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.

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“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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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.

It Was The Worst Day of My Life (Recognizing Emotions and Overcoming Them)


I have written about depression and mental illnesses several times. I wrote about the tragic death of Robin Williams. I expressed great disappointment in Fox News analyst Shepard Smith and his claim that Williams was a “coward” for taking his own life. I am someone who firmly believes that a mental illness should never define everything about who we are. However, the human mind can be a very fragile thing. It can often cause us to do things we never knew we were capable of doing. These things can certainly be wonderful, but they can also be devastating and tragic.

I recently read a story about Virginia Gentiles, a mother from Pasadena, California. She is suing a local Target store for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and wrongful death.

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Target-Faces-Lawsuit-Over-Employees-Suicide-289662711.html

Her son, Graham Gentles, committed suicide on July 18, 2014. Three days earlier, store security and local police met him at the front of the store as he arrived early. They grabbed him, emptied his pockets and hat, then paraded him around the store to an office. This practice is commonly called “the walk of shame.” 

“The walk of shame is a Target policy to purposely cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target. The policy consists of employees being arrested and paraded in handcuffs through the Target store in full view of co-workers and customers.”

Long story short, the alleged harassment was not because he stole from the store. Graham’s mother stated that the supposed theft was all fabrication by the multiple media outlets that have reported on this story. It was due to a previous altercation that occurred between him and an employee, which also happened months beforehand. After being taken paraded around the store, police drove him to the local station for questioning and released without any charges filed. To add more devastation, he was wrongfully fired from his job. When he spoke to his mother about the ordeal, he said it was the worst day of his life. Unfortunately, this day was so terrible, he decided to take his own life because he could not bear the pain and humiliation anymore.  

Reactions from the public have ranged from very supportive and sympathetic to downright hateful and disrespectful. I cannot say that this surprises me, mainly because mental illness is such an under recognized issue in our world today. Normally, I would agree that the loss of a job alone is not a reason to commit suicide. However, this is the dark side of living with a neurological disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. The emotional pain we experience in life can overpower our ability to think things through and find ways to cope. 

If there is anything this story has taught me, it is the sheer importance of finding positive ways to cope with negative emotions. It doesn’t matter what I am feeling or going through. Sometimes, I have no choice but to think it through and try to understand why I am feeling this way. This is when I like to take time to myself. I use what I do best. My gift in writing. “My Letter to Steve Grand” is one of those examples. I don’t normally share these writings with people. However, I decided to make a rare exception this time. 

Please understand that crushes, love and romance are very new feelings for me. Life with Asperger’s Syndrome has always made me a loner. The high school social scene considered me the loner who was a “loser.” I was an awkward, uncoördinated kid with zero confidence who walked around with a scowl on his face. My “phases” changed throughout that time. I refrained from talking to anyone for most of those 4 years, and then I became this kid who could not control himself and acted out just for the sake of acting out. I desperately needed a way to handle my pain and that was the only release I could find.

When I was a small child, my issue with emotions was not recognizing them. I’ve always known what I am feeling. However, there were times when I knew my emotions way too much. The thing is, it is still one of my demons today. My mammaw and papaw (southern talk for grandma and grandpa) used to tell me this story from when they came to visit us in Pennsylvania. It goes back to when I was somewhere between three and four years old.

We were celebrating my sisters 6th birthday. The local bowling alley was our chosen venue. The familiar sounds of bowling balls hitting the pins, people chatting and music playing filled the bustling local hangout. My attention was not focused on any of that. It was focused on the family to the right of us. They also happened to be celebrating a birthday and rented a helium tank and were using it to blow up balloons. I immediately covered my ears. I was terrified of the possibility that they were going to pop. My attention became hyper focused on those balloons and the possibility that they were going to burst and make a loud sound. 

Crying was the only way I knew how to handle it. My mammaw tried to give me a set of ear plugs, but that didn’t help. My papaw sensed that I needed to get out of the noisy room for a few minutes. I needed to tell him what was wrong and I needed to be reassured. While he did not say it in these exact words, this was the gist of the message he gave to me. 

“The world is full of things that are much scarier than balloons popping.” 

That is the one thing that we all need to be reminded. The world is full of things that cause a lot more pain. Sometimes, those experiences are directly caused by our tendency to negatively dwell upon those little things. I failed to realize that when I was a young child. I failed to realize it when I was in high school and feared that people were not going to like me. I fail to realize it today when I discover that things just don’t work out the way I anticipated them to. The big question is, how do we stop it from dictating our lives?

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Re: Tolerance vs. Acceptance


I enjoy reading people’s commentary on my writing. I am aware that commentary is necessary for any writer to gain suggestions for future content. I may not answer every single comment, but I do my best to take people’s feedback into consideration. I happen to know that the Autism community is very diverse. The fact that somebody else has an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis does not necessarily mean that we will become best friends. We all have different beliefs, personalities, strengths, flaws and interests. I cannot answer for every single one of them. With that in mind, I encourage you to go back to my last blog post and read the comment submitted by Mark. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. To the best of my ability, I want to provide my response to him. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. I greatly encourage people to provide constructive criticism, however I do have a problem with people who claim that I am shallow because I quoted lyrics from a song. That was something I noticed in the comment below. 

And speaking of relationships, one of the most important things to be able to do to find and create a meaningful relationship is to get beyond just finding the “beautiful” woman or man (and based on the perspective you show in your blog, that “beautiful” term could mean you are saying that ugly people need not apply?)

Contrary to your belief, I do not desire to get into a relationship just to get my piece of “eye candy.”  I am in no terms comparable to Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. This kind of shallowness is one of the many reasons why gay men are so negatively stereotyped. You may be surprised to know that many of “those gay (and straight) men” have gone through experiences of isolation and bullying. This causes a decrease in their confidence and they work endlessly to fix their flaws. While physical exercise is a great thing, I cannot stand those gym rats who think the world revolves around themselves and their hotness. You are right that we all are all allowed to choose who we like. We are also allowed to choose which physical, emotional and intellectual traits we find attractive. You have probably heard the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A person who is physically attractive but boldly rude to “ugly” people is not “beautiful” in my terms. I am sure most people would agree with me. If people don’t like my future mate for whatever reason, I should not have to care because all that matters is that I am happy with the person I love. 

One can be gay, hetero, autistic, non-autistic, or what have you, and still have the problem of not looking beyond their own needs in trying to find a mate. That issue has to do with self-centeredness, self-absorption, even selfishness. Now, given the defined clinical aspects of autism, an autistic is described as self-oriented and “other averse”. It would seem they, by their own description, have greater difficulties in recognizing and responding to the needs of others. On the one hand, this is called “autism”, is diagnosed, medicated, treated, etc. Based on your blog, it seems that self-absorption and lack of accepting others is unacceptable, which is a mature outlook. However, on the other hand, it seems that a key component of this disorder (unsociability) is also supposed to be excused, overlooked and accepted, if one is diagnosed with Asperger’s. Though you are obviously intelligent and a good writer, what comes through in your writing is an overwhelming and laser focus on every micro-possibility that you are not being treated appropriately, why you are not treated appropriately, what others should do to treat you more appropriately, and how very appropriate you believe you are. Bear with me here, because I’m saying some things I happen to see as very appropriate and helpful that most people today won’t say. Whether it’s autism or just plain selfishness, the result is the same and the “treatment” is the same. 

I am perfectly aware of the fact that Aspies have the difficulty with the thing neurotypicals refer to as “social skills.” I have been through more than my fair share of these “professionals” who listed the symptoms of Autism/Asperger’s and they endlessly drilled me with exercises that are supposedly intended to “fix” me. My former therapist was very little help. He made me feel like socialization was just a dreadful burden instead of a “necessary and beneficial skill.” His tactic mainly consisted of bombarding me with questions, telling me how much I should “open myself up” and comparing me to the one other client he used to work with and how this person became a complete failure in life. This (“opening myself up”) was something that never would have happened during my high school years. Every time he asked me a question, about 5-10 seconds of silence would follow. I obviously needed that time to process an answer to that question and come up with a response to it. Instead, he would become impatient with me and bombard me with even more questions. (I wrote just a few examples below.) 

“What are you thinking about? “

“Why aren’t you looking at me when I am talking to you? My eyes are here not there!” 

“Why aren’t you answering the question? You should already know the answer!” 

A therapist can either be a positive or a negative influence on somebody. It all depends on how compatible the therapists is with the client’s needs and personality. During that time, pushing me to “come out of my shell” simply would have caused more resistance. Nobody would have changed that. There is no point in working with somebody who makes you feel that the only purpose of therapy is to make you feel like it is your fault for being diagnosed with a disorder that causes you to have difficulty interacting with people. Parents and teachers tried to convince me into believing that he wanted to help me, but his “in your face” tactic caused me to loose any trust in him.

We all need to learn to 1) consider others just as much as we consider ourselves, 2) learn to move on if someone isn’t appropriate or maybe just doesn’t like us instead of picking it apart in ongoing critiques (people make mistakes and we are all allowed to choose who we like; are you always appropriate, have you NEVER offended anyone, and do you believe that you like and want to be around everyone? By your blog I see that’s not the case, so why put that standard on others?), and 3) learn to consider, reflect on, get to know, understand, and even get a sense of the needs of others. The inability of autistics to relate and identify with others has reached mythic and even romantic proportions.

While I do believe that it is important to recognize the needs of others, how do you help somebody who refuses to use every single resource that has routinely been provided for them? If one particular resource does not work, then the individual (or their parent/guardian) should certainly assert themselves and expect to be referred elsewhere! My former therapist was just one person who did not connect with me. Just because one resource is ineffective does not mean that one should give up. To answer your question whether or not I “like to be around everyone”, I can come up with a response that most people would agree with. I know that I will encounter people who are not genuinely accepting of me. If they insist upon ” praying for me to change my evil and sinful ways, I will be sure to thank them for their “concern” and push their “prayers” to the back of my mind. However, I will take issue with any person who electronically, verbally or physically attacks me or any of those people who do genuinely love and support me. I will not back down when it comes to standing up for what I believe in. I say that regardless of any criticism people throw at me. I say that despite the fact that I can be shunned, isolated, harassed, beaten or even killed just because I am gay.

The brooding or acting-out autistic who is doing algorithms in his head has been some kind of hero ever since “Rain Man”, but this perspective is ridiculous and not helpful to autistics at all. Autism is of course on a spectrum; we have the non-verbal all the way to the Asperger’s. Everyone, including the Asperger’s folks, marvel at their intelligence-so much is made of it. But this comes at the expense of ignoring the very detrimental lack of social skills, which autistics, who can excel academically, are given a pass on. This only encourages higher functioning autistics to give a pass on it themselves, and encourages others to neglect training those autistics in that area. And yes, social skills are learnable, consideration is learnable.

Let’s go back to my therapist for a minute. We obviously did not see eye to eye! So, why continue working with him? It would have wasted my time and it would have wasted his time. You have probably heard of these things called “social skills” groups. I can tell you now that I can only pick out one or two useful things that still stick to me now. Because I am a man who happens to gay and who happens to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I ponder one question that is on the minds of many of those like me. Why do people discriminate against the LGBT community? Children learn this from their parents and teachers. These beliefs were instilled upon the parents during their upbringing. Regardless of who they are, they all contribute to the downright lies people spread about the LGBT community. It is indoctrination, plain and simple! So, what is the motivational force behind this behavior? They could have possibly experienced a conflict with somebody who happened to be gay or lesbian. They base their feelings upon that one negative experience. It is sad, but what else can we do? As you say, we all chose who we like.

There is one thing that I noticed about these “social skills groups.” I am sure there are others who feel the same way about them. It seems to me that many of the therapeutic activities are only intended to keep the group members busy instead of teaching them “useful and beneficial skills.” Honestly, it’s been fourteen years since I went to kindergarten! I cannot stand adults who tell me that I need to “be more mature” but expect me to cut pictures out of a magazine then glue them on a sheet of paper to emphasize personal hygiene or some other social skill that was completely straight forward for me. I can remember observing other group members who either did not care about their profound lack of social skills or they were completely oblivious to it. 

Pretending to be in a social situation (aka “role-playing”) did not work for me either. It was incredibly awkward. All you do is pretend to be in some hypothetical social situation where the message is either obvious or completely foreign to me. I already know that people do not want to experience the smell of bad breath and body odor. It can cause social shunning and even bullying. My parents have already taught me the shear importance of bathing daily and brushing my teeth twice a day. I already know that it is not socially acceptable to whine and complain when I am out with my friends and they want to eat at a different restaurant than the one I want to eat at. I know this kind of behavior will cause my friends to avoid me and think that I am self-centered and immature. I already know that you should never give any of your personal information to strangers. My parents and my teachers reminded me about stranger danger since I was in kindergarten. I already know that it is rude to interrupt somebody when they are talking. I find that real conversations with real people are beneficial to me, as opposed to thinking hypothetically and addressing a skill that people have instilled upon me several times. I know there are people out there who do benefit from this practice, but I must be blunt. Getting to know people is more beneficial than being a conformist who always does what is “acceptable” and “normal” in society.

Let me say this: I have Asperger’s, and I have worked with autistics. Through a series of difficult life circumstances I was forced into the revelation that I had to get along with people if I wanted to survive and have a reasonably happy life. And in working with autistics, I’ve seen that they can learn social skills when those skills are given priority and intense, diligent attention. In Temple Grandin’s book, she stresses the importance of the social skills she was expected to learn from her own mother, and how important those were to her. Asperger’s are too coddled, yes, coddled, and that only strengthens their aversion to appropriate social interactions. 

I have written about Temple Grandin in the past. I do admire her and the many things she has accomplished in life. She has raised a lot of insight about Autism and her writings have helped encourage people to achieve their dreams. However, I think something else must be made clear. Not every single Autistic person dreams of pursuing a career in the livestock industry. Not every single Autistic person “thinks in pictures.” Not every single Autistic person is fortunate enough to have dedicated, caring, nurturing and helpful parents. There are parents out there who lack the ability to cope with the many difficulties their child will experience in life. This makes it more difficult to teach “social skills” because the parents are unwilling to coöperate with professionals who genuinely care. On top of all this, they have to deal with the intolerance and hatred that comes from thoughtless people. Some of these parents are even abusive. They feel that hurting their child is the only way to eliminate “inappropriate social behavior.” These children do not know how to seek the help they need to remove themselves from these horrible situations. I honestly feel like I am the only person who has brought up issues like this. This problem is grossly unrecognized in the Autism community. The big question is how can we educate others about this problem? 

When do we teach autistics to look for POSITIVES in others instead of negatives? Derek, can you make a list of all the times people were kind, accepting, supportive, helpful, nice or friendly to you? Sharing that would give a lot of hope to others struggling socially. If you can’t, or if it is very short, how subjective is your experience? It is also said that autistics have trouble seeing when they are at fault or lacking. Shouldn’t the focus then be on developing more self-awareness and self-development, as opposed to self-absorption? If those with Asperger’s claim this is not possible, that it is part of their diagnoses that this cannot happen, then it would make sense then that they should refrain from the common Asperger habit of being so comfortable in negatively judging others.

I do know several people who have truly made me feel welcomed and accepted. I can guarantee you that my experience is not “subjective.” I would be glad to share my experiences with these certain individuals in a future blog post. However, it seems to me that you don’t understand how it feels to encounter people who are not “accepting”, “supportive”, “nice” or “friendly” to me. I can tell you right now that my experience is not “subjective.” I have encountered several people who have attempted to manipulate me into thinking they were genuinely being nice. I feel that I don’t need to go into detail about these experiences because I have done that before. Harassment of any nature should never be attributed to the individual being “at fault” or “lacking.” I knew right from the start that these people were trying to make me feel bad about myself because of the fact that I did not have friends. They were trying to provoke me into reacting in a way that would get me into trouble. This is what caused me to lose trust in just about everyone at my high school. I didn’t want to talk to anybody if people did not genuinely treat me with respect.

If meaningful relationships is the goal, Asperger’s need to be held to some standards (which shows respect for their ability to learn), and need to accept help for developing those other-oriented skills that are necessary for caring interactions. This is not just an autistic issue at all; we’ve been bombarded by a selfish construct of relationship for the last 75 years. No one should be given a pass on this, not even Asperger’s. The better we all get along, the more fulfilling place this world will be for everyone. I must say also that no one has any exclusivity on dealing with bigotry, rejection, unacceptance and repugnance. I’m not the only one who can’t dredge up more sympathy for another well-off celebrity whining about “coming out” when babies are being abused and sex-trafficking is alive and well even here in the US. None of us should be so quick to complain when we consider how much others have suffered, which is another good trait-considering the pain of others-that Asperger’s, and this society in general, needs to develop. Aspies, their “handlers” (who are making millions), and gays need to give it a rest. If any of us are looking for a perfect world, then we’d each have to leave it. I wish you well.

I am already aware that being LGBT, Autistic or “different” in any way does not automatically grant me “permission” to complain. Have you ever thought that the abused babies you talked about could end up being disowned just because they are gay or lesbian? I also happen to know homosexuals were subjected to the most brutal treatment during Hitler’s 1940’s regime in Nazi, Germany. I read about the tragic story of the fourteen year old African American boy named Emmett Till. He was brutally murdered in Mississippi just because he flirted with a white woman. You should know that I write blogs about issues that are important to me. Let me be as blunt as possible. Martin Luther King Junior did not “give it a rest” when he wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail. I can tell you that I will not “give it a rest” when there are many people who are LGBT and/or Autistic. They desperately need people who can help them understand they are not alone. I can guarantee that you will find tons of information about abused babies and sex trafficking on the Internet. I think you need to picture yourself as the teenage boy who is holding a gun to his head because his parents refuse to accept the fact that that are different. I can guarantee that nobody would tell you to “give it a rest” if you went through the same experience. 

As you can see, I do like to read commentary from others. It is okay if people do not like my writing because I never promised to answer for everyone. Being gay is still a very new thing for me, and I am doing whatever I can to help figure out the place I have in the world. I hope you enjoyed my writing and I should be posting again in the near future!

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“I Am Proud To Be A Gay Autistic Man!” (Part 1)


I have become aware of the topic known as neurodiversity. This particular belief is very controversial in the Autism community. The term “neurodiversity” is the belief that a disorder in the nervous system should be referred to as a normal human difference. Simply put, they are people who strongly oppose the search for a cure. I don’t fully understand what neurodiversity is, and therefore I don’t know what it means to me. With that in mind, my recent blog post was probably the hardest one to write. It was the blog post where I revealed that I know I am a gay man. This one is going to be just as challenging. I now want to share a post on the Wrongplanet.net forums. I asked the users on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) forum one question that might seem simple  to those in the neurotypical community. 

Can you honestly and truly say “I am proud to be a LGBT Autistic? Why or why not?” 

At first, I thought everybody was going to say  “Duh! What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I love who I am. I was born this way!”  Once people started commenting my predictions changed quickly. Some of them expressed the belief that they feel no shame in their Autism or their sexuality. They have embraced the fact that they are different from the rest of society and they seem to have enough confidence to stand up to people who try to bible thump and convince them to “change” who they are. There are others who do not feel ashamed, but who feel that neither qualities are things to be “proud” of. Surprisingly, my opinion was different from everyone who answered the question so far.

As of now, my stance on this complicated question is half and half. I am sure you can tell that I felt a huge sense of relief when I finally revealed that I know I am a gay man. I say that mainly because I live in a mostly Conservative Pennsylvania town. I have come to the immediate conclusion that people who use a religious text as a method of “changing” my feelings and desires are not real friends. Despite what 14-year-old Caiden Cowger says, I know that I have always been attracted to the male body. I began to notice it during my junior and senior years of high school,  but I knew I was not ready to reveal it to the world. Here is a quote from my earlier post about my former therapist and why I did not trust him.  

His tone of voice was often very questionable, meaning I had trouble figuring out whether he was being genuine or being sarcastic. I was “not like everybody else” and I was not interested in most of the neurotypical activities, in particular, dating. I wanted to “be like everybody else” but I didn’t know how to. Just about every single session consisted of him trying to cause that magical epiphany. He wanted to me “put myself out there.” He would go on and on about how I should be interested girls, the sarcastically said “unless you like boys or something…”  That was one of the many comments that caused a major personality clash between the two of us. I didn’t know I was gay back then, so I just refused to respond to him. If I had known, I still would not have “come out” to him.

 It might seem shocking to some of you when I say that I am not “proud to be Autistic.” I honestly don’t truly understand why I say that, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that I am a gay man who recently came out of the closet. I am only twenty years old, and it has been a little over a year since I graduated from high school. It is a known fact that symptoms of depression and social anxiety are common characteristics in people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and that is true regardless of whether or not they are actually diagnosed with the two conditions. Now that I identify myself as a man who happens to be gay and who happens to be diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, I have to be prepared for the many bumps that I could hit on the road ahead. 

If you are a parent of an LGBT Autistic teen or young adult, I must be honest that I do not know the many answers to your questions. I say that because I am new to the whole gay thing. However, I am sure you know an Asperger’s child will always experience difficulties with socialization. This could have the potential to make me vulnerable to acts of hatred and violence. The tragic death of Matthew Shepard was a grim reminder that there are sick and hateful people out there. It happened  on October 7, 1998. Two men named Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson drove Matthew to a remote area east of Laramie, a city in Southeastern Wyoming. The two men pistol whipped him multiple times and left him out in the cold for eighteen hours. He breathed his last breath shortly after midnight on October 12, 1998. 

Matthew was tricked into believing that Aaron and Russell were gay. After meeting them at a bar, Aaron agreed to give Matthew a ride home. As soon as they brought him to the remote area outside of town, Aaron said “Guess what? We’re not gay and you just got jacked.”  That was when he started to beat Matthew. The most painful aspect of being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome is that I have to do everything in my power to prevent my social naivety from overtaking my life. The murder of Matthew Shepard was an violent example of the bullying I experienced in high school. As my regular visitors know, bullies would try to convince me into believing they were being kind, then turn around and back-stab me. So, I ask you one question after hearing about tragedies like this. What is there to be “proud” of? I assure you that I will never feel shame in who I am, but I must come up with something that will prevent a tragedy from taking the lives of people in the most vulnerable “minority” groups out there. 

To be continued by next week… 

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Do They Truly “Care”? (Part 2- A Blog Post About Facing Fears)


A Continuation of Part 1

When we experience a life threatening situation like a car accident, it reduces our self-confidence to great amounts. We think that cowering in fear will make the problems go away. Anxiety is a common characteristic in people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, regardless of whether or not they are actually diagnosed with a particular type of Anxiety.  I’ve always hated therapists who tell me that I need to “put myself out there” if I want to make new friends. I am in college now, and the feelings of not “fitting in” have been with me for a long time. I am sure they will stay with me in any social situation. 

Throughout most of my (almost) twenty years of life, I have always known that I was “different.” I was “unpopular” in high school and the vast majority of my classmates either didn’t know that I existed or took advantage of it. Because of that, I found it extremely difficult to decipher whether or not people were merely trying to be kind. My former therapist, Mike thought that forcing me out of my comfort zone would magically cause an epiphany and end all of my problems. His demanding personality and use of scare tactics made me believe that he was not really trying to “help” me, even though he tried to convince me otherwise. The truth was that I really had no idea what was bothering me. I was just bitter about the fact that I was “not like everybody else.”

You are probably asking me to answer that one burning question. What is that thing that has caused me to feel so empty? So, you should know that I am “putting myself out there.” I now know I am a gay man. I knew that I was not ready to say that during my high school years. My classmates seemed to notice this and they used it as a way to provoke me. My small, unincorporated hometown in Western Pennsylvania mainly consists of Conservative Christians who are not very accepting of the GLBT community. Life in the Freeport Area School District was about conforming, fitting in and doing what was expected of me.

The school claimed to have a “zero tolerance policy” towards bullying. From elementary school until tenth grade, the schools seemed to think that displaying signs that read “bullying will not be tolerated” or “teasing hurts” would give students the message that bullying was not acceptable. The truth was, it did the exact opposite. The vast majority of the students paid no attention to the signs. My teachers were under the kind of mindset that we were in a perfect school in a small town and that any forms of intolerance and bullying are just a little pigment of our own imagination. As a matter of fact, I remember my tenth grade health teacher rambling about how he thinks it’s “funny” that our school district even needed a bullying policy. He was just one of the many Freeport teachers who lived under the “perfect small town” mindset. If you are still not convinced, look at the website greatschools.org and read the one and two star reviews written about the junior and senior high schools. 

Going back to my “drill Sargent” therapist, I can remember one thing about his tactic that truly infuriated me. His tone of voice was often very questionable, meaning I had trouble figuring out whether he was being genuine or being sarcastic. I was “not like everybody else” and I was not interested in most of the neurotypical activities, in particular, dating. I wanted to “be like everybody else” but I didn’t know how to. Just about every single session consisted of him trying to cause that magical epiphany. He wanted to me “put myself out there.” He would go on and on about how I should be interested girls, the sarcastically said “unless you like boys or something…”  That was one of the many comments that caused a major personality clash between the two of us. I didn’t know I was gay back then, so I just refused to respond to him. If I had known, I still would not have “come out” to him. This was due to the lack of respect and understanding from the vast majority of my peers, teachers and counselors. So, I am sure you can guess why I felt this comment was pretty questionable. His tendency to bombard me with questions, to get in my face and tell me how much I need to “open up to people” caused even more resistance. I most likely will never change my opinions about the man. He had no regard for the fact that I simply was not ready to discover and reveal what was really bothering me. 

If there are any Autistic and/or gay people who are reading this blog post, I am sure you know that we have many stereotypes and labels thrown at us. This is why I felt that “coming out” during high school was not safe. When people think of the word “gay”, they picture a male who is effeminate, materialistic, shallow and overly obsessed about sex. When people think of an Autistic person, they picture someone running out of control and throwing things in a screaming meltdown. It is true that there are gay and/or Autistic people who show those characteristics, but that most certainly does not excuse the acts intolerance and hatred that society throws at them. 

I have also noticed one thing when it comes to “cultural and neurological diversity.” There have been times where I have been around Aspies who negatively use offensive slurs such as “faggot”, “cunt” or “dyke.” I have also heard LGBTQ people negatively use offensive slurs like “retard”, “freak” or “psycho.” It infuriates me to hear anybody use those slurs, but especially those who know how it feels to be different. I have come to the sad realization that they use these slurs for the same reason that anyone would use them. They fear people who are different because they still believe the ridiculous myths and negative stereotypes that are always thrown at that particular “group.” It’s called the fear of the unknown. 

My Asperger’s has always caused me to be very careful who I choose for a friend, and I know I will have to be even more careful now that I know I am gay. This could very well mean that I could lose support from friends and family due to their religious stance on “homosexuality.” I will most likely endure my fair share of  the bible says it’s wrong” lectures. Those family and friends could start negatively gossiping about me and even use those slurs that always have and always will infuriate me. I know that I shouldn’t let them bother me, but it will truly hurt if this ever ends up being the case. All I can do is expel them from my life, tell myself that it’s their problem and hope they change their ways. However, homophobes usually don’t change the way they feel about people who are different. Their religious propaganda “molds” them into that kind of mindset. 

My priorities in a friend are now starting to change. I am experiencing a friendship where I am always the one who reaches out to the person, when they never seem to reach out to me. It makes me feel like I am the only one who seems to truly care. I’ve had friends who say they are going to help me with things then turn around and not do it. It makes me wonder if they really want to spend time with me. It also makes me wonder whether they are avoiding me or just “forgetting” about me. I know not to automatically take it personally, but I always have wondered what the real answer is. I ask myself two questions. Are they using that as a cover up? Do they truly care? This is the hardest part, but I must accept what the real answer is. 

I thank you for reading this very important post!

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