What Does “Cool” Mean?

High school is the place for cliques and stereotypes. When you walk through the lunch table, you often notice that the same cliques always sit together. I felt like I didn’t belong with any of those so-called “cliques”. I felt as if I was a number during my junior and senior high days. I had trouble figuring out where I wanted to sit, so I decided to sit at a table in the back of the cafeteria by myself and would start crying because I was so lost. People really didn’t seem interested in getting to know me, so I didn’t really want to get to know them. Bullying was a major issue during freshman year and the beginning of sophomore year, but the boy who kept bullying me got kicked out of school during the second or third month of school during that year. The teachers and administration most likely became tired of all the complaints coming from my mother about his immature and disrespectful behavior. The positive side was I never had to see him again.

The “popular” kids are the ones who have lots of friends and who own the expensive cars and live in a big house. They are the ones who are always elected president of the student council, which is pretty much a popularity contest on its own. The same people run every single year and they end up winning because everybody thinks their “cool”. I wasn’t interested in running for student council at Freeport because I was an outcast. These same people were on the sports teams and had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I felt like people didn’t even know I existed on this planet, and the only ones who did know I exist enjoyed belittling me and making my life a living hell. I tried hiding my Asperger’s and reaching out to the “cool” crowd, but they would either just tolerate me, ignore me or tell me they would “rather not talk”. I have said many times before that a true friend should not just “tolerate” me, they should want to spend time with me and they must always be willing to make time to spend with me.

I do look back and realize that I am better off without people like “Mr. Cool President of Student Council”. As described in my blog entry titled “Four Important Qualities of a Best Friend” I had an unfortunate incident with this same kid. I inadvertently sent a text message to the wrong contact, and he was the person who received it. We chatted online quite often and I thought we would become good friends. He used to pick on me back in junior high, so I thought “maybe he changed and wants to be my friend”. When summer came around, he would start ignoring me when I would start instant messaging him. When I greeted him he would sign off and ignore me. I would then write on his My-space wall then he would Delete my posts. It became even worse when the whole cell phone incident happened. The next day, I text messaged him and his friends. I asked them what they were up to, and then “Mr. Cool” snapped and said “You woke me up at midnight! What the fu** is your problem”? I then asked him what he was talking about, then he told me about the text message. I looked at my sent messages and I saw I addressed it to him instead of the person I intended to send it to. I explained to him that I did not intend to send that message to him, but he then said “whatever, just don’t talk to me”. I asked why he was being so rude to me and he said “I don’t want to be friends with you. Don’t talk to me”. I then started making nasty comments to him, and said things like “You are only going to work at Burger King after you graduate from high school. You may be Mr. Cool now, but you will be a loser after you graduate”. He then responded to me “Yeah, my friends and I are Mr. Cool. You just fu** off and leave me alone”. I continued to send him disrespectful messages, but he just ignored me. I was upset that he became angry with me about something I didn’t mean to do. For the next few days, I continued to experience negative feelings about myself. I felt that everybody in the world didn’t know I existed, and the only people who did know I existed wanted to belittle me. I wasn’t considered “cool” (according to the Freeport Senior High School standards) and I hated that about myself.

I looked up a definition for the word “cool” on the popular website Urban Dictionary.com, and this particular one caught my eye:

“Socially appealing; used to describe any behavior, object, ability or quality contributing to one’s social prowess”.

I laughed at this one because it was perfectly true about the kid in this situation. During junior high, he enjoyed talking about me behind my back. He would mock some of the Autistic behaviors I exhibited. I tended to look around the room and stare at things like the wall or the ceiling, and he would start staring at me. When I would look over at him he would point and laugh at me. He seemed to realize I didn’t like it by my facial expressions and laugh at me in front of his friends. His friends would either acknowledge him with a fake smile or try to change the subject. I talked to my mother about it, and she said “Maybe he wants to be your friend”. I found out that was not the case after the cell phone incident a few years later.

You can probably tell that I don’t really need to pay attention to the stereotypes from high school. The social politics make it seem that if you don’t go to events like football games or the prom, you are a nobody. The Computing Workshop summer program I am working teaches kids that would most likely be considered “uncool” in a regular high school. Schools often think they will not be successful in the career field they want to pursue. This program came into existence because the staff members want to prove these school districts wrong. These school districts are not willing to try anything new. They just want to do things the way they are used to. They also try to discourage these students into obtaining a post secondary education because they feel they won’t succeed. They use these threatening tactics by saying things like “college is rough, you get a lot more homework”. They focus on the negative things about college and not the positives. Helping the “uncool” kids has really turned out to be a “cool” thing to do during the summer.

During the board meetings at Lenape, I was amazed at how well students expressed their concerns about the half day issue. Many of these students were also considered “uncool” in their original school of residence. The teachers really cared about them and they want them to be the most successful individuals they can be after high school. I think that is a very “cool” thing.

I am only willing to stick with the friends that accept me for who I am and who will not try to change me into a different person. I will only hang out with a person who will ignore the high school stereotypes and not try to make me into a “normal person”. I made the mistake into trusting “Mr. Cool President of Student Council”. Having at least one friend that really likes you is a very “cool” thing. Aaron likes me for who I am and he doesn’t try to magically make me into a “normal person”. If it were not for places like Computing Workshop and Lenape, I don’t even know if I could have finished high school. I would most likely be working at a fast food restaurant making minimum wage. I have learned that I should be thankful for the things I have and not focus on the things I don’t have. I didn’t have the pleasure of being “cool” at Freeport, and that doesn’t mean a single thing to me because I am not there anymore. I am cool to my real friends and my family, and that is the only thing that matters to me.


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.

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.