Do They Truly “Care”? (A Blog Post About Facing Fears)


I am about to do something that truly scares me to death every time I think about it. Never in my life have I been through an experience where I literally felt scared for my life. I encountered one of those situations about two months ago. It all happened so quickly, it is hard to describe exactly what happened. This experience was the motivation behind the important things I am about to say in this blog post. 

I got up out of bed, ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then get ready for my personal training session at our local gym. My mother rode in the passenger side. The drive to the gym was uneventful, but the trip back home was something I will never forget. I put my car in reverse and made sure I cleared the SUV parked beside me and the pickup parked behind me.

I then activated my left turn signal and looked both ways a few times. I didn’t see anything coming in either direction, so I committed to pulling out. Before I managed to cross the solid double yellow line, my mother yelled “watch out!” Not knowing what she was talking about, I turned and looked to my left. The sight was a large Peterbilt tractor-trailer barreling right towards us. Before I had enough time to get away, the truck t-boned right into our Ford Taurus. Shards of glass and debris flew all over the place. The impact violently tossed us around in our seats and knocked the wind out of both of us.

I finally managed to catch my breath. The Ford Taurus was completely totaled. The roof looked as if it was close to caving in on top of us. The next thing I remember was a good Samaritan walked over to the front passenger door and spoke to my mother. She checked to make sure my mother was conscious, then turned towards the onlookers and instructed them to call an ambulance. “I’m an ER nurse. I think we can get you out of this car. I’m going to open the door and I want you to grab my hand. We’re going to take it slowly.” Once they managed to help my mother out of the car, one of the local business owners grabbed a chair for my mother to sit in. Meanwhile, I was still trapped in the car. The grill of the massive Peterbilt was about two or three feet from my face. I then heard the sirens of the police, ambulance and fire department approaching from the distance. The only thing I wanted was to get out of that car.

The fire department used the jaws of life and the EMS staff extricated me from the car. They had to cut off the roof and the passenger doors to safely get to me. I was then transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh. The police had to close Route 356 for almost an hour to clean up the scene. That 30-35 minute ride felt like an eternity. I burst into tears when we arrived at the hospital because I was so ashamed about the whole situation. I was hit by a semi truck because I failed to notice it in the oncoming lane and ended up totaling the car. I was given a CT scan and it turned out I had no internal injuries. At first, it seemed like the my mother didn’t sustain any injuries and the hospital staff permitted us to leave. We were driving out of Oakland when my mother received a call from the hospital. It was the doctor saying they needed us to come back. They found some minor fractures in her rib cage and her back.

A car accident is a memory that fades away as time goes on. I can guarantee this accident will make me a more careful driver. After all, my mother and I are lucky to be here talking about it. However, I am still having flashbacks. About a week after the accident, I went behind the wheel again. I was incredibly scared when I drove for the first time after this accident. My mind instantly flashes back to the accident every time I see a tractor-trailer. This is especially true when I drive on Route 28, a heavily traveled expressway that runs from Kittanning to Pittsburgh. I want my driver’s license so I can go to the store on my own time, visit friends who I don’t get to see very often, commute to and from school. This will give me a feeling of independence. However, it’s going to frustrate me and it’s going to scare me. I must do it if I want to gain my independence. 

To be continued next week… 

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“You Need To Stand Up For Yourself More” (Handling A Patronizer)


We know the bullying issue is prevalent in high schools across America. Both my peers and my high school teachers are guilty of it. During my two years at the Freeport Area Senior High school, my teachers pressured me into becoming a people pleaser. Do you remember the one who tried to convince me into believing there was a mandatory fee to attend Lenape Tech? She was also the same one who tried to come up with the story the state of Pennsylvania was going to eliminate cyber school from the curriculum next year. It was her last ditch effort to prevent the school board from paying dollars for students to attend the full day vocational technical school that has been serving Armstrong county since 1965. I started my first week of classes at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The Electro Optics program at the Northpointe regional campus provides students with employment opportunities in a wide variety of technological skills. An Associates Degree in this growing field can pay about a $30,000 annual starting salary, while a Bachelors degree can pay an approximate $60,00.00 starting salary.

The burning question is “how do I stand up to people who speak to me like that?” Well, this is not an easy question for many Asperger’s type teenagers to answer. This could possibly have something to do with the differences in the Asperger’s brain. Every person’s brain is equipped with equipped with cell’s called neurons. They are located in the premotor cortex. These cells “fire” both when you perform an action and when you watch somebody else do the same thing. This article from science daily.com explained the theory behind how these neurons do not work properly in the Autistic mind. It was believed that dysfunctional neurons were the culprit behind the difficulty understanding the actions of others and the lack of empathy. However, another Science Daily article was published in the year 2010. It argued the mirror neuron systems function normally in the Autistic brain. So, if it isn’t weak neurons, what is it?

I want you to take a look at this clip from the Kathie Lee Gifford show. Every week they do a contest called “Everyone Has A Story.” This particular segment was about a high school senior named Zach Hirsch and his younger friend Gram Jackson. Zach was a high school athlete. He was attractive and popular. One day when Gram was a freshman, he was sitting in the cafeteria by himself. Zach noticed it and he decided to sit with Gram and talk to him. As time went on, they initiated a friendship and started getting together after school. The friendship had a very positive effect on Gram, and so his mother wrote a letter to Kathie Lee about it. The letter basically described everything I just said. At first I was very happy to hear about this story. I was happy to hear that somebody like Zach would step out of his comfort zone and go out of his way to help somebody who was “different.” His (Zach’s) mother stated how this friendship caused him to gain the confidence to reach out to other people. However, my mood changed from a happy to furious at about six minutes into the video

This “thing” that happened actually caused an outrage in the Autism community. Opera singer Kate Baldwin sang a song about their story on national television. The song was titled “All Alone”. Just by reading the title, you can tell why this song makes me angry. This song was written by Kathie Lee! 

We see them everyday, but to often look away from the ones who are sitting alone. 

We seldom hear their voice because we make the choice to leave them right there all alone 

We see them everywhere, but to often we don’t care. We’re lost in a world of our own. 

We rarely realize, they’re angels in disguise, so we leave them right there all alone. 

Can you imagine if hello was a word you’d never heard? Can you imagine if you’ve never had a friend? 

Can you imagine if loneliness was all you’d ever known?  

It’s more than we could ever comprehend. A world, a silent world, without a friend. 

But miracles can happen, sometimes they really do. 

And sometimes, the miracle turns out to be you. 

When you embrace a stranger and show love you’ve never shown, you will make the greatest friend that you have ever known. 

Someone who used to be, someone who used to be, but now will never be all alone. 

If you thought the song was bad, just wait until you see the next part of the video. I transcribed what happened next.

Kathie Lee: You know, we’ve been doing this now since October of last year, and I was wondering if we were every time I say to myself “gee, are we ever gonna be able to capture it you know?” But, I looked over and there was Gram and you had tears in your eyes buddy did you like your song? 

Gram: Well, it was a little to sad. 

(Everyone in the room laughs, including Zach’s and Gram’s family)  

Kathie Lee reminds me of the annoying “drill Sargent” therapist who thought forcing the Asperger’s out of me would make me a “brand new person”. Here is a little glimpse on how our sessions would begin. Obvious question after obvious question, irritable answer after irritable answer.

(The therapist pulls into our driveway. Penny, our dog starts barking and whining, letting us know someone is here. We wait a few seconds until he comes up to the door. My mother or I open the door to let him in.) 

Therapist: So Derek, are you happy to see me? 

Me: (Irritably) No? 

Therapist: Why not? Penny is happy to see me.

(about a 5 second pause.)

Therapist: One of these days, I expect you to give me a big hug! What would you do if I gave you a big hug? 

Me: (Irritably) Push you away?

Therapist: Why not? I’m only trying to help you. Don’t you want that special friend who you trust? 

Howard Stern gave a hilarious reaction to Kathie Lee’s actions on his radio show.  (Don’t watch if you are offended by coarse language!) He said how Kathie Lee made “different” kids look like “angels disguised as monsters.” Also, when they laughed at him for saying the song was “too sad”, he was speaking the honest truth. He was trying to emphasize how his life doesn’t revolve around being this “angel disguised as a monster.” Gram is not the only one I feel bad for in this video, I feel bad for Zach. She made him look like a complete idiot by rewarding him with all of these sporting goods while all Gram get’s is their two tickets to a Chicago Cubs Game. She made him look like he came on TV to brag about how great of a guy he is. He should have denied the TV interview! He only did this because he wanted to step out of his comfort zone and make a difference in Gram’s life. I still do believe there should be more teens who are willing to step out of their comfort zone. 

There is a word that describes what Kathie Lee Gifford did to this Autistic boy, and it is called patronizing. It simply means behaving in an undignified, superior and/or offensive way towards a person. Patronizers often convince others they are trying to be kind. Some are bullies who want to see an angry reaction, while others don’t have an intent to offend you. Either way they are really frustrating to be around. It seemed to me that teacher who discouraged me from going to Lenape Tech wanted to get a reaction out of me. She wanted me to get into trouble then rub into my face how much of a dismal failure I would be if I went to Lenape, the “school with the terrible P.S.S.A test scores.”

I remember my mother emailed the school about how she did not appreciate them bullying me into making the decision to go forward with what they wanted me to do. It was great to know that my mother wanted to support me, but the title of this post is absolutely true. If you want to prevent your emotions from interfering with your job,  here are some tips I hope you found helpful.

1.) You must “nip it in the bud” before it becomes a serious issue. Rehearse what you are going to say to the person by speaking into a mirror. You will find out why later on. (Try to remember the situation in as much detail as possible.) 1.) What did the person do or say to make you upset? 2.) What tone of voice and body language did they use? 3.) Why did their actions upset you? 4.) From your perspective, did they or did they not intend to offend you?

2.) Refrain from being emotional. Expressing sadness or anger will cause others to think you are weak, therefore they will not take you seriously. However, you must be firm and make it clear that you don’t appreciate whatever they may be doing to make you feel bad. Being firm with somebody means that you should be polite. Politeness is something that shows you are a mature person that is capable of handling any type of conflict that may ensue, regardless of whether it is at work, school or in your own family life. This is why you should rehearse what you are going to say.

Never use foul language, slurs and by all means do not even think about putting your hands on the person! Many schools and employment organizations have zero tolerance policies towards verbal and/or physical abuse towards anyone! In the long run, this worth much more than being fired or even having assault charges filed against you.

3.) If the patronizing behavior continues, it should be discussed with whoever is in charge of the administration of the organization. Like I said, patronizers who continue to make a person upset are bullies! This is really the only time where I think it would be appropriate to discuss the issue via email. When you do so, be sure to keep in mind everything I said from the previous steps. (Stop it before it becomes a big issue, be polite but firm) Reiterate their actions, the steps you took to resolve the situation and the results. 

It should not be difficult for an administrator to understand why the person’s actions are offending you. Administrators who do not address disrespectful behavior in the workplace are not skilled enough to enforce rules of conduct for all employees. If this becomes the case, then I would consider looking for another job and resigning from the organization (while following their resignation procedure. See this article “How to Resign Gracefully”). 

(This tip can also be helpful for handling situations with your friends and family. After you have asked the person to stop, and they do not listen and understand why you are offended it is best to walk away from the situation.)

My former therapists approach which I described above was not the appropriate method towards helping me deal with issues in school, however I do believe that he wanted to help me. After all, he could tell that I didn’t want to participate in the sessions and he knew I didn’t like being asked question after question. He wanted me to step out of my comfort zone and stand up for myself. The truth was, it made me even more anxious and more uncomfortable. Going back to the Kathie Lee Gifford clip, I wonder how the friendship between Zach and Gram is going now. If that were me, I would definitely have some choice words for Ms. Kathie Lee after that hideous song. The refreshing thing about college has been that I have experienced no bullying situations yet. It is great to know that people are generally more mature and know that such disrespect is not acceptable.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for reading!

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Does “Normal” Exist? (John Elder Robison’s Book “Be Different”)


Synopsis of selected chapters from “Be Different”:

Part 1: “Rituals, Manners and Quirks”

Part 2: “Emotions”

I will blog about parts 3, 4 and 5 in the near future!

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate reading clinical reports about Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The only things they really focus on are the symptoms and treating methods. I urge you to take a look at this article on Web MD.com. It is a perfect example of something that absolutely drives me crazy. These reports only show a list of symptoms in childhood, adolescence and adult hood. I have tried my hardest to explain the emotions I have experienced in my life through the writing of my blogs. This brings me to another reason I can’t stand articles like this. It mainly focuses on the “cant’s” of Asperger’s. I am the proud owner of John Elder Robison’s new book “Be Different”. There have been people in the Asperger’s community who have given his first effort “Look Me In The Eye” negative reviews. It is hard to describe experiences throughout a person’s life, then explain how they overcame them in just one book. This weeks blog is going to describe how I can relate to my favorite chapters of this book.

John would probably agree with my statement that we have come along way when it comes to understanding Asperger’s. However, we still have much farther to go. The chapter “Asperger’s and Me” mentioned his son Jack Robison (nicknamed “Cubby), who is now twenty-one years old. He was officially diagnosed when he was sixteen. John was not officially diagnosed until twenty-four years later. A quote from the chapter reads “I look at him today, and see how much he’s benefited from understanding how and why his brain is different from other folks. In many ways, he’s the young man I could have been if only I had known what I had.”

Social skills groups did not work for me, because they focused on “fixing” my weaknesses instead of building on them using my strengths. They seemed to think threatening and scaring tactics would magically cause me to become “reborn” into a “socialite who had lots of friends”. My last blog was about teachers, counselors and parents who don’t “practice what they preach.” It showed how they all push students to learn more about “social skills”, while they behave in a way that shows a lack of social skills. The teacher at Freeport who tried to convince me into believing there was a fee to attend Lenape was a prime example. Remember the situation where they purposely put me on the spot in front of everybody? I liked the chapter Finding Your Path to “Fitting In” because there was one thing that showed me why I didn’t function in the Wesley Wonder Kids “social skills” group. A quote from the chapter read “competence excuses strange behavior. That’s a very important point for those of us on the spectrum, because our special interests can make us competent in whatever we find fascinating”. Wesley Wonder Kids only focused on “fixing” my quirks, not building on my strengths to improve my social skills.

With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to a story about Florida mother Melissa Barton and teacher Wendy Portillo. She is a kindergarten teacher at Port Saint Lucie elementary school. Her son’s teacher allowed her students to vote him out of class. Alex, was five years old when his teacher allegedly asked each student stand up and say something they didn’t like about him. They commented “Alex is disgusting”, “Alex is annoying”, “Alex sits under the table”, “Alex spins in circles” and “Alex eats his crayons”. After each student spoke, she asked him. Fourteen classmates voted him out of the classroom and two voted to let him stay in the class. In this CBS interview with Melissa, she talked about  Alex’s only friend in his kindergarten class. Mrs. Portillo asked the little boy if Alex should be allowed to stay in the class. This happened not once, but twice! The first time he said Alex should be allowed to stay, but Mrs. Portillo sternly said his name. The boy eventually decided to vote him out of the class to prevent the teacher from potentially being punished for disagreeing with him.

Wendy Portillo’s punishment was originally a year suspension without pay and loss of tenure. However, the West Palm Beach school board decided to change that punishment and give her tenure back. In September 2010, she behaved discriminatory to another student with a disability. This teacher is now working at Allapattah Flats in She and two other West Palm Beach teachers were discriminative to a partially deaf girl. The two teachers were supposed to wear microphones so the female student could hear them, but the female student claimed they would “sometimes would not wear them”. According to this news article, the mother filed a complaint with the department of education. There was a claim in the report that said “that one teacher never wore the microphone and screamed and yelled at the student to pay closer attention.” The report also stated another teacher wore the microphone but did not turn it on and “laughed sarcastically in the face of the student”. When Alex Barton’s mother heard about this incident she commented “I can’t say that I’m surprised. I’ve fought very hard to correct this district and this teacher, and here we are again!”

Alex’s mother was very lucky the school board took any action about this teacher’s behavior, however Mrs. Portillo should not have received her tenure back. Discrimination against people is something that we unfortunately can’t erase, but society has a long way to go when it comes to enforcing the laws regarding it. However, we still have a long way to go. During John’s upbringing, anybody who exhibited these characteristics was perceived as “bad”, “ignorant”, “selfish” and “self-absorbed”, just to name a few. I am sure his mother was also very worried about his self-esteem after this unfortunate incident.

Let’s take a look at the chapter “A Reason To Care. John’s mother suffered from Bipolar disorder and his father was a raging alcoholic. As a result, he dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. A quote from the chapter read “I loved computers and electronics, so I naturally imagined myself becoming an engineer. Yet, even with that dream secured, it was difficult for me to see a clear path from high school through college to professional engineerhood in my head. There were just too many problems. My home life was awful, with a drunken father and a mentally ill mother. And I didn’t seem to focus on what my teachers wanted.” Nobody was really there to motivate him and push him in the right direction. His behavior caused resulted in frequent trips to the principal’s office. A school like Lenape Tech sounds like something John really could have benefited from. I hated most of my classes, and my grades started to plummet because of my many issues with self-esteem. I was so bitter about the fact that nobody liked me and truly appreciated me for who I was. Just like John I felt “I wasn’t getting a thing out of class. No one wanted me there. There was no good reason to be in school”. 

My freshman and sophomore years at Freeport were dreadful because I simply because I had to be there for about 6 hours every day. The teachers were not motivated to fit my needs, and they didn’t do a very good job motivating me because none of my classes really interested me. Most public high schools hire teachers for the sole purpose of filling employment vacancies. They don’t consider matters like their ability to teach the material in a way the students will understand. I urge you to search for your school on the website Rate My Teachers. Reasons like what I just described are why this website has sparked such a controversy. Every school out there has at least one teacher who seems to think that giving assignment after assignment out of a  textbook will “light the spark” and help them truly understand the material and want to learn more about it. The thing that annoys me about teachers who give nothing but book work is the fact they never explain any of the terms or (if you are in a class that involves math) formulas in the chapter you they assign you. It is also really no use to ask the teacher for help, because they just tell you how to do the steps instead of showing the steps in a way the average student can grasp it. A “bad” teacher would say “Derek, I’ve told you the steps countless times. Why aren’t you paying attention?” A “good” teacher would say “Derek, let me explain the steps in another way. You don’t seem to be getting it.” The simple fact about teaching is they have to get used to the fact that every student has a different learning style.

A visual learner needs to be taught how to take notes, remember important ideas and they need to have notes and a visual to look at and help them remember information that is going to be on a test. Visual learners would most likely excel in classes like geometry and trigonometry. Algebra can be very challenging for these learners because it is a very abstract

A kinesthetic (hands on)  learner should be allowed to make models of the topic they are learning about. Field trips are a great way to show real world applications of the topic you are covering. They should have the opportunity to use tools and put their skills to the test.

An auditory learner may have difficulty reading passages in a textbook or handouts and they may take longer to get the work completed. They often have high confidence to contribute to class discussions and they are good with words and language. Both oral and written instruction are essential.  

The problem with many teachers is they are unwilling to adapt to the many different learning styles of each student. I am mostly a visual learner, but the hands on an auditory approach towards learning can be helpful for me. It is also important to remember that not every single Aspergian learns the same way. I am a person who needs specific instruction when it comes to performing a task.

Let’s skip forward to the chapter “(Not) Reading People”. Awareness of things like facial expressions and tone of voice can be very difficult for people like me. The chapter opened with John describing how his grandma Richter would make faces at him when he was a toddler. Instead of smiling and laughing at his grandmother, he would just stare. He had absolutely no idea what to make of her action. The circus clown faces coming from his grandmother caused him to wonder if they were supposed to be “funny” or “dangerous.” This agrivated her, so she asked “Why aren’t you smiling at me? You are just a mean little boy.” She finally had enough and plopped John onto the ground. His initial reaction “I was not able to fully grasp what had just happened, but I got the message that she didn’t like me very much.” The therapist I described in many of my former posts (especially “You Need To Laugh More”) seemed to think that pushing me would magically cure me of this problem. He took a similar approach to how Elaine Hall handled her son Neal. He would mimic my facial expressions, film them with my video camera and laugh at them in the process. After we watched the video tapes, he would sit there and tell me how I needed to fix them “immediately”. I am surprised I “kept my cool” and didn’t punch him after I encountered that whole experience. That was an approach that caused me to put even more of a wall. I most certainly didn’t think it was funny, so I refused to open up to him. The fact is, I will not open up to somebody who tries to push me to the limit. To me, it seemed like he was trying to blame me being me for the fact that I had self esteem issues and was bullied a lot. I was emotionally drained by the end of every session with him. I am gradually improving on my ability to recognize facial expressions in people, but never again will I let anybody shove them down my throat! 

If grown-ups are aware, they can do a whole lot to help by explaining what the kids are missing.” 

John Elder Robison

Friendships in high school have been very difficult for me. This was because of my difficulty with facial expressions. The chapter “Making and Keeping Friends” illustrated how his views of friendships have changed. Social skills groups like Wesley Wonder Kids weren’t very helpful when it came to making friendships. The group members were lost in their own worlds and I was lost in mine. I could not figure out how to interact with them because I was not into the same things they were. I met my good friend Aaron from the Computing Workshop program, and we automatically got along because he was a very laid back guy who wasn’t interested in normalizing me. The group members from Wesley Wonder Kids seemed to be lost in their own world of video games, cartoons, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon. When they would talk about their interests, the staff members would put me on the spot and make me ask questions about it. I had no idea what to ask them because I am not interested in any of those things. I was just to stressed about the whole social pressure of high school that I didn’t really want friends. Mom would try to encourage me to find out more about the things they were interested in, but I chose not to because I feared I would get even more lost into my world. Reading this chapter described how I felt at just about any social event with people close to my age. There was another thing about friendships that really frustrated me during junior high and high school. The following is another quote from this chapter “Like anyone, it cuts me when a friend I care about turns on me, but if someone I just met fades from the scene, I’ve learned not to be troubled.” I know now that friends who come and go are not true friends. I’ve come to realize that it is their problem if they don’t want to truly get to know me. Very much like John, I thought of friendships as “all or nothing”. People have different groups of friends and not every category of friends share their deepest darkest secrets.

There is one more chapter that I want to talk about in part 2. “Keeping Cool In A Crisis” can be very difficult for many people. People often joke about tragedies like car accidents and school shootings because they don’t realize the seriousness of the situation until it actually happens to them or somebody they care about. John was involved in a serious car accident, but he and the passenger were not injured. The following is a quote that described the situation “Everything happened in slow motion, though the crash played out in a fraction of a second in real-time. Jim saw a rainbow as the other car’s window glass exploded in our headlights. I remember a tremendous jolt, and struggling to twist my wrecked steering wheel as our car slid to a stop. When we stopped moving we both looked back and forth for a moment, and wiggled our arms and legs to ascertain that we were still alive and intact.”  The driver of the other vehicle was killed on impact. Head on collisions are among of the most serious types of car accidents because they involve more than one vehicle. I honestly don’t know how I would react if I encountered a crisis situation because I have never experienced it before. Instead of screaming and panicking, he did his best to rescue the passenger trapped inside the other vehicle. He took the logical approach and solved the problem while helping somebody who was in danger. Fire, severe weather and lockdown drills in school are necessary in schools because they are intended to prepare for the unthinkable. Before I leave you for today, I urge you to look at this video. It contains rare evidence that was found from the shooting at Columbine High School in April 1999. The evidence was put there to help people reconnect with what happened that day.

I hope you enjoyed reading my perceptions of John Elder Robison’s book.

I will review parts 3, 4 and 5 next week!

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Teachers, Counselors and Parents: “Practice What You Preach”!


I was looking online for a quote based on the idiom “Practice What You Preach”. Out of all the quotes I came across, the one I am about to share is probably my favorite one I have come across in a long time. The quote read “It is always easier to fight for your principals than to live up to them”. The term for people who don’t “practice what they preach” is a hypocrite. Here is one of my favorite bible verses about hypocrisy.

Matthew 7 vs 1-5

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be judged, and the measure you get is the measure you get. Why do you seek the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors eye.

I don’t normally bring discussion about the bible into my blogs, but this perfectly describes the many experiences I have been through with therapists, teachers and other adults who have preached “social skills” to me. I want to start with describing a teacher I had during my sophomore year at the Freeport Area Senior High School. For those of you who know me and/or who are frequent readers of my blog know that I have attended the Lenape Technical School for my junior and senior year. Freeport put me in the learning support classes since I was in the fifth grade. I was in the support room at the high school, and we were handed a scheduling paper for our junior year. My most recent blog post before this one described a math class with this teacher. I saw the optical electronics program at Lenape, and I was so bitter about the whole experience at Freeport that I knew there was only one way to make me feel better about school. I had to get out of there.

The teacher asked me what classes I wanted to take and I said “I don’t know”. She told me “You better decide quickly because if you don’t, you will have to take what we picked for you.” I responded “Then I’ll just go into cyber school if I don’t get accepted into Lenape”. The teacher obnoxiously responded “Derek, the state of Pennsylvania is eliminating cyber school next year. Also, there is now a fee to attend Lenape. Your parents are now required to pay half. You will not be admitted into the school if your parents don’t pay before the end of this school year”. That evening, I brought it up to my parents. My mother told me not to worry, because both of those ignorant statements were not true. Lenape is the comprehensive vocational technical school for Armstrong county. The school district pays the money for students to attend. What baffled me about this situation was how the teacher would try to convince me into believing her even though she knew her statements were false. She always reprimanded me for not interacting “appropriately”, while she bullied me into making the decision to stay at Freeport and be educated to become a janitor. I obviously did not let her bully me into what Freeport wanted me to do, so I went to Lenape and for the most part I feel happier and more fulfilled.

I have described my experiences with traditional “social skills” groups. Wesley Wonder Kids didn’t really work for me because it was mainly focused on teaching kids appropriate ways to interact with people. They used several teaching materials such as role plays and social stories. Before I go into more detail, I know there are many kids who would benefit from this program. I wasn’t very fond of it because it was the same routine every session. At the beginning of the session, each group member was asked to share news stories from their week. They would all talk about their favorite video games, movies, music and activities they participated in throughout the week. When my turn came, I didn’t really know what to share. I hated school, so I didn’t want to talk about that. I am not an avid movie fan. I was and still am a weightlifter, but they already knew that. They were not particularly interested in exercising, so I figured I shouldn’t talk about that. I didn’t do much else besides going to school and going to the gym. I would take my dog on occasional walks and go on errands with my parents on occasions but that was it.

The staff members would put me on the spot and pressure me into sharing something. I remember one sessions somebody asked “what did you have for lunch today?” I reluctantly responded “pizza”. Let’s go back to another post that described a situation during an activity during coffee talk.

Each group member was assigned a date on the calendar, and on that specific date you were supposed to bring a desert type snack and choose a topic the group can easily discuss for fifteen minutes. On one particular day, it was another group member’s turn to choose a topic. When it came time for coffee talk, he didn’t have his topic chosen like he was supposed to. It took him five minutes to finally choose one, and he finally chose “pop culture”. Everybody had their favorite movie, band or television show to talk about and I had absolutely no idea what to say. All of the group members would talk over each other, and the parents could hear them in the lobby next door over the air conditioning vent. Because coffee talk was the last activity of the night, I was only focused on going home and going to bed. Then a voice from one of the staff members rang out “Derek, we haven’t heard from you yet. What do you have to contribute to this discussion?” I responded by saying “I don’t know”. The group members turned around and started pressuring me to say something, similar to most of my peers in school when they would ask me things like “Why Are You So Quiet”? When it finally became time to leave, I muttered in disgust “I hate being put on the spot”. Another staff member heard my remark and said “You have to suck it up, you are going to be put on the spot for the rest of your life”.

I would have been much happier at Wesley Wonder Kids if the staff members would have listened to me and tried to understand how I was personally effected by Asperger’s. A true person with “social skills” will listen to them and do whatever they can to help them get through a problem. I was a very reserved person at Freeport. Wesley told me I should not be judgmental, when made comments towards me regarding how much of a failure I would be if I didn’t make friends “immediately”.

I am going to be graduating from high school in six weeks. I know college is going to be different from high school in many ways, but I still have no idea what it is really going to have in store for me. I am going to try my hardest not to let judgmental people bring me down, because I know I may encounter them. I think the only “therapy” I need is to learn about Electro Optics, a career field with many different job opportunities. Another “therapy” will be to publish a book about my life. I hope I will “shed some more light” about Asperger’s. We need to teach people that every kids with Asperger’s is different, and we should encourage them to use their gifts in order to build on their weaknesses.

I hope you enjoyed reading!

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“The Angry WordPress Troll” (Trolls vs. Cyber-bullies)


Somebody posted a comment on my blog that actually amused me, because it shows the lack of knowledge in many people in America and throughout the world. My account is purposely set not to put comments on my blog until they are approved by me. I logged on WordPress, marked it as spam and deleted it as soon as I received the notification email. The comment read “All Autistic people are out of control animals who should be euthanized”. I immediately deleted it. I’ve unapproved comments that have been written by people before, but nothing downright ignorant like this. I think it is very important to not only address this issue, but to be insightful about why people “troll” on internet forums.

I want to start off by explaining what a troll is. A troll is a person who posts provocative comments on a message board just for the sole purpose of making people angry.  Trolls mainly post on forum websites where people express their opinions about controversial issues. For example, If a gay or lesbian person person talks about their life, they post derogatory words like “fagot” or “dyke”. They judgmentally quote bible verses and tell them how much they feel the person’s life is an “abomination”. Every single troll is different. There are some who are very smart and others are not so smart. Very many of them use their personal experiences as an excuse to disrespect other people’s opinions on an issue. I look back and think about the person who posted the comment on my blog, and they may have experienced problems with a sibling or family member on the severe side of the spectrum. I’ve stated before that kids on the severe side of the Autistic Spectrum can be very difficult to deal with, especially when they are part of the family. Kids on the severe end of the Autistic Spectrum don’t know how to speak, therefore they don’t know how to express their emotions. They resort to screaming, yelling and throwing objects because they don’t know how express what is bothering them. I wrote a post a few weeks ago that talked about a controversial video by Autism Speaks. It was titled “Autism Every Day”. One of the mothers told a story about how her son ran out to the middle of a busy city street without a shirt or shoes on. She actually had to call the police to look for him. With that being said, I most certainly am not trying to claim that issues with an Autistic family member is a good excuse. It will only make the person look worse.

Now, I want to explain why I made the decision to delete the comment. Trolls are like bullies in some ways, but you really can’t confront them because they are on the internet. I’ve had discussions with many people who may think it is rude to delete a troll comment, because they feel the person is entitled to their own opinion. That statement may be true, but the comment is going to be read by a lot of people and it will definitely make other people angry. Don’t understand? I am going to use an off topic example to help you. You are at a family member’s birthday party, and you grab a box of matches for the candles. You get the match lit when all of a sudden you bump into something, then the match falls out of your hand and catches the curtains on fire. You would be surprised how many people would try to fight the fire instead of getting out of the house. A troll wants to see you “start a fire” by saying something disrespectful back to them.

There is one thing a person should also keep in mind before you delete a troll from your blog or forum page. Most of them usually go away after a few days, but there are a few who will keep making disrespectful comments until the person can’t take it anymore. They are definitely what I consider a cyber bully. I never received any more thoughtless comments from this person or anybody else. This is really the only time they should be reported to an administrator of the website you are using. These types of trolls are cyber bullies. Most of the forums and social networking sites I use have policies against this, and people who violate them should have their account permanently deactivated. You should not only keep tabs of what the person said, but you should also keep tabs of the date and time it was written. If reporting the user to an administrator does not work, then local law enforcement should be contacted. This is especially true if the comments are of a threatening nature. Even if it is something as simple as “I’ll kick your butt!” Every computer is equipped with something called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. Law enforcement can track it and find exactly where the person accesses internet from, but they do not have the automatic capability to find out who they are. Internet threats should never be taken lightly, regardless of whether or not you know the person.

Trolls and cyber bullies are different in some ways, but similar in others. When I encounter trolls, I have learned that I should just shrug my shoulders and not respond to them. I have to realize that I am a better person than they will ever be, and I know they are taking their bitterness about an issue by disrespecting the person. Like I said at the beginning, there are some trolls who actually amuse me. They may be intelligent, but they write comments that make them sound like the complete opposite. With this in mind, hopefully you have have better understanding of trolls. Please pass this advice onto any person you know who may experience this.

Thank you for reading, and I will be back next week.

 

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“Scary Stories From the Real World” (Engage and Teach, Don’t Preach!)


I am often shocked at how little some of my former teachers have actually taught me about the real world, going to college and getting a job. This was not the case with all of my teachers, but it was true with most of them. Typical public high schools are only designed to prepare students to graduate from high school, not be a success in the real world. As a follow-up to “You’re Not Even Trying”, I am going to talk about some things related to the “real world” many of my teachers and counselors used to preach to me all the time. Instead of “teaching” and “counseling” me about the real world, they mainly would tell me all kinds of horror stories about how terrible of a place it is.

My experiences with the school system at Freeport and many of the therapists I have worked with were not beneficial in the least bit, especially when it came to preparing me for life after high school. I honestly felt that most of the work I was expected to do at Freeport was worthless busy work. I had a driver’s education class in tenth grade, and the teacher was absolutely horrible. He would give us worksheets, and we would watch videos the entire period. Anytime I had a question about something, he would just tell me “read the book and figure it out”. Driving is a real world skill, and I had this incompetent person “teaching” it. My dad tried to teach me some basic driving skills in the parking lot of the high school, and even the most simple parts of driving a car seemed like gibberish to me. Driving is something that almost any teenager becomes excited about in high school. Because of that, I decided to wait until I turned eighteen years old to obtain my driver’s license.

I have always experienced trouble with math, and I had an awful math teacher. Because of her grouchy personality and her negative attitude towards everybody, I refused to pay any attention to her. I couldn’t understand any of the material we were covering in class, and she was absolutely no help when I asked her for it. The math concept I struggled with the most were multi step fractions. Anytime I would ask her for help on my fractions, she would rudely respond by saying something that basically sounded like “Derek, you do this, this and this. I want it done by tomorrow, I want all work shown and I want it done correctly”. I refused to do it because I had no idea how to do it. On the rare occasions I actually did my homework, she would put me on the spot and make me right my answer on the board. The class would become very impatient with the fact that I didn’t know how to do it after we have gone over it for the past two weeks. The teacher would become so impatient that she would resort to berating me not because I didn’t do my work, but because I didn’t understand how to do it. The students would just sit there and stare at me while I wrote down random answers to the problem.

I was in the learning support class when I was at Freeport, and it basically was a “babysitting version” of a study hall. You were either required to work on homework or study for a test that was coming up. I wanted to opt out of it, but my parents wouldn’t let me. The teachers and aides in that class spent most of the time nagging me about getting work done, or reprimanding me for my negative attitude about high school in general. When they would try to “help” me study for a test, I would stare off into space and guess random answers. I would often stand there and ask “What is the point of learning this”? The aides would then respond “you have a chapter test coming up, it’s going to be on the P.S.S.A (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) test and you have to take it to graduate”. I would roll my eyes and say “It’s still pointless. I won’t need to know any of this after I graduate and the P.S.S.A test won’t mean a thing ten years from now”. I would then expect to hear “Derek, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to do”. I still wasn’t very convinced.

Teachers were not the only group of people who would try to taunt me about the real world, some of the “social skills” professionals would do it as well. In my blog “You’re Not Even Trying”, I talked about the “coffee talk” activity at Wesley Wonder kids. Each group member was assigned a date on the calendar, and on that specific date you were supposed to bring a desert type snack and choose a topic the group can easily discuss for fifteen minutes. On one particular day, it was another group member’s turn to choose a topic. When it came time for coffee talk, he didn’t have his topic chosen like he was supposed to. It took him five minutes to finally choose one, and he finally chose “pop culture”. Everybody had their favorite movie, band or television show to talk about and I had absolutely no idea what to say. All of the group members would talk over each other, and the parents could hear them in the lobby next door over the air conditioning vent. Because coffee talk was the last activity of the night, I was only focused on going home and going to bed. Then a voice from one of the staff members rang out “Derek, we haven’t heard from you yet. What do you have to contribute to this discussion?” I responded by saying “I don’t know”. The group members turned around and started pressuring me to say something, similar to most of my peers in school when they would ask me things like “Why Are You So Quiet”? When it finally became time to leave, I muttered in disgust “I hate being put on the spot”. Another staff member heard my remark and said “You have to suck it up, you are going to be put on the spot for the rest of your life”.

A few weeks later, I made the decision to stop attending Wonder Kids. After all, I was going to make a new start at Lenape and try to overcome the obstacles I faced at Freeport and at Wonder Kids. If you look at what I wrote in parentheses beside the title it says “engage and teach, don’t preach”. I received strength based therapy for about a year, and I remember it was the only type of therapy that actually benefited me. They tried to use my strengths and make me use my talents to make friends and connect with people. The therapists were actually allowed to take me out into the real world and practice social skills. At Wesley Wonder kids, the group had to stay in the building for the entire group session. They overstimulated me and reprimanded me for going into sensory overload. A teacher can’t convince students into believing why a certain class is important for their success in the real world unless they actually show real world examples. A student will not become interested in the material unless you make the effort to engage them.

To wrap up, the message I am trying to teach is that one should never let a bad teacher or counselor determine their success in the real world.  Many people with Asperger’s have expressed their belief that some of the disrespectful neurotypicals (“normal” people) are the ones with disorders. While it is important to be proud of who you are, you should not let it define you. Asperger’s is no excuse for disrespectful and/or illegal behavior. It’s not about their opinion, it is about what you want. I hope you will always remember that in the future.

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“Why Are You So Quiet?”


Take a look at the title for this blog. You have most likely been asked that question if you are on the Autistic Spectrum, or are a quiet person when you are amongst a lot of people. I have been asked that question many times, and I must say it still does annoy me quite a bit. For anybody on the Autistic Spectrum, initiating conversations with people and making friendships is especially difficult in the school environment. I have described many of my experiences during seventh through tenth grade at Freeport, and many of them had to deal with people not wanting to associate with me just because I was “not like everybody else”. I would try to start conversations with people, but they would ignore me or pretend to listen to me.

A few of my teachers suggested that I tell my classmates about Asperger’s, but I immediately said no. My main reason I said no was because people can be very judgmental if they find out you have an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis. People believe the negative stereotypes that come from the media. When most people think of Autism, they think of the child with severe Autism who sits in a wheelchair and can’t talk. There are also many people out there who have heard of Autism, but not Asperger’s Syndrome. They do not understand that every single Aspergian is different. They all have different weaknesses, strengths, interests and personalities.

I did a blog a few weeks ago called “Why Don’t You Find Friends Your Own Age”? It talked about why it was and still is difficult to interact with people my age. This post is somewhat related to it. The reason why I had trouble interacting with people in my grade was because they just didn’t understand me. I didn’t feel it was worth telling my classmates about it face to face, because I don’t think they would really care. Most of the students at Freeport were very close minded, and they only focused on their friends and their own lives. During my freshman year of high school, I came to realize that people really were not that interested in getting to know me. On the first few days, I walked over to four or five groups of people, and they all either rolled their eyes at me, or told me it was “reserved for somebody else”. I thought about telling my teachers about it, but I thought I eventually decided it wouldn’t help because they most likely disrespect me even more. Close minded people most likely won’t change. I eventually decided to sit at an empty table by myself.

In my past blog posts I have also described situations where people have tricked me into thinking they were just merely trying to be friendly, then they would turn around and say or do something mean to me. I felt as if all people were out to get me. I wanted nothing to do with people in my school as a result. There were also some people who tried to start a conversation with me, but I would just sit there and ignore them. In my mind I said “I’m afraid they are going to be mean, so I should just not talk to them at all”. After all, I didn’t have any “real friends”, so why should I bother talking to people in the first place? When I would ignore people who tried to talk to me, they would patronize me and say things like “You are supposed to say good when people say hi to you”. There were also people who would talk to me in the same tone of voice that a kindergarten teacher would speak to their students. There was a girl in my grade who sat behind me on the bus and she asked me “Derek, how do you like the high school? Do you have lots of friends to talk to?” I rolled my eyes and ignored her after she asked me that irritating question. When I would walk by, she would whisper about me and laugh at me behind my back. I could obviously tell she wasn’t really interested in getting to know me. She enjoyed shoving the fact that I didn’t have friends down my throat.

With that in mind, take a minute and look back at my post titled “What Does Cool Mean”? It talked about how the word “cool” was often mistaken for “popular”. As my freshman year went on, I tried to fit in with the “cool” crowd and they obviously did not really enjoy my presence. I completely regret trying to “fit in” with that group of people, because I came to realize they were not my kind of people. When I started interacting with some of those people online, they seemed to enjoy talking to me at first. But after a while, they would start ignoring my messages and signing off of AIM when I would try to start a conversation with them. Ever since then, I only interact with people on chat rooms who I know in person and consider close friends or family. My reason for this is because you don’t know what they are really thinking. The person you are Instant Messaging could say “that’s cool” when they could really be thinking “I don’t give a sh**, why are you talking to me? I’ve got more important people to talk to”. I have noticed that people who give you one or two word responses usually are not that interested in talking to you. When I talk to my friends or family online, I try to give them a reply that is at least two or three sentences long. It helps your conversation sound more interesting.

Instant messaging was and still is easier for me because recognizing facial expressions and looking people in the eye was extremely difficult for me. Very much like John Elder Robison, people didn’t like it when I would not look them in the eye. They would tell me to look at them, then I would forget about it and look away. They would then become angry with me, which made me even more afraid of looking them in the eye. People would also yell at me for exhibiting inappropriate facial expressions for the mood of the current situation. I would expect to hear teachers say things like “Stop staring at me like a deer staring at headlights”, or “Why are you smiling?! That is not funny! Shame on you for laughing!” People sometimes use emoticons to express their emotion, and that helps me recognize how they are feeling.

To wrap up, there are many things you should never ask somebody like me, and the question I put in the title is one of them. My best advice I can give about this is ignore them if they ask you that irritating question. It may seem rude, but they will eventually give up on trying to talk to you. There really is no better way to explain this than say “It’s just the way I am”. I only associate with people who I know will support me and won’t be judgmental about my diagnosis. Those people are my close family members and close friends.

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