“Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman (Part 1 of 2)


“Autistic children have the ability to see things and events around them from a new point of view, which often shows inspiring maturity. This ability, which remains throughout life, can in favorable cases lead to exceptional achievements which others may never attain. Abstraction ability, for instance, is a prerequisite for scientific endeavor. Indeed, we find numerous Autistic individuals among distinguished scientists.”

Hans Asperger

One thing comes to my mind when I read the above quote. I sure wish I heard that when I was in high school. I have greatly appreciated the insight from Autism memoirists like John Elder Robison and Dr. Temple Grandin. The most important critics of our world perceptions about Autism are those who actually live with it.  Many people in the tech world know San Francisco resident Steve Silberman for his contributions to “Wired” magazine and his recent Ted talk. Aside from those worthy accomplishments, his recent book “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” continues to become his most recognizable.

Silberman’s inspiration behind writing this book was a technology conference that he attended back in 2000. However, this was not the typical corporate technology conference that you would find in a venue like Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence convention center. It took place on a cruise ship through Alaska’s beautiful Inside passage.

“In the past forty years, some members of this tribe have migrated from the margins of society to the mainstream and currently work for companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google. Along the way, they have refashioned pop culture in their own image; now it’s cool to be obsessed with Doctor Who – at any age. The kids formerly ridiculed as nerds and braniacs have grown up to become the architects of our future.”

Among the attendees of this cruise was Larry Wall, the creator of an open source programming language called Perl. Steve walked over to Larry and asked if they could meet at his home located in the heart of Silicon Valley. He accepted the invitation, only after warning Steve that he and his wife happen to have an Autistic daughter. Steve’s only introduction to Autism was from the award winning film “Rain Man.” He indicated that Raymond was “a memorable character, but the chances of meeting such a person in real life seemed slim.” That is still true in the 21st century. I certainly cannot count toothpicks at a glance or memorize a phone book because such impractical activities are uninteresting to me. Regardless, Steve soon discovered that Larry also exhibited several characteristics that would classify as “high functioning Autism” or Asperger’s Syndrome.

“As I chatted with Larry about his illustrious invention, a blub lit up on the wall behind us. He had replaced the chime on his clothes dryer with an unobtrusive bulb because the little ding! at the end of each cycle disconcerted him. Such tinkering seemed par for the course for a man whose code made it possible for a Perl hacker named Bruce Winter to automate all the devices in his house and have his email read to him over the phone – in 1998. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Larry’s keen sensitivity to sounds might provide a link between his daughter’s condition and the tribe of industrious hermits who invented the modern digital world.”

I look at figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Larry Wall. I realize they are more than just important figures in the development of computing and technology. They are important reminders of how far we have come with regards to recognizing Autism and Asperger’s. They are important reminders of how far the world has come with regards to encouraging these “brainiacs” and “nerds” to embrace their uniqueness by turning their skills into something marketable and rewarding. It certainly is true that we still have a long way to go with regards to challenging our society’s ignorant and negative mindset about being Autistic or “on the spectrum.” Before reading NeuroTribes, I never wondered what it took for our world to evolve into the belief that being different is cool. I must admit, this was an emotional journey for me to read about.

Adolf Hitler perceived the disabled as living “life unworthy of life.” The infamous dictator’s hatred towards the weak and feeble minded compelled him to enact Action T4 (German: Aktion T4.) This permitted involuntary euthanasia of the elderly, mentally or physically disabled, mentally distraught and the incurably ill. These “weak” and “feeble minded” children were tortured to death through starvation and forced overdose of medications. A nurse named Anny Wöbt testified against German psychiatrist Erwin Jekulius for the murder of her six year old son at the Am Spielgrund clinic.

“It was unambiguously clear from his remarks that he endorsed the entire operation against ‘life unworthy of life’ and that he was prepared to do whatever the Nazis demanded.” She begged Jekelius to at least grant her son a quick and painless death, and he promised to do that. On February 22, 1941, Alfred, six years old, perished of “pneumonia” at Am Spigelgrund. When Wödl viewed her son’s corpse, it was obvious that he had died in agony.”

This certainly is heavy material. The worst part of reading about these brutal “euthanasia crimes” was knowing that these children (most likely) could not have managed to escape the systematic abuse if an Autism diagnosis had actually existed. The general public did not even begin to recognize the term “Autism” until (approximately) the 1960s. Bruno Bettelheim sparked a lot of controversy in 1967 when he compelled the public and medical professionals to accept Leo Kanner’s “refrigerator mother” theory. He claimed that the child’s diagnosis was a result of the mother being “distant, cold and rejecting.” Parents commonly reacted to the revelation of their child’s diagnosis by institutionalizing them. However, there were many parents who refused to accept that as the “one and only” path for their future. They were willing to go the extra mile and provide for the child. Dr. Temple Grandin’s mother did that by introducing her to people who were willing to mentor and guide them along the way. This can be hard to do in our modern world. The main reason is because it continues to punish those who think differently. Nonetheless, it reminds us that there are people who genuinely care and they are the only ones who will truly matter!

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Steve Grand “All American Boy” Review


“Homosexuality is anti-American!”

One can expect to hear many variations of that phrase. Bigots insist upon uttering it every time a celebrity or politician comes out of the closet. They say we are trying to promote an agenda. They think that being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender is “anti-American.” Well, singer/songwriter Steve Grand is proving that it is as “All American” as hot dogs, apple pie and baseball. I have written about him many times. However, I finally listened to his first full length album “All American Boy” and I have wanted to write a thought out review. There is so much that I want to say, but I don’t know where to begin. This brought me back to the day I first discovered him back in July of 2013.

Strangely enough, I cannot remember where or how I discovered Steve. However, I will always remember the impact he still continues to have on me. I am trying to figure out where I am truly destined in life. Things are coming slowly. Although, I know that the only way to do that is to find out as much information as I can and go do it. It is easy enough to say “no” in fear of the outcome being less than desirable. This is why I will always cherish “All American Boy.” It has truly exceeded my expectations! Each song has its own character, but they all reflect the passion and authenticity of the Steve Grand who I have truly come to admire. Here, I have decided to highlight some of my favorite tracks.

There is one thing that definitely makes an album worth listening to. It is the occasional presence of tracks with titles that make a new listener question the lyric content, rather than jump out at them immediately. The beautiful ballad “Back to California” is definitely one of those. This is without a doubt the most personal track on the album. The lyrics are about his long-lost best friend from high school and how she always stood by him. Being gay in high school is no picnic for many people who grow up in small towns with mostly Conservative upbringings. Far too often, this negativity is often internalized and imposed on people who have done nothing but live their own lives. Being someone who happens to be gay and diagnosed with high functioning Autism, I truly admire and respect that someone recognizes the importance of friendships.

Like I said earlier, it is important for anyone who dreams of achieving success in this world to find out where they are truly destined. “We Are The Night” has a very different feel. It’s dance like beat reminds me of The Scissor Sisters, while it’s progressive lyrics very much resemble Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.

And we just wanna be free
Is there anything more lovely?
We got our whole lives to love
And tonight we’re as young as we’ll ever be
So don’t you never look back
Today could be our last
And we’ll just live as we are
Unmoved by the darkness we face
Cause we are the night
They’re gonna say we just ain’t right
But we are the night
We are the night

Homophobia will continue to exist throughout our years on this earth. People will continue to bitch and moan every time a celebrity or public figure comes out of the closet. However, the title track “All American Boy” is also one of those tracks that truly defies the societal boundaries of sexual orientation. This video has received a lot of praise, along with negativity from a few angry and potentially misguided gay people. The video is a fantasy about a gay man who expresses undying love for his straight friend, who is already with a woman. Steve’s fantasy ends up becoming a short-lived reality. He and his dream beau rip off their clothes, jump into a pond and kiss. This alone has angered a few of the nasty critics I just mentioned, mainly because of the clear difference between fantasy and reality. Then again, some gay people just don’t like the patriotic theme because many (but not all) “patriotic” Americans are racist and sexist god fearing Christians who think being gay is the spawn of the devil.

Nevertheless, I sense that this video and song was ultimately intended to remind us all that there is nothing wrong with thinking that we are in love with someone, despite the fact that we cannot have them.

“Stay” is a track that I can picture Steve and his band singing around a campfire. A banjo, mandolin and guitars accompany this lighthearted toe tapper. It sends Steve’s future beau a very clear, yet upbeat message.

Stay with me, we don’t never have to leave
You my southern king, we live it for the daydreams
So don’t you laugh—Notre Dame he had his chance
And he’s a good, good man
But there’s some things he just don’t understand
So when my old man’s out of town but a couple days
I think that you should stay
Oh, won’t you stay
Hmmmm

“Soakin’ Wet” is another one of those upbeat pop/rock type songs. I would consider the lyric content to be sexy in nature, without putting so much emphasis on sexual details. I don’t have anything against people who are “unfiltered” in those regards. However, it is nice to see someone who recognizes that being gay goes far beyond the things we do between the sheets.

I got you out on the water, soaking wet
Got that white t-shirt clinging to your chest
Yeah, the sun’s going down, but it ain’t gone yet
We can dry off a little later on
‘Cus we’re having a little too much fun
Being soaking wet, eh, eh
Being soaking wet, eh, oh

“Time” is by far my favorite ballad. As the title suggests, it’s about the quick progression of time and how relationships can suddenly take a turn for the worst. People are not always as charming as they seem. We swoon over their good looks, sense of humor, their money, cars and stylish clothes. They go on and on about how amazing they think they are. We are completely oblivious to who they truly are. They just want to use us for sex, money or anything else they can brag about to the next person they want to stab in the back. While the song was about the painful end of a romantic relationship, I am sure the lyrics are relatable to anyone who knows how it feels to be mistreated by someone who they previously perceived as genuine.

On that note, I do hope that Steve will consider something in the future. Many artists have created music videos that are either slightly or completely different from your typical visual reenactment of the lyrics. The music video for Garth Brook’s “The Dance” is a remarkable example of that. He used it as a tribute to inspirational leaders who have died and pondered what the lyrics would have meant to them. I listen to the chorus of “Lovin’ Again” and notice how it changes from the beginning to the end.

“You just might keep me, you just might keep me, from lovin’, lovin’ again.

Perhaps the cry is coming from someone who is trying to come to terms with more than just a “love gone bad.” For example, his boss could have fired him for being gay and he could be struggling to find a new job and live his life again. Life’s contradicting messages are nearly pushing him to the breaking point. He finally finds the courage to get up and remind himself…

“You won’t keep me, you won’t keep me, from lovin’, lovin’ again.”

All in all, Steve Grand’s debut album “All American Boy” is more than just an authentic display of defiance towards the societal boundaries of sexual orientation. It is a reminder that we must not be afraid of experimenting and seeing where we truly belong. It takes time, patience and confidence to find that, but it is something that we must do if we want to.  achieve true success. Steve epitomizes someone who can truly achieve that!

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To Tell Or Not To Tell?


Kennywood park is a favorite summertime venue for Pittsburghers who are looking for a day of fun. This traditional amusement park is found in the suburb of West Mifflin, about 10 miles from the city. During my last visit to this local treasure, something unusual captured my attention. Actually, someone caught my attention for a few brief seconds. This individual was an Autistic teenage boy who appeared to be non verbal. I wasn’t paying attention to his awkward, repetitive hand movements. He seemed to have aimlessly walked away from his parents. His white t-shirt perplexed me. This simple message was clearly printed in dark blue and all capital letters.

I have Autism. Please be patient with me.

Directly underneath those words, I saw the Autism awareness ribbon. I am actually quite surprised that I do remember this. I only saw this boy for about 5 seconds. He didn’t wander off too far and he was quickly reunited with his mother. I am willing to believe that a good number of people who display these ribbons are not the “Jenny McCarthy type,” if you know what I mean. However, I just could not stop asking myself the question. Why would a parent want to reveal their child’s diagnosis in such a “loud and clear” way? This is the first time I have ever seen such a thing. I pushed the memory to the back of my head until I saw this article from Toronto’s “The Star.” Farida Peter’s son also happens to be Autistic. Each weekday, they use Toronto’s subway system as their method of transportation to and from behavioral therapy sessions for five year old Deckard. The facility is on the other side of the city, and the quickest route is to take the bus, then the train. Seventeen stops combined with one train change equals a very hectic commute. I don’t know what specifically causes her son to become upset, but subway trains and stations are very busy places. They are full of hustling and bustling people who have a schedule to meet. If your child dares to interrupt their peace and quiet on that noisy subway train, their day is automatically ruined. They will make it known in the most insensitive and ignorant ways.

On the bus one day, a lady told her to control him when he was swinging his legs as they dangled beneath his seat. Other passengers have scolded him and then complained “wow, he’s not even looking at me.” Children with autism often don’t make eye contact.

He’s had fits after being knocked over in crowds or being pushed out of the way by passengers clamouring for seats.
Peters had to do something to stop the glares, gasps and
comments, which would only ratchet up their anxiety levels and exacerbate his behaviour.
Farida was desperate for a way to stop all the negativity directed towards her and Deckard.
She taped a laminated sign on her backpack.
My son is five years old and has Autism! Please be patient with us!
I must admit that I am not entirely sure what to think about this mother. This is mainly because I do not know her personally. I shared this article with a woman at my church. She works as an Occupational therapist for children on the Autism Spectrum. She felt this mother was trying to call attention to herself and gain sympathy from the passengers. Granted, I would never allow anyone to force me into revealing my diagnosis in such a way. I strongly disagree with the common practice of labeling those on the spectrum as “low functioning” or “high functioning.” These labels put the child in a box and push us into making preconceived notions about their strengths and shortcomings. Let’s face it, there are people in this world who do not deserve to know about my struggle as a gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome. I know that open expression of these things are bound to make people react in positive and negative ways. But, why would they choose the latter? Granted, I don’t care if people think my differences make them uncomfortable.It’s because they are unhappy with their own lives and will try to take advantage of me. They could internalize their unhappiness by using me to their own advantage. I can certainly identify with anyone who feels concern for this child’s future.

However, there are a few possible explanations why this woman would feel the need to carry the sign. Like the teenage boy at Kennywood, Autistic children do have the tendency to become lost in their own world and wander off. What could happen if he chose to wander off into a restricted area? These areas are off-limits for safety and security reasons. Some spectrum children are unable understand that certain people, places and behaviors are dangerous. Again, it is important not to make assumptions because we do not know the entire story. However, I tend to agree with the notion that she is using this sign to ask for sympathy from passengers. So, how should I determine whether or not someone deserves to know about my diagnosis? With regards to who I will tell and what I will tell them, it is up to me. It is usually determined upon my relationship with the person and how well they treat me.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly does have a dark side that is the exact opposite from its usual meaning. I know not to fear people who appear genuine, but to be aware. In-genuine people insist upon reminding you how great and wonderful they are, but then turn around and act in ways that show they are truly not worthy of our trust. They are enough to drive you mad, if you allow them to do so.

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.”

Learning to Trust Again (Part 2: A Blog About Lee Hirsch’s Documentary “Bully”)


This is part 2! Click here if you wish to read part 1! 

I have been through the feeling where it seems like nobody is willing to respect and listen to you. It is one of the worst feelings anyone can ever experience. Sometimes, these feelings can cause us to act in unpredictable ways. Most people do not want to imagine being guilty of hurting or killing someone when we feel like those negative emotions are uncontrollable. I felt that when I watched the scene with Mississippi teenager Ja’meya Jackson. She was repeatedly targeted by a gang of nine boys who (judging from the video) threatened to beat her up. Her mother talked to faculty and administration, but neither of them took action to resolve the situation. Ja’meya decided to take matters into her own hands. The pistol belonged to her mother and she hid it in her backpack. The gang continued to taunt her until she snapped. She pulled the gun out of her backpack and brandished it in front of everyone. A student managed to disarm her before any shots were fired and all students were safely evacuated from the bus. Ja’meya Jackson found herself at the Yazoo county youth detention center where she awaited trial.

“At the point she takes out the gun, that’s 22 counts of kidnapping. She has 22 counts of attempted aggravated assault. She’s got 45 total felony charges facing her. And for me, there’s nothing, no amount of bullying, or teasing, or picking on, or whatever, there’s nothing, unless someone was actually whipping on this girl every day, unless someone was hitting this young lady in the head and being physically brutal to her, there’s NOTHING to me that justifies her taking her gun on that bus, I don’t care what it is. … Even though things came out as best they possibly could have, if you added up all the years that she could get it, it would be hundreds of years.” 

Thankfully, she was cleared of all charges and ordered to receive counseling. The above comments came from the Yazoo county sheriff. It seems to me that he was trying to speak from a public safety standpoint. I agree that her situation was unique and that she deserves a second chance in life. Because of this, I think his comments were very ignorant and insensitive. I think we should also remind ourselves of one thing. Incarceration and loss of life are two serious and irreversible consequences that can result from gun crimes. When I look back on situations like this, I realize that all I can do is be relieved that I never went down that route. I know that I have many people in and around my community who really do care about me. They are worth more time than anyone who has ever shunned or bullied me. I am very proud that I am able to say that now. There once was a time where I would cower in fear anytime someone would pressure me to do so. It’s time to eliminate that mindset for good. 

As I said in the first post, an important first step towards challenging those emotions is to identify and recognize those who are on my side. The Computing Workshop summer program was a very supportive environment for me. I’ve mentioned it several times before because this organization has made a lasting impact on me. I first met coördinator Mary Hart in 2006. At that time, I was about to enter eighth grade at Freeport Area Junior High School.  The one thing that has always impacted me was the simple fact that I was not the only person who felt discounted by society. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal for me! It is great to know when people are willing to work for you and with you. I wish I fully understood that fact during high school. 

When we see someone who struggles academically or socially, we tend to discount any claim that they are capable of following their dreams. Not only do these assumptions come from society, they come from our teachers and administrators. Often times, they want the individual to follow their agenda and not what is truly best for them. There is one harsh reality about these people and it is only discovered behind closed doors. They despise anyone who even attempts to challenge their viewpoint. They try to win you over by providing questionable claims which (supposedly) make their point valid. They try to sugarcoat it by giving you a plastic smile and saying “I respect your opinion.” You then realize that there is only one way to make them do what you know is right. You have to rely on the law. You know that you have to come up with good, solid arguments which should convince the law to rule in your favor. You know that people could say ignorant and off-putting things. You try your hardest not to get emotional because you have just discovered how mean “adults” can really be. Regardless of the outcome, you know that you fought for what is right and what is best for that individual. 

Computing Workshop has not only let me explore different computing skills in a supportive and inclusive environment, it helped me make meaningful. I felt that high school was not a safe place for me to reach out to others. I felt like my classmates did not know how to interact with me and I didn’t know how to interact with them. (This is why I never came out as a gay man until after graduation.) Former Computing Workshop staff member Aaron is a neurotypical. He will never truly understand the ins and outs of being an openly gay man who happens to be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, I am grateful for the fact that he has always been willing to listen when I am in need of a friend. His sweet, easy going personality and intelligence really make me wish I could be more like him. I must be honest with you and admit that he is very easy on the eyes! He can thank four years of high school wrestling for that. His great looking chest and broad shoulders are pretty catching. However, everyone will notice one thing when they see him for the first time. That striking feature is his smile! It shows that he is genuinely happy to see you. As you begin to have a conversation with him, you would notice how easy he is to talk to. He’s always had a very laid back personality. This makes me feel comfortable to approach him when I have a problem. I trust that he will try his best to make me feel welcome and deserving of his company. Most of my high school classmates did anything but that.

I think Mary Hart and our staff would agree that he wanted to reveal the true potential in the students he worked with. Aaron understood that some our students had some unique challenges. I think he felt the same sense of frustration that we all felt when they kept regressing into their own worlds. However, I commend him for continuing to help them persevere in the best way he could. Trying to enter their world and use their interests to improve their struggles is an essential way to do that. Aside from my parents, Aaron is the first person who learned about the fact that I was gay. Long story short, I wrote a letter to him and sent it in the mail. It took him a while to respond, but he did read it! Looking back, I wish we could have arranged to meet and I made the decision to tell him in person. He sent me a text message that simply said that my newly discovered queer identity did not change the fact that he was my friend. I think it is beautiful that he accepts me! However, he is straight and I am gay. I wanted to meet a friend who has previously gone through the whole coming out process and who managed to find a path to happiness. 

His older cousin Ray came out of the closet when he was a teenager. Just like clockwork, people then started calling him every single anti gay slur in the book. Despite the shear hatred that came from his classmates, he managed to pull through. After high school, he went to beauty school and obtained his certification in Cosmetology. He then landed a job at a beauty salon. He still works there to this day. Aside from the salon, he works two other jobs to make ends meet. Ray’s personality is a bit different from Aaron’s. He is very animated and loves to lighten the mood with humor. Aaron and I enjoy going to restaurants and meeting him for dinner. When I meet new people, I do posses some introverted tendencies, some of which I am trying to overcome. At first, I did find it difficult to open up to Ray because of his extroverted personality. I have known him for about a year now and time has made it easier to open up to him. Despite the personality differences between himself and Aaron, they do get along with each other and that is what makes it rewarding to know him. It’s easy for any of us to rant and rave about all of those individuals who are not supportive of our differences. All it does is give us this temporary adrenaline rush that regresses to bitterness and anger. It does not encourage the change that we want to see in the future. I hope this future will continue to have many meetings with Ray and Aaron in the future. Both of them have tried to give me the motivation to be the chance I want to see in my life and in society as a whole. 

To the best of my ability, I have just described Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” and it’s impact on my life. What is next for me? I really don’t know. I am still trying to consider whether or not my current path will guarantee happiness and success. This film has given me hope for the future and to get back up again. I hope this encouraged you to do the same thing! 

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Do They Truly “Care”? (A Blog Post About Facing Fears)


I am about to do something that truly scares me to death every time I think about it. Never in my life have I been through an experience where I literally felt scared for my life. I encountered one of those situations about two months ago. It all happened so quickly, it is hard to describe exactly what happened. This experience was the motivation behind the important things I am about to say in this blog post. 

I got up out of bed, ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then get ready for my personal training session at our local gym. My mother rode in the passenger side. The drive to the gym was uneventful, but the trip back home was something I will never forget. I put my car in reverse and made sure I cleared the SUV parked beside me and the pickup parked behind me.

I then activated my left turn signal and looked both ways a few times. I didn’t see anything coming in either direction, so I committed to pulling out. Before I managed to cross the solid double yellow line, my mother yelled “watch out!” Not knowing what she was talking about, I turned and looked to my left. The sight was a large Peterbilt tractor-trailer barreling right towards us. Before I had enough time to get away, the truck t-boned right into our Ford Taurus. Shards of glass and debris flew all over the place. The impact violently tossed us around in our seats and knocked the wind out of both of us.

I finally managed to catch my breath. The Ford Taurus was completely totaled. The roof looked as if it was close to caving in on top of us. The next thing I remember was a good Samaritan walked over to the front passenger door and spoke to my mother. She checked to make sure my mother was conscious, then turned towards the onlookers and instructed them to call an ambulance. “I’m an ER nurse. I think we can get you out of this car. I’m going to open the door and I want you to grab my hand. We’re going to take it slowly.” Once they managed to help my mother out of the car, one of the local business owners grabbed a chair for my mother to sit in. Meanwhile, I was still trapped in the car. The grill of the massive Peterbilt was about two or three feet from my face. I then heard the sirens of the police, ambulance and fire department approaching from the distance. The only thing I wanted was to get out of that car.

The fire department used the jaws of life and the EMS staff extricated me from the car. They had to cut off the roof and the passenger doors to safely get to me. I was then transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh. The police had to close Route 356 for almost an hour to clean up the scene. That 30-35 minute ride felt like an eternity. I burst into tears when we arrived at the hospital because I was so ashamed about the whole situation. I was hit by a semi truck because I failed to notice it in the oncoming lane and ended up totaling the car. I was given a CT scan and it turned out I had no internal injuries. At first, it seemed like the my mother didn’t sustain any injuries and the hospital staff permitted us to leave. We were driving out of Oakland when my mother received a call from the hospital. It was the doctor saying they needed us to come back. They found some minor fractures in her rib cage and her back.

A car accident is a memory that fades away as time goes on. I can guarantee this accident will make me a more careful driver. After all, my mother and I are lucky to be here talking about it. However, I am still having flashbacks. About a week after the accident, I went behind the wheel again. I was incredibly scared when I drove for the first time after this accident. My mind instantly flashes back to the accident every time I see a tractor-trailer. This is especially true when I drive on Route 28, a heavily traveled expressway that runs from Kittanning to Pittsburgh. I want my driver’s license so I can go to the store on my own time, visit friends who I don’t get to see very often, commute to and from school. This will give me a feeling of independence. However, it’s going to frustrate me and it’s going to scare me. I must do it if I want to gain my independence. 

To be continued next week… 

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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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