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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Warning: May be sensitive for some readers!) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five Bad Personality Traits In A Therapist


Most parents want their kids to know that they want the best for them. Because of my Asperger’s Syndrome, social skills and making friends are very difficult for me, The bad therapists that I’ve had in the past have made my problems even worse. The fact is that counselors and teachers want their kids to work very hard on “social skills”, but some of them demonstrate behaviors that show a lack of “social skills”. After my past experiences in the Wesley Wonder Kids “social skills” group, and my former therapist, Mike, I know that for a fact. Mike and the staff members at Wesley are not the only bad therapists that I have experienced, I have dealt with many of them over the years. There are people like this everywhere, but if you are considering being a therapist and demonstrate these kind of characteristics, this is not a career choice for you. I am not doing this to offend anybody, but I am stating the truth. I Google searched “bad therapist” and “bad counselor”, and the only things that came up were complaints about bad marriage counselors. I found nothing regarding complaints about bad counselors who work with kids who have Autistic Spectrum disorders. I wanted to talk about this so parents can be aware of who not to hire when looking for someone to counsel their kids.

1.) Incompetence:

A Webster online dictionary definition of the word incompetent is inadequate to or unsuitable for a certain purpose. Simply put, it means the person or thing can’t do the job right. My former therapist, was named Mike would always try to push me to the limit and make me do things that I really was not comfortable doing. “pushiness” is one of the other qualities I will talk about later on this list. Back to incompetence, Mike’s personality was “in your face”, he seemed to enjoy shoving “social skills” down peoples throat. Because of my Asperger’s I had a difficulty making friends and socializing in school, I didn’t seem to understand why people didn’t want to be friends with me. One of the things Mike always did with me that I absolutely dreaded doing was role-playing. Role playing is when you act out a situation to understand another person’s behavior. The only things Mike would do in social role plays was have me ask questions like “what is your favorite sport?” How is answering questions like that going to give me advice and help me make good friendships with people I can relate to in school? We always did role-playing in my house, and sometimes he would have me do it with my parents and my sister, which made socializing in general even more awkward and more dreadful. I have never felt so awkward around a therapist in my life, and the personality clash between him and I contributed to it mostly.

2.) Sarcasm

In my opinion, sarcastic therapists are the ones that are the most difficult to deal with. Some sarcastic people are just angry, and some of them do it to be funny. A sarcastic joke is okay every once and a while, but if it keeps up it can get on people’s nerves really quick. I have been around sarcastic people who make jokes about peoples religion, race, sexual orientation, size, and so on. If a counselor ever makes those jokes, you should not take it lightly at all. To see a counselor demonstrate a characteristic like this is unacceptable, they are supposed to be a person you can trust and seek for advice, not hurt you and make your problems worse. In kindergarten, I had a counselor who worked with me during school, and he would ridicule me with the most sarcastic jokes that were about very sensitive topics. When I informed my parents about his actions, they finally decided to end services with him. Shortly after we discharged with him, I heard a rumor that he got fired. I don’t know if that was true, and if he did I don’t know if it was because of the way he treated me in front of everybody in school, but I was glad that he was finally out of my hair. Not only was that unacceptable for a counselor to do, but it is beyond unacceptable to do it to a kindergartener of all people! It is sad that these rude, sarcastic people who consider themselves “therapists”.

3.) Forgetfulness:

Have you dealt with that incredibly forgetful person? Can you not stand that employee who constantly arrives to work late? What about that person who constantly forgets deadlines? I have dealt with therapists who are like that, and I absolutely can’t stand them! I realize that you should not judge other people, but forgetfulness is bad when you are trying to find any job. Counselors are supposed to be people who help you with your problems, and it is very frustrating when they can’t remember anything. I had one particular therapist who would constantly ask the question “Do you remember what we did during our last session?” I’ve had to spend most of the time reminding her what we did during our last session, which was very frustrating. It was a major waste of time, because it seemed like I was counseling her. She met with me at my house, and she would constantly arrive late. Because of that, we never had time to get anything accomplished. Another thing she did was make excuses about why she arrived late, her excuses were something like “there was traffic on the Route 28 expressway”. I noticed that she came up with that excuse every time she was late, I met with her three times during the week, and she would arrive late at least two days during the three sessions. I am amazed that there are people who push their clients to work really hard on social skills, and they demonstrate behaviors that show a lack of social skills. That is the sad truth.

4.) Pushiness

I don’t like people who stand there and constantly try to shove things down my throat. Like my friend Aaron, I am a pretty calm and laid back most of the time. You can’t shove social skills down an Autistic person’s throat, it will overwhelm them and they won’t want to learn social skills anymore. The thing about my old therapist, Mike was that he would constantly overwhelm me and put me in social situations where I felt really uncomfortable. From my perspective, his style of therapy was pushing the client to the limit until they think like he does. One particular situation was when he was observing me at the Computing Workshop summer program when we were at LaRoche college. Mike wanted me to introduce him to four people who don’t know him, and I was overwhelmed even thinking about that. I was afraid of the students knowing that he was my therapist, so he told me to tell him that he was my “friend”. First off, a therapist is not supposed to be your friend, they are supposed to be your helper. You need to have a professional relationship with a client, not a personal one. I did not want to introduce him as a “friend” because I simply don’t consider a therapist a friend. I did not want to introduce him to these people because I was to overwhelmed by what he wanted me to do, and that I don’t connect with him well in the first place. He asked me if I was going to do it and I refused to do it. I am not going to let somebody force “social skills” down my throat, being pushed to the limit and overwhelmed makes my social anxiety and depression even worse. Nobody can change anything about me, it is who I am!

5.) Intolerance:

A therapist should not have the right to push religion or spirituality on their client. Because everybody has different religious beliefs. If you have a therapist who tries to do this, you should definitely find somebody else to work with. The type of people I can’t stand the most are people who take everything from the bible literally, and who try to rub their beliefs into your face. When I worked with Mike, he would try to ask me questions regarding my religious beliefs. I find that very offensive, and I will get very angry if somebody does try to do that. In America, we have the right to believe what we want to, however, it does not give you the right to harass people who don’t believe the same things you do.

To wrap up, I wrote this blog just to remind parents to be aware of who they are hiring to work with their Autistic children. I am not using this to offend anybody, I am just doing this to inform you that there are bad therapists out there, just as there are bad teachers and lawyers. Hopefully you will take this information into consideration when finding a therapist for your child.

Here are some other blogs about similar topics:

Do social skills groups help all students on the spectrum?

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/can-social-skills-groups-really-help-all-students-on-the-spectrum/

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

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/can-social-skills-groups-really-help-all-students-on-the-spectrum/

Should an Asperger’s teen try to be “normal”?

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/should-an-aspergers-teen-try-to-be-normal/

My experiences with mobile therapy

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/my-experiences-with-mobile-therapy/

What turns me off?

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/what-turns-me-off/

What turns me off?

https://dwarren57.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/what-turns-me-off-part-2/