Aspergers Syndrome

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aspergers Syndrome

Learning to Trust Again (Part 2: A Blog About Lee Hirsch’s Documentary “Bully”)


This is part 2! Click here if you wish to read part 1! 

I have been through the feeling where it seems like nobody is willing to respect and listen to you. It is one of the worst feelings anyone can ever experience. Sometimes, these feelings can cause us to act in unpredictable ways. Most people do not want to imagine being guilty of hurting or killing someone when we feel like those negative emotions are uncontrollable. I felt that when I watched the scene with Mississippi teenager Ja’meya Jackson. She was repeatedly targeted by a gang of nine boys who (judging from the video) threatened to beat her up. Her mother talked to faculty and administration, but neither of them took action to resolve the situation. Ja’meya decided to take matters into her own hands. The pistol belonged to her mother and she hid it in her backpack. The gang continued to taunt her until she snapped. She pulled the gun out of her backpack and brandished it in front of everyone. A student managed to disarm her before any shots were fired and all students were safely evacuated from the bus. Ja’meya Jackson found herself at the Yazoo county youth detention center where she awaited trial.

“At the point she takes out the gun, that’s 22 counts of kidnapping. She has 22 counts of attempted aggravated assault. She’s got 45 total felony charges facing her. And for me, there’s nothing, no amount of bullying, or teasing, or picking on, or whatever, there’s nothing, unless someone was actually whipping on this girl every day, unless someone was hitting this young lady in the head and being physically brutal to her, there’s NOTHING to me that justifies her taking her gun on that bus, I don’t care what it is. … Even though things came out as best they possibly could have, if you added up all the years that she could get it, it would be hundreds of years.” 

Thankfully, she was cleared of all charges and ordered to receive counseling. The above comments came from the Yazoo county sheriff. It seems to me that he was trying to speak from a public safety standpoint. I agree that her situation was unique and that she deserves a second chance in life. Because of this, I think his comments were very ignorant and insensitive. I think we should also remind ourselves of one thing. Incarceration and loss of life are two serious and irreversible consequences that can result from gun crimes. When I look back on situations like this, I realize that all I can do is be relieved that I never went down that route. I know that I have many people in and around my community who really do care about me. They are worth more time than anyone who has ever shunned or bullied me. I am very proud that I am able to say that now. There once was a time where I would cower in fear anytime someone would pressure me to do so. It’s time to eliminate that mindset for good. 

As I said in the first post, an important first step towards challenging those emotions is to identify and recognize those who are on my side. The Computing Workshop summer program was a very supportive environment for me. I’ve mentioned it several times before because this organization has made a lasting impact on me. I first met coördinator Mary Hart in 2006. At that time, I was about to enter eighth grade at Freeport Area Junior High School.  The one thing that has always impacted me was the simple fact that I was not the only person who felt discounted by society. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal for me! It is great to know when people are willing to work for you and with you. I wish I fully understood that fact during high school. 

When we see someone who struggles academically or socially, we tend to discount any claim that they are capable of following their dreams. Not only do these assumptions come from society, they come from our teachers and administrators. Often times, they want the individual to follow their agenda and not what is truly best for them. There is one harsh reality about these people and it is only discovered behind closed doors. They despise anyone who even attempts to challenge their viewpoint. They try to win you over by providing questionable claims which (supposedly) make their point valid. They try to sugarcoat it by giving you a plastic smile and saying “I respect your opinion.” You then realize that there is only one way to make them do what you know is right. You have to rely on the law. You know that you have to come up with good, solid arguments which should convince the law to rule in your favor. You know that people could say ignorant and off-putting things. You try your hardest not to get emotional because you have just discovered how mean “adults” can really be. Regardless of the outcome, you know that you fought for what is right and what is best for that individual. 

Computing Workshop has not only let me explore different computing skills in a supportive and inclusive environment, it helped me make meaningful. I felt that high school was not a safe place for me to reach out to others. I felt like my classmates did not know how to interact with me and I didn’t know how to interact with them. (This is why I never came out as a gay man until after graduation.) Former Computing Workshop staff member Aaron is a neurotypical. He will never truly understand the ins and outs of being an openly gay man who happens to be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, I am grateful for the fact that he has always been willing to listen when I am in need of a friend. His sweet, easy going personality and intelligence really make me wish I could be more like him. I must be honest with you and admit that he is very easy on the eyes! He can thank four years of high school wrestling for that. His great looking chest and broad shoulders are pretty catching. However, everyone will notice one thing when they see him for the first time. That striking feature is his smile! It shows that he is genuinely happy to see you. As you begin to have a conversation with him, you would notice how easy he is to talk to. He’s always had a very laid back personality. This makes me feel comfortable to approach him when I have a problem. I trust that he will try his best to make me feel welcome and deserving of his company. Most of my high school classmates did anything but that.

I think Mary Hart and our staff would agree that he wanted to reveal the true potential in the students he worked with. Aaron understood that some our students had some unique challenges. I think he felt the same sense of frustration that we all felt when they kept regressing into their own worlds. However, I commend him for continuing to help them persevere in the best way he could. Trying to enter their world and use their interests to improve their struggles is an essential way to do that. Aside from my parents, Aaron is the first person who learned about the fact that I was gay. Long story short, I wrote a letter to him and sent it in the mail. It took him a while to respond, but he did read it! Looking back, I wish we could have arranged to meet and I made the decision to tell him in person. He sent me a text message that simply said that my newly discovered queer identity did not change the fact that he was my friend. I think it is beautiful that he accepts me! However, he is straight and I am gay. I wanted to meet a friend who has previously gone through the whole coming out process and who managed to find a path to happiness. 

His older cousin Ray came out of the closet when he was a teenager. Just like clockwork, people then started calling him every single anti gay slur in the book. Despite the shear hatred that came from his classmates, he managed to pull through. After high school, he went to beauty school and obtained his certification in Cosmetology. He then landed a job at a beauty salon. He still works there to this day. Aside from the salon, he works two other jobs to make ends meet. Ray’s personality is a bit different from Aaron’s. He is very animated and loves to lighten the mood with humor. Aaron and I enjoy going to restaurants and meeting him for dinner. When I meet new people, I do posses some introverted tendencies, some of which I am trying to overcome. At first, I did find it difficult to open up to Ray because of his extroverted personality. I have known him for about a year now and time has made it easier to open up to him. Despite the personality differences between himself and Aaron, they do get along with each other and that is what makes it rewarding to know him. It’s easy for any of us to rant and rave about all of those individuals who are not supportive of our differences. All it does is give us this temporary adrenaline rush that regresses to bitterness and anger. It does not encourage the change that we want to see in the future. I hope this future will continue to have many meetings with Ray and Aaron in the future. Both of them have tried to give me the motivation to be the chance I want to see in my life and in society as a whole. 

To the best of my ability, I have just described Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” and it’s impact on my life. What is next for me? I really don’t know. I am still trying to consider whether or not my current path will guarantee happiness and success. This film has given me hope for the future and to get back up again. I hope this encouraged you to do the same thing! 

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Aspergers Syndrome

“No More Talking About Fans!”


Obsessions are one of the most noticeable traits in a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. It is the most difficult thing for a parent to deal with, mainly because the child doesn’t know how to initiate a normal conversation that is not about that particular topic. Teachers can quickly become frustrated because obsessive compulsive topics and behaviors can prevent the child from learning at school. Before I discuss this topic, I want to emphasize that it is important to refrain from the idea of eliminating the topic from their daily routine. However, it is possible to help your child or teenager understand how and why these obsessions can affect their ability to interact with other people and function at school or work. It is something that takes tons of practice and cooperation.

As I grew from a child to a young adult, my obsessions changed. I obsessed about something for about five years, then I outgrew it and became obsessed with something else. Many of the therapists and teachers I have worked were like the people I emphasized in the first paragraph. They seemed to think I would “magically outgrow” my obsessions by screaming at me and forcing me to act “normal”. In one of my previous blogs I touched on obsessions a bit. When I was around three or four years old, I became obsessed with fans, the mechanical devices with blades that spin and keep you cool in the summer. Anytime I would see a fan, I would stare at it and immediately become mesmerized by the blades spinning around. My parents were totally puzzled. They kept asking themselves “Why is our son so fascinated by a simple old fan? There are millions of other things out there to talk about”. My parents tried to convince me into changing the subject, but it only worked for a few minutes. I would pretend to listen to my mother, then I would go right back to talking about fans again.

My mother told me that the main reason I was obsessed with fans was simply because they spin. In my memoir that I hope to someday have published described an unusual talent I possessed when I around five or six months old. I would crawl into a cabinet that was closer to the ground, and I would take out the lids for the pots and pans used on the stove. I would pick my favorite ones and lay them with the handle touching the floor and spin them around. I was in my own little world, and I had no idea what was going on around me. My mother said this was the first Autistic characteristic I exhibited. When I look back and think about this obsession, I try to think about possible reasons why I was so obsessed with something as simple as a fan. The subtle movement of a fan spinning is very mesmerizing. Just staring at a fan for a few seconds could cause some people to go into instantly go into a trance like state. Also, there are many Autistic kids who enjoy something called “white noise”. The sound of a ceiling fan blowing is usually noticeable when it is on it’s high or medium setting. It is a very calming noise. I purchased a ceiling fan for my bedroom a few years ago, and the sound of it blowing over my bed is very relaxing. During the warm months, I have noticed it helps me get to sleep faster.

I didn’t really notice my obsessions affected the way I interacted with people until I was in the fourth grade. After they remodeled and expanded my school, there was one thing I became obsessed with fire drills. This was not like my fascination with fans when I was younger, it was something I was afraid of because of the loud noise. Along with updating the entire school, they updated the buildings fire alarm system. I was in third grade the very first time I heard that horrible, shrill noise. The class was lining up to go to lunch, and the fire alarm went off by a mistake. It sounded like a cricket screaming through a megaphone, and it was also equipped with flashing strobe lights. I covered my ears, and we walked out of the building like we were supposed to. When we were instructed to walk back into the building, I made the commented to the person standing in front of me “that fire alarm sounded like a cricket screaming through a megaphone”. My teacher heard me and said “that’s an interesting observation, Derek”. During lunch, I kept bringing up the alarm and nervously making jokes about it. I would obsessively bring the topic of the fire alarm into conversations, it lasted until I was in sixth grade, my last year in elementary school. One day I brought it up to my friend Jason, and a boy named Connor said “You are obsessed with fire drills. Why is that?” I ignored him, and sat there quietly.

My classmates didn’t understand how that noise really hurt my ears when I heard it. Fire drills always happened when we least expected them to, and it really startled me. I didn’t really understand how to verbalize the sound bothered me. My mother talked to my teachers and the principal about it, and they put in my IEP  “teachers must inform me about scheduled fire drills in advance.” That seemed to help, because I noticed I didn’t bring them up as often as I used to.

When I made the transition from elementary to junior high, I outgrew my obsession with fire drills because the alarm at the junior high wasn’t as loud and shrill. Seventh and eighth grade was the time I really started having problems fitting in. There was a boy named Eric, who was in my grade. He also went to the same gym I received personal training at, and we would occasionally strike up a general conversation with each other. I told my mother about him one day, and she told me I should ask for his IM screen-name and see if he wanted to chat. I really wanted to get to know him until one day I noticed something peculiar about him. I noticed he would say mean things about me behind my back, then look over at me and see if I could hear what he was saying. He made comments like “Derek is such a f***tard. I shared it with my mother when I came home that day. She told me he could still be interested in becoming friends with me. Sometimes people gossip about you because they want to become friends with you. I thought about that, but decided to keep my distance. This behavior continued into high school, until I finally realized he did not have friendship in mind.

High school was the time I started obsessing about people who made my life miserable. Every day I would talk to my mother about how I hated that I didn’t have any buddies in school, or how people would always make fun of me. I am not going into detail about bullying situations in this blog entry, but I am going to talk about how it affected my interaction with people. I described in my blogs about Lenape where people would pretend to be friends with me, then turn around and say or do something disrespectful. I experienced that so much I would have this generalization that every single person was trying to be mean to me. Anytime my mother would ask if I tried to socialize with somebody at lunch, I would say “Why do you care? Eric didn’t want to interact with me, why would anybody else want to?” I would go on and on about the things he said about me and how much I hated him and his friends. My mother would then say “Why do you keep bringing him up? He is not worth it. You need to move on”.

When I look back, I am glad my peers brought up the fact they were annoyed with me talking about fire drills. The unwritten social rule from Temple Grandin’s book is “Know When You Are Turning People Off”. Situations like that helped me realize that one-sided conversations and negativity can really draw people away from me. I never really understood this from role playing or talking about feelings with a therapist. I am glad I had the opportunity to put my social skills to the test when I would spend time with Aaron. Making one friend was the perfect remedy to help me forget about the negative experiences with Eric from school.

In conclusion, I hope you realize that just telling your child to stop talking about their obsession will not work. You have to take time and help them understand why it can affect their ability to interact with people.

Aspergers Syndrome, friendships, Life, Uncategorized

When is it appropriate to end a friendship?


Making friends has never really been that easy for me, and I probably always will have trouble understanding who is my friend and who isn’t, I’ve also had trouble talking to people on the phone, because of how awkward it is for me. I have also been in situations where I have mistaken people as “friends”, but they have wound up doing something that would embarrass me, and would obviously cause me to not trust them anymore. I’ve also had some very depressing experiences with people in the past, such as my “buddy” Eric from when I went to Freeport. Because of these experiences, I have very little trust when I meet new people, especially peers. One of the questions I have always asked myself is “when can I find out when it’s appropriate to end a friendship with somebody”? In the past, I have had friends that just ignored me and moved onto new people. As I mentioned in my last blog, I hate it when people are not honest that they don’t want anything to do with me, they either just sit there and tolerate me or avoid being around me all together. When it seems like a friend is either not interested in you, or treating you rudely, it is time to end it. Ending a friendship is something that people really don’t want to do, but it is something that you absolutely should do. Here are three questions that you should ask your self if you are seriously considering ending a friendship with somebody:

1.) Do they seem to not be interested in being around you?

One of the first things you may notice right away is that they will start hanging around other people instead of you. I have had friends that have started hanging out with people other than myself, and they start to make up jokes that I didn’t really understand. It seemed like they were going into their own little social clique of people. The next thing you will most likely notice is that they will end up going on outings that they don’t invite you on. If you ask them if they would like you to come along, they will probably make lame excuses like “there is not enough room in the car for you”, or “I’m only allowed to invite a certain number people along”. Those were some of the excuses former friends have made because they don’t want to include me in something. Another thing that you will notice is that they will start avoiding contact with you. I have tried to call former friends on their cell phones, and on the second or third ring they press the ignore button and it goes straight to their voice-mail. They also will start deleting and ignoring emails and text messages from you. One trick I have with this is wait a day or two for a response from them, then I would send another email asking them if they received it. If there is no response from them, that is a possible clue that they are avoiding contact with you.

2.) Are they participating in behaviors that could set a bad example for someone?

One of the difficult changes in growing up as a teenager is they will most definitely change from the little innocent kid they were in elementary school. Some of them will end up hanging around people that do things that could get them in trouble in school or even with the law. When I started junior high, the students started using the crudest language. Most of the topics they would bring up would either have something to do with sex, drugs, or alcohol. The teachers really couldn’t do anything about it because they were not around to hear it happen. I know that swear words slip out of peoples mouths every now and then, but these kids would use them in every other sentence. In high school you will most definitely hear the rumors about who is dating who, and who is having sex with who, but they are just rumors. If the specific person they are spreading the so called “rumor” about is actually talking about having sex, or doing drugs or alcohol, that could mean that they are actually doing it. On the other hand, they may talk about those things to try to look cool in front of their peers, the humor that teenagers use can be very crude and immature, and I really dread being around someone that uses humor like that. I mentioned in my last blog about honesty, you should tell them like it is if they start participating in behaviors like this. They probably already know the consequences of this kind of behavior, but depending on the person it could make them realize that the behavior can have a negative impact on them in the future.

3.) Are they mistreating you in any way?

In the past I have had friends that have tried to convince me that they were trying to be nice, but they were really trying to use me and embarrass me. Such was true with Dirshelle and Cody, who I mentioned in my blog about bullying. They would try to make rude jokes about me to get other people to laugh, but most people would just look the other way and mind their own business. Friends have also taken advantage of me and have borrowed my things and asked me to do stuff for them when they never even said thank you. I remember in second grade I let a “friend” borrow a toy airplane I owned, and it first took about two weeks for him to give it back to me. When he finally did, it came back bent and smashed. What kind of a friend would borrow something from you, forget to give it back to you, and when they finally do it’s damaged. The funny thing about this was that the only thing the kid said to me when he gave the plane back was “well, here you go”. He never even said thank you or explained to me why it was broken. I think that even a second grader would have enough sense to realize that it’s wrong to give something back that was broken, and to not tell me that it was damaged in the first place. After the whole ordeal was over, I never talked to that person again. People that are going to use you for the things you have are not true friends. When I went to Freeport, I had a neighbor that would drive me to school every morning. I made sure that I thanked him for that everyday, because he really didn’t have to do that. He could have just told avoided me in the first place.

Yes, I realize that ending a friendship is not something that people really want to talk about. After ending the friendship it can be a very sad and depressing feeling. There have been times like this where I have felt so sad and depressed that I thought that I wasn’t worth it. That is not an attitude to have, things eventually will get better. Just say good goodbye and good riddance to the person, and move on with life. It makes no sense to worry about bad situations from the past. Most people really forget about friendships that have gone bad after a while. When I say forget about the situation, I mean don’t worry about it, but you should learn from these situations. Hopefully it should convince you to be careful who you are friends with in life.

In my opinion, the two best ways to end a friendship with someone is to avoid contact with the person all together, which shouldn’t be to easy, especially if they are avoiding you in the first place. Or, step outside of your comfort zone and tell the person how you feel. Explain to them why you think the friendship is not working out anymore. It however is not appropriate to end a friendship over small conflicts, try to work out the conflict before you part ways with the person. I will try to write a blog about conflict resolution later.

I really hope you found this blog informative, and I hope that you will take this advice if you are having a problem similar to this.

Education, Life

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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