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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Date Someone on The Autism Spectrum?


I subscribed to a subreddit called “Ask Gay Bros.” It is a subreddit where gay and bisexual men can discuss the ins and outs of life. (Incase you have not realized, yes, I am gay!) Life with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) has made it incredibly hard to meet other people. There is no way to summarize how this condition affects my mind in just a few sentences. I took that into account when I decided to submit my first post on “Ask Gay Bros.” The post went as follows.

I was curious about what men would think about the idea of dating someone who experiences similar struggles to me. I was pleasantly surprised when most of them said yes. However, there were a few users who said no. One of them happened to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

I tend to agree with this user. My mom and dad insisted on enrolling me in social skills groups like Wesley Wonder Kids during my teenage years. However, I look back, and I realize learned some valuable lessons. These lessons came from both the staff and my peers in the program. I have always agreed that age appropriate social skills are essential for success in academic, professional and personal social situations. There are plenty of things about myself that people may find enjoyable. For example, I am intelligent, and I like to share that through my writing. People have said that my writing does resonate with them. However, I also have my fair share of quirks that people may describe as anything from frustrating to annoying.

I learned that valuable lesson at one Wonder Kids group meeting. It was time for each member to share any news from their lives that may have developed in the previous week. I rolled my eyes when it became time for one particular person to speak. Let’s just say that he was someone who could not seem to grasp the meaning behind “enough is enough.” We will call him “Gregory Grossout.”  His superior speaking vocabulary, dirty clothing and body odor quickly became the least of the traits that made me feel socially restricted around him. Here is the gist of his lovely news story. 

Gregory Grossout: I had an ingrown toenail! It was gargantuan! It grew back after I had it removed. I had to go to the pediatrist a second time. It started spewing yellow substance called pus. (Everyone begins to cringe and express disgust for his graphic revelation. He then continues, oblivious to their discomfort.) It hurt so bad! The doctor said it was the most puss and blood he has ever seen!  

(The staff leader finally interupts him by addressing the entire group and correcting his behavior. He is also trying to keep his composure.) 

Staff Leader: Okay, you can stop right there! By a show of hands, how many of you are cringing right now? How many of you did not want to hear about the details of his surgery? (He quickly pauses and turns to Gregory.) 

Staff Leader: Gregory, everyone raised their hand. You could have been much more general about it. “I had a minor surgery last week. It had some complications and I had to go back to get them fixed” would have been far less cringeworthy. 

(He still could not grasp the repulsed expressions of everyone in the room. He continued with an attempt to claim that revealing every single detail was absolutely necessary.) 

I agree that to assume this person is lesser of a human being would be far too hasty and judgmental. Nonetheless, that was my default assumption anytime I encountered such a situation. I did that while simultaneously being oblivious to my tendencies which made people believe I was socially inept. I now know that I must control those tendencies if I want to be successful in the dating world. Admitting that I am on the Autism Spectrum is bound to decrease the already limited gay dating pool. I hate to go all cliche, but, that is how the cookie crumbles. I cannot force someone to be attracted to me. I most certainly cannot force someone to love me. 

I answered “no” to my own question because Asperger’s Syndrome is a very individualized disorder. Grey’s Anatomy failed to realize that when they wrote the portrayal of Dr. Virginia Dixon. I experience difficulty “reading” other people. But, that is the only thing I have in common with most people who have this condition. That does not make me any less aware of the challenges most people with “high functioning” Autistic Spectrum Disorder experience in adulthood. Most importantly, I know that I am more than capable of loving someone. That is all that truly matters! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re: Tolerance vs. Acceptance


I enjoy reading people’s commentary on my writing. I am aware that commentary is necessary for any writer to gain suggestions for future content. I may not answer every single comment, but I do my best to take people’s feedback into consideration. I happen to know that the Autism community is very diverse. The fact that somebody else has an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis does not necessarily mean that we will become best friends. We all have different beliefs, personalities, strengths, flaws and interests. I cannot answer for every single one of them. With that in mind, I encourage you to go back to my last blog post and read the comment submitted by Mark. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. To the best of my ability, I want to provide my response to him. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. I greatly encourage people to provide constructive criticism, however I do have a problem with people who claim that I am shallow because I quoted lyrics from a song. That was something I noticed in the comment below. 

And speaking of relationships, one of the most important things to be able to do to find and create a meaningful relationship is to get beyond just finding the “beautiful” woman or man (and based on the perspective you show in your blog, that “beautiful” term could mean you are saying that ugly people need not apply?)

Contrary to your belief, I do not desire to get into a relationship just to get my piece of “eye candy.”  I am in no terms comparable to Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. This kind of shallowness is one of the many reasons why gay men are so negatively stereotyped. You may be surprised to know that many of “those gay (and straight) men” have gone through experiences of isolation and bullying. This causes a decrease in their confidence and they work endlessly to fix their flaws. While physical exercise is a great thing, I cannot stand those gym rats who think the world revolves around themselves and their hotness. You are right that we all are all allowed to choose who we like. We are also allowed to choose which physical, emotional and intellectual traits we find attractive. You have probably heard the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A person who is physically attractive but boldly rude to “ugly” people is not “beautiful” in my terms. I am sure most people would agree with me. If people don’t like my future mate for whatever reason, I should not have to care because all that matters is that I am happy with the person I love. 

One can be gay, hetero, autistic, non-autistic, or what have you, and still have the problem of not looking beyond their own needs in trying to find a mate. That issue has to do with self-centeredness, self-absorption, even selfishness. Now, given the defined clinical aspects of autism, an autistic is described as self-oriented and “other averse”. It would seem they, by their own description, have greater difficulties in recognizing and responding to the needs of others. On the one hand, this is called “autism”, is diagnosed, medicated, treated, etc. Based on your blog, it seems that self-absorption and lack of accepting others is unacceptable, which is a mature outlook. However, on the other hand, it seems that a key component of this disorder (unsociability) is also supposed to be excused, overlooked and accepted, if one is diagnosed with Asperger’s. Though you are obviously intelligent and a good writer, what comes through in your writing is an overwhelming and laser focus on every micro-possibility that you are not being treated appropriately, why you are not treated appropriately, what others should do to treat you more appropriately, and how very appropriate you believe you are. Bear with me here, because I’m saying some things I happen to see as very appropriate and helpful that most people today won’t say. Whether it’s autism or just plain selfishness, the result is the same and the “treatment” is the same. 

I am perfectly aware of the fact that Aspies have the difficulty with the thing neurotypicals refer to as “social skills.” I have been through more than my fair share of these “professionals” who listed the symptoms of Autism/Asperger’s and they endlessly drilled me with exercises that are supposedly intended to “fix” me. My former therapist was very little help. He made me feel like socialization was just a dreadful burden instead of a “necessary and beneficial skill.” His tactic mainly consisted of bombarding me with questions, telling me how much I should “open myself up” and comparing me to the one other client he used to work with and how this person became a complete failure in life. This (“opening myself up”) was something that never would have happened during my high school years. Every time he asked me a question, about 5-10 seconds of silence would follow. I obviously needed that time to process an answer to that question and come up with a response to it. Instead, he would become impatient with me and bombard me with even more questions. (I wrote just a few examples below.) 

“What are you thinking about? “

“Why aren’t you looking at me when I am talking to you? My eyes are here not there!” 

“Why aren’t you answering the question? You should already know the answer!” 

A therapist can either be a positive or a negative influence on somebody. It all depends on how compatible the therapists is with the client’s needs and personality. During that time, pushing me to “come out of my shell” simply would have caused more resistance. Nobody would have changed that. There is no point in working with somebody who makes you feel that the only purpose of therapy is to make you feel like it is your fault for being diagnosed with a disorder that causes you to have difficulty interacting with people. Parents and teachers tried to convince me into believing that he wanted to help me, but his “in your face” tactic caused me to loose any trust in him.

We all need to learn to 1) consider others just as much as we consider ourselves, 2) learn to move on if someone isn’t appropriate or maybe just doesn’t like us instead of picking it apart in ongoing critiques (people make mistakes and we are all allowed to choose who we like; are you always appropriate, have you NEVER offended anyone, and do you believe that you like and want to be around everyone? By your blog I see that’s not the case, so why put that standard on others?), and 3) learn to consider, reflect on, get to know, understand, and even get a sense of the needs of others. The inability of autistics to relate and identify with others has reached mythic and even romantic proportions.

While I do believe that it is important to recognize the needs of others, how do you help somebody who refuses to use every single resource that has routinely been provided for them? If one particular resource does not work, then the individual (or their parent/guardian) should certainly assert themselves and expect to be referred elsewhere! My former therapist was just one person who did not connect with me. Just because one resource is ineffective does not mean that one should give up. To answer your question whether or not I “like to be around everyone”, I can come up with a response that most people would agree with. I know that I will encounter people who are not genuinely accepting of me. If they insist upon ” praying for me to change my evil and sinful ways, I will be sure to thank them for their “concern” and push their “prayers” to the back of my mind. However, I will take issue with any person who electronically, verbally or physically attacks me or any of those people who do genuinely love and support me. I will not back down when it comes to standing up for what I believe in. I say that regardless of any criticism people throw at me. I say that despite the fact that I can be shunned, isolated, harassed, beaten or even killed just because I am gay.

The brooding or acting-out autistic who is doing algorithms in his head has been some kind of hero ever since “Rain Man”, but this perspective is ridiculous and not helpful to autistics at all. Autism is of course on a spectrum; we have the non-verbal all the way to the Asperger’s. Everyone, including the Asperger’s folks, marvel at their intelligence-so much is made of it. But this comes at the expense of ignoring the very detrimental lack of social skills, which autistics, who can excel academically, are given a pass on. This only encourages higher functioning autistics to give a pass on it themselves, and encourages others to neglect training those autistics in that area. And yes, social skills are learnable, consideration is learnable.

Let’s go back to my therapist for a minute. We obviously did not see eye to eye! So, why continue working with him? It would have wasted my time and it would have wasted his time. You have probably heard of these things called “social skills” groups. I can tell you now that I can only pick out one or two useful things that still stick to me now. Because I am a man who happens to gay and who happens to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I ponder one question that is on the minds of many of those like me. Why do people discriminate against the LGBT community? Children learn this from their parents and teachers. These beliefs were instilled upon the parents during their upbringing. Regardless of who they are, they all contribute to the downright lies people spread about the LGBT community. It is indoctrination, plain and simple! So, what is the motivational force behind this behavior? They could have possibly experienced a conflict with somebody who happened to be gay or lesbian. They base their feelings upon that one negative experience. It is sad, but what else can we do? As you say, we all chose who we like.

There is one thing that I noticed about these “social skills groups.” I am sure there are others who feel the same way about them. It seems to me that many of the therapeutic activities are only intended to keep the group members busy instead of teaching them “useful and beneficial skills.” Honestly, it’s been fourteen years since I went to kindergarten! I cannot stand adults who tell me that I need to “be more mature” but expect me to cut pictures out of a magazine then glue them on a sheet of paper to emphasize personal hygiene or some other social skill that was completely straight forward for me. I can remember observing other group members who either did not care about their profound lack of social skills or they were completely oblivious to it. 

Pretending to be in a social situation (aka “role-playing”) did not work for me either. It was incredibly awkward. All you do is pretend to be in some hypothetical social situation where the message is either obvious or completely foreign to me. I already know that people do not want to experience the smell of bad breath and body odor. It can cause social shunning and even bullying. My parents have already taught me the shear importance of bathing daily and brushing my teeth twice a day. I already know that it is not socially acceptable to whine and complain when I am out with my friends and they want to eat at a different restaurant than the one I want to eat at. I know this kind of behavior will cause my friends to avoid me and think that I am self-centered and immature. I already know that you should never give any of your personal information to strangers. My parents and my teachers reminded me about stranger danger since I was in kindergarten. I already know that it is rude to interrupt somebody when they are talking. I find that real conversations with real people are beneficial to me, as opposed to thinking hypothetically and addressing a skill that people have instilled upon me several times. I know there are people out there who do benefit from this practice, but I must be blunt. Getting to know people is more beneficial than being a conformist who always does what is “acceptable” and “normal” in society.

Let me say this: I have Asperger’s, and I have worked with autistics. Through a series of difficult life circumstances I was forced into the revelation that I had to get along with people if I wanted to survive and have a reasonably happy life. And in working with autistics, I’ve seen that they can learn social skills when those skills are given priority and intense, diligent attention. In Temple Grandin’s book, she stresses the importance of the social skills she was expected to learn from her own mother, and how important those were to her. Asperger’s are too coddled, yes, coddled, and that only strengthens their aversion to appropriate social interactions. 

I have written about Temple Grandin in the past. I do admire her and the many things she has accomplished in life. She has raised a lot of insight about Autism and her writings have helped encourage people to achieve their dreams. However, I think something else must be made clear. Not every single Autistic person dreams of pursuing a career in the livestock industry. Not every single Autistic person “thinks in pictures.” Not every single Autistic person is fortunate enough to have dedicated, caring, nurturing and helpful parents. There are parents out there who lack the ability to cope with the many difficulties their child will experience in life. This makes it more difficult to teach “social skills” because the parents are unwilling to coöperate with professionals who genuinely care. On top of all this, they have to deal with the intolerance and hatred that comes from thoughtless people. Some of these parents are even abusive. They feel that hurting their child is the only way to eliminate “inappropriate social behavior.” These children do not know how to seek the help they need to remove themselves from these horrible situations. I honestly feel like I am the only person who has brought up issues like this. This problem is grossly unrecognized in the Autism community. The big question is how can we educate others about this problem? 

When do we teach autistics to look for POSITIVES in others instead of negatives? Derek, can you make a list of all the times people were kind, accepting, supportive, helpful, nice or friendly to you? Sharing that would give a lot of hope to others struggling socially. If you can’t, or if it is very short, how subjective is your experience? It is also said that autistics have trouble seeing when they are at fault or lacking. Shouldn’t the focus then be on developing more self-awareness and self-development, as opposed to self-absorption? If those with Asperger’s claim this is not possible, that it is part of their diagnoses that this cannot happen, then it would make sense then that they should refrain from the common Asperger habit of being so comfortable in negatively judging others.

I do know several people who have truly made me feel welcomed and accepted. I can guarantee you that my experience is not “subjective.” I would be glad to share my experiences with these certain individuals in a future blog post. However, it seems to me that you don’t understand how it feels to encounter people who are not “accepting”, “supportive”, “nice” or “friendly” to me. I can tell you right now that my experience is not “subjective.” I have encountered several people who have attempted to manipulate me into thinking they were genuinely being nice. I feel that I don’t need to go into detail about these experiences because I have done that before. Harassment of any nature should never be attributed to the individual being “at fault” or “lacking.” I knew right from the start that these people were trying to make me feel bad about myself because of the fact that I did not have friends. They were trying to provoke me into reacting in a way that would get me into trouble. This is what caused me to lose trust in just about everyone at my high school. I didn’t want to talk to anybody if people did not genuinely treat me with respect.

If meaningful relationships is the goal, Asperger’s need to be held to some standards (which shows respect for their ability to learn), and need to accept help for developing those other-oriented skills that are necessary for caring interactions. This is not just an autistic issue at all; we’ve been bombarded by a selfish construct of relationship for the last 75 years. No one should be given a pass on this, not even Asperger’s. The better we all get along, the more fulfilling place this world will be for everyone. I must say also that no one has any exclusivity on dealing with bigotry, rejection, unacceptance and repugnance. I’m not the only one who can’t dredge up more sympathy for another well-off celebrity whining about “coming out” when babies are being abused and sex-trafficking is alive and well even here in the US. None of us should be so quick to complain when we consider how much others have suffered, which is another good trait-considering the pain of others-that Asperger’s, and this society in general, needs to develop. Aspies, their “handlers” (who are making millions), and gays need to give it a rest. If any of us are looking for a perfect world, then we’d each have to leave it. I wish you well.

I am already aware that being LGBT, Autistic or “different” in any way does not automatically grant me “permission” to complain. Have you ever thought that the abused babies you talked about could end up being disowned just because they are gay or lesbian? I also happen to know homosexuals were subjected to the most brutal treatment during Hitler’s 1940’s regime in Nazi, Germany. I read about the tragic story of the fourteen year old African American boy named Emmett Till. He was brutally murdered in Mississippi just because he flirted with a white woman. You should know that I write blogs about issues that are important to me. Let me be as blunt as possible. Martin Luther King Junior did not “give it a rest” when he wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail. I can tell you that I will not “give it a rest” when there are many people who are LGBT and/or Autistic. They desperately need people who can help them understand they are not alone. I can guarantee that you will find tons of information about abused babies and sex trafficking on the Internet. I think you need to picture yourself as the teenage boy who is holding a gun to his head because his parents refuse to accept the fact that that are different. I can guarantee that nobody would tell you to “give it a rest” if you went through the same experience. 

As you can see, I do like to read commentary from others. It is okay if people do not like my writing because I never promised to answer for everyone. Being gay is still a very new thing for me, and I am doing whatever I can to help figure out the place I have in the world. I hope you enjoyed my writing and I should be posting again in the near future!

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“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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Teachers, Counselors and Parents: “Practice What You Preach”!


I was looking online for a quote based on the idiom “Practice What You Preach”. Out of all the quotes I came across, the one I am about to share is probably my favorite one I have come across in a long time. The quote read “It is always easier to fight for your principals than to live up to them”. The term for people who don’t “practice what they preach” is a hypocrite. Here is one of my favorite bible verses about hypocrisy.

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 don’t normally bring discussion about the bible into my blogs, but this perfectly describes the many experiences I have been through with therapists, teachers and other adults who have preached “social skills” to me. I want to start with describing a teacher I had during my sophomore year at the Freeport Area Senior High School. For those of you who know me and/or who are frequent readers of my blog know that I have attended the Lenape Technical School for my junior and senior year. Freeport put me in the learning support classes since I was in the fifth grade. I was in the support room at the high school, and we were handed a scheduling paper for our junior year. My most recent blog post before this one described a math class with this teacher. I saw the optical electronics program at Lenape, and I was so bitter about the whole experience at Freeport that I knew there was only one way to make me feel better about school. I had to get out of there.

The teacher asked me what classes I wanted to take and I said “I don’t know”. She told me “You better decide quickly because if you don’t, you will have to take what we picked for you.” I responded “Then I’ll just go into cyber school if I don’t get accepted into Lenape”. The teacher obnoxiously responded “Derek, the state of Pennsylvania is eliminating cyber school next year. Also, there is now a fee to attend Lenape. Your parents are now required to pay half. You will not be admitted into the school if your parents don’t pay before the end of this school year”. That evening, I brought it up to my parents. My mother told me not to worry, because both of those ignorant statements were not true. Lenape is the comprehensive vocational technical school for Armstrong county. The school district pays the money for students to attend. What baffled me about this situation was how the teacher would try to convince me into believing her even though she knew her statements were false. She always reprimanded me for not interacting “appropriately”, while she bullied me into making the decision to stay at Freeport and be educated to become a janitor. I obviously did not let her bully me into what Freeport wanted me to do, so I went to Lenape and for the most part I feel happier and more fulfilled.

I have described my experiences with traditional “social skills” groups. Wesley Wonder Kids didn’t really work for me because it was mainly focused on teaching kids appropriate ways to interact with people. They used several teaching materials such as role plays and social stories. Before I go into more detail, I know there are many kids who would benefit from this program. I wasn’t very fond of it because it was the same routine every session. At the beginning of the session, each group member was asked to share news stories from their week. They would all talk about their favorite video games, movies, music and activities they participated in throughout the week. When my turn came, I didn’t really know what to share. I hated school, so I didn’t want to talk about that. I am not an avid movie fan. I was and still am a weightlifter, but they already knew that. They were not particularly interested in exercising, so I figured I shouldn’t talk about that. I didn’t do much else besides going to school and going to the gym. I would take my dog on occasional walks and go on errands with my parents on occasions but that was it.

The staff members would put me on the spot and pressure me into sharing something. I remember one sessions somebody asked “what did you have for lunch today?” I reluctantly responded “pizza”. Let’s go back to another post that described a situation during an activity during coffee talk.

Each group member was assigned a date on the calendar, and on that specific date you were supposed to bring a desert type snack and choose a topic the group can easily discuss for fifteen minutes. On one particular day, it was another group member’s turn to choose a topic. When it came time for coffee talk, he didn’t have his topic chosen like he was supposed to. It took him five minutes to finally choose one, and he finally chose “pop culture”. Everybody had their favorite movie, band or television show to talk about and I had absolutely no idea what to say. All of the group members would talk over each other, and the parents could hear them in the lobby next door over the air conditioning vent. Because coffee talk was the last activity of the night, I was only focused on going home and going to bed. Then a voice from one of the staff members rang out “Derek, we haven’t heard from you yet. What do you have to contribute to this discussion?” I responded by saying “I don’t know”. The group members turned around and started pressuring me to say something, similar to most of my peers in school when they would ask me things like “Why Are You So Quiet”? When it finally became time to leave, I muttered in disgust “I hate being put on the spot”. Another staff member heard my remark and said “You have to suck it up, you are going to be put on the spot for the rest of your life”.

I would have been much happier at Wesley Wonder Kids if the staff members would have listened to me and tried to understand how I was personally effected by Asperger’s. A true person with “social skills” will listen to them and do whatever they can to help them get through a problem. I was a very reserved person at Freeport. Wesley told me I should not be judgmental, when made comments towards me regarding how much of a failure I would be if I didn’t make friends “immediately”.

I am going to be graduating from high school in six weeks. I know college is going to be different from high school in many ways, but I still have no idea what it is really going to have in store for me. I am going to try my hardest not to let judgmental people bring me down, because I know I may encounter them. I think the only “therapy” I need is to learn about Electro Optics, a career field with many different job opportunities. Another “therapy” will be to publish a book about my life. I hope I will “shed some more light” about Asperger’s. We need to teach people that every kids with Asperger’s is different, and we should encourage them to use their gifts in order to build on their weaknesses.

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“You’re Not Even Trying”


Throughout the many experiences I have been through in my life with Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the things I would expect to hear from people was “you’re not even trying”. I would hear this from teachers, therapists, my parents, other kids parents and even my peers at school. I would either ignore people when they would say this, or I would react by shrugging my shoulders, rolling my eyes or by simply stating “I don’t care”. I worked with a therapist who was extremely demanding and pushy, and he made coping with my diagnosis even worse.

I attended the Wesley Wonder Kids program in Gibsonia, PA for a few years, and I noticed several behaviors coming from the staff members that I thought were pretty unprofessional for qualified and trained counselors. When we had a group member that was difficult to deal with, I noticed some of the staff members would whisper about them and laugh at them while they were not looking. That was something that really bothered me, because I really knew how it felt to be teased and whispered about. I thought about telling the coördinator about it, but I figured I should only tell them if I knew they were whispering and laughing at me. While gossip is something you can’t stop, this kind of behavior is the reason I believe that counselors need to be evaluated on how they demonstrate the “social skills” they constantly preach to their clients.

From the many behaviors I noticed in these “qualified counselors”, one made me decide it was time to quit Wesley Wonder Kids. There was a social activity we had each week called coffee talk. Each group member was assigned a date to pick a topic and bring a snack to share with the group. They had to choose a topic that would keep a conversation going for the entire duration of the activity. One night, a group member chose plans after high school. The girl sitting beside me stated she wanted to attend CCAC (Community College of Allegheny County). Just then, a kid sitting across the table blurted out “CCAC is where all the retards go to school”. The only thing the staff members ever did was reprimand him. I thought that was pretty unfair, because the staff members treated me in a way that made me feel like I was being singled out.

I was in the older teen group for about four or five months, and I became frustrated at how I was always put on the spot during the “coffee talk” social activity. The coordinator called the staff members on the phone and wanted them to speak with me about this issue. They explained to me that I was “not being verbal enough” during group and that I needed to “stop making noises”. She told me that if I didn’t start being more verbal and stop making noises the coordinator was going to demote me to the younger group. Difficulty with verbal communication and noise making is a common characteristic in kids with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. In other words, they threatened to demote me to the younger group for being Autistic. My mom talked to her a few days later, and we both finally decided it was time to quit Wesley Wonder Kids. I am pretty happy that I made the immediate decision to do so, because I don’t need anybody telling me to stop being who I am.

I always hated doing role plays with therapists because they didn’t really seem to help me improve my social skills. The reasons why I am so against role-playing is because you can’t really predict how people will react when you try to initiate a “real world” conversation. My social goal at the Wonder Kids club was to “initiate spontaneous social communication with peers”. There was one thing about role plays that most therapists don’t know about, and it is they are not spontaneous. I wanted real interaction with people besides a therapist or my parents. It seemed like everybody in my school had it all and I had nothing. Everybody else had friends to hang out with at the football games, friends to take to the mall and who they can trust. I felt like I was worthless.

I quit Wesley Wonder Kids at the beginning of the summer before my junior year in high school. Lenape Tech gave me plenty of social opportunities because I was not around the same people I have known since kindergarten. I have lived in the Freeport Area School district my whole life, and I have heard many of the gossip and rumors that were constantly spread about me. If you remember my last blog about negativity, people used to say I would end up becoming a serial killer when I grew up. I later came to realize that I should either ignore those kinds of comments or just laugh at them. I have realized that people do it to make themselves look cooler, when most of the people who were friends with the people who bullied me either ignored them or tried to change the subject.

I have noticed that some of the problems in education are the reason why we have kids that really aren’t trying in school. I have noticed that most public high schools are shoving standardized tests and numbers down their throats. In my blogs about Lenape, I have emphasized the fact that schools need to start teaching their students that algebra, geometry and trigonometry don’t go away after you graduate from high school. There are tons of career fields out there who use these skills in their typical work day. When students complain about these classes, the teacher usually says it’s a graduation requirement or it’s going to be on the P.S.S.A tests. Most typical high school teachers are only required to teach students how these skills will benefit them on a test, and they forget about it after the test is over with. I was one of the kids that wasn’t challenged at Freeport, and I was put in the basic math class. It was pretty much a repeat of everything I learned in elementary school. The teacher absolutely hated her job, and the kids didn’t take the class seriously.

To sum things up, the point I am trying to make in this blog is something that anybody should be able to understand. Attitude is something that makes a difference in a teenager’s success in high school, college and the real world. I hope that is something people consider when they see somebody who may have a bad attitude about schoolwork or have trouble making friends. I started to wonder if comments like the “future serial killer” would become reality for me after I graduated. I have learned that you should either brush it off, or go the extra mile and prove them wrong. That is the message I hope people get after reading this.

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“Being Polite Is Appropriate In Any Situation”


Can you remember the last time you had to be around a person who has the worst manners you have ever seen? You and your family are sitting at a restaurant and one of the members of your party burps out loud, where everybody can hear them. Everybody turns around and looks, but the parents do absolutely nothing about it. After it happens, everybody continues with their meals. A few minutes pass, then the child acts up again. This time, he starts asking people inappropriate questions, the questions dealt with the three major “turn off” topics, which are sex, politics and religion. The kid is so loud that people from across the room can hear every word he is saying. Their parents pay absolutely no attention to the child, and everybody else in the restaurant gets irritated. The other customers finally had enough and they complain to the waitress. Because of the kids inappropriate behavior, they ask the party to leave without their money back.

I actually did witness something like this happen, but this time it was not a kid and the parents not paying attention to them, it was a group of college kids and their girlfriends. My family decided to go out to eat at an Applebees, and we did not enjoy our meal because of the behavior coming from these kids. I am surprised that their girlfriends didn’t even walk out on them, I most certainly would not want to be around someone who acted like that. They obviously didn’t understand this unwritten social rule. Manners is a must have skill if you want to have social interaction with people.This is rule # 5 in Temple Grandin and Shaun Barron’s “Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships”.

Temple mentioned something that I thought was pretty interesting and true, the quote from the book states “As a whole, people in our society have become ruder and cruder than ever before. People behave in social settings today in ways that would have been considered really impolite when I was growing up in the 60’s and even in the 70’s and 80’s, and it’s tolerated. Over the past twenty years or so, having good manners and being polite in social interaction — the whole idea of there being a “right” and a “wrong” way to act in social settings– has become less and less important. Fewer parents take the time to instill manners and teach proper social etiquette to their children. It’s having a ripple effect. Young parents today aren’t even conscious of some Miss Manners’ rules, which used to govern society when I was growing up”.

Asperger’s kids are not alone, there are neurotypical adults who show behavior that demonstrate a lack of social skills. A perfect example is a therapist I had to deal with when I was in about first or second grade. There were two times when she wouldn’t show up for our sessions, and she never called us and informed us she was running late. We were supposed to meet two times a week, and there was no sign of her both sessions. The next week she arrived thirty minutes late and said there was “traffic on Route 28”. I have heard from many people who traffic congestion and car troubles are both not an excuse to be late in the work world. I was scheduled to be her first client of the day, and she only lived in Kittanning, which is only about 20 minutes from Sarver. I also noticed that she would make that excuse more often as the weeks went on. That wasn’t the only issue we had with her, there was a major personality clash between her, my mother and I. Instead of teaching me social skills, she talked to me in a very threatening tone. She was only focused on reprimand me for my behaviors instead of teaching me social skills. Her attitude pretty much sounded like “I will fix that f***up if he continues acting like this. I am the boss and he does everything I say.” I told my parents I was sick of her, and we finally decided to discharge services with her. When a child demonstrates inappropriate behavior, their parents and therapists need to explain to them why the behavior was wrong and a more appropriate way of handling whatever the situation was. Parents, teachers and therapists need to also help them understand why their behavior will cause people to not want to be around them. They need to keep practicing until they get it. Repetition is a must in social skills training because later in life they may make a mistake that will help them realize why it was inappropriate. The child may not like every activity their therapist or teacher does with them, but they should realize that he or she may not function well in the work world if they continue to act the way they do. You should also teach the child that teaching them social skills is not a punishment, you are doing it to help them. Just verbally reprimanding them and saying “don’t do that again” won’t change their behavior, they will just keep doing it even more.

Remember what the word “tact” meant? The rule “Honesty Is Different From Diplomacy” goes with this rule as well. Sometimes kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are too honest and the things they say offend people. Here are some basic conversation don’ts that I have learned along the way, Temple did not mention some of these in the book.

  1. Don’t ask another person about the cost of their possessions.
  2. Don’t talk about the three major turn off topics (sex, politics and religion)
  3. Don’t use swear words in public.
  4. Don’t use swear words on social networking websites. (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter)
  5. Don’t talk about people behind their back.
  6. Don’t laugh about people’s age, appearance, weight, sexual orientation, etc.
  7. Don’t call adults you don’t know well by their first name. (Use “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” instead)
  8. Don’t burp, belch or pass gas any time you are around other people. (remember to apologize appropriately if it slips out)
  9. Don’t make comments about another person’s bodily functions.
  10. Don’t hug a person unless you are in a romantic relationship, or they are a close family member or friend.

As I have said before, teaching a child manners in social interaction is not a punishment, it is intended to help them function in life. Learning these manners will help them succeed in the social and work world. I hope you found this very interesting and informative, and I hope you will use this as a guide in the future.