaviors than I did, so why were they trying to threaten me? There was one group member that was only about two or three years older than I was that made a very rude, ignorant comment toward a peer. The group did an activity called “Coffee Talk”, one group member was assigned to bring a treat, and they were assigned to pick a topic that everyone in the group was required to join the discussion about. The topic for that particular day was plans for the summer, and one group member mentioned where he was going to college. Then that group member blurted out “that school is where all of the stupid people go”. The staff members did nothing but say that same old “don’t ever say that again”. That was the classic example of someone who doesn’t know how to do their job. When you reprimand a child for saying something he shouldn’t, you need to explain to them WHY WHATEVER THEY SAID WAS INAPPROPRIATE, AND MORE APPROPRIATE WAYS OF WORDING WHAT THEY SAID.  This person also had the tendency to bring up topics that were very inappropriate for a group setting, such as things that were drug/alcohol related, or sexual. I hated the fact that they did nothing about that group members behaviors, and yelled at me for making a noise. The director also said I wasn’t being “verbal enough”, whatever that meant. I got the impression that they were trying to convince me into quitting the group, because they thought I made those one or two noises to disrupt the group. I got the impression that they wanted me quit the group because for whatever reason they said I was “disruptive and uncooperative.” I was pissed off at the the fact that they were telling me I needed to learn “social skills”, when they don’t demonstrate them themselves. I have one word of advice for parents that are looking for someone to work with their child on the spectrum is MAKE SURE THEY DEMONSTRATE SOCIAL SKILLS THEMSELVES. To me that is just like dealing with a teacher that says you need to learn whatever the material is, when they don’t know it themselves. When I finally had enough of them “threatening” me, my parents decided to pull me out of Wesley Wonder Kids. I didn’t enjoy going there, so why should I bother going there in the first place? In this situation, I learned that if someone thinks you need “social skills”, and they think that something is wrong with you, it means that there is something wrong with them. Don’t let anyone think that about you, you are who you are and you can’t change that.

How could high school be better for students on the spectrum?

As you read in my last blog, high school was a very rough time for me. The same thing is true for many students that are on the autistic spectrum. I myself have Aspergers Syndrome, which is the best form of autism for a person on the spectrum to have. In the past, i’ve seen severely autistic individuals who can’t communicate at all. I am an intern for an autistic computer camp, and we have a severely autistic student that uses a special computer called a dynaVox to communicate. Don’t get me wrong, these devices are great to use, but I am happy that I don’t have autism as badly as this student does. I’m happy that i’m able to communicate with words and not through some electronic device.

So how could high school be better for students on the autistic spectrum? First off, I feel that public schools need to have a stricter policy about bullying other people because of their differences. At school one day, I was sitting next to two boys that were having a conversation, they were joking around, then one of them made a comment that really got me angry, he said something like “You must be retarded, you have autism.” I saw a teacher standing right next to our table, and this student said it loud enough for someone on the other side of the cafeteria to hear. In high school, if you do something completely harmless that won’t hurt anybody, you get put in lunch detention or in school suspension, but if you say something that really offends somebody, they get the one minute long “don’t do that again” speech. How is that going to do anything? I have been in situations in the past where teachers have given my tormentor that same damn lecture, and do you know what happened? They just kept on doing it even more. The second time I told on the person, they did the said that same old “if you ever do that again….” This person was more than a foot shorter than I was, and I already was one of the tallest people in the class, and i’m pretty sure that this person knew I could do him some serious damge if I tried hard enough. Then, I talked to the school a third time about it, then they finally decided to kick him out of school. I am glad that I was able to control my anger, which prevented me from doing something that could get me into serious trouble. If I hurt him, I could end up in out of school suspension or even gotten expelled.

I mentioned in my last paragraph that schools should have a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, and I talked about the student that called autistic people “retarded”. The most logical reason for why people on the spectrum, like me are made fun of is because they don’ t understand what autism really is. Autism is a genetic disorder that CANNOT BE CURED! I am appaled that people think that it’s a mental disease that can be cured. No matter how hard they try to search for a cure, it won’t happen! These people are just as ignorant as the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. You can’t cure a persons skin color, socioal and economic status, age, gender, national origin or sexual orientation so why would you want to cure autism? I also think that public schools across America should be required to educate students about autism. I think they should take time to educate them of the causes, symptoms, and how they diagnose people with autism. I remember when my school showed a 5 minute video about the disorder, nobody really payed attention to the video, they were either gossiping with friends, or making rude comments about people that have the disorder. There was a student that sat behind me and yelled out “nobody likes retards.” I went and told a teacher about it, and he just said “ignore him, and I didn’t hear him say it so I can’t do anything.” Studies have shown that autism is not a disease, and its not caused by vaccines.

Aside from bullying, and not fitting in, the educational curriculum in public high schools is not the right fit for students on the spectrum. I feel that public schools emphasize the core academicsand don’t teach information related to the students personal interests. If one student is into playing the piano, why can’t they tie in math with music? If another student is into airplanes why can’t the teacher have them do reports on books about airplanes? I mentioned in my last blog about my grouchy math teacher I had during my freshman year in high school. She would give us these worksheets with about thirty multi step problems, and she did a horrible job explaining how to do it. Every five minutes she would change the subject and complain about another reason she didn’t want to be at school with us. I feel that these grouchy, messed up teachers that are lazy to try anything new need to either be fired or retire. Kids are not going to be interested in listening to a teacher with a monotone voice lecture for a fourty minute class period, and they also won’t learn anything, so why the hell are they teaching in the first place? I can understand why so many kids slack off during high school, because they have these awful people “educating” them for their future. Going back to my math teacher from freshman year, she would always expect these large assignments to be completed the next day, and if they were not, she would throw a screaming fit at us. I don’t know one single person that enjoys doing math equations from a textbook, and there are many career fields out there that involve high level math. I am going to a vo tech high school to study opto electronics, which is the use of electronic devices that control light and radiation. Their course syllabus told me that algebra is required in this course. Even though there is a lot of math involved in this, which will take some time for me to understand, I am looking forward to attending this school because it is related to something that I am interested in. It makes school so much easier when you learning something you are passionate about.

I have about a million more ideas for ways to improve the public high school experience for kids on the spectrum, but i’m not going to mention them here. The two ideas I mentioned need absolutely no more explanation.