Revisited: “No More Talking About Fans!”


Please note this disclaimer: 

I am not licensed in any of the professions that are intended to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome.) I wrote this post from my experience and knowledge. Please do not automatically take anything I write as an alternative to seeking a licensed professional who specializes in providing any help your child may need. 

Original Post From 2010:

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/no-more-talking-about-fans

Conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives and desires is the first definition that comes up when I Google the term “self-awareness.” I can agree with psychologists when they say people on the Autism Spectrum are prone to struggle with it. A classic example of this lack of self-awareness is perceived obliviousness to the child’s tendency to focus intensely on the particular details of an individual object. Its repetitive movement is one of the most common examples. Any psychologist who observed me would say the other trait is a textbook example of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or, Asperger’s Syndrome. 

My narrow interests became evident to mom and dad when I was about three years old. There was something about a particular electrical/mechanical device that made my mind completely oblivious to everything else in the world around me. It’s ability to spin and move air was mesmerizing in and of itself. Yes, I am talking about the simple device known as a fan. Other adults thought it was cute when mom and dad informed them of “fan” being one of my first words. Mom and dad’s feelings of adoration changed to worry as my speaking vocabulary evolved into the ability to speak in complete sentences. It became a regular topic of conversation in our household. 

Of course, my parents should have worried to a certain extent. I am sure they felt the need to ask therapists about why my mind would become so focused on a simple mechanical device. For starters, fans are one of the most predictable electrical/mechanical devices you can find in any home or business. They serve one purpose. That is to move air. They do that through the repetitive movement of spinning around and around. That is all there is to it. The world, however, is nowhere near as simple. There becomes a time when we must face reality. The imaginary world certainly is much more desirable. But, it is imaginary and not real. 

John Elder Robison’s first book Look Me In The Eye is a memoir about growing up without an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (a.k.a Asperger’s Syndrome) diagnosis until he was in his mid-40s. A classic Autism trait is the tendency to change the subject of a conversation to something completely irrelevant. A selection from chapter 2 of his first memoir “Look Me In The Eye” brought back memories to my early childhood when I would change the subject to a random type of fan that I saw in any of the buildings my parents and I would frequently visit. 

I suddenly realized that when a kid said, “Look at my Tonka truck,” he expected an answer that made sense in the context of what he had said. Heere were some things I might have said prior to this revelation in response to “Look at my Tonka truck.” 

1.) “I have a helicopter.” 

2.) “I want some cookies.”

3.) “My mom is mad at me today.” 

4.) “I rode a horse at the fair.”

John Elder Robison, “Look Me In The Eye” 

Chapter 2, Page 20 

People typically perceive the abrupt tendency to change the subject of a conversation as an act of disrespect. Those who are not familiar with ASD may be more inclined to feel such a way. Robison continues to say that people expect replies that make sense and that are relevant the current topic of conversation. It shows that you are, at the very least, willing to listen to what they have to say and take it into account. It took some prompting from my parents, teachers and Autism professionals before I finally began to understand this social expectation. They used a combination of social stories, role plays and supervised interaction with my peers. Sometimes, prompting was the only way to get through to me. 

“Derek, we’re not talking about fans right now!”

My parents were right when they said that my obsession with objects like fans was just a phase. The regular social stories and prompts finally began to remind me that not everyone will be a fan of my previous love for fans. Writing this post made me look back on that memory. I compare it to the topics I am passionate about now and realize they are far more complicated than a fan that repetitively spins around and around. Nope. Not everyone is a fan of the fact that I happen to like and be attracted to men. I am not a fan of people who always feel the need to remind me of that. The only thing I can do is eliminate those people from my life and focus on those who are genuine “fans” of me.

Like anyone else, I try to smile when I look back on my childhood. I do that anytime I see something that reminds me of those days when I was the little boy who was a fan of fans. One particular example is the Lexington, Kentucky-based company Big Ass Fans. (I cannot think of any other way to make it abundantly clear what you specialize in.) Little reminders like that give me a unique perspective on life. It shows that people may not always be fans of the things that make us different. Despite that, it gives us the potential to find how we can use those things to make a difference in the world we live in. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder:

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders.htm 

18 Ways To Tell If Your Child Has Autism:

http://thestir.cafemom.com/toddlers_preschoolers/125535/18_ways_to_tell_if

Computing Workshop Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/computingworkshop/?fref=ts

Social Stories:

http://www.educateautism.com/social-stories.html

Big Ass Fans

http://www.bigassfans.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Date Someone on The Autism Spectrum?


I subscribed to a subreddit called “Ask Gay Bros.” It is a subreddit where gay and bisexual men can discuss the ins and outs of life. (Incase you have not realized, yes, I am gay!) Life with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) has made it incredibly hard to meet other people. There is no way to summarize how this condition affects my mind in just a few sentences. I took that into account when I decided to submit my first post on “Ask Gay Bros.” The post went as follows.

I was curious about what men would think about the idea of dating someone who experiences similar struggles to me. I was pleasantly surprised when most of them said yes. However, there were a few users who said no. One of them happened to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

I tend to agree with this user. My mom and dad insisted on enrolling me in social skills groups like Wesley Wonder Kids during my teenage years. However, I look back, and I realize learned some valuable lessons. These lessons came from both the staff and my peers in the program. I have always agreed that age appropriate social skills are essential for success in academic, professional and personal social situations. There are plenty of things about myself that people may find enjoyable. For example, I am intelligent, and I like to share that through my writing. People have said that my writing does resonate with them. However, I also have my fair share of quirks that people may describe as anything from frustrating to annoying.

I learned that valuable lesson at one Wonder Kids group meeting. It was time for each member to share any news from their lives that may have developed in the previous week. I rolled my eyes when it became time for one particular person to speak. Let’s just say that he was someone who could not seem to grasp the meaning behind “enough is enough.” We will call him “Gregory Grossout.”  His superior speaking vocabulary, dirty clothing and body odor quickly became the least of the traits that made me feel socially restricted around him. Here is the gist of his lovely news story. 

Gregory Grossout: I had an ingrown toenail! It was gargantuan! It grew back after I had it removed. I had to go to the pediatrist a second time. It started spewing yellow substance called pus. (Everyone begins to cringe and express disgust for his graphic revelation. He then continues, oblivious to their discomfort.) It hurt so bad! The doctor said it was the most puss and blood he has ever seen!  

(The staff leader finally interupts him by addressing the entire group and correcting his behavior. He is also trying to keep his composure.) 

Staff Leader: Okay, you can stop right there! By a show of hands, how many of you are cringing right now? How many of you did not want to hear about the details of his surgery? (He quickly pauses and turns to Gregory.) 

Staff Leader: Gregory, everyone raised their hand. You could have been much more general about it. “I had a minor surgery last week. It had some complications and I had to go back to get them fixed” would have been far less cringeworthy. 

(He still could not grasp the repulsed expressions of everyone in the room. He continued with an attempt to claim that revealing every single detail was absolutely necessary.) 

I agree that to assume this person is lesser of a human being would be far too hasty and judgmental. Nonetheless, that was my default assumption anytime I encountered such a situation. I did that while simultaneously being oblivious to my tendencies which made people believe I was socially inept. I now know that I must control those tendencies if I want to be successful in the dating world. Admitting that I am on the Autism Spectrum is bound to decrease the already limited gay dating pool. I hate to go all cliche, but, that is how the cookie crumbles. I cannot force someone to be attracted to me. I most certainly cannot force someone to love me. 

I answered “no” to my own question because Asperger’s Syndrome is a very individualized disorder. Grey’s Anatomy failed to realize that when they wrote the portrayal of Dr. Virginia Dixon. I experience difficulty “reading” other people. But, that is the only thing I have in common with most people who have this condition. That does not make me any less aware of the challenges most people with “high functioning” Autistic Spectrum Disorder experience in adulthood. Most importantly, I know that I am more than capable of loving someone. That is all that truly matters! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenges of Addressing Bullying In Schools


I recently read an article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The subject was a lawsuit between parents Julie and Timothy Krebs. The trial’s ultimate intent is to remind the New Kensington-Arnold School District of their lack of response to the bullying that Destiny Krebs endured every day. Tragically, the emotional pain proved too much for Destiny Krebs. She took her life in February of 2015. I have felt obliged to write about this story since I found it only a week ago. However, I was unsure where to begin.

I graduated from high school five years ago. I was a target throughout my years in the public education system. However, I do not know the specifics with regards to the nature of bullying incidents that are known to take place in New Kensington-Arnold Schools. We have often heard the cliché where people refer to bullying as an epidemic. No doubt that we should be concerned about it. However, I think it is important to remember that bullying is still a very complex issue.

Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” made that incredibly clear. The five families featured in this critically acclaimed work featured the lives of five families who have been affected by bullying in ways that have many significant differences and similarities. (Below are links to stories about each family.) 

I am truly grateful for all of these families. They have all reminded us about the importance of determination. They all had one thing in common. That is their anger with their school’s lack of response. It is never easy to turn the reality of a child’s death to movement.  I am in no way trying to claim that I am on the side of administrators or teachers who are apparently uninterested in doing anything to prevent the issue. I, however, think it is important to keep things in mind if it should come up in a conversation between you and the people you interact with every day. 

Parents make a significant difference with regards to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of not just their children. Again, that difference can be positive when they become involved in movements like The Bully Project. It can also be profoundly negative. The question is, what is the appropriate way for a teacher or principal to speak to parents of students who are indeed involved in bullying? Our world is full of parents who have absolutely no clue about what their children doing when they are not under their direct supervision. Good luck to the teacher who tries to tell the parents about their behavior. In a worst case scenario, the parent will most likely get defensive and deny that their child did anything wrong.  

“How dare you tell me that my child is not a perfect little angel?” 

Sadly, our world is full of parents who just don’t care about how damaging bullying is. Some of them go even farther than dismissing the issue and using cliches like “boys will be boys.” They believe that it is funny to mistreat other people and will remorselessly defend a child who does it. I suppose a plausible theory could be that schools often refuse to address the issue due to fear of backlash from the parents of the bully. However, this ends up backfiring for schools because a lawsuit from the parents of the victim is often the only way to remind faculty and administration of how the issue continues to affect everyone negatively. 

 (The scene from Bully at the town hall meeting with Tina and David Long was an eye-opening example. A local pastor stepped up to the microphone. He said that students showed up in school with ropes around their neck right after the suicide death of their son Tyler.) 

 I certainly agree that we should all be angry with school teachers and administrators who are completely lax with regards to punishing children who bully. I agree that movements like “The Bully Project” are very beneficial in getting the word out. However, our anger can make us oblivious to how complicated the world is. I will forever be grateful for the people in my life who taught me the importance of rising above negativity and hatred. We need more individuals and groups who are willing to step up to the plate and take that risk.

“You Have A Chip On Your Shoulder!”


“Derek, you need to be more positive! You walk around like you have a chip on your shoulder!”

I’ve been told this many times. However, I have never really understood what it means. Teachers used to say it when I appeared unhappy and that I wanted to be anywhere else but in school. Typically, I just shrug it off. I am not one to take cheap advice from people who don’t have any idea what it is like to live with Asperger’s, Depression and Anxiety. I Googled the term “chip on your shoulder” and the following Urban dictionary entry was one of the first results.

Chip on his shoulder commonly refers to someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge. An example would be someone always bringing up how they are or were disadvantaged in some way.”

That definition brought back my memories to my sixth-grade homeroom teacher. To avoid the risk of starting a keyboard war, I am not going to mention this teacher’s real name. However, my mother and I did not think highly of her. She exhibited several tendencies that I felt were completely unacceptable for any teacher, but especially one responsible for educating students who were preparing to transition into junior high. Among her many unappealing traits, she had the tendency to say things that were very insensitive and disrespectful to my struggles and those of other students. On top of that, there were several instances where she would make them the center of attention. Knowing that sixth grade was eleven years ago, my memory is fuzzy. There is one situation, however, that I can remember quite distinctly.

I was working on something at my desk. Everyone else was talking and carrying on because the teacher walked out of the room for a minute or two. When she returned, my concentration was when she spoke in a very demanding voice. “Derek Warren! That is not your desk! That is everybody’s desk! Put your pencil down and clean it out!” The classroom was noisy, so I looked at her and tried to comprehend what she just said. So, my lack of an instant response compelled her to yell. “Stop staring at me like a deer in headlights and clean out your desk!” The entire classroom to became silent. She looked at everyone else, laughed and then commented. “Wow! That got everyone quiet!” Everyone laughed. They knew she didn’t like me and didn’t quite know how to handle me. (Plus, she was the “cool” sixth-grade teacher.)

Sixth grade was a very awkward time for me. It was the very first year I, along with my classmates, was assigned a different teacher and classroom for each subject. (The principal felt this was the best approach towards preparing us students for our transition into the pubescent years known as “junior high.”) Regardless, The whole routine of going from classroom to classroom was a major struggle for me. It impacted my organizational skills and my ability to keep track of assignments. I look back at that whole situation and realize one thing. I was a tough kid in some respects. I certainly knew I was different during that time. But, I knew little about Asperger’s Syndrome. The following important lesson never occurred to me until years later. People are bound to become frustrated when they are forced to work or interact with someone who exhibits idiosyncrasies like mine.

I never told anyone about this experience, including my parents. Some may think it is silly to feel upset about a teacher who insisted on running her mouth towards me. I agree with them. Regardless, this memory has always stuck with me. She failed to understand how insulting that remark was, irrespective of whether it was deliberate or just a “slip of the tongue.” Let’s think about it. The common perception of deer is that they are not the most intelligent creatures. (Click here for an article that explains why deer stare at headlights!) Organization was always one of my biggest shortcomings throughout my experience in the public school system. I have always been aware of it, but, habits are never easy to break. Her intent did not matter to me. She was trying to claim that I am stupid only because I didn’t instantly react to her demands.

What is the appropriate response to someone who is truly ignorant and insensitive about my peculiarities? That is not an easy one to ponder. What may be appropriate in one situation may be unacceptable in another. Some may not want to hear this, but, it is an important thing to keep in mind. We are not always as innocent as we think. It is important to take a minute and remind ourselves that diagnosis does not mean exempt from the basic rules of social conduct.

Have you never said anything that people may find disrespectful and insensitive to any of their personal struggles?

Have you never condescended to someone because you think your beliefs and experiences outweigh their own?

I greatly struggled with knowing when I was in the wrong. Some of it was due to the lack of basic social conduct. There are only two things I can do when people call me on that. Apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again. However, I will never apologize for the things that make me stand out from everyone else. We live in a world which continues to punish those who dare to be different. It took me a long time to develop the courage to say that. It is the one thing that puts me one step closer to overcoming that chip on my shoulder from adolescence. The next step is going back to school and pursuing an English Degree. Improving my writing skills for a broad range of possibilities is the one thing that will help me overcome this “chip on my shoulder.”

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“Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman (Part 1 of 2)


“Autistic children have the ability to see things and events around them from a new point of view, which often shows inspiring maturity. This ability, which remains throughout life, can in favorable cases lead to exceptional achievements which others may never attain. Abstraction ability, for instance, is a prerequisite for scientific endeavor. Indeed, we find numerous Autistic individuals among distinguished scientists.”

Hans Asperger

One thing comes to my mind when I read the above quote. I sure wish I heard that when I was in high school. I have greatly appreciated the insight from Autism memoirists like John Elder Robison and Dr. Temple Grandin. The most important critics of our world perceptions about Autism are those who actually live with it.  Many people in the tech world know San Francisco resident Steve Silberman for his contributions to “Wired” magazine and his recent Ted talk. Aside from those worthy accomplishments, his recent book “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” continues to become his most recognizable.

Silberman’s inspiration behind writing this book was a technology conference that he attended back in 2000. However, this was not the typical corporate technology conference that you would find in a venue like Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence convention center. It took place on a cruise ship through Alaska’s beautiful Inside passage.

“In the past forty years, some members of this tribe have migrated from the margins of society to the mainstream and currently work for companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google. Along the way, they have refashioned pop culture in their own image; now it’s cool to be obsessed with Doctor Who – at any age. The kids formerly ridiculed as nerds and braniacs have grown up to become the architects of our future.”

Among the attendees of this cruise was Larry Wall, the creator of an open source programming language called Perl. Steve walked over to Larry and asked if they could meet at his home located in the heart of Silicon Valley. He accepted the invitation, only after warning Steve that he and his wife happen to have an Autistic daughter. Steve’s only introduction to Autism was from the award winning film “Rain Man.” He indicated that Raymond was “a memorable character, but the chances of meeting such a person in real life seemed slim.” That is still true in the 21st century. I certainly cannot count toothpicks at a glance or memorize a phone book because such impractical activities are uninteresting to me. Regardless, Steve soon discovered that Larry also exhibited several characteristics that would classify as “high functioning Autism” or Asperger’s Syndrome.

“As I chatted with Larry about his illustrious invention, a blub lit up on the wall behind us. He had replaced the chime on his clothes dryer with an unobtrusive bulb because the little ding! at the end of each cycle disconcerted him. Such tinkering seemed par for the course for a man whose code made it possible for a Perl hacker named Bruce Winter to automate all the devices in his house and have his email read to him over the phone – in 1998. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Larry’s keen sensitivity to sounds might provide a link between his daughter’s condition and the tribe of industrious hermits who invented the modern digital world.”

I look at figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Larry Wall. I realize they are more than just important figures in the development of computing and technology. They are important reminders of how far we have come with regards to recognizing Autism and Asperger’s. They are important reminders of how far the world has come with regards to encouraging these “brainiacs” and “nerds” to embrace their uniqueness by turning their skills into something marketable and rewarding. It certainly is true that we still have a long way to go with regards to challenging our society’s ignorant and negative mindset about being Autistic or “on the spectrum.” Before reading NeuroTribes, I never wondered what it took for our world to evolve into the belief that being different is cool. I must admit, this was an emotional journey for me to read about.

Adolf Hitler perceived the disabled as living “life unworthy of life.” The infamous dictator’s hatred towards the weak and feeble minded compelled him to enact Action T4 (German: Aktion T4.) This permitted involuntary euthanasia of the elderly, mentally or physically disabled, mentally distraught and the incurably ill. These “weak” and “feeble minded” children were tortured to death through starvation and forced overdose of medications. A nurse named Anny Wöbt testified against German psychiatrist Erwin Jekulius for the murder of her six year old son at the Am Spielgrund clinic.

“It was unambiguously clear from his remarks that he endorsed the entire operation against ‘life unworthy of life’ and that he was prepared to do whatever the Nazis demanded.” She begged Jekelius to at least grant her son a quick and painless death, and he promised to do that. On February 22, 1941, Alfred, six years old, perished of “pneumonia” at Am Spigelgrund. When Wödl viewed her son’s corpse, it was obvious that he had died in agony.”

This certainly is heavy material. The worst part of reading about these brutal “euthanasia crimes” was knowing that these children (most likely) could not have managed to escape the systematic abuse if an Autism diagnosis had actually existed. The general public did not even begin to recognize the term “Autism” until (approximately) the 1960s. Bruno Bettelheim sparked a lot of controversy in 1967 when he compelled the public and medical professionals to accept Leo Kanner’s “refrigerator mother” theory. He claimed that the child’s diagnosis was a result of the mother being “distant, cold and rejecting.” Parents commonly reacted to the revelation of their child’s diagnosis by institutionalizing them. However, there were many parents who refused to accept that as the “one and only” path for their future. They were willing to go the extra mile and provide for the child. Dr. Temple Grandin’s mother did that by introducing her to people who were willing to mentor and guide them along the way. This can be hard to do in our modern world. The main reason is because it continues to punish those who think differently. Nonetheless, it reminds us that there are people who genuinely care and they are the only ones who will truly matter!

Important Lessons about Asperger’s/Autism Portrayals


I recently wrote a post about television and movie portrayals of Asperger’s Syndrome. I critiqued the portrayal of Dr. Virginia Dixon on the ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” I felt this character was only a stereotypical representation of classic Autism that was merely based on a list of symptoms. I replied to a comment which indicated some characteristics and qualities that I would really like to see in portrayals of Asperger’s Syndrome. I do realize that Asperger’s and Autism are difficult disorders to portray. This is mainly because no two people are the same. One person may exhibit all or several of the common characteristics, while another may only exhibit one or two. I must admit that it is difficult to come up with an answer to such an open-ended question. The Autism Spectrum in and of itself is very diverse, so some may not agree with what I am about to say. Here, I provided two things that I really want to see in portrayals of Asperger’s that many Hollywood writers fail to even acknowledge.

1.) There is a difference between short term goals and ultimate goals! 

My cousin Heath does a Podcast called “The Artrepreneur Now.” As its name suggests, it is about entrepreneurs who are either working towards or already achieved their goal of quitting their day job and living their lives through their creative passions. Most of them know that the dream life (currently) is just a dream. So, they have no choice but to find a day job. Sometimes, it’s as non prestigious as bagging groceries at the local supermarket. Other times, it’s a boring, repetitive job in a corporate office or working in construction, manufacturing or engineering. Whatever it is, it gives them enough money to pay the bills and keep food on the table. The real world is always less appealing than fantasy! Short term goals are used to realistically plan for all the necessities of life. These include paying bills, taxes, mortgage, rent and general time management. I am not going to deny that most people don’t like to have to think about bills and such. However, failure to do all of them can result in some very unappealing consequences (including eviction, homelessness or even incarceration.)

Ultimate goals, however, are the desired result from working to create the life you have truly dreamed of creating. When you have achieved that goal, you know that you have truly achieved that life you have truly dreamed of living. There is nothing wrong with raising the standards and dreaming. Of course, that means people will think you are crazy and even try to discourage you. They are self-proclaimed “experts” about you and the life you want to live. It’s always important not to take their discouraging words to heart. Don’t dream too much, because it is still important to know the necessities of creating that life so you don’t live up to their negativity. This is where it becomes necessary to get in touch with people who are successful in pursuing their passion. Ask them as many questions as you can and take their advice!

2.) Unique and hero are two completely different words!

Unique: having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable 

Hero: a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal. 

I get really fed up when I see an Autistic character who is esteemed as a “hero” simply because he is “unique” in a certain way. We’ve all seen those movies and television shows. The writers for Grey’s Anatomy seemed to have portrayed Dr. Dixon as a self-described hero simply because she puts “faith” in science, as opposed to beliefs. No surgeon would ever make it through medical school with such disregard for the importance of tact in delicate situations. I am particularly referring to disrespect for her patients religious and spiritual views, along with the inability to recognize when people need time to grieve a loss. I look at my abilities and weaknesses and I realize one thing. I cannot consider myself a hero simply because I am unique. People will think of me as a jerk with a tremendous ego if I go around and expect others to hold me to high esteems for such a ridiculous reason.

If you had to battle Godzilla, how would you use your creativity/talents to defeat him?

This is a closing question that Heath asks guests on “The Artrepreneur Now.” Some people might consider this question ridiculous. (From a realistic standpoint, Godzilla movies are pretty ridiculous.) However, I think any answer to this question might prove one thing about uniqueness. It can be considered heroic if you are able to use your talent to better yourselves and the world around you. Unique people understand how it feels to be “defeated by Godzilla.” However, they know that they must learn from their mistakes and use them as an opportunity to improve. Otherwise, Godzilla might just “eat you alive!”

I did my best to come up with a list of two things that are essential to remember for anyone who is writing a portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome. As I stated earlier, the Autism Spectrum is very diverse. I may not exhibit all of the traits that someone else may greatly struggle with. Regardless of the labels thrown by neurotypical people, I hope you consider these two essential tips helpful.

If you feel like anything else should be added, please feel free to comment!

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The Challenges of Portraying Autistic Spectrum Disorders


If you love television, you may (or may not) like what I am about to say in this post. It’s funny how many of these television shows that depict people with disabilities have this way of making the average viewer think that the things they see on television are accurate and true. When they encounter a person or situation in life which reminds them of a certain television show, they utter some variation of the following phrase.

“Wow! This is just like what I saw on __________!”

For the record, I actually enjoy a lot of those crime and hospital dramas. I have to admit that the actors are good at making it look real to the average person. They also raise awareness about the emotional impact that such devastating circumstances can have on people. However, I watched a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that I thought were horribly misrepresented of Asperger’s Syndrome. It was the three episodes from Season 5. Mary McDonnell played Dr. Virginia Dixon, a surgeon who happened to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. From her very first scene in “These Ties That Bind”, I could tell that her character was going to be a walking stereotype. She never looked the other doctors in the eye, then started to name useless facts about the history of a piggy back transplant. She was also a stickler for “scientific” medical terms, which is very childish in and of itself.

Hetero-topic transplant! Piggyback is a colloquial name for the procedure!

Don’t do that!

(whispers) Don’t do that!

It is very common for movies and television shows to portray people on the spectrum as intelligent, but socially inept. The next several scenes made that incredibly clear. Dr. Dixon took unapologetic, blunt and socially inept to a whole new level. I am going to briefly describe several scenes where she did just that! The first example was an interaction with patient Clay Bedonie. Six years prior, he underwent a piggyback transplant. The patient wanted his donor heart back because he felt “haunted” by the new one.

Dr. Dixon:

Clay Bedonie, are you aware that without the donor heart, you will live a short life attached to a machine while dying a sudden and agonizing death?

This particular scene was nothing compared to the others I am going to discuss. Dr. Dixon refused to acknowledge or respect the patient’s religious and spiritual beliefs. (Clay Bedonie was a Navajo!) She stated several times that she only puts faith in science. Please, tell me I am not the only person who believes that this would be a very unprofessional example for anyone who desires to pursue a medical career. Simply put, there is a time and a place where it is acceptable to debate religious or spiritual beliefs. I do not have a medical degree, but I am old enough to know that interacting with a patient in any healthcare profession is not the time or the place!

The next episode featuring Dr. Dixon showed what can happen when a “clueless aspie” fails to show respect and understanding for the patient’s family when they face the devastating news that their loved one has died.

Patient Holly Anderson was involved in a car accident with Emma, her sister. Upon arriving at the hospital, the two bickered because Holly was texting while driving her father’s car. Dr. Alex Karev noticed that her eyes started to turn a strange red color as a result of brain matter leaking through her nose. She was then admitted into an operating room. “Good! Take her away! I hope she dies!” Emma yelled this as they rushed her away. Holly died on the operating table of a carotid dissection. Dr. Dixon made the typical aspie mistake of standing up in front of the family and going into graphic detail about the failed procedure. I transcribed this incredibly awkward scene here.

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but tests confirm that although your sister’s bodily functions are fine, her brain is dead. She has no thoughts, no emotions, no senses. I’m Dr. Dixon, I will be harvesting your sister’s organs, if your parents agree.

Mr. Anderson: Please, she’s our baby. We need more time.

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but her organs are young and vital. They could save many lives.

(Emma wheels over to Holly and begs for her to wake up.)

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but your sister can’t wake up. Her basic functions are gone. Her brain is dead. Her body is alive, but unfortunately, unfortunately, she is dead.

(Emma angrily demands for Dr. Dixon to leave. Meredith then politely asks her to leave the room.)

I cannot imagine what it would feel like to see my loved one dying on a hospital bed after a tragic accident. Combine the shear devastation with the added aggravation of having to deal with a socially inept doctor who is overwhelming me with the details about why my loved one is brain-dead. If I were in this situation, I can only hope that I would not end up smacking her right in the face! Believe it or not, those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome are more than capable of recognizing, understanding and expressing human emotions. It is part of learning these things the neurotypical calls “social skills.” Like riding a bike or playing the piano, it takes practice to master.

I look back on these scenes and I realize one thing. Most intelligent people know that this is not an authentic portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome! (They know that Autism is a neurological disorder, not a disease like Tuberculosis or AIDS. Amount and severity of symptoms varies in each person.) It shows stereotypical resemblance to classic Autism combined with the physical ability to communicate verbally. I don’t expect others to use the same words and terms that I am accustomed to using. I don’t throw temper tantrums after being hugged by someone who I don’t particularly have the interest sharing such a personal interaction with. I am able to understand when a certain time or place is not appropriate for debate about beliefs and opinions. Furthermore, I do have feelings and emotions. I just communicate them in ways that are only somewhat different from everyone else.

I have yet to see one portrayal that does not put such strong emphasis on stereotypical symptoms and mannerisms, and that does allow the individual to reach their full potential. This is just one thing that will change people’s perceptions about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and about disability in general.