“Scary Stories From the Real World” (Engage and Teach, Don’t Preach!)

I am often shocked at how little some of my former teachers have actually taught me about the real world, going to college and getting a job. This was not the case with all of my teachers, but it was true with most of them. Typical public high schools are only designed to prepare students to graduate from high school, not be a success in the real world. As a follow-up to “You’re Not Even Trying”, I am going to talk about some things related to the “real world” many of my teachers and counselors used to preach to me all the time. Instead of “teaching” and “counseling” me about the real world, they mainly would tell me all kinds of horror stories about how terrible of a place it is.

My experiences with the school system at Freeport and many of the therapists I have worked with were not beneficial in the least bit, especially when it came to preparing me for life after high school. I honestly felt that most of the work I was expected to do at Freeport was worthless busy work. I had a driver’s education class in tenth grade, and the teacher was absolutely horrible. He would give us worksheets, and we would watch videos the entire period. Anytime I had a question about something, he would just tell me “read the book and figure it out”. Driving is a real world skill, and I had this incompetent person “teaching” it. My dad tried to teach me some basic driving skills in the parking lot of the high school, and even the most simple parts of driving a car seemed like gibberish to me. Driving is something that almost any teenager becomes excited about in high school. Because of that, I decided to wait until I turned eighteen years old to obtain my driver’s license.

I have always experienced trouble with math, and I had an awful math teacher. Because of her grouchy personality and her negative attitude towards everybody, I refused to pay any attention to her. I couldn’t understand any of the material we were covering in class, and she was absolutely no help when I asked her for it. The math concept I struggled with the most were multi step fractions. Anytime I would ask her for help on my fractions, she would rudely respond by saying something that basically sounded like “Derek, you do this, this and this. I want it done by tomorrow, I want all work shown and I want it done correctly”. I refused to do it because I had no idea how to do it. On the rare occasions I actually did my homework, she would put me on the spot and make me right my answer on the board. The class would become very impatient with the fact that I didn’t know how to do it after we have gone over it for the past two weeks. The teacher would become so impatient that she would resort to berating me not because I didn’t do my work, but because I didn’t understand how to do it. The students would just sit there and stare at me while I wrote down random answers to the problem.

I was in the learning support class when I was at Freeport, and it basically was a “babysitting version” of a study hall. You were either required to work on homework or study for a test that was coming up. I wanted to opt out of it, but my parents wouldn’t let me. The teachers and aides in that class spent most of the time nagging me about getting work done, or reprimanding me for my negative attitude about high school in general. When they would try to “help” me study for a test, I would stare off into space and guess random answers. I would often stand there and ask “What is the point of learning this”? The aides would then respond “you have a chapter test coming up, it’s going to be on the P.S.S.A (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) test and you have to take it to graduate”. I would roll my eyes and say “It’s still pointless. I won’t need to know any of this after I graduate and the P.S.S.A test won’t mean a thing ten years from now”. I would then expect to hear “Derek, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to do”. I still wasn’t very convinced.

Teachers were not the only group of people who would try to taunt me about the real world, some of the “social skills” professionals would do it as well. In my blog “You’re Not Even Trying”, I talked about the “coffee talk” activity at Wesley Wonder kids. 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”.

A few weeks later, I made the decision to stop attending Wonder Kids. After all, I was going to make a new start at Lenape and try to overcome the obstacles I faced at Freeport and at Wonder Kids. If you look at what I wrote in parentheses beside the title it says “engage and teach, don’t preach”. I received strength based therapy for about a year, and I remember it was the only type of therapy that actually benefited me. They tried to use my strengths and make me use my talents to make friends and connect with people. The therapists were actually allowed to take me out into the real world and practice social skills. At Wesley Wonder kids, the group had to stay in the building for the entire group session. They overstimulated me and reprimanded me for going into sensory overload. A teacher can’t convince students into believing why a certain class is important for their success in the real world unless they actually show real world examples. A student will not become interested in the material unless you make the effort to engage them.

To wrap up, the message I am trying to teach is that one should never let a bad teacher or counselor determine their success in the real world.  Many people with Asperger’s have expressed their belief that some of the disrespectful neurotypicals (“normal” people) are the ones with disorders. While it is important to be proud of who you are, you should not let it define you. Asperger’s is no excuse for disrespectful and/or illegal behavior. It’s not about their opinion, it is about what you want. I hope you will always remember that in the future.

Facebook users, click here to see my fan page.

Click the “like” button at the top of the page to join.


“Why Are You So Negative?”

I am going to talk about another one of those irritating questions people often ask me. The question is along the lines of “Why Are You So Negative”? I was asked this question throughout my years in school, and I couldn’t really come up with any other answer than just “I don’t know”. I would mainly hear this from neurotypicals (people with “normal” minds). Each one had their own unique way of asking the question. Ms. Stuckley, one of my teachers in junior high would ask “Whats wrong Derek, you seem depressed”. One of the slackers in my TV production class at the Freeport Area Senior High School would say “Why are you so unhappy all the time? You’re just like a serial killer”. I would simply avoid even speaking to the ones who asked me that question because they just don’t understand. It really wouldn’t be worth telling them I was Autistic, because most of them don’t know what it is and they wouldn’t care if I told them.

Negativity is a common characteristic teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome often show. There are many reasons why this is true, the most common one is because they don’t “fit in with the crowd” at school. While most of the students at school talk about going to the football game on Friday night, a student diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome will most likely spend the evening playing computer or video games, or research information about their favorite topic on the internet. When you live in a place like Freeport, football is probably the most popular high school sport. It is often said that “everybody who’s anybody” comes to see the football game. The problem with that statement was, I was the complete opposite of “anybody”. Freeport is a very cliquish school, and I didn’t fit in with any “group”. As described in my entry “Why Are You So Quiet”, I would try to interact with people, but they would either ignore me, tell me to leave or spread rumors about me. I became so frustrated with the fact the people didn’t want to get to know me, I just walked over to an empty table and sat by myself. The cafeteria was always extremely loud, and I just couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so I could get out of the cafeteria.

Aside from social issues in high school, there is also quite a bit of negativity coming from the media about Asperger’s Syndrome and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders. The morning news is always full of negative stories to talk about. Some of those include murders, car accidents, house fires and political rallies. Autism is often discussed on news stations as well. They only read information from clinical reports and believe that people with an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis (ASD) are completely hopeless. Clinical reports don’t show the benefits of having an ASD. My mother would always become extremely depressed when she would read clinical reports and see news stories about it. Social skills groups and therapists often enjoyed overstimulating me, which made me even more unhappy with myself. The staff members from Wesley Wonder Kids would say “you are not doing enough” or “you need to try harder”. I was trying as hard as I could, and on top of that I was trying to figure out who I was as a person. This was one of the reasons I was very happy at the Computing Workshop. They let me learn things at my own pace and they were patient with me.

One should be very thankful for people like Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison because they helped people realize there is hope and I am capable of getting through this. In my most recent post before this one I talked about the Temple Grandin film starring Claire Danes. I emphasized how important it is for a person (Autistic or not) to have somebody they have things in common with, can look up to, who likes them for who they are and whom they want to be like when they grow up. I talked about my friend Aaron and how he eventually changed my attitude because he was the first person who was actually excited to see me. We all need that one person in our lives who we enjoy being around. If you were to invite them to your birthday party, you consider their “presence as a gift”. After meeting Aaron, I realized that quality of friends is better than quantity.

There are many kids with Asperger’s Syndrome who have it worse than I did in the past. Some of them have parents who are not willing to provide for their children, others have worse experiences in school, and some have an even more severe diagnosis. Some of those people have commented on my blog and thanked me for sharing my experiences. Many of them are from out of Pennsylvania and some of them are even from out of the United States. Reading John Elder Robison’s “Look Me In The Eye” has made me realize that everybody experiences feelings of not belonging. Some of those experiences even occur after high school. However, I still do experience difficulties in school. I am a senior in high school, and I am extremely nervous about college. The closer I get to graduation, the more nervous and excited I get. Getting used to the fact that I am graduating this year, along with getting my work finished is an extremely stressful combination of tasks.

The thing about negativity that kids with Asperger’s Syndrome should remember is that negative thoughts can eventually lead to negative consequences. When you say negative things about yourself, people will notice it and it will draw them away from you. That could eventually make you even more unhappy. Positivity is the best approach when you encounter frustrating situations with people, and it can be very difficult. With this advice, you will hopefully find friends who will accept you or who you are.

Facebook users, click here to see my fan page!

Click the “like” button on the top of the screen to join!

“Why Are You So Quiet?”

Take a look at the title for this blog. You have most likely been asked that question if you are on the Autistic Spectrum, or are a quiet person when you are amongst a lot of people. I have been asked that question many times, and I must say it still does annoy me quite a bit. For anybody on the Autistic Spectrum, initiating conversations with people and making friendships is especially difficult in the school environment. I have described many of my experiences during seventh through tenth grade at Freeport, and many of them had to deal with people not wanting to associate with me just because I was “not like everybody else”. I would try to start conversations with people, but they would ignore me or pretend to listen to me.

A few of my teachers suggested that I tell my classmates about Asperger’s, but I immediately said no. My main reason I said no was because people can be very judgmental if they find out you have an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis. People believe the negative stereotypes that come from the media. When most people think of Autism, they think of the child with severe Autism who sits in a wheelchair and can’t talk. There are also many people out there who have heard of Autism, but not Asperger’s Syndrome. They do not understand that every single Aspergian is different. They all have different weaknesses, strengths, interests and personalities.

I did a blog a few weeks ago called “Why Don’t You Find Friends Your Own Age”? It talked about why it was and still is difficult to interact with people my age. This post is somewhat related to it. The reason why I had trouble interacting with people in my grade was because they just didn’t understand me. I didn’t feel it was worth telling my classmates about it face to face, because I don’t think they would really care. Most of the students at Freeport were very close minded, and they only focused on their friends and their own lives. During my freshman year of high school, I came to realize that people really were not that interested in getting to know me. On the first few days, I walked over to four or five groups of people, and they all either rolled their eyes at me, or told me it was “reserved for somebody else”. I thought about telling my teachers about it, but I thought I eventually decided it wouldn’t help because they most likely disrespect me even more. Close minded people most likely won’t change. I eventually decided to sit at an empty table by myself.

In my past blog posts I have also described situations where people have tricked me into thinking they were just merely trying to be friendly, then they would turn around and say or do something mean to me. I felt as if all people were out to get me. I wanted nothing to do with people in my school as a result. There were also some people who tried to start a conversation with me, but I would just sit there and ignore them. In my mind I said “I’m afraid they are going to be mean, so I should just not talk to them at all”. After all, I didn’t have any “real friends”, so why should I bother talking to people in the first place? When I would ignore people who tried to talk to me, they would patronize me and say things like “You are supposed to say good when people say hi to you”. There were also people who would talk to me in the same tone of voice that a kindergarten teacher would speak to their students. There was a girl in my grade who sat behind me on the bus and she asked me “Derek, how do you like the high school? Do you have lots of friends to talk to?” I rolled my eyes and ignored her after she asked me that irritating question. When I would walk by, she would whisper about me and laugh at me behind my back. I could obviously tell she wasn’t really interested in getting to know me. She enjoyed shoving the fact that I didn’t have friends down my throat.

With that in mind, take a minute and look back at my post titled “What Does Cool Mean”? It talked about how the word “cool” was often mistaken for “popular”. As my freshman year went on, I tried to fit in with the “cool” crowd and they obviously did not really enjoy my presence. I completely regret trying to “fit in” with that group of people, because I came to realize they were not my kind of people. When I started interacting with some of those people online, they seemed to enjoy talking to me at first. But after a while, they would start ignoring my messages and signing off of AIM when I would try to start a conversation with them. Ever since then, I only interact with people on chat rooms who I know in person and consider close friends or family. My reason for this is because you don’t know what they are really thinking. The person you are Instant Messaging could say “that’s cool” when they could really be thinking “I don’t give a sh**, why are you talking to me? I’ve got more important people to talk to”. I have noticed that people who give you one or two word responses usually are not that interested in talking to you. When I talk to my friends or family online, I try to give them a reply that is at least two or three sentences long. It helps your conversation sound more interesting.

Instant messaging was and still is easier for me because recognizing facial expressions and looking people in the eye was extremely difficult for me. Very much like John Elder Robison, people didn’t like it when I would not look them in the eye. They would tell me to look at them, then I would forget about it and look away. They would then become angry with me, which made me even more afraid of looking them in the eye. People would also yell at me for exhibiting inappropriate facial expressions for the mood of the current situation. I would expect to hear teachers say things like “Stop staring at me like a deer staring at headlights”, or “Why are you smiling?! That is not funny! Shame on you for laughing!” People sometimes use emoticons to express their emotion, and that helps me recognize how they are feeling.

To wrap up, there are many things you should never ask somebody like me, and the question I put in the title is one of them. My best advice I can give about this is ignore them if they ask you that irritating question. It may seem rude, but they will eventually give up on trying to talk to you. There really is no better way to explain this than say “It’s just the way I am”. I only associate with people who I know will support me and won’t be judgmental about my diagnosis. Those people are my close family members and close friends.

Facebook users: Click here to join my fan page.

“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.

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.

Re: Temple Grandin: “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds” (TED.com)

You have heard of my horrible experiences when I was a student at Freeport. My freshman and sophomore year were full of bullying and disrespect from people who didn’t understand that I was different from everybody else. I felt like they spoke an unknown foreign language. People didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. Asperger’s and Autism didn’t become a well-known disorder until the twenty-first century. When my parents were in high school they did not have learning support programs, social workers and social skills groups for these kids to learn they skills they needed for life. I must say that we have come a long way, but we still have a lot to work on. While Autism will never be fully understood, there are many things about society that need to change.

Temple Grandin recorded a fascinating lecture on Ted.com that described how her mind works. I must say it was one of the most fascinating online speeches I have ever listened to in my entire life. She stated that her mind works like Google Images. Words coming from another person instantly become movies in her head, equipped with sound. In her TED lecture, she described a scene in the movie. Her mother said the word “shoe” and images of shoes popped up in her head. During the 1950s, people had the common misconception that people with Autism would not amount to anything in life. Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders were usually sent to mental institutions. They had no idea about the continuum of traits from Autism. Anytime they would hear the word “Autistic” they would think they are non verbal and psychologists would recommend they go to a mental institution.

When I was a student at Freeport, I absolutely hated math and science classes because it mainly involved reading books and taking notes. I looked around and noticed that students falling asleep and looking out the window. That obviously meant they were not the least bit interested in the material we were going over. During 10th grade I had physical science during eighth period, the last class of the day. This speech directly relates to another topic I have posted several blogs about.

To reiterate my Lenape blogs, I talked about how Freeport tried to make a standardized test score out of me and not the best person I could be after I graduated from high school. Every day I had a structured learning support period. The learning support class is pretty much a structured study hall. It pretty much consisted of completing homework you didn’t do at home, or reviewing for upcoming tests. Every day I would complain about how much I hated that particular test I was studying for and I would say the material was pointless. My teachers would then respond “Derek, you can complain all you want but this material will be on the P.S.S.A tests and you need to take the class to graduate”. I then decided to keep my mouth shut because arguing would result in a trip to the office. After that, I would think “so what, I will never use this crap after I graduate so why should I care about this class?”

This is directly related to another point Temple made during her speech. There are many teachers out there who are not certified to teach but have a degree in science fields like biology, chemistry, physics or music. Any person in this country can get the certification to become a teacher, but the question I would ask my self if I were hiring a new teacher would be “are they willing and able to show how this particular class can apply to the real world”? I admire the fact that it is part of the curriculum at Lenape. They prove to you that they don’t make you learn algebra, trigonometry or geometry just because it is a graduation requirement or it is on the P.S.S.A tests. In our Technical Communications (English) class, we are required to write an essay about a career related to our chosen technical field. It has to be five paragraphs long, and you are required to put citations from your research sources at the end of each paragraph. After the essay is thoroughly edited and completed, you are then required to give a ten minute speech about the career.

Freeport requires juniors to give a ten minute speech about a career you wanted to pursue in the future. You are randomly assigned a teacher to grade you on the speech, who most likely doesn’t know enough about their chosen career. I had to give a five-minute graduation speech during tenth grade about a chosen career field, and I chose an Electronics Engineer. My English teacher obviously knew nothing about the career, so she gave me a 100% for the effort, because I only knew general information about the career field. The graduation requirement for your senior year at Lenape is more hands on. You are required to present a twenty-minute demonstration of a hands on task related to your technical area. It has to be ten minutes long and you must use correct terminology when identifying any of the equipment you are using. I am in the electronics program, and I will have to do this project for my senior year. You will have to explain how each component specifically functions in the circuit.

There is one more thing I will have to keep in mind about my job skills project. It will be graded by somebody that is in the industry. Simply put, it will be graded by somebody who works in a profession related to my chosen technical area. I will have to make sure I not only know what I am talking about, but that I am dressed appropriately and practicing proper safety techniques. A twenty minute long presentation is a lot to prepare for, especially when it is a graduation requirement. The best thing to do is think of this presentation as a learning experience. In the future, you never know when you will have to demonstrate something.

Temple Grandin is the reason many people on the Autistic Spectrum have gone to college and obtained successful careers. Usually, the so called “obsession” these individuals have when they are kids could have their children obtain a successful career in something related to it. I completely agree that schools need to stop teaching abstract skills. I never functioned well in classes like that, especially abstract math. If you can prove to me why I need this in real life, I will do well in the class. Lenape changed my opinion about school, and I think there need to be more full day technical and academic schools with a similar curriculum as Lenape. Education as a whole needs to become less abstract and more specific and related to the real world. If that changes, I feel we will have less students falling asleep in class and looking out the window and not being interested.

Click Here To Watch Temple’s Lecture: