“Not Everything That Happens Is Equally Important in The Grand Scheme of Things”


Think about the last time you had a really terrible day. I am sure every single person on this whole planet can come up with something. Your car breaks down and you have no other way to get to work. If you have read the book “Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships” by Dr. Temple Grandin and Shaun Barron, you have heard them mention that people on the Autistic Spectrum often think of the world around them as black and white. If you go back to my blog about honesty, I mentioned about how Shaun Barron didn’t like the board game he received as a gift from his friend because he already owned that same game. In his mind, he wanted to show that he was angry, and that he already had the gift. He just said I remember when I went to the Wesley Wonder Kids social group in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania they had a discussion about “big deal” versus “little deal”. A little deal would be something that only affects you right this moment, and that shouldn’t have an effect on you in the future. An example of a “little deal” would be somebody accidentally sitting in your assigned seat in the classroom. All you have to do is kindly ask them if they can move, or find another place to sit. However, and example of a “big deal” would be if somebody purposely pushed you into moving traffic. If you got hit by a car you could have been severely injured or even killed. The person who shoved you could also have faced charges.

Shaun Barron mentioned a “little deal” situation when he got extremely angry.  He went with his family to a Dairy Isle, and he ordered a chocolate shake. Anytime he would order a drink, he had this “rule” that was always very important to him, he wanted his drink to be filled completely to the top. When he finally received it, he saw that the drink was filled to just under the line. It was only two-thirds full. He was filled with anger, and he refused to touch the drink. To get rid of his anger, he decided to stomp on the cup until it was completely destroyed. I can imagine he felt a sense of relief after destroying the cup, because that was how he got rid of his anger. I can relate with Shaun very well in this example, there have been many situations where I have dealt with “little deal” situations inappropriately. One example was when I was in second grade at Buffalo Elementary School. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Coyne, and we were outside at recess. I was extremely bored at the time, and I decided to go sit on a swing. I walked up to the swing, and just before I sat on the swing another student said “I was going to use that swing”. I didn’t see him walking to the swing when I tried to sit at the swing. We then got into a verbal argument and he tried to grab the swing from me. I don’t remember what was said, because it was so long ago. I tried to come up with a way to show him how angry I was for telling me not to sit at the swing, so I then went to punching him in the stomach. One of the playground monitors saw me, and reported it to Mrs. Coyne. When we came back in from recess, she gave me a lecture and my punishment was lunch detention for a week. At the time I didn’t care that I was punished for the situation, I didn’t care that the situation was wrong, I was furious that he wanted to use the swing that I started to use. Looking back at that situation now, I realize that I reacted inappropriately. I think that we both of us acted inappropriately, I think this person should have just moved on and found another swing to play on. When he told me that he wanted to play on the swing, I should have done the same thing, but I didn’t, I reacted in a way that got me into trouble. That was a perfect example of a “little deal” situation. Later on, most people would think that a situation like this would be just a dim memory, I am sure that people wouldn’t even think about a situation like this later in their lives. I talked about this situation because it was a perfect example of many of the social skills that individuals on the Spectrum don’t understand.

Aside from big deal versus little deal, this rule also means you should not get upset about all the negative things that happen in your day. Shaun mentioned in the book that he got upset about a very minor situation, such was the case when they talked about his school changing the daily schedule. I had a very similar  situation, last year I toured the Lenape Vo tech school in Ford City, Pennsylvania. I was very impressed with the opto electronics program, they had a great instructor, named Mr. McCauley. He was one of those enthusiastic instructors that really enjoyed teaching. He had a goofy type of personality, and he made it taught in a way that would make anyone understand what he was teaching. I went to the electro optics summer program at IUP Northpointe and he was one of the instructors there. There he taught the electronics portion of the program. The kind of teachers I can’t stand are the ones who stand there and talk with an uninterested monotone voice. Most public speakers who talk in a monotone voice show that they either are not interested in the topic, or they just don’t know what they are talking about at all. That is one thing I have noticed. Most of those teachers stand there and talk for the entire class period, which is extremely boring! Mr. McCauley did do quite a bit of lecturing during the short time he taught during the summer program, but he was interesting to listen to. His enthusiastic attitude influenced me to realize that not all teachers are going to be grouchy, uninterested, over payed individuals who hate their job and every person on the entire planet. He inspired me to stick with what I want to learn for a future career, even if it means I will have to deal with the other kind of “teachers”, the ones who hate the world and all who live on it. I am sure I will have to deal with a few bosses like that, and I shouldn’t let them get to me either. Last year I went to Lenape and observed the opto electronics class, and I found out that Mr. McCauley was going to retire. Even though I didn’t get to know him at Lenape, I am still glad I got to meet him and have him as a teacher at the IUP summer camp. I am glad there still are some interested teachers out there who mostly enjoy their job and who like seeing their students succeed. In my opinion, grouchy uninterested teachers need to retire or find something else to do for a living. I am sorry if you are offended by this, but that is my honest opinion.

My final thought about this rule is that it shows me to not worry about the people and situations that piss me off and try to ruin my day. Anyone who tries to belittle me in any way, or that thinks I have problems means that they have problems themselves. When someone tries to belittle me I think I should just sit there and laugh about how stupid they really are. When I look back at my memories from junior high and high school, that is one of the things I am going to do! People who stand there and make fun of me need to get a life and find something better to do. Life would be so much easier without people like that! Unfortunately, I will have to deal with many of them. I want to ignore people who act like that and just keep on being myself.

Aspergers Syndrome and Change


Have you ever had to do something that you really didn’t want to do? Have you tried to do everything you could to avoid doing it? In most cases, one thing that is impossible to avoid is change. Everybody has to deal with it in some point of their lives and you also may have tried everything you could to avoid it. This is a very common trait for children and adolescents with Aspergers Syndrome, even a small change in their daily routine can cause depression or even a total meltdown. For example, lets say you and a friend planned to get together for the weekend, when at the last minute your mother says no.  Most neurotypical teens would hurry up and get the job done, while one with Asperger’s Syndrome would have a total meltdown. Of course, it depends on their personality, but something as simple as that could cause a person on the spectrum to have a total meltdown.

I just gave you a general example of what can cause meltdowns, but social skills groups need to teach aspie children to cope with change appropriately, if they deal with the situation inappropriately, they could end up getting in severe trouble in school, or even ruin their chances of getting a job. The most recent change that I had to go through was moving from Freeport Area Senior High school to the Lenape Vo Tech school in Ford City PA. Right off the bat, the first thing that really worried me was the feeling of not knowing what to expect. All sophomores from Freeport have the opportunity to come to Lenape their junior and senior year, but I don’t particularly want to talk to most of those people because I already know them. I wanted Lenape to be a fresh start for me, I wanted to forget about my negative experiences at Freeport and meet new people. The thing that stresses me out about Lenape now is that it is still “cliquish”, just like your typical high school. Most of the people from Lenape seem to only want to associate the people they already know from their home schools, they really don’t seem interested in meeting new people. It’s hard to meet new people when they are not interested in meeting new people. One common trait in kids with Aspergers Syndrome is that they take longer to adapt to major changes than a nuerotypical teen. Social skills are natural for neurotypicals, and they are able to go and make friends right away. One thing I wish secondary schools would do is assign special needs students and aide or a responsible upperclassman to help them find their classes and get their bearings. This would especially help middle school special need students who are just trying to get use to having more than just one teacher, and helping them get their way around the school. Back to the Lenape story, I had no difficulty finding my classrooms, but it was just meeting the new people that I had a problem with, and their being uninterested in getting to know me. Another change that has been really hard to deal with is the long bus ride. My bus has to pick me up at 6:10 in the morning, and the homeroom tardy bell doesn’t ring until 7:48. I usually don’t get back home until around 4:00 in the afternoon, so my bus ride is over an hour long both ways! There really isn’t anything they can do about that, because it is the only bus that picks us up around our area. I know that complaining about the situation will not help, so the better thing to do is to just deal with it. I really hope that things turn around, and I hope that the people will be more open than they have been. There are a few changes about Lenape that are inevitable, such as the long bus ride, so my best advice for you is to just deal with it. Complaining doesn’t make any type of change better, it will only make it worse. Yes I do grumble about getting up at 5:15 in the morning sometimes, but I am at least going to a place better than Freeport.

Another change that probably has upset me more than anything in the past is friendships ending. This is especially sad when you have been friends with this person for a very long time. Like I mentioned in my blog about dating, they may get a boyfriend or a girlfriend and act like they are their number one priority in life, they just simply don’t want to talk to you anymore. When they start rejecting phone calls, ignoring emails and text messages, and avoiding social time with you is when it becomes time to end the friendship. A situation similar to this happened when I started junior high, I had a friend that I hung out with all the time, named Jason. During elementary school, we would always go to each-others houses, go out and do things together, and talk during lunch time at school. We went to places like the zoo, walks down the trail, and when it was still open, we would go to the Freeport Community  Pool together. This all changed when junior high came around, he started hanging out with different people, and completely forgot about me. He would start rejecting phone calls, and avoid social time with me, he would make excuses like “sorry, I’m to busy”, or “I just don’t feel like being social today”. I didn’t know how to deal with it at the time, so I just sat there and would cry about it. This wasn’t the only thing that upset me, but the fact that I didn’t fit in with anyone in the first place contributed to my depression and loneliness. I talked to my parents about the whole situation, and they told me to just move on. As I mentioned in my blog about dating, I would maybe attempt to “break the ice” and talk to the person about your feelings, if they talk to you rudely, then I would move on and find someone else to be friends with, it may be hard to find a new friend, especially if you are on the spectrum, but there are other people out there. My friend Aaron from Computing Workshop just started college this year, and he is attending college not to far from where I live, so I hopefully will be able to see him on occasions that he is free. I understand that he is not able to talk to me every single day of the week, because he will be extremely busy, but I know that he is still my friend. If anything happened to our friendship, I would feel even worse than I did when I ended my friendship with Jason. But, I am pretty sure that won’t happen.

As I said in the beginning, change is one of the inevitable things in life.  If I could go back in time, I wish I could  go back and deal with it differently. Using what I know now, I could have changed the way I dealt with it. I hope you found this informative, and I hope that you will use this to help a child on the spectrum in the future.

Do social skills groups help all students on the spectrum? (part 2)


In my previous blogs I talked about the problems I had in high school, how overall public high school experience could be improved for students on the spectrum, and how social skills groups really didn’t help me. One of the things that many autistic students have complained about school was the educational material covered had nothing to do with their interests. I understand how they feel, I have been through that situation very many times. Going to school and learning topics that you are interested in makes school so much easier. Starting this fall, I am attending the Lenape Vo Tech School in Ford City, Pennsylvania for opto electronics. Opto electronics requires some very high level math that I never really had experience in before. The math they taught me at Freeport was only the basic math that most people my age already should know how to do, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and fractions. I have to tell you that the basic math bores the hell out of me, and the only way my school ever taught that was through books and worksheets. In one of my other blogs I also talked about how my math teacher would give us these very large worksheets with about thirty multi step problems, and she would expect them to be completed by the next day. I hated her class more than anything in the world, not only because it was a lot of work, but it also wasn’t interesting. The teacher didn’t even like teaching the subject, everyday she would complain about how “boring and tedious” it was. This woman is one of the many teachers out there that need to retire, they won’t try anything new, and they don’t try to make the material interesting. I could even tell that the other teachers don’t like her, sometimes I would hear them make references towards her. If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, and your school districts faculty and staff won’t cooperate with you, it is time to find another school. End of story.

Aside from the lack of social skills, one of the common characteristics of a child or teenager with Aspergers Syndrome is that they have very limited interests, some may be computers, history, star names, buses, or airplanes. Because of these limited interests, it makes it very difficult for the child or adolescent to communicate with other people. My obsessive interests varied over the years, when I was a little kid I was interested in fans, I was fascinated with fans because of the spinning motion that came from them. I remember when I was around three or four years old, my mother would bring me to the old Bi Lo foods store in Natrona Heights, PA. In the front of the store, where all the check out lanes were, a ceiling fan hung from the ceiling. Every-time I saw it, I would obsess about it. Not only did I obsess about the ceiling fan, I obsessed about the fans inside the giant freezers that helped keep all of the produce cool. During one of our weekly trips to that store, I became so mesmerized by the fan that I stared at it, and I disappeared into my own world. My mother told me that during that store trip, we were buying food for my sisters birthday party. My mom was so focused on buying food for the party that she forgot that I was standing there. About thirty minutes later, my mom went back to the aisle she accidentally left me in, and there I was, staring at the refrigerator fan. I stared at the fan for about thirty minutes. After that situation, my mom probably knew that something was wrong with me, but she didn’t know what.

When I was about five or six years old, I started kindergarten at Buffalo Elementary school in Sarver, Pennsylvania. We were in a two room school house that was not too far from the main Buffalo Elementary Building, which held students from first to sixth grade. I remember the first day of school, I rode the school bus for the very first time. I really enjoyed the noise the engine made, and I got along really well with the driver, a woman with the name Sandy. I came home that day real exited, and I told my mom about how much I enjoyed the bus ride. Every day since then, I would spend countless hours every day pretending I was driving a school bus, I would make all of the sounds that the busses would make, and I would even pretend I was the driver yelling at the kids. I would always yell things like “sit down and shut up”, and when I would do these things outside, the neighbors all looked at me like I was crazy. I never even paid attention to my neighbors reactions to my awkward behavior, I didn’t care, I was in my own little world.

I stayed interested in school buses until I was in about the third grade, than I had a new obsession. It all started in my third grade classroom with Mrs. Casey, my third grade teacher. They were completely remodeling our entire school, and they opened the first half of the building. On that particular day, we were getting ready to walk to lunch. When I got in my assigned spot in the line, we heard this very high pitched, screeching noise, and at first I didn’t know what it was. I looked around and noticed that it was the schools new fire alarm. The alarm was also equipped with flashing strobe lights, which really hurt your eyes when you looked at them. As soon as we got outside, all students were all allowed to go back into the building, and the third and fourth graders were instructed to go to lunch. Ever since then, I had an obsession with the fire alarm and the day we had an unscheduled fire drill when we were supposed to go to lunch. It was about three weeks after the whole fire drill ordeal, I brought it up during lunch, as I did everyday, and a student blurted out “we’re tired of listening to you talk about the fire drills, find something else to talk about.” I kept silent for the rest of the lunch period, because I didn’t know what else to talk about, the fire alarm was my obsession at the time, I was interested in nothing else but the fire alarm.

About four years later, I moved onto the junior high school. Freeport Junior High was a very old building that was built in 1923. It had absolutely no airconditioning, and had two floors. In seventh grade, I had most of my classes on the second floor, and in eighth grade, most of my classes were on the frist floor. Going from a brand new, air conditioned building, to an ancient non airconditioned building was the change I dreaded the most. I grew out of my obsession with fire drills and the fire alarm, and I noticed that everybody else started to change from the cute little kids they were in elementary school. All of the social groups called “cliques” started to develop. Many of the people I was friends with in elementary school forgot about me and went into their own “cliques”. I didn’t really know what to do with myself, I didn’t really fit in with any of the “cliques” that everybody else fit into. I was an outsider. I had some aquaintences in junior high, but I was afraid to ask them if they wanted to get together on the weekends because I was afraid they would say no, or say something really rude about me. I obviously didn’t talk to any of my friends from elementary school because they were all only interested in their own cliques, and not interested in me.

As the spring of my seventh grade came near, my parents told me that they were going to the same summer camp that I already went to for about four years. It was a program called Summer Express and was held at Northwest Elementary school in Butler, PA. I didn’t want to go to this camp because I was already involved in Wesley Wonder Kids, which went from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, and the summer express camp went from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. This camp was designed for kids with ADHD, and it was mostly an outdoor recreational camp. We spent more than half the day outside playing games like kickball, soccer, volleyball, and wiffle ball. It was also an educational camp, and there were two hour long classroom sessions of math, reading and art. It had a point system, and you would earn points for positive behaviors and you would loose points for negative behaviors. At the end of the week, you had a set amount of points you were supposed to earn, and if you didn’t earn them, you would have to stay at the school and do chores like picking up garbage and cleaning the school. I earned every field, and I was already more mature than most of the kids. I knew that because the kids that didn’t earn the field trip at the end of the week would have screaming meltdowns. I hated having to be around the kids that didn’t know how to handle their frustration appropriately, and I also hated being stuck in a classroom doing worksheets, reading stories, having to stay outside and play recreational games in the 90 degree heat, and having to get up at 5:30  in the morning for the camp every day. The bus that was supposed to bring me to the program everyday picked me up at 6:40 in the morning, and the ride lasted for over an hour because there were about seven other kids they had to pick up, and they were all from different towns.

I explained to my mom that I wanted to go to a different program, and one where I could promote my interests. The director from the Wesley Wonder Kids program recommended a summer camp called Computing Workshop. It was held at LaRoche College in McCandles, Pennsylvania for the first three summers I attended, and this summer it was held at the Community Day School, in the heart of the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. The program taught computer classes for students that are on the Autistic Spectrum, or that have other differences that limit them from learning advanced computer skills in their regular school, such as mental retardation, or down syndrome. The program also has a social skills component, social skills groups are held once a week, and usually last for about and hour and thirty minutes. Starting last summer, I had the opportunity to be in charge of the social skills groups. We play the computer game The Sims 2, which is a life simulation game where you can create your own virtual people, and move them into their own house. In the game, you can buy your everyday appliances and furniture, give your characters jobs, and now, you can even give them their own pets, or move them into their own apartment. The program also teaches real life skills such as finding a job, paying bills, and social and interpersonal skills. I have been attending this program for about four years now, and I am now considered a “staff member in training”.  In the past, Computing Workshop has taught students that are now staff members.

I am grateful that I am able to attend this summer program, because it has given me the opportunity to learn the skills to making social relationships. It has given me the opportunity to make friendships with people I never would have gotten to know if I wasn’t in this program. One of those people is a guy with the name of Aaron Barker. Aaron is a cool, but quiet and layed back kind of a guy that would get along with just about anybody. He is an avid sports fan, and participated in wrestling when he was in high school. He and I don’t have all of the same hobby interests, but we have the similar personality traits. I feel much more comfortable being around layed back and low key people like him, than loud and in your face people, like most kids in my high school. He is one of those people that as soon as you started to get to know, you knew he would be willing to talk about anything that was on your mind. He is one of the most wonderful people that I have ever met in my life, and is great at giving advice when you have something bothering you. He mentioned to me about why I shouldn’t let other people’s actions toward me bring me down, and it really changed the way I thought about other people. Sure, there are people that will try to make fun of me and bring me down, but I will not let them get to me. It makes no sense to worry about those one or two people that are mean to you, because there are a lot of nice people out there, you just have to try your hardest to find them. Sometimes, people won’t come to you unless you come to them. Before I met Aaron, I never really had that one true friend that welcomed me, stood up for me, and wouldn’t use people like me to make them look better than everybody else. I am very hopeful that this friendship will last for many years, and I am hopeful that he will never forget the impact he made on my life.

The point I wanted to make in this blog was that students on the Autistic Spectrum and Aspergers Syndrome can learn things their intersted without help from their school, whether it be computers, music, art, or science. I also wanted to proove that with the right help, they can learn the social skills they need to know for life. Social skills groups don’t work for everybody, especially for people like me. High school doesn’t last forever, the awful people there won’t mean a single thing to them after they graduate, so don’t worry about them. I am hopeful that you enjoyed reading this, and I am hopeful that you will show this to someone that needs help. I pretty much answered the question for myself, social skills groups don’t work for all students on the spectrum.