“You Have A Chip On Your Shoulder!”

“Derek, you need to be more positive! You walk around like you have a chip on your shoulder!”

I’ve been told this many times. However, I have never really understood what it means. Teachers used to say it when I appeared unhappy and that I wanted to be anywhere else but in school. Typically, I just shrug it off. I am not one to take cheap advice from people who don’t have any idea what it is like to live with Asperger’s, Depression and Anxiety. I Googled the term “chip on your shoulder” and the following Urban dictionary entry was one of the first results.

Chip on his shoulder commonly refers to someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge. An example would be someone always bringing up how they are or were disadvantaged in some way.”

That definition brought back my memories to my sixth-grade homeroom teacher. To avoid the risk of starting a keyboard war, I am not going to mention this teacher’s real name. However, my mother and I did not think highly of her. She exhibited several tendencies that I felt were completely unacceptable for any teacher, but especially one responsible for educating students who were preparing to transition into junior high. Among her many unappealing traits, she had the tendency to say things that were very insensitive and disrespectful to my struggles and those of other students. On top of that, there were several instances where she would make them the center of attention. Knowing that sixth grade was eleven years ago, my memory is fuzzy. There is one situation, however, that I can remember quite distinctly.

I was working on something at my desk. Everyone else was talking and carrying on because the teacher walked out of the room for a minute or two. When she returned, my concentration was when she spoke in a very demanding voice. “Derek Warren! That is not your desk! That is everybody’s desk! Put your pencil down and clean it out!” The classroom was noisy, so I looked at her and tried to comprehend what she just said. So, my lack of an instant response compelled her to yell. “Stop staring at me like a deer in headlights and clean out your desk!” The entire classroom to became silent. She looked at everyone else, laughed and then commented. “Wow! That got everyone quiet!” Everyone laughed. They knew she didn’t like me and didn’t quite know how to handle me. (Plus, she was the “cool” sixth-grade teacher.)

Sixth grade was a very awkward time for me. It was the very first year I, along with my classmates, was assigned a different teacher and classroom for each subject. (The principal felt this was the best approach towards preparing us students for our transition into the pubescent years known as “junior high.”) Regardless, The whole routine of going from classroom to classroom was a major struggle for me. It impacted my organizational skills and my ability to keep track of assignments. I look back at that whole situation and realize one thing. I was a tough kid in some respects. I certainly knew I was different during that time. But, I knew little about Asperger’s Syndrome. The following important lesson never occurred to me until years later. People are bound to become frustrated when they are forced to work or interact with someone who exhibits idiosyncrasies like mine.

I never told anyone about this experience, including my parents. Some may think it is silly to feel upset about a teacher who insisted on running her mouth towards me. I agree with them. Regardless, this memory has always stuck with me. She failed to understand how insulting that remark was, irrespective of whether it was deliberate or just a “slip of the tongue.” Let’s think about it. The common perception of deer is that they are not the most intelligent creatures. (Click here for an article that explains why deer stare at headlights!) Organization was always one of my biggest shortcomings throughout my experience in the public school system. I have always been aware of it, but, habits are never easy to break. Her intent did not matter to me. She was trying to claim that I am stupid only because I didn’t instantly react to her demands.

What is the appropriate response to someone who is truly ignorant and insensitive about my peculiarities? That is not an easy one to ponder. What may be appropriate in one situation may be unacceptable in another. Some may not want to hear this, but, it is an important thing to keep in mind. We are not always as innocent as we think. It is important to take a minute and remind ourselves that diagnosis does not mean exempt from the basic rules of social conduct.

Have you never said anything that people may find disrespectful and insensitive to any of their personal struggles?

Have you never condescended to someone because you think your beliefs and experiences outweigh their own?

I greatly struggled with knowing when I was in the wrong. Some of it was due to the lack of basic social conduct. There are only two things I can do when people call me on that. Apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again. However, I will never apologize for the things that make me stand out from everyone else. We live in a world which continues to punish those who dare to be different. It took me a long time to develop the courage to say that. It is the one thing that puts me one step closer to overcoming that chip on my shoulder from adolescence. The next step is going back to school and pursuing an English Degree. Improving my writing skills for a broad range of possibilities is the one thing that will help me overcome this “chip on my shoulder.”





“The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-time” by Mark Haddon

When was the last time you have ever gotten fed up with the media about something? Recently, we have heard about things like the Tiger Woods affair, Obama sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and the H1N1 virus (the swine flu). The sad fact is the media focuses on just about everything negative that happens. When I turn on the news every day, you expect to hear about which bank in Pittsburgh was robbed, who is cheating on who, and who has gotten arrested. If you watch Fox News, you also notice the people yelling and arguing about political and social issues that are happening in the world. There are also many people in the media who disrespect the private lives of celebrities. When I check out at Wal-Mart, you see all of those celebrity gossip magazines. Those magazines are the reason for why punk rock band Bowling For Soup wrote their song “High School Never Ends”. The social politics of high school still exist in the media. You will always hear about who is having sex, who is arrested for drugs, and who has gotten caught drinking.

As you know, I experience one thing that has always been a very controversial topic in today’s society. It is Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a mild form of Autism. You hear about non-profit organizations like Autism speaks and how they are trying to search for a cure. They still think Autism is a “disease” even though scientists have proved that it is not true. Autism is really a neurological brain disorder. A neurological disorder is a disorder that affects the nervous system. Like all neurological disorders, Autism is not curable and the symptoms are very difficult to treat.

You read my review of John Elder Robison’s “Look Me In The Eye” and my blogs explaining the rules from Temple Grandin’s “Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships”. People don’t understand what Autism really is, and people never will fully understand what it is. These books have given people a better understanding of what Autism is, and they have given people a better understanding of what their Autism means to them. Like I said in the dedication for my book, people will understand your diagnosis more if you think hard about your experiences and write about them. And again, it does not matter whether it ends up being published. That is the main reason I encourage people to write about their life experiences.

One particular story that helped me understand my diagnosis even more is Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime”. The book is an “autistic account” of the Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries. The case he is investigating is the death of his neighbor’s dog Wellington, who belongs to Mrs. Shears, a woman who lives across the street from him. He found a fork impaled in Wellington’s body. His parents are a working class type of couple, and they don’t have the patience or the education to understand his diagnosis.When the police came to investigate the situation, Christopher hit a police officer because he touched him because he was trying to help him stand up. As  result of that, he was sentenced to a night in jail. Christopher John Francis Boone is a teenage autistic boy from Europe. He is a teenager with an above average IQ who knows all the worlds countries and their capitals. He also knows every single prime number up to 7,057. Because of his quirks and his parents not understand his diagnosis, he has been through some extremely difficult times as a teenager. I have been through many similar situations in my life, so I can relate to Christopher in many ways.

Because of his above average intelligence and his odd interests, he has experienced quite a bit of discrimination throughout the book. In my memoir, I am going to touch on some of the false things the media says about Autism. Like I said in the beginning of this blog, the media often thinks that Autism is a death sentence and a disease that “somehow” will be cured. People believe what the media says, no matter what the issue is. Because of the ignorant things the media says, people believe it. There are numerous parts of the book that people have discriminated Christopher. Because of how people thought he was “socially hopeless”, they have told him that he would only be capable of getting a job “collecting super market trolleys” or “scooping donkey shit at an animal sanctuary”. Christopher was told this by a boy named Terry, who was apparently jealous of Chris because of his above average intelligence and cleverness. Terry would call him named like “spaz” and would say “they don’t let spazzers drive rockets that cost billions of pounds”. Terry thought he was “spastic”.

I have been through similar experiences, and I have seen other kids on the spectrum go through the same thing. One students shared a particular experience at Computing Workshop, the summer camp program I work at. We had a staff member who told a story about one of his former computer teachers in high school. This particular teacher didn’t like the fact that this student had a difficulty with spelling. In the class, the students would often do activities that involved researching things on the Internet. This particular student really enjoyed researching things on the Internet, and he was very gifted at it. He wanted to participate in the activities, but the teacher wouldn’t let him. One day he asked if if he would participate, the teacher then snapped and said “You will not participate in the Internet research activity until you can spell perfectly”. Instead, the teacher would have the student correct all of the spelling mistakes he made on all of the previous projects they participated in. The teacher was punishing him for his difficulty spelling words correctly.

Kids with Asperger’s Syndrome often have difficulty understanding humor, idioms and sarcasm. At the beginning of the book, Christopher quotes “This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them”. One thing about humor and sarcasm that can be risky for kids like me is we have a difficulty understanding whether or not someone is being serious versus being sarcastic. I have been through many situations where people have tricked me into thinking they were just merely trying to be friends with me, but they were really trying to belittle me and set me up. Throughout my years in school, there was one particular kid that seemed to realize that I didn’t understand whether someone was really my friend or not. They would walk up to me in a very friendly and polite manner, then I turned around and they would say something really rude and disrespectful to me. I didn’t understand the social rule “Not Everyone Who Is Nice To Me Is My Friend”. In elementary school, this kid tried to convince me into saying something inappropriate to a teacher, he thought it would be funny for me to get into trouble. I went with his “advice” and I recieved lunch detention for a whole week. During my freshman year of high school, this person tried to pull off another stunt like that, but this time I ignored him. I wasn’t going to fall for his tricks this time.Teenagers often playfully joke around with each other, it is their way of bonding with their friends. There have been instances where people have told me jokes, and I took it the wrong way and thought they were really trying to “badly tease” me. Playfully joking around is “good teasing” and bullying and harassing is “bad teasing”. When the kid in elementary school convinced me into saying that inappropriate joke to the teacher, I made the mistake of thinking he was playing around with me when he really was trying to bully me. I don’t like it when people I barely know use sarcastic humor around me because it will make me think they are trying to belittle me. I am afraid I will take the joke the wrong way by saying it to someone else and getting into trouble, or being offended by it and overreacting. I will use humor around people I know well, not people I barely know.

In this blog, I just wanted to give people a general description of the book. If you want to find out more about the book, I would recommend reading it. This book is great for anybody who enjoys murder mysteries, and it is great for anybody who wants to understand the Autistic brain. On the bottom of the page, I have provided a link to the book and an unabridged audio version of the story.



Unabridged Audio book:


The 10 myths about Autism: (Wrongplanet.net)


My experiences with mobile therapy

As you have read in my previous entries, social skills groups really didn’t help me learn the social skills I needed to know for life. The staff members tended to focus on the negative things about me, such as the minor noise making, and not being “verbal”.  I talked about situations where I’ve tried to be verbal, but they prevent me from doing it by telling me not to talk to them. One thing that irritated me about this group was that they complained to me about a small noise when the other members were displaying worse behaviors, such as making insulting comments to the other group members. When I was in the younger group, I had some troubles with depression because I wasn’t fitting in. It seemed like no matter where I went, I didn’t fit in with anybody. The director of Wesley thought it would be appropriate to hire a mobile therapist for me. She seemed to think that it would help improve my confidence in socializing with my peers.

The person she recommended for me was a man named Mike. One thing that concerned me from the start was that the director of Wesley never told me about this person. I dreaded having these sessions with him because of his very pushy and “in your face” type of personality. During his sessions with me, I tended to resist everything he wanted me to do. People on the Autistic spectrum tend to take longer to process information than neurotypical peers do, and when Mike would ask me a question, it took me a while to process an answer. An example of this would be if an autistic child falls and bruises their ankle, it takes them a few seconds longer to verbalize “ouch, that hurts”. A typical peer would be able to verbalize it as soon as it happens. In my case with Mike, when I was trying to process a response to his question, he would ask another question. He seemed to think that I was trying to avoid answering him altogether. It overwhelmed me so much that I dreaded having sessions with him. Another thing Mike did to overwhelm me was that he met with me two days a week instead of just one. His reason for that was because I wasn’t being “verbal and open enough”. He did that during the summer, and he pushed me even more then. During our summer sessions, he would have me do things like yard work outside, which was something I absolutely hated doing, and still is now. He thought that making me do something I hated doing was going to magically make me “come out of my shell”. He would also put me in social situations which made me feel very uncomfortable. One of which was when he came to observe me at my Computing Workshop summer camp. One situation which made me real uncomfortable was that he tried to get me to introduce him to four people at the computing workshop. The one thing I didn’t want the students and staff at Computing Workshop to know was that he was my therapist. He wanted me to tell them that he was my “friend”. I could either just tell them that he was my therapist, or tell them that he was my “friend”. I didn’t want him to get to know me, so why would I want my friends at Computing Workshop to know him. I refused to do it because I was angry at him about pushing me to the limit until I refused to cooperate with him at all. I felt that Mike was trying to punish me by putting me in social situations where I felt very uncomfortable. Therapy is supposed to be something that you enjoy, and that helps you with whatever your problems are. This obviously wasn’t the case with Mike. Because of this, I think that pushiness is uncalled for in social services. The more a client is pushed, the more they are going to resist what the therapist wants them to do. Mike’s therapy didn’t improve my confidence making friends, it made it even worse.

To me, Mike’s style of counseling was to make the client feel therapy was supposed to be a punishment, and not something that would help you. How is someone going to learn social skills when they are overwhelmed by the person that is supposed to be helping them? That’s just like a teacher berating student for not paying attention to their lesson when they barely know how to teach the material themselves, I’ve been through that many times. Going back to social skills groups, I’m also appalled by when they try very hard to teach social skills, when they demonstrate behaviors that show a lack of social skills. (Look at my blog about social skills groups to find out what I mean by that). I am hopeful that when parents try to find someone to counsel their kids, that they find out more information about the person. Find other therapists that may know the person, and have them give you their thoughts about the person. I am a person who likes to know information about something before it happens, and I knew nothing about Mike before he started working with me. And yes, I do understand that sometimes things don’t go as they were supposed to be planned. Only one person gave us information about him, and they only thing they said was that he was “highly recommended”. I wish I could have gotten other peoples opinions about him beforehand. Spontaneity leads to disaster.

In November 2008, my parents finally decided to discharge with him, and to find another therapist to work with. I was obviously hopeful that this person was going to be a lot less pushy and “in your face” than Mike was. He recommended a different organization. The organization Mike worked with was not allowed to drive their client to places, and he recommended another organization where the therapist was allowed to take the client places around the community.  If I Mike wanted to meet in public with me, my mother would have to provide transportation for me. My mom wanted to me to learn social skills so that I needed in order to make friends. When you have a friend, they will offer to go places with you. Like I said, I was pushed to the limit with Mike and it made it very difficult to learn social skills because I was too overwhelmed.  The person they recommended for me was named Darren. Darren is a more low key, and laid back kind of person, sort of like how Aaron was. Instead of sitting around at home talking about feelings, weaknesses and all of the other negative things about me, we go out in the real world and practice social skills. I am still trying to get used to him, but I’m doing it a lot better than I did when I was with Mike. I’ve said before that therapy is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and something that helps you. I however am glad that I have the people in my life to teach me social skills that I need to know, without them I wouldn’t have the confidence to reach out to people like Aaron. Darren actually did get a chance to meet Aaron, and I was glad about that. He mentioned to me that Aaron made a compliment about how he enjoys reading my emails, and how I put a lot of thought into writing them. I am hopeful that Aaron and I will be able to get together throughout the year, and I am hopeful that he will reach out to other people that may need help, whatever problem the person may be having. I myself am going to try that when I go to Lenape Vo Tech. I am not going to let my Aspergers Syndrome prevent me from being the person I want to be in life, which is the kind of person I was when I went to Freeport. I am going to forget about those people that tried to bring me down and make fun of me. It makes no use to worry about a bully who is insecure about themselves, whatever the reason may be. I hope that people will use that the next time they feel down about themselves.