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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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

Matthew 7 vs 1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoyed reading!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Temple Grandin (2009 HBO Biopic)


Most of us on the Autistic Spectrum know who Temple Grandin is. She was the very first person to change the face of Autism and the livestock industry. Actress Claire Danes portrayed Ms. Grandin in a film about her life, simply titled “Temple Grandin”. I wanted to write about this movie because it is very important to me. I say that because she was raised in the 1960s, and very little was known about Autism. I am not going into great detail about it, but I want to tell you about a few of the characters and some scenes I liked in the film. The film portrays what life was like for people on the spectrum during that time period. When it comes to helping other kids with my diagnosis, I must say we have come a very long way. However, we still have a very long way to go. I want to emphasize that I do not believe in a “cure”, but I do believe that we still need to do a lot more in the way of researching and finding ways to help kids on the spectrum. (Especially those who have experienced similar struggles to the ones I have been through).

One thing I really enjoyed about this film was the opening scene. She stood in the Ames room, introduced herself and explain that you need to think differently when watching this film. I thought that was a perfect way to open the movie, because it helps the viewer realize you need to try to see the world as Temple sees it. She “thinks in pictures”, which means she is a very visual thinker. When she was younger, she didn’t understand that her style of thinking was quite different from everybody else. She worked in the cattle processing industry, and she would often ask very complex questions about the systems they used. People would often become frustrated because they couldn’t answer those questions. They were very detailed questions, and a neurotypical person often doesn’t think about the detail. When she designed systems for the cattle industry, she noticed many things that can cause the cattle to balk or become frightened. People would leave articles of clothing and equipment hanging on the equipment and on the floor. In her TED.com speech, she talked about how she noticed how the waving of a flag would cause the cattle to become frightened or stubborn.

There were also people who didn’t embrace her mind and they didn’t believe her systems would work. She also had to learn how to put up with harassment from some of the more ignorant people in the industry. When she was researching how cattle acted, she would often go into the chutes to see the things cattle were seeing. People obviously didn’t think that was “normal”. It was frustrating for her because many of the people in the slaughter-house were very uneducated and hostile. In one scene, they dumped bull testicles on the windshield of Temple’s car. I also noticed how they workers would stare at her and laugh when she became angry. The film portrays some of the prejudices she had to endure not only because she was Autistic, but also due to the fact that she was a woman. After I had the opportunity to watch the entire film, I watched the movie again and listened to the audio commentary. The writer, executive producer and Temple herself discussed all the scenes throughout the movie. She mentioned that people eventually started to respect her when they actually realized her systems not only worked, but they were more humane and efficient.

During the 1960s and 1970s, people with Autism were usually institutionalized.  It was not an enjoyable experience to be put in an institution, Understanding of Autism took a turn for the worst in the 1960s, thanks to Bruno Bettelheim. His theory stated that lack of bonding between the mother and the child caused Autism.  Luckily, modern technology and research has shown that he was indeed a fraud. Autistic people were mainly thought of as infant schizophrenic until the late 1960s. Temple’s was very fortunate to have such a dedicated and loving mother, Eustacia Cutler, because she obviously wouldn’t be the person she is today if it were not for her. She was one of those mothers that refused to institutionalize her. She knew she could become somebody in the future. I hope to buy the book “Thorn in My Pocket”, which was beautifully written by her Cutler. It explained her fight to make her the person she is today.

Aside from her mother, Temple was also fortunate to have her high school science teacher, Dr. Carlock as a mentor. I firmly believe that everybody (Autistic or not) deserves at least one person who will set a good example and will always respect you. I consider Aaron from Computing Workshop as a friend and a mentor. I started spending time with him three or four years ago, and he was still in high school at the time. It felt great to know that somebody was actually excited to see me, because nobody at Freeport really was. David Strathairn portrayed Dr. Carlock, and he was probably my favorite character in the movie. He used to work at NASA, and Temple got along with him really well because she was interested in science. I liked him because he was one of those dedicated science teachers who would always show their students interesting things. He was also one of the few teachers who actually recognized Temple’s visual skills and actually tried to understand her Autism. Dr. Carlock really convinced Temple that it is important to study and do well in school. He also encouraged Temple into going to college. In life after high school, Temple sought him for advice quite often, until his death.

As I said in the very beginning of this blog, understanding of Autism has really come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s. However, we still have a very long way to go. Public high schools are not set up right for kids on the spectrum, you know that from the experiences I have written about in the past. Public schools are not doing enough to educate faculty, staff and students about this disorder. I am trying the best I can to help people become aware about Asperger’s and Autism by writing my blogs. I am proud to say that 5,537 people have clicked on and read my writing so far. Every time people read my blogs, they become more aware of this disorder. Even thought we will not fully understand Autism, we most certainly can raise awareness and research ways to help kids on the spectrum. I do see this happening in the near future!

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“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.

“Why Don’t You Find Friends Your Own Age”?


One of the most popular Autism websites out there is one called Wrongplanet.net. The website is an online community for people on the Autism Spectrum. It was first founded in the year 2004 by George Mason University student Alex Plank. The title of this blog is identically named after a post from a user on the “Social Skills and Making Friends” forum. I feel this user’s pain, Adults have asked me  this irritating question many times. You most likely can tell from my other fifty-three blog posts that I was not satisfied with the experiences with my peers from Freeport. My last post talked about the meaning of the word “cool” and how it is often misinterpreted with the word “popular”. According to Freeport standards, I wasn’t considered “cool”, nor was I the least bit interested in becoming “popular”. Most of my so-called “normal” peers from that school were mainly interested in things like dating the opposite sex, going to school dances or parties, or competitive team sports. I didn’t have the confidence to ask anyone out on a date, the interest to associate with my classmates at social events, enough hand eye coordination the hand eye coordination to play competitive team sports.

I did try to sit with a few people at lunch, but they would avoid being around me with the lame excuse “I saved this seat for somebody”. If I would try to interact with somebody at school, they would either ignore me, laugh at me or talk about me behind my back. Because of this, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with anybody in school, regardless of whether or not they were a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. As a matter of fact, most of my real friends have previously graduated from high school or were high school students from another district. Growing up, I was often seen playing with kids that were not necessarily in my age group. I would often play with the kids in my neighborhood during my elementary school days, and they were kindergarten and preschool age. One might find it odd to see a fourth grader hanging out with kindergarten and preschool age kids.

My parents would always try to encourage me to ask for my classmates phone numbers, but I didn’t really have the nerve to do so. During my older elementary school years (4th, 5th, and 6th grade) my classmates started noticing I was different from everybody else and would start ridiculing me when teachers were not around. The kids in my neighborhood were the complete opposite, they didn’t realize I was different and they didn’t try to make fun of me. My parents were not too crazy about me spending time with them so often. This is when they would say “Derek, you need to find some friends that are in your age group. It is weird that you hang out with the little kids in the neighborhood”

During my freshman and sophomore year at Freeport, both my teachers and my classmates enjoyed using threatening and scaring tactics when they would tell me about college. They would cook up stories like: “College is hell, you have to do so much work. My cousin (name) dropped out because he couldn’t handle the work load”. Many people at Freeport and Lenape (myself included) have complained about teachers nagging them because their work is not done. I have heard from many people that one of the crucial differences between a high school teacher and a college professor is they will not nag you about getting your work done. You are always expected to do it, and you could wind up in academic probation or get kicked out. While that statement may be true, there will still be people who will become intimidated by that and decide not to pursue any post secondary education.

When I started hanging out with my good friend Aaron from the Computing Workshop, he didn’t know that much about me. I was comfortable about opening up to him because it was a safe environment for me to make a social relationship with somebody. In high school, it seemed like they knew absolutely everything about you. When they see you hang out with your “clique”, they immediately give you labels. People threw labels like “retard”, “sociopath”, “psychopath”, “loser” and “freak”. At Freeport, I decided it would be better off not to hang out with anybody because I didn’t want a label thrown at me. I became so sick of the labeling and gossip I didn’t really care about anybody or anything that went on in school. There are still people who give labels at Lenape, but I eventually learned to ignore them because that is not what I went there for. I went there because I wanted to learn the basic skills I will need for a career in Electro Optics.

If Aaron was a student at Freeport, I most likely would not have the confidence to open up to him. I was afraid to open up to anybody my age because I had the fear they would make fun of me and make my life miserable. While I have overcome many obstacles in life (related to connecting with people), I am still very nervous about what the future will hold for me. I am happy that the staff members at Computing Workshop and the teachers at Lenape Tech have been very encouraging about my future, I still don’t know what it will hold. That is one of the reasons I think senior year will be stressful. You never know what college is really going to be like.

To wrap things up, I have been around many confusing and upsetting situations with people my age.  I think it is easier to communicate with people older than me because of that. There is a slight possibility that my attitude about this will change when I grow older, but this is how I feel about people my age right now. That won’t happen until I finally meet that one person who will accept me for who I am and not misjudge me or try to change me. I just have to keep trying to find somebody who will be willing to do that. I hope Aaron and I will stay friends for a long time. If it were not for him, I don’t think I would have even made it this far in life. It doesn’t matter what age your friends are, it matters if they really like you.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I will be back soon!