Most Annoying Male


I never was a fan of awards assemblies throughout my years in school. I suppose part of that was because my name was rarely called. It was always the same people who won the same awards. Some of the teachers presenting these awards would even say into the microphone that it “is my own fault” if my name was never called. I suppose there is more to life than being deprived of a ribbon or a trophy at my end of school year awards assembly. That being said, some stories often do take me back to my days in school.

The parents of 11-year-old Akalis Castejon were outraged after their son was presented with a trophy that reads “most annoying male.” He has an Autism diagnosis and is non-verbal. One might expect a child to become upset when he doesn’t know how to communicate his wants or needs. I can understand why a teacher may feel frustrated at times. However, that certainly doesn’t explain or excuse why school employees felt the need to humiliate Akalis in such a way.

I certainly don’t feel sorry for the teacher, and I frankly hope all employees involved in this insulting prank are never allowed to teach in a classroom again. There is one aspect of this story that I personally find the most disturbing. It is the fact that he was unable to pick up on the fact that his trophy was indeed a prank. Experiences have shown me that people are bound to take note of that. They are bound to use that as an opportunity to humiliate the child because they know they would never get away with subjecting a neurotypical child to such treatment.

I had my annoying moments back when I was in fifth grade. I went through this phase where I was obsessed with Dory from Finding Nemo. The same thing goes true for my utterances of “Polly want a cracker.” It gave me an audience. I took advantage of that by speaking whale and talking like a parrot at any opportunity I could find. My fifth-grade teacher would even laugh. However, it started to get old pretty quick. It took having to stay in for recess a few times to send the message that there is a time when it is okay to chat and joke around. There is also a time when we must be quiet and listen to the person speaking.

I had excellent teachers growing up. I still keep in touch with some of them today. They all had a strong moral compass. They all set amazing examples both for my classmates and for me. Therefore, I am sure they know the lifelong scars that a prank like the one pulled on Akilas Castejon has the potential to scar a child for life. I am grateful for them. I look back on my memories from junior high and high school. I realize how easy it is to focus on those who were everything but kind. I hope that Akilas and his family remember that, no matter how cruel some adults may be.

Update: Three teachers and a principal have been fired for their involvement in this offensive prank.

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/448120-indiana-school-district-to-fire-principal-teacher-who-labeled 

 

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It’s Always Going To Be There


I have seen the video on America’s Got Talent that everyone is talking about. Let me start by saying that it is fantastic to see someone with Autism to be allowed an opportunity that so many people with the neurological disorder continue to miss out on. Why do so many people with Autism miss out you may ask? It’s because of our society’s ignorance that is spawned by fear of the unknown. Elyse Wanshel wrote a Huffington Post article which criticized the reactions to such an audition. Comments on her article People Are Celebrating Kodi Lee on ‘America’s Got Talent’ For The Wrong Reasons have further proved the point she was trying to make.

The video of Kodi Lee’s audition was initially titled “Kodi Lee Defeats Autism and Blindness With Music.” Backlash finally convinced staff to revise the title to “Kodi Lee Wow’s You With a Historical Moment.” People can call me “PC” all they want to. However, that doesn’t change my belief that such a title is worthy of criticism. We live in a world that says you must look the part if you want to be successful. This means that exhibiting any of the characteristics associated with Autism is a strict no-no. It will offend people, particularly those who say that people like me are “easily offended” by the title of a video that falsely implies that a person’s Autism Diagnosis can be defeated. Those who use such language in reference to me are not worthy of my friendship.

I wonder one thing about some of those people who say Kodi Lee is an inspiration. Are they the same ones who would act shocked and offended if he were to exhibit behaviors like stimming? I try not to make assumptions about people based on a social media post. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer to such a question were yes. I reject the world’s mindset that any amount of success I can achieve forbids me from exhibiting something that helps me “self regulate” and “self-calm.” I also reject the many who use their experiences with Autism as a means for deciding that they know what is best for me.

I have never met Kodi Lee before. Therefore, I don’t know how Autism effects him. No person with a neurological disorder is under any obligation to answer such a question for the very reason I described above. I am the only person who truly knows the answer to that question in reference to me. Those who see things like stimming as a character flaw are not worthy of my friendship. They don’t know my diagnosis. I do!

 

You Are A Liar! (My Thoughts About The “High Functioning” Label)


My double minority life as a gay man with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) has more than it’s fair share of excruciating challenges. I do not demand people to feel sorry for me when I share even the most painful experiences. Not everyone is going to understand how it feels to live with my condition. Nor do I expect praise from people who are willing to read about my life. It can be easy for me to come off as such a person. However, I know I am far from the type of person who demands metals and trophies just for writing about my life. Demanding praise and adoration is only going to result in the exact opposite. 

I know there is a lot of diversity in the Autism community. People like Dr. Temple Grandin refer to Autism as a continuum, that ranges from nonverbal to traits that are more characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome. I have never been a fan of functioning labels. I have many reasons for that. This quote below is the one which stood out to me the most. It comes from the Autism wiki and is regarding the high functioning label. 

It minimizes the need for support and may make it harder to ask for help.

http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Functioning_Labels

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people claim that I am lying about my diagnosis only because I don’t exhibit the characteristics associated with low functioning Autism. I am not running around, screaming, throwing feces and lashing out. I have the ability to communicate verbally. I know that our society doesn’t consider that to be an acceptable way to communicate my frustrations. I cannot think of anything else that leads to such ignorance than the high functioning label. It leads to the assumption that Autism is a contest. The child with the most “severe” traits receives an “A” a grade on their Autism report card. The graders are people who simply base their perception of what constitutes as “legitimate Autism” on the one person whom they happen to know. 

I now know that Autism is a much more complex neurological disorder than our society likes to think it is. Another major problem many have with the high functioning label is that it can cause the individual to believe they are more superior others who have ASD. As indicated on the Autism wiki page, this mindset can cause the child to grow up to behave disrespectfully towards those whose struggles are different or more significant from their own. I am not proud to admit that I was guilty of such a thing back in my teenage years. I internalized the bullying and social stigma my peers subjected me to.

I used my experiences with bullying as an excuse to completely shut out those who also understand how it feels to be different. I like to think those who accuse me of lying about my diagnosis will change their minds after reading my admission of such a statement. However, I can only change the minds of those who are willing to listen to me. They say the steps towards becoming an active listener are pay attention, show that you are listening, provide feedback and respond appropriately. Such a statement should apply to one’s own words and thoughts just as much (if not more) than it does for those of others. I still have trouble doing those things when I experience depression and anxiety over situations which most people wouldn’t experience such feelings. 

I know my high functioning label never will be absolute. It changes from day to day and situation to situation. I cannot seem to come up with any other way to explain that, other than to say that it depends on the person I am dealing with and the environment that I am in on that particular day and during that particular situation. That is one of the things neurotypical I wish neurotypical people understood. Despite such ignorance, I know that to be true. I know that I will only need to prove that fact to myself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Bought A Journal


You may tell by the title that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to be. I have found that sitting in front of the computer, trying to come up with something that people will want to read is only going to cause my cursor to blink and blink in front of a blank document. Thus, I ordered a journal and have begun writing inside of it each day. I have found that I am much too formal when I am sitting here in front of the computer. Things like content and formatting prevent me from making progress by actually writing something. Add that with worrying about whether people will actually want to read what I have to say.

Yes, we need to know the importance of sharing our writing with other people for the sake of getting honest feedback. I realize that is what professional writers do. However, I think we all need at least one place where nobody else but I will read the things I place inside of it. That is precisely why I bought a journal. I need at least one place where I don’t have to think about any of the formalities associated with submitting my writing to someone who is going to evaluate it.  Sitting in front of my computer certainly is not going to help me achieve that.

I simply take five to ten minutes each day and write whatever comes to my mind. I do it simply to achieve the task of getting my thoughts on paper. I often do think of good ideas for content when I am laying down in bed, or, on the ground playing with my dog. There is one problem with that. I tend to forget about it a few minutes later. I fall back into that rut when I sit at my computer and try to come up with something that people will actually want to read. This is why I think this journal will help me in the long run. I can refer back to it and use my entries as ideas for content.

 

 

 

 

 

I Think I Can Be That Train


I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the sound of those mighty machines when I walk through many of the towns here in Western Pennsylvania. For that reason, I don’t typically pay attention to them when I hear their rumble. I am still, however, reminded of the prominent symbolism that many cultures throughout the world share with those of us here in the United States of America. One of my favorite songs on country music singer Chely Wright’s 2013 album Lifted off the Ground is a song called “That Train.” The lyrics are simply musings about the fact that she wants to be a mighty machine “made of rivets, made of steel, and built for speed.”

I wonder what inspired Wright to pen a song where she personifies herself as a piece of machinery that has become an everyday sight for people in towns across the world. Was it the numerous movies and works of literature which symbolize trains as symbols of determination to fulfill a mission? Did she feel inspired by characters reuniting after a summer apart in the Harry Potter movies and the sense of adventure in the Polar Express are just a few examples. Or, did she see one in her dreams? It suggests the person will stop at nothing to get to that destination. No matter if it is as specific as Chicago’s Union Station or abstract as achieving success in one’s terms.

I wanna be that train
I wanna be that free
Hang onto that track is all they’ll ever ask of me
Smooth heavy wheels to roll me away
I wanna be that train

Some people might suggest that a railroad resembles restrictions of ones freedom in life. Wright makes that clear in the first line where she expresses that she could never physically do what a train is intended to do. I agree with that to a certain extent. The only way a train can travel to its destination is if it stays on the track which humans previously constructed for it to do so. Making a note of the preceding statement is one reason why I have difficulty personifying myself as a mighty locomotive. We are all bound to go through experiences where the only way we can get through it is to “hang onto the track.” I can picture how I would handle being the engineer of a train in a dark tunnel. I would move as slowly and as cautiously as possible out of fear that the “light at the end of the tunnel” would be a fiery trap disguised to look like the world outside.

I feel I must clarify the points I made in the previous paragraph. I can remember one time in my life where “hanging onto the track” was the only way I could get through it. High school was an example of such an experience. Being different and in high school can be unbearable at times. I have written about my experiences with bullying at great length in the past. I no longer desire to do so now. I merely say that because I am here now. I can do more than learn from my own experiences; I can listen to people who have experienced dark tunnels of their own. 

I’d get to see the mountains and the planes from coast to coast
Many might adore me but they wouldn’t get too close
I’d never be that lonely ’cause my engine and caboose,
Wouldn’t leave me, we’d be bound
Yeah, we’d be breakin’ loose

It may be difficult for me to picture myself as a mighty piece of machinery, made of rivets, steel and built for speed. But, there becomes a time when we all must embrace our inner train. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (Arnold Munk) immediately came to my mind when I wrote that sentence. It doesn’t matter if the ultimate reward is getting to see mountains and the planes from coast to coast, or, bringing toys and good food for children to eat. We all need to know how fulfilling it can be to hang onto that track. I say that even when dark tunnels compel us to stop dead in our tracks out of fear that our mission will not be successful.

Some may question why I felt the need to write about a simple song by underrated country music singer Chely Wright. Nevertheless, it is a song I can learn from as one year ends and another begins. I hope you can learn from it too.

ABC’s “The Good Doctor”


Those who have read my previous writings will know that I have been critical of Autism portrayals in Hollywood. Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Virginia Dixon was (in my view) the worst of any Hollywood portrayal I have ever seen. I am convinced the writers based her representation on a list of symptoms from WebMD and an article about Dr. Temple Grandin. I suppose you could say that I was “triggered” by Dr. Dixon’s evident inability to recognize when the parents of a brain-dead patient might not want to be overwhelmed with all of the details as to why their beloved daughter’s life has been cut short.

Multiple publications have praised a new ABC drama titled “The Good Doctor” as a program which sheds light on Autism. The show’s protagonist is Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore.) He is a surgeon who lives with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Some articles have indicated that he also has Savant syndrome. The first five episodes of the series have made it abundantly clear that Shaun lived a troubled childhood. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His brother was tragically killed in a fall from the roof of a train car, which he and his friends were playing on. 

It is encouraging to see a positive depiction of someone who lives with a neurological condition which affects no two people in exactly the same way. I am not at all denying that people are becoming more educated and aware that Autism is real. I am genuinely grateful for the many folks who continue to fight the good fight. I am also thankful for the writer’s attempt to convey a message that it is possible for someone who is on the Autism Spectrum to pursue a successful career in a field they are passionate about. 

That being said, I can see why some people take issue with Hollywood portrayals of Autism. It all goes back to the clear difference between fantasy and reality. Hollywood loves to misrepresent neurological disorders. A high paying job like one held by Freddie Highmore’s character is merely a fantasy for many people who have an ASD. I’ve read horror stories about employers who were far from willing to make accommodations based on the person’s needs. 

Hollywood’s continued support Autism Speaks is another primary reason why some take issue with the film and television industry’s representations of the disorder. The fact is, this organization does little to nothing with regards to providing real support for individuals and their families. Their primary focus is on the highly controversial search for a cure. They primarily cater towards families with children and provide little to no support for adults. ASD does not end after high school. It is a lifelong struggle with its own set of challenges in every phase of the individual’s life. 

As stated in an earlier paragraph, there are some high points to the character that is Dr. Shaun Murphy. However, my biggest complaint thus far would be the scenes where they portray Shaun as someone with apparent social ineptitude. I can partially forgive it because he had a troubled childhood and lacked an adult figure who could teach him proper social boundaries. I am currently willing to trust the writers will not go the route of portraying him as a man who somehow thinks his diagnosis automatically entitles him to a get out of jail free card when people call him out on social behavior which violates necessary boundaries. 

(The episode “Pipes” proves my point. Shaun wakes up his landlord after midnight to give him a list of repairs to be done around his apartment.) 

There are a few things I would like to see in future episodes of “The Good Doctor.” I know several people who work in hospitals. One must have a thick skin and be able to cope with any situation that can cause stress. My question is, how would a character like Shaun respond to a crisis situation in the hospital? An answer to that question would most likely depend on what type of crisis I am referring to. Any kind of situation which disrupts the typical day to day operations of the fictional St. Bonaventure hospital would give us a glimpse into how Shaun reacts to stressful situations which disrupt his routine. 

All in all, I do look forward to seeing more episodes of The Good Doctor. I think Shaun is a likable character with tremendous potential as a surgeon. I hope the writers, and fans of this show, will take my above concerns into account. 

 

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/