Revisited: “No More Talking About Fans!”


Please note this disclaimer: 

I am not licensed in any of the professions that are intended to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome.) I wrote this post from my experience and knowledge. Please do not automatically take anything I write as an alternative to seeking a licensed professional who specializes in providing any help your child may need. 

Original Post From 2010:

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/no-more-talking-about-fans

Conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives and desires is the first definition that comes up when I Google the term “self-awareness.” I can agree with psychologists when they say people on the Autism Spectrum are prone to struggle with it. A classic example of this lack of self-awareness is perceived obliviousness to the child’s tendency to focus intensely on the particular details of an individual object. Its repetitive movement is one of the most common examples. Any psychologist who observed me would say the other trait is a textbook example of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or, Asperger’s Syndrome. 

My narrow interests became evident to mom and dad when I was about three years old. There was something about a particular electrical/mechanical device that made my mind completely oblivious to everything else in the world around me. It’s ability to spin and move air was mesmerizing in and of itself. Yes, I am talking about the simple device known as a fan. Other adults thought it was cute when mom and dad informed them of “fan” being one of my first words. Mom and dad’s feelings of adoration changed to worry as my speaking vocabulary evolved into the ability to speak in complete sentences. It became a regular topic of conversation in our household. 

Of course, my parents should have worried to a certain extent. I am sure they felt the need to ask therapists about why my mind would become so focused on a simple mechanical device. For starters, fans are one of the most predictable electrical/mechanical devices you can find in any home or business. They serve one purpose. That is to move air. They do that through the repetitive movement of spinning around and around. That is all there is to it. The world, however, is nowhere near as simple. There becomes a time when we must face reality. The imaginary world certainly is much more desirable. But, it is imaginary and not real. 

John Elder Robison’s first book Look Me In The Eye is a memoir about growing up without an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (a.k.a Asperger’s Syndrome) diagnosis until he was in his mid-40s. A classic Autism trait is the tendency to change the subject of a conversation to something completely irrelevant. A selection from chapter 2 of his first memoir “Look Me In The Eye” brought back memories to my early childhood when I would change the subject to a random type of fan that I saw in any of the buildings my parents and I would frequently visit. 

I suddenly realized that when a kid said, “Look at my Tonka truck,” he expected an answer that made sense in the context of what he had said. Heere were some things I might have said prior to this revelation in response to “Look at my Tonka truck.” 

1.) “I have a helicopter.” 

2.) “I want some cookies.”

3.) “My mom is mad at me today.” 

4.) “I rode a horse at the fair.”

John Elder Robison, “Look Me In The Eye” 

Chapter 2, Page 20 

People typically perceive the abrupt tendency to change the subject of a conversation as an act of disrespect. Those who are not familiar with ASD may be more inclined to feel such a way. Robison continues to say that people expect replies that make sense and that are relevant the current topic of conversation. It shows that you are, at the very least, willing to listen to what they have to say and take it into account. It took some prompting from my parents, teachers and Autism professionals before I finally began to understand this social expectation. They used a combination of social stories, role plays and supervised interaction with my peers. Sometimes, prompting was the only way to get through to me. 

“Derek, we’re not talking about fans right now!”

My parents were right when they said that my obsession with objects like fans was just a phase. The regular social stories and prompts finally began to remind me that not everyone will be a fan of my previous love for fans. Writing this post made me look back on that memory. I compare it to the topics I am passionate about now and realize they are far more complicated than a fan that repetitively spins around and around. Nope. Not everyone is a fan of the fact that I happen to like and be attracted to men. I am not a fan of people who always feel the need to remind me of that. The only thing I can do is eliminate those people from my life and focus on those who are genuine “fans” of me.

Like anyone else, I try to smile when I look back on my childhood. I do that anytime I see something that reminds me of those days when I was the little boy who was a fan of fans. One particular example is the Lexington, Kentucky-based company Big Ass Fans. (I cannot think of any other way to make it abundantly clear what you specialize in.) Little reminders like that give me a unique perspective on life. It shows that people may not always be fans of the things that make us different. Despite that, it gives us the potential to find how we can use those things to make a difference in the world we live in. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder:

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders.htm 

18 Ways To Tell If Your Child Has Autism:

http://thestir.cafemom.com/toddlers_preschoolers/125535/18_ways_to_tell_if

Computing Workshop Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/computingworkshop/?fref=ts

Social Stories:

http://www.educateautism.com/social-stories.html

Big Ass Fans

http://www.bigassfans.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They’re Such A Pain To Talk To” (Relating To other Aspies)


You know that throughout my life, I have experienced feelings of not “fitting in” with the rest of the crowd. My life as a freshman and sophomore at the Freeport Area Senior High School felt like a number. It felt like the unhappy nurses assistant calling patients out of the waiting room and escorting them to the doctor’s office. Instead of addressing the patients by name, they assign everybody in the crowded room a number. The assistant calls everyone’s names in a monotonous manner. My frequent visits to the guidance counselor felt like this. I remember one visit I was upset about a student who harassed me in the hallway. He would purposely invade my personal space and ask me why I never talked to people, then he would rudely tell me to “get some friends.” The thing is, I couldn’t connect with anybody in school. The typical students were too involved in their own social group to include a new person and I didn’t feel like I could function with many of the students in the learning support program. The guidance counselor was horrible at listening to my problems. During my frequent visits to his office, I would tell him I had problems “fitting in”, and he would say “we’re gonna work on it” or the same “advice” I would hear from everybody “you need to come out of your shell and talk to people more.” This obviously didn’t help that much.

“Normals” Not Taking Me Seriously:

Every learning support student in the United States is entitled to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). My mother felt it was appropriate to add a social into my plan for my freshman year. My goal was to “initiate spontaneous social communication among peers without prompting.” The truth is it is not easy for a person on the Autistic Spectrum to meet this goal. This was simply because “neurotypcials” (people not diagnosed with a form of Autism) didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. Halfway into my freshman year my “drill Sargent” therapist wanted me to practice conversations with my peers in school. He wanted me to start working on this during my learning support class period. The teacher would ask a student to come over and we would pretend we saw each other in public. The other student would say the greeting, and I was to continue the conversation. However, this student decided to pull a “Mr. Clown” act. He talked to me in the same tone of voice of which a person would speak when giving attention to a baby or a cute puppy or kitten. “Hello! How are you doin today little freshman?” he said. I then heard the teacher say “don’t be silly.” I was obviously not the least bit amused by his attempt to entertain everybody in the classroom. I became aggravated, so I reluctantly said “uh, hi?” It was amazing how my teacher couldn’t figure out how my eyes getting big and the irritated look on my face showed that I did not have the desire to interact with this “comic genius”. After all, it was obvious he really didn’t have the desire to interact with me. I don’t socialize with people who treat me like I am stupid.

Feeling Lost Around My Own Kind:

This post is about something I have mentioned in my other posts before, but I never really thought about building on this topic until I read a post from somebody on Wrongplanet.net, a forum website for people on the Autistic Spectrum. This person complained about how he felt his Aspie peers were a “pain to talk to.” This post caught my eye because I experienced similar emotions myself. The Wesley Wonder Kids club really tried to push social interaction on me, but I also felt the group members were a “pain to talk to.” They were infatuated with topics that I felt were extremely “weird.” They varied from video games, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. We had others who loved television cartoons and comic books, and another would always talk about gardening, reptiles and history. There was another group member who seemed to have a new cut or bruise on his arms or legs every single day the group met. At the beginning of each session, all group members were given the opportunity to share news in their lives. They would enthusiastically share stories about their new Game Boy, Xbox or Playstation games. The student who loved reptiles and gardening would share stories about his lizard and the vegetables he picked from his garden in the summer time. The clumsy kid would share stories about the new cuts and bruises he would get from horsing around with his friends at home. They expected the group members to ask questions about the news which came from the particular group member.

Me Not Taking My Own Kind Seriously:

Depending on the nature of the news, they would either ask questions right away or the staff members would have to prompt them. I would very rarely ask questions right away because most of the things they shared were about their “obsession”. There were also occasions where the staff members would put me on the spot and prompt me to ask with the whole group looking at me. They would say “Derek, we haven’t heard from you yet. Why don’t you ask ________ a question about his garden?” This was the thing which I loathed the most, because after all I knew very little about video games, cartoons, comic books, gardening and reptiles. High school was the time in which I loathed myself and other people. Why? It was because they didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. Here were the many thoughts that went through my mind when the other group members shared their introductory news stories:

“Oh my god, what is this kid, five? Who the f*** watches cartoons in high school? He needs to watch normal, age appropriate TV shows!”

“Does he ever talk about anything besides video games? No wonder this kid is unemployed and has no friends in school!”

“What kind of a teenager wants to plant a garden in their spare time? That sounds really stupid!”

“Something is wrong with a teenager who likes history. It happened hundreds of years ago, who cares about it now?”

I never blurted my opinions to those people, but they could probably tell I didn’t really have much of an interest to sit and listen to their “weird obsession.” In fact, I remember one time at the end of the session I put my headphones in my ears so I could ignore “Mr. Dirt Worshiping Treehugger History Geek” and his stories about the ancient something others and homegrown zucchini.

Trying To Understand My Own Kind:

My bitterness in high school really took a toll on my social life outside of school. The main reason I felt I couldn’t relate to the other kids in the group was that I felt they couldn’t function in the real world as well as I could. Therefore, I resorted to making snide comments about them behind their backs. I happen to know this emotion is common among many groups of people. Take the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) community for an example. They are a unique group of people among themselves. They all have different shapes, sizes, hobbies, interests, ethnicities and personalities. The main reason I brought them up is because very many of them know how it feels to not “fit in” and be harassed by people. They hate the many stereotypes they receive from the heterosexual community, just as we hate the stereotypes that come from the neurotypical (Non Autistic) community. Far to often you hear a gay man making fun of another gay man because he is too feminine. You hear about an Aspie making fun of another because they exhibit repetitive hand motions.

I completely agree with the statement that it is unacceptable to make fun of somebody, however it is understandable to feel disconnected from somebody in your own group because they fit the negative stereotypes that are given from society. When the staff members caught me making comments about the other students from Wesley, they would just say “We don’t talk about people like that!” or “That’s innapropriate!” One of the general reasons people may decide to make fun of another person is simply because they don’t understand. Just because you have Asperger’s doesn’t always mean you understand somebody else who may have it. The Wesley staff members could have helped me develop social skills by helping me understand my Aspie peers.

It’s been almost three years since I left that program. I know that many Aspies use their “obsession” as an outlet for the pain of not “fitting in.” I remember my obsession with fans when I was little, and back then I knew nothing about Autism and Asperger’s. I know how it felt to have people pressure me into becoming the illusion known as “normal.” I knew no other way than to ignore and make fun of other Aspies during high school because I wanted to eliminate my bitterness somehow. Writing has become my own outlet because it helps members of the “neurotypical” community understand me, and it hopefully helps kids who have previously experienced or may be experiencing many of these same emotions now.

I am not a huge “bible thumper” as many people call it, but I quoted a bible verse that I put in a previous post titled “Teachers, Counselors and Parents: Practice What You Preach!” because it relates to the topic I am covering today.

Matthew 7 vs 1-5

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be judged, and the measure you get is the measure you get. Why do you seek the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors eye.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, feel free to leave a comment!

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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.