To Tell Or Not To Tell?

Kennywood park is a favorite summertime venue for Pittsburghers who are looking for a day of fun. This traditional amusement park is found in the suburb of West Mifflin, about 10 miles from the city. During my last visit to this local treasure, something unusual captured my attention. Actually, someone caught my attention for a few brief seconds. This individual was an Autistic teenage boy who appeared to be non verbal. I wasn’t paying attention to his awkward, repetitive hand movements. He seemed to have aimlessly walked away from his parents. His white t-shirt perplexed me. This simple message was clearly printed in dark blue and all capital letters.

I have Autism. Please be patient with me.

Directly underneath those words, I saw the Autism awareness ribbon. I am actually quite surprised that I do remember this. I only saw this boy for about 5 seconds. He didn’t wander off too far and he was quickly reunited with his mother. I am willing to believe that a good number of people who display these ribbons are not the “Jenny McCarthy type,” if you know what I mean. However, I just could not stop asking myself the question. Why would a parent want to reveal their child’s diagnosis in such a “loud and clear” way? This is the first time I have ever seen such a thing. I pushed the memory to the back of my head until I saw this article from Toronto’s “The Star.” Farida Peter’s son also happens to be Autistic. Each weekday, they use Toronto’s subway system as their method of transportation to and from behavioral therapy sessions for five year old Deckard. The facility is on the other side of the city, and the quickest route is to take the bus, then the train. Seventeen stops combined with one train change equals a very hectic commute. I don’t know what specifically causes her son to become upset, but subway trains and stations are very busy places. They are full of hustling and bustling people who have a schedule to meet. If your child dares to interrupt their peace and quiet on that noisy subway train, their day is automatically ruined. They will make it known in the most insensitive and ignorant ways.

On the bus one day, a lady told her to control him when he was swinging his legs as they dangled beneath his seat. Other passengers have scolded him and then complained “wow, he’s not even looking at me.” Children with autism often don’t make eye contact.

He’s had fits after being knocked over in crowds or being pushed out of the way by passengers clamouring for seats.
Peters had to do something to stop the glares, gasps and
comments, which would only ratchet up their anxiety levels and exacerbate his behaviour.
Farida was desperate for a way to stop all the negativity directed towards her and Deckard.
She taped a laminated sign on her backpack.
My son is five years old and has Autism! Please be patient with us!
I must admit that I am not entirely sure what to think about this mother. This is mainly because I do not know her personally. I shared this article with a woman at my church. She works as an Occupational therapist for children on the Autism Spectrum. She felt this mother was trying to call attention to herself and gain sympathy from the passengers. Granted, I would never allow anyone to force me into revealing my diagnosis in such a way. I strongly disagree with the common practice of labeling those on the spectrum as “low functioning” or “high functioning.” These labels put the child in a box and push us into making preconceived notions about their strengths and shortcomings. Let’s face it, there are people in this world who do not deserve to know about my struggle as a gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome. I know that open expression of these things are bound to make people react in positive and negative ways. But, why would they choose the latter? Granted, I don’t care if people think my differences make them uncomfortable.It’s because they are unhappy with their own lives and will try to take advantage of me. They could internalize their unhappiness by using me to their own advantage. I can certainly identify with anyone who feels concern for this child’s future.

However, there are a few possible explanations why this woman would feel the need to carry the sign. Like the teenage boy at Kennywood, Autistic children do have the tendency to become lost in their own world and wander off. What could happen if he chose to wander off into a restricted area? These areas are off-limits for safety and security reasons. Some spectrum children are unable understand that certain people, places and behaviors are dangerous. Again, it is important not to make assumptions because we do not know the entire story. However, I tend to agree with the notion that she is using this sign to ask for sympathy from passengers. So, how should I determine whether or not someone deserves to know about my diagnosis? With regards to who I will tell and what I will tell them, it is up to me. It is usually determined upon my relationship with the person and how well they treat me.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly does have a dark side that is the exact opposite from its usual meaning. I know not to fear people who appear genuine, but to be aware. In-genuine people insist upon reminding you how great and wonderful they are, but then turn around and act in ways that show they are truly not worthy of our trust. They are enough to drive you mad, if you allow them to do so.


How Does A Teacher Earn Respect?

It is a fact that one will deal with “good teachers” and “bad teachers” throughout their career in school. The funny thing about this is the majority of my teachers I can vividly remember are the “bad” ones. One of my past blogs described a bad math teacher I had when I was a freshman in high school. Math was never one of my easiest subjects in school, and my final grade for that class was a seventy six (76) percent. It was a very low “C”. One of my favorite websites is one called “Rate My” (Similar to “Rate My”). The name describes the purpose of the website pretty well, it is a website where students, parents or even colleagues can anonymously rate and comment on a teacher. They rate the teacher on a score of one (bad) through five (wonderful) based on each of these four categories.

Easiness: This category is pretty self exclamatory. Your algebra teacher should get a rating of five if they give a reasonable amount of homework and they give you time to work on it in class. They should receive a rating of one if they expect thirty multi-step problems finished on the next day, or if they give a large packet for you to remember for a test that is happening on the next day.

Helpfulness: Your chemistry teacher gives you a lab that is due by the end of the class period. If they walk around the classroom and check to make sure each student understands the material, they should receive a rating of five. If they are sitting at their desk and ask them for help and they tell you to “read the book” or “figure it out”, they will most likely receive a one.

Clarity: Your English teacher gives you a novel to read and they want you to write an essay about it. If they give you the prompt and they explain the requirements in detail and in a way every student will understand, they will most likely receive a five. They will most likely receive a one if they only say “write this paper” and “it’s due in two days”.

Popularity: This category is not displayed after the rating is submitted, and it is also pretty self explanatory. Your science teacher knows their stuff. They will most likely receive a rating of “five” if they are approachable, friendly and have a good sense of humor. However, they will receive a “one” if they are grouchy and disrespectful.

There has been an ongoing controversy about “Rate My” since it was first created in 2001. Many teachers have seen the ratings posted by students and they’ve all reacted to them differently. Some teachers really appreciate the feedback they have received, some have made a conscientious effort to improve and others have threatened to sue the creators and get the website shut down. This is really the only website where you can anonymously voice their real feelings about a teacher, whether they are good or bad. With that being said, you can’t always rely on an anonymous rating website to decide whether or not you will like the teacher right away. There is an age-old quote that states “you never know unless you try”. Most people “rate their teacher” because they either really like them or hate their guts.

As I said in the beginning, I have encountered “good teachers” and “bad teachers”. I have come up with five guidelines a teacher can follow to truly earn respect from their students. Most of the “bad teachers” I have dealt with did not follow these guidelines, and as a result students rebelled against them.

1.) Keep rules short and to the point, but strictly enforce them.

I had a Computer Applications teacher during my freshman year of high school who had about twenty rules on her course outline. Most of them were self explanatory, and rules an elementary school student should know they are expected to follow. She spent over four days explaining every single rule in detail (“no cell phones, no internet without permission, raise your hand to speak, no printing without permission, no talking during a test, no talking while the teacher is talking etc”). I have found that most students rebel against teachers who have lots of rules in the classroom. With that being said, rules that are short and to the point should also be strictly enforced. Briefly and clearly state the consequences of not obeying the rules. Have students sign a contract at the beginning of the school year stating they have read and understood them.

2.) Get to know your students. (Personally and Academically)

I have come to realize that teachers who try to get to know their students are the easiest ones to get along with. There are many students out there who come from dysfunctional families, or who have trouble interacting with their peers in school. They need an adult who they can look up to and respect. I have heard stories about students who have stayed in school because just one teacher actually cared about them. You should also try to figure out ways to help a student who may be having trouble in the class. You have to put yourself in their shoes and figure out how that individual student learns best. There are unfortunately teachers out there who only teach material in the way they know how to do it. They are frustrating to deal with, simply because they didn’t “translate” it into my style of learning. My mind is a specific mind, I am good at one thing, and I am bad at another thing.  

3.) Make Learning Fun. “(Engage and Teach, Don’t Preach!)”

I find that teachers who constantly teach from the textbook are the most difficult to deal with. It’s not because I find the textbooks “boring”, I also felt they were difficult to understand. This was especially true for my science and math textbooks. Most of my math classes at Freeport were very generalized and abstract. On the bottom of the page there is a YouTube video made by the students at Oakland Christian School in Aburn Hills, Michigan. It shows the differences between hands on/interactive learning and traditional learning. (I posted the link on the bottom of the page). I posted a blog a few months ago about a lecture on TED by Dr. Temple Grandin. She was fed up with some of the schools in other parts of the country and the world who don’t have the resources to show the kids interesting things. The teachers have absolutely no idea what to do with them. This is something that forcing standardized tests  on them won’t change at all. Last year I was required to take the P.S.S.A’s when I was a junior. You were tested on science, math, reading and writing. They lasted for the entire week, and by the end the students were overwhelmed. The P.S.S.A tests only determined where the entire school stands academically. We need to focus on how the individual stands academically and not the majority of the student body.

4.) Challenge your students, and be willing to help when they need it:

When I was a student at Freeport, most of the really good teachers were in the advanced classes. My math class from my freshman year in high school was just a basic functions class. If you remember some of the horror stories about the teacher, she was not the most helpful, pleasant or interested in teaching. Every time I asked her for help, she would pretty much say “Derek, you do this, this, this and this”. The next day I did a horrible job on the test, and she would not let me retake it. There was tutoring after school, but she was the teacher at tutoring. We were going over multi step fractions, and they are still very difficult for me to learn. As I said, I made a very low “C” in the class for the year. During my sophomore year, I was put in an even lower level learning support math class. It felt like elementary school all over again, because we went over things like how to tell time and two/three digit addition and subtraction. Lenape’s academic classes and technical programs are designed to prepare you for the real world, college and the industry. The classes at Freeport were only designed to meet my IEP goals, which were very generalized and elementary.

5.) Give your students specific instructions:

One thing that has really frustrated me about certain teachers is when they don’t give specific instructions on how to do something. The Autistic mind is a very detail oriented mind, as pointed out by Dr. Temple Grandin in her TED lecture. If somebody were to walk up to me and say “program this electronic device”, I would have absolutely no idea what to do. You would have to tell me what task the device will perform, how many gigs of memory and the software you want me to use. Ignoring detail can cause the electronic device not to work or short out. Your English teacher should tell you the specific requirements that are on an essay or speech you are supposed to write.

To wrap things up, I’ve had more than my fair share of teachers who didn’t know how to work with me. They truly made school an extremely difficult experience. However, I must emphasize one more thing that is extremely important. You have to teach your children that all of your teachers must be treated with respect. Students who mouth off to teachers eventually do end up being sent to the principal. If you mouth off to your boss they could end up being fired. They should report any teacher that demonstrates behavior that is unethical. The child’s parents and administration must be notified as well. Teachers and educators play a crucial role in our lives. That is true on the good side and the bad side.

Oakland Christian School Video

Rate My Teachers


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