The More Things Change (The More They Stay The Same)


The above quote is something that we’ve all heard before, but don’t understand the meaning of. Most people think of two certain politicians with different agendas. Regardless of their stances on issues, they are competing to earn the most powerful position in the United States of America. However, I think of that Bowling For Soup song called “High School Never Ends.” When a high school senior takes that final walk down the aisle and grabs their diploma, they think that life will instantly turn into the one they have truly dreamed of. When they begin working towards their aspiration or dream, they are faced with the instant realization that their perception was completely wrong! Sometimes, they discover that their chosen path is far from ideal. They are left to start at the very beginning.

It’s funny because it has been almost four years since I graduated from high school. I stood inside the Lenape Technical School gymnasium and I thought that life would instantly become the one I truly dreamed of.

Being realistic? What a joke! Why can’t I just sit here and dream about the life I want?

You may be wondering why I brought this up. I brought it up because I still am not sure where I am going to go to create that life I truly need and deserve. I went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and I thought I was destined for a high tech career in Electro Optics. I was completely oblivious to how much I struggled with Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus. I thought I would finally be able to grasp the concepts of those subjects after being introduced to practical examples of their use. The problem was, I could not even grasp the core concepts. I must be as blunt as possible in saying that I no longer see the point in trying to finish a degree that requires skill in an area that I greatly struggle in.

So, I am now back at square one. I have been looking into possibly pursuing an English degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I am not going to give up on my ultimate goal of publishing a memoir. I truly believe that is the one thing in my life that will make it truly worth living. English Literature and Writing Studies are my top interests. I certainly agree that an English major will help me build my skill in something that I love to do. However, people are still discouraging me from doing so. Most of it is the typical “you will not be able to find a job with an English degree.” They base their stance on the select few people they know who completed a similar degree and still work at McDonalds. Regardless, I have been trying to do as much research as I possibly can about careers and about how I can work towards my ultimate goal of becoming a published author.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the not so enjoyable part of preparing for a “realistic future.” It all has to do with the money. I will have to find a way to pay for classes, housing and my vehicle. My mistake of pursuing a degree in Electro Optics resulted in my GPA being below the minimum requirement to graduate. Vocational rehabilitation is not able to provide any assistance until I bring it up. So, I feel like a high school senior again. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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“You Need To Stand Up For Yourself More” (Handling A Patronizer)


We know the bullying issue is prevalent in high schools across America. Both my peers and my high school teachers are guilty of it. During my two years at the Freeport Area Senior High school, my teachers pressured me into becoming a people pleaser. Do you remember the one who tried to convince me into believing there was a mandatory fee to attend Lenape Tech? She was also the same one who tried to come up with the story the state of Pennsylvania was going to eliminate cyber school from the curriculum next year. It was her last ditch effort to prevent the school board from paying dollars for students to attend the full day vocational technical school that has been serving Armstrong county since 1965. I started my first week of classes at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The Electro Optics program at the Northpointe regional campus provides students with employment opportunities in a wide variety of technological skills. An Associates Degree in this growing field can pay about a $30,000 annual starting salary, while a Bachelors degree can pay an approximate $60,00.00 starting salary.

The burning question is “how do I stand up to people who speak to me like that?” Well, this is not an easy question for many Asperger’s type teenagers to answer. This could possibly have something to do with the differences in the Asperger’s brain. Every person’s brain is equipped with equipped with cell’s called neurons. They are located in the premotor cortex. These cells “fire” both when you perform an action and when you watch somebody else do the same thing. This article from science daily.com explained the theory behind how these neurons do not work properly in the Autistic mind. It was believed that dysfunctional neurons were the culprit behind the difficulty understanding the actions of others and the lack of empathy. However, another Science Daily article was published in the year 2010. It argued the mirror neuron systems function normally in the Autistic brain. So, if it isn’t weak neurons, what is it?

I want you to take a look at this clip from the Kathie Lee Gifford show. Every week they do a contest called “Everyone Has A Story.” This particular segment was about a high school senior named Zach Hirsch and his younger friend Gram Jackson. Zach was a high school athlete. He was attractive and popular. One day when Gram was a freshman, he was sitting in the cafeteria by himself. Zach noticed it and he decided to sit with Gram and talk to him. As time went on, they initiated a friendship and started getting together after school. The friendship had a very positive effect on Gram, and so his mother wrote a letter to Kathie Lee about it. The letter basically described everything I just said. At first I was very happy to hear about this story. I was happy to hear that somebody like Zach would step out of his comfort zone and go out of his way to help somebody who was “different.” His (Zach’s) mother stated how this friendship caused him to gain the confidence to reach out to other people. However, my mood changed from a happy to furious at about six minutes into the video

This “thing” that happened actually caused an outrage in the Autism community. Opera singer Kate Baldwin sang a song about their story on national television. The song was titled “All Alone”. Just by reading the title, you can tell why this song makes me angry. This song was written by Kathie Lee! 

We see them everyday, but to often look away from the ones who are sitting alone. 

We seldom hear their voice because we make the choice to leave them right there all alone 

We see them everywhere, but to often we don’t care. We’re lost in a world of our own. 

We rarely realize, they’re angels in disguise, so we leave them right there all alone. 

Can you imagine if hello was a word you’d never heard? Can you imagine if you’ve never had a friend? 

Can you imagine if loneliness was all you’d ever known?  

It’s more than we could ever comprehend. A world, a silent world, without a friend. 

But miracles can happen, sometimes they really do. 

And sometimes, the miracle turns out to be you. 

When you embrace a stranger and show love you’ve never shown, you will make the greatest friend that you have ever known. 

Someone who used to be, someone who used to be, but now will never be all alone. 

If you thought the song was bad, just wait until you see the next part of the video. I transcribed what happened next.

Kathie Lee: You know, we’ve been doing this now since October of last year, and I was wondering if we were every time I say to myself “gee, are we ever gonna be able to capture it you know?” But, I looked over and there was Gram and you had tears in your eyes buddy did you like your song? 

Gram: Well, it was a little to sad. 

(Everyone in the room laughs, including Zach’s and Gram’s family)  

Kathie Lee reminds me of the annoying “drill Sargent” therapist who thought forcing the Asperger’s out of me would make me a “brand new person”. Here is a little glimpse on how our sessions would begin. Obvious question after obvious question, irritable answer after irritable answer.

(The therapist pulls into our driveway. Penny, our dog starts barking and whining, letting us know someone is here. We wait a few seconds until he comes up to the door. My mother or I open the door to let him in.) 

Therapist: So Derek, are you happy to see me? 

Me: (Irritably) No? 

Therapist: Why not? Penny is happy to see me.

(about a 5 second pause.)

Therapist: One of these days, I expect you to give me a big hug! What would you do if I gave you a big hug? 

Me: (Irritably) Push you away?

Therapist: Why not? I’m only trying to help you. Don’t you want that special friend who you trust? 

Howard Stern gave a hilarious reaction to Kathie Lee’s actions on his radio show.  (Don’t watch if you are offended by coarse language!) He said how Kathie Lee made “different” kids look like “angels disguised as monsters.” Also, when they laughed at him for saying the song was “too sad”, he was speaking the honest truth. He was trying to emphasize how his life doesn’t revolve around being this “angel disguised as a monster.” Gram is not the only one I feel bad for in this video, I feel bad for Zach. She made him look like a complete idiot by rewarding him with all of these sporting goods while all Gram get’s is their two tickets to a Chicago Cubs Game. She made him look like he came on TV to brag about how great of a guy he is. He should have denied the TV interview! He only did this because he wanted to step out of his comfort zone and make a difference in Gram’s life. I still do believe there should be more teens who are willing to step out of their comfort zone. 

There is a word that describes what Kathie Lee Gifford did to this Autistic boy, and it is called patronizing. It simply means behaving in an undignified, superior and/or offensive way towards a person. Patronizers often convince others they are trying to be kind. Some are bullies who want to see an angry reaction, while others don’t have an intent to offend you. Either way they are really frustrating to be around. It seemed to me that teacher who discouraged me from going to Lenape Tech wanted to get a reaction out of me. She wanted me to get into trouble then rub into my face how much of a dismal failure I would be if I went to Lenape, the “school with the terrible P.S.S.A test scores.”

I remember my mother emailed the school about how she did not appreciate them bullying me into making the decision to go forward with what they wanted me to do. It was great to know that my mother wanted to support me, but the title of this post is absolutely true. If you want to prevent your emotions from interfering with your job,  here are some tips I hope you found helpful.

1.) You must “nip it in the bud” before it becomes a serious issue. Rehearse what you are going to say to the person by speaking into a mirror. You will find out why later on. (Try to remember the situation in as much detail as possible.) 1.) What did the person do or say to make you upset? 2.) What tone of voice and body language did they use? 3.) Why did their actions upset you? 4.) From your perspective, did they or did they not intend to offend you?

2.) Refrain from being emotional. Expressing sadness or anger will cause others to think you are weak, therefore they will not take you seriously. However, you must be firm and make it clear that you don’t appreciate whatever they may be doing to make you feel bad. Being firm with somebody means that you should be polite. Politeness is something that shows you are a mature person that is capable of handling any type of conflict that may ensue, regardless of whether it is at work, school or in your own family life. This is why you should rehearse what you are going to say.

Never use foul language, slurs and by all means do not even think about putting your hands on the person! Many schools and employment organizations have zero tolerance policies towards verbal and/or physical abuse towards anyone! In the long run, this worth much more than being fired or even having assault charges filed against you.

3.) If the patronizing behavior continues, it should be discussed with whoever is in charge of the administration of the organization. Like I said, patronizers who continue to make a person upset are bullies! This is really the only time where I think it would be appropriate to discuss the issue via email. When you do so, be sure to keep in mind everything I said from the previous steps. (Stop it before it becomes a big issue, be polite but firm) Reiterate their actions, the steps you took to resolve the situation and the results. 

It should not be difficult for an administrator to understand why the person’s actions are offending you. Administrators who do not address disrespectful behavior in the workplace are not skilled enough to enforce rules of conduct for all employees. If this becomes the case, then I would consider looking for another job and resigning from the organization (while following their resignation procedure. See this article “How to Resign Gracefully”). 

(This tip can also be helpful for handling situations with your friends and family. After you have asked the person to stop, and they do not listen and understand why you are offended it is best to walk away from the situation.)

My former therapists approach which I described above was not the appropriate method towards helping me deal with issues in school, however I do believe that he wanted to help me. After all, he could tell that I didn’t want to participate in the sessions and he knew I didn’t like being asked question after question. He wanted me to step out of my comfort zone and stand up for myself. The truth was, it made me even more anxious and more uncomfortable. Going back to the Kathie Lee Gifford clip, I wonder how the friendship between Zach and Gram is going now. If that were me, I would definitely have some choice words for Ms. Kathie Lee after that hideous song. The refreshing thing about college has been that I have experienced no bullying situations yet. It is great to know that people are generally more mature and know that such disrespect is not acceptable.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for reading!

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“Always Be Yourself” (Hiding My Asperger’s Quirks)


You probably know that I am just about to enter a brand new chapter of my life. We are now entering the month of August, and my classes start at the very end of the month. I used to be a firm believer that it is “better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not.” High school was the time of my life where I pretended to be who I wasn’t. I look back now and think about my freshman and sophomore year and regret myself for trying to “fit in” with the “cool” crowd. I have one month of summer vacation left, and there are very many thoughts that cross my mind when I think about what IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) is going to hold in store for me. My course load for my first semester of freshman year is thirteen credits. It is very true the Electro Optics program at the Northpointe campus has quite a bit to offer academically. Academic wise, the math is going to take practice! I have to be

However, there is another side of college life that makes me extremely nervous when I think about it.To some degree, I still do believe in the phrase “it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not”. However, there are a few exceptions to it. The social life in high school took many turns, and it got worse each one. Freshman year at the Freeport Area Senior High School started out with realizing I was “different” and that people either didn’t know I existed or showed how they didn’t care by harassing and taunting me. I then was put under the false impression that I was beginning to fit in with people from the “popular” crowd. (The kids who played sports, had lots of friends and “hung out” outside of school.) I created a Myspace account and I pretended to like the things every “cool” kid does. I wrote about the “cool” music, the “cool” activities such as sports and dating. I began chatting with these kids online and they didn’t seem to mind, for a while at least. Unknown to me, they started to become annoyed with me each day I would start a conversation with them.

The “poor wiring” in my Aspie brain makes it difficult for me to understand social interaction. The Wesley Wonder Kids club used role-playing and art projects as a “teaching tool” for this topic. I remember one session our topic was personal hygiene, we would be instructed to perform a short role play about how people could potentially react to a person who does not shower or brush their teeth. Long story short, one group member lifts their arms up and the person’s offensive body odor causes everybody to fall on the ground and express their disgust. The art project would consist of cutting pictures of people practicing good hygiene habits out of a magazine and pasting them onto a big sheet of paper. It honestly felt like kindergarten all over again!. Personal hygiene was never a problem for me, but it was for a few of the kids who I can remember.

I used personal hygiene as an example because (as I said earlier) people will notice whether or not you practice it. It is just one of the many things that will cause an Aspie like me to become self conscious about themselves. While hygiene was not one of my major problems, there were many “flaws” regarding my social life that caused me to feel bad about myself. Pretending to “fit in” with the “cool” and “popular” crowd was something that actually did more harm than good for my social life. I can remember back in fifth grade when people would become angry with me in Physical Education class because I lacked the coordination, concentration and confidence to participate in team sports activities. Therapists and teachers thought of it as a “flaw” that needed to be forced out of me immediately. My peers used the “power of sarcasm” to try to convince me into believing they were trying to be nice. After gym class was over, they would turn around and say “Derek, you did such a great job in gym class today. You should try out for little league sports.” Many children and adolescents with Asperger’s Syndrome lack the language skills to effectively use a “comeback” to stand up for themselves.  So, I would tell them “quit making fun of me.” That obviously didn’t convince them to stop. Teachers were no help because they simply believed I was being a “tattle tale.” They were really trying to say “People will make fun of you if you walk, talk, act and look that way.”

Earlier in this post I talked about pretending that I “fit in” with the “cool” crowd in high school. People began to notice that I was pretending to be the kind of person I really wanted to be during that time. I wanted to be the kid with lots of friends, a girlfriend and who loved all the “cool” music. My therapist wanted to “force the Asperger’s” out of me and make me that perfect socialite who everybody loved. The truth was, it didn’t work. I tried to “come out of my shell” but people ignored and made fun of me even more. In fact, I’ve written other posts about a kid who actually told me he “didn’t want to be friends with me.” I then made a bunch of rude remarks towards him, but that fueled the fire even more.

Social networking websites are a great tool to stay connected with people. However, many Aspies are not aware of the potential dangers of online communication. Face to face interaction is something that takes a lot of practice to master, and it does not happen overnight. Later on, I plan to write a more detailed review of Jesse Saperstein’s memoir “Atypical: My Life With Asperger’s in 20 1/3 chapters.” There was one chapter in his memoir that described a cyber bullying before such a term even existed. Here is a quote from the chapter about online versus face to face communication.

It is no small wonder many Asperger’s individuals fall in love with their virtual universes and are more comfortable typing into an electronic box to a faceless individual. The internet is the only technological medium that allows us to talk to a woman without worrying about our monotone voices destroying an already fragile first impression.

Jesse Started an online relationship with a woman named “Elizabeth West.” It all started when he recieved a “sweet and flattering email”  that read “My name is Liz. I have seen you around school and think you are a nice person! I was always too shy to come up to you and say ‘hello,’ but maybe you would like to email me back and tell me about yourself.” They started regularly communicating. To Jesse, Liz was a person who struck him as an “unusually empathetic person who could accept him and even appreciate his Asperger’s quirks.”  Jesse was involved in the buddies program at school, which was a program that let him be a role model to a mentally handicapped student. “Elizabeth” called him on the phone and talked about her ambitious dream to become a special education teacher and stated how impressed she was with Jesse’s involvement in the Buddies program. She said “It is really nice to meet someone like you. Someone who gives something back.” They lost touch for a few weeks because Elizabeth was attending “an arts camp in Maine.” She ignored Jesse, whilst he was still sending her constant emails. A quote directly from this particular chapter read the reason behind this.

(Warning: May be sensitive for some readers!) 

While at the Maine arts camp, Liz and a few of her platonic male friends went camping in the woods. They had toted along some alcoholic beverages, and she trusted the guy who handed her the beer spiked with the date-rape drug. Liz was repeatedly violated by one of her friends before her naked body was discarded in the woods like a slimy plastic bag. She was left alone, unconscious, and exposed all night long. When Liz finally squinted against the July sunshine. . . the memory literally throbbed inside her.

Long story short, she decided to get an abortion. The shocking truth came out a few days before a school dance which Elizabeth invited him to attend.

A few days before the dance, I learned a traumatic lesson about the dark side of computers. Online predators are not restricted to pedophiles and amoral scam artists. About six months into our friendship, I finally discovered that Liz and her circle of friends were not real.

My cyber bullying stories were short lived and they did not plan their attacks as carefully as the heartless teens who came up with “Elizabeth West.” However, their motives and intentions were the same. While they probably didn’t know what Asperger’s was, they knew I had trouble making friends. They wanted to trick me into being friendly then turn around and back-stab me by sending inappropriate pictures of themselves from their cellphone. I turned them into the principal, and all they got was a “don’t do that again” lecture.

To wrap up, I still do believe that it is good for an Aspie to be proud of who they are. People can try to “force the Autism” out of me, but I never will give up the many strengths that make me who I am. Organizations like Wesley Wonder Kids focused on my “social skills” by overstimulating and making my weaknesses feel like a character flaw that should be “forced out for my own good.” I am hopeful college will teach me more practical skills that I can use to pursue a successful career. I also hope it will help me discover more of my hidden strengths that I can use to build on my weaknesses. So, here is the answer to the a question you might be asking after reading this.

Should I tell somebody I explain “why I am who I am”?

The answer is that it’s my choice whether or not to tell. It all depends on my relationship with the person. I have to realize that I do not know how they will react to me “bringing my Asperger’s out of the closet.”  

I hope you found this helpful! I will be back to write soon!

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