No! I Am Not Your Inspiration!


“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” 

Scott Hamilton 

Many people tend to believe these quotes are “inspirational.” They are instantly moved by the story about Natalie du Toit, the Olympic swimmer from South Africa with only one leg. She was inevitably forced to have her left leg amputated after she was hit by a car while riding her scooter school. Non disabled folks look at these pictures and feel this sudden rush of “inspiration porn” that magically gives them the motivation to put their struggles into perspective. “Wow! My problems are not so terrible after all! Look at what that Olympic swimmer had to go through! She must have had it so terrible! I am now proud to know that I have both of my legs!”  This orgasmic rush is only temporary, however. Before too long, they go back to the boring and normal folks they truly are. Thankfully, I am not the only person who strongly believes that “inspiration porn” is an epidemic. I thoroughly enjoyed a TED lecture by Australian disability rights activist and comedian Stella Young. Her diagnosis of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease) has made it necessary for her to use a wheelchair. Despite that, she managed to achieve success as the editor for the Australian Broadcasting Network. 

I know what you are thinking. You think I am just going on my soapbox and ranting just for the sake of ranting. I would hate to burst your bubble, but that is not the truth at all. I most certainly do not believe my diagnosis is terrible. I also do not believe that it makes me exceptional. I only believe that disability can make one exceptional when they genuinely achieve something that nobody else has managed to do so. I am only willing to serve as inspiration” to people who are willing to help us live up to the belief that we are exceptional. 

I intend to follow Stella’s footsteps and challenge the belief that disabled people are to be used as objects of inspiration.  This brings back memories to the day I wrote about Kathie Lee Gifford and the day she made an Autistic child cry on national television. The mother of handsome and popular high school senior Zach Hirsch felt compelled to write to Kathie Lee and Hoda in hopes of appearing on the segment called “Everyone Has A Story.” To sum it up, Zach befriended freshman Graham Jackson after he saw him sitting alone at a cafeteria table. Graham is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and that caused him to struggle with social skills development. The two instantly discovered their love of sports and became fast friends. To honor Zach, broadway singer Kate Baldwin performed a song that told their story. The horrid lyrics are reluctantly quoted below. 

We see them everyday, but too 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. 

I think that Stella’s lecture is one that is very beneficial for people who live with disabilities that are often considered “fake” by ignorant people in our society. This story with Kathie Lee Gifford and the Autistic teenager is an example of a vapid and patronizing publication of a “feel good” story. I know they meant well. I am willing to believe that Zach is genuinely a good person and that their friendship is something worth recognizing. However, I can’t help but feel insulted for Graham’s sake and reminded of my high school experiences. I was one of those kids who nobody wanted to sit with. I was occasionally bullied in school. People threw things at me and called me names like retard, faggot, queer and butt pirate. I was sexually harassed a few times by a girl who was desperate to be the center of attention and use me as her way of getting it. I did not ask to go through most of the treatment people subjected me to. I don’t think it is necessary to elaborate on my experiences. However, there is one thing that has particularly stood out in this video. Kathie Lee was “inspirationally aroused” after she fulfilled her desire to remind Graham that he is different. I know many people throughout the rest of society can’t get enough of it when it comes to their attitudes towards disabled people. When we encounter them, the most difficult thing to figure out is whether we should ignore them or call them on it. 

People have also told me that I am “brave” and “inspirational” when they have read many of my writings from the past year. “My Letter to Steve Grand” was one of those posts. Sure, it was emotional for me and those who were emotionally moved by it. However, I never intended for it to be an “inspiration” to anyone else but myself. When I look back and read it to myself, these are the messages it conveyed to me.  

1.) Stop beating yourself up about the past. We’ve all been through experiences where our true feelings were forced to be ignored and even believed to be “wrong.” 

2.) Learn from your words and experiences. Use them to create a life that is truly worth living!

Life as a gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome has often forced me to ponder one question. Do I allow my life to be dictated by these “inspiration fetishists” or do I try to live by the example of those who do genuinely want me to live a happy and successful life? Without the latter, none of us can live up to the belief that we are “exceptional.”

“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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