“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.”

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“You Need To Stand Up For Yourself More” (Handling A Patronizer)


We know the bullying issue is prevalent in high schools across America. Both my peers and my high school teachers are guilty of it. During my two years at the Freeport Area Senior High school, my teachers pressured me into becoming a people pleaser. Do you remember the one who tried to convince me into believing there was a mandatory fee to attend Lenape Tech? She was also the same one who tried to come up with the story the state of Pennsylvania was going to eliminate cyber school from the curriculum next year. It was her last ditch effort to prevent the school board from paying dollars for students to attend the full day vocational technical school that has been serving Armstrong county since 1965. I started my first week of classes at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The Electro Optics program at the Northpointe regional campus provides students with employment opportunities in a wide variety of technological skills. An Associates Degree in this growing field can pay about a $30,000 annual starting salary, while a Bachelors degree can pay an approximate $60,00.00 starting salary.

The burning question is “how do I stand up to people who speak to me like that?” Well, this is not an easy question for many Asperger’s type teenagers to answer. This could possibly have something to do with the differences in the Asperger’s brain. Every person’s brain is equipped with equipped with cell’s called neurons. They are located in the premotor cortex. These cells “fire” both when you perform an action and when you watch somebody else do the same thing. This article from science daily.com explained the theory behind how these neurons do not work properly in the Autistic mind. It was believed that dysfunctional neurons were the culprit behind the difficulty understanding the actions of others and the lack of empathy. However, another Science Daily article was published in the year 2010. It argued the mirror neuron systems function normally in the Autistic brain. So, if it isn’t weak neurons, what is it?

I want you to take a look at this clip from the Kathie Lee Gifford show. Every week they do a contest called “Everyone Has A Story.” This particular segment was about a high school senior named Zach Hirsch and his younger friend Gram Jackson. Zach was a high school athlete. He was attractive and popular. One day when Gram was a freshman, he was sitting in the cafeteria by himself. Zach noticed it and he decided to sit with Gram and talk to him. As time went on, they initiated a friendship and started getting together after school. The friendship had a very positive effect on Gram, and so his mother wrote a letter to Kathie Lee about it. The letter basically described everything I just said. At first I was very happy to hear about this story. I was happy to hear that somebody like Zach would step out of his comfort zone and go out of his way to help somebody who was “different.” His (Zach’s) mother stated how this friendship caused him to gain the confidence to reach out to other people. However, my mood changed from a happy to furious at about six minutes into the video

This “thing” that happened actually caused an outrage in the Autism community. Opera singer Kate Baldwin sang a song about their story on national television. The song was titled “All Alone”. Just by reading the title, you can tell why this song makes me angry. This song was written by Kathie Lee! 

We see them everyday, but to often look away from the ones who are sitting alone. 

We seldom hear their voice because we make the choice to leave them right there all alone 

We see them everywhere, but to often we don’t care. We’re lost in a world of our own. 

We rarely realize, they’re angels in disguise, so we leave them right there all alone. 

Can you imagine if hello was a word you’d never heard? Can you imagine if you’ve never had a friend? 

Can you imagine if loneliness was all you’d ever known?  

It’s more than we could ever comprehend. A world, a silent world, without a friend. 

But miracles can happen, sometimes they really do. 

And sometimes, the miracle turns out to be you. 

When you embrace a stranger and show love you’ve never shown, you will make the greatest friend that you have ever known. 

Someone who used to be, someone who used to be, but now will never be all alone. 

If you thought the song was bad, just wait until you see the next part of the video. I transcribed what happened next.

Kathie Lee: You know, we’ve been doing this now since October of last year, and I was wondering if we were every time I say to myself “gee, are we ever gonna be able to capture it you know?” But, I looked over and there was Gram and you had tears in your eyes buddy did you like your song? 

Gram: Well, it was a little to sad. 

(Everyone in the room laughs, including Zach’s and Gram’s family)  

Kathie Lee reminds me of the annoying “drill Sargent” therapist who thought forcing the Asperger’s out of me would make me a “brand new person”. Here is a little glimpse on how our sessions would begin. Obvious question after obvious question, irritable answer after irritable answer.

(The therapist pulls into our driveway. Penny, our dog starts barking and whining, letting us know someone is here. We wait a few seconds until he comes up to the door. My mother or I open the door to let him in.) 

Therapist: So Derek, are you happy to see me? 

Me: (Irritably) No? 

Therapist: Why not? Penny is happy to see me.

(about a 5 second pause.)

Therapist: One of these days, I expect you to give me a big hug! What would you do if I gave you a big hug? 

Me: (Irritably) Push you away?

Therapist: Why not? I’m only trying to help you. Don’t you want that special friend who you trust? 

Howard Stern gave a hilarious reaction to Kathie Lee’s actions on his radio show.  (Don’t watch if you are offended by coarse language!) He said how Kathie Lee made “different” kids look like “angels disguised as monsters.” Also, when they laughed at him for saying the song was “too sad”, he was speaking the honest truth. He was trying to emphasize how his life doesn’t revolve around being this “angel disguised as a monster.” Gram is not the only one I feel bad for in this video, I feel bad for Zach. She made him look like a complete idiot by rewarding him with all of these sporting goods while all Gram get’s is their two tickets to a Chicago Cubs Game. She made him look like he came on TV to brag about how great of a guy he is. He should have denied the TV interview! He only did this because he wanted to step out of his comfort zone and make a difference in Gram’s life. I still do believe there should be more teens who are willing to step out of their comfort zone. 

There is a word that describes what Kathie Lee Gifford did to this Autistic boy, and it is called patronizing. It simply means behaving in an undignified, superior and/or offensive way towards a person. Patronizers often convince others they are trying to be kind. Some are bullies who want to see an angry reaction, while others don’t have an intent to offend you. Either way they are really frustrating to be around. It seemed to me that teacher who discouraged me from going to Lenape Tech wanted to get a reaction out of me. She wanted me to get into trouble then rub into my face how much of a dismal failure I would be if I went to Lenape, the “school with the terrible P.S.S.A test scores.”

I remember my mother emailed the school about how she did not appreciate them bullying me into making the decision to go forward with what they wanted me to do. It was great to know that my mother wanted to support me, but the title of this post is absolutely true. If you want to prevent your emotions from interfering with your job,  here are some tips I hope you found helpful.

1.) You must “nip it in the bud” before it becomes a serious issue. Rehearse what you are going to say to the person by speaking into a mirror. You will find out why later on. (Try to remember the situation in as much detail as possible.) 1.) What did the person do or say to make you upset? 2.) What tone of voice and body language did they use? 3.) Why did their actions upset you? 4.) From your perspective, did they or did they not intend to offend you?

2.) Refrain from being emotional. Expressing sadness or anger will cause others to think you are weak, therefore they will not take you seriously. However, you must be firm and make it clear that you don’t appreciate whatever they may be doing to make you feel bad. Being firm with somebody means that you should be polite. Politeness is something that shows you are a mature person that is capable of handling any type of conflict that may ensue, regardless of whether it is at work, school or in your own family life. This is why you should rehearse what you are going to say.

Never use foul language, slurs and by all means do not even think about putting your hands on the person! Many schools and employment organizations have zero tolerance policies towards verbal and/or physical abuse towards anyone! In the long run, this worth much more than being fired or even having assault charges filed against you.

3.) If the patronizing behavior continues, it should be discussed with whoever is in charge of the administration of the organization. Like I said, patronizers who continue to make a person upset are bullies! This is really the only time where I think it would be appropriate to discuss the issue via email. When you do so, be sure to keep in mind everything I said from the previous steps. (Stop it before it becomes a big issue, be polite but firm) Reiterate their actions, the steps you took to resolve the situation and the results. 

It should not be difficult for an administrator to understand why the person’s actions are offending you. Administrators who do not address disrespectful behavior in the workplace are not skilled enough to enforce rules of conduct for all employees. If this becomes the case, then I would consider looking for another job and resigning from the organization (while following their resignation procedure. See this article “How to Resign Gracefully”). 

(This tip can also be helpful for handling situations with your friends and family. After you have asked the person to stop, and they do not listen and understand why you are offended it is best to walk away from the situation.)

My former therapists approach which I described above was not the appropriate method towards helping me deal with issues in school, however I do believe that he wanted to help me. After all, he could tell that I didn’t want to participate in the sessions and he knew I didn’t like being asked question after question. He wanted me to step out of my comfort zone and stand up for myself. The truth was, it made me even more anxious and more uncomfortable. Going back to the Kathie Lee Gifford clip, I wonder how the friendship between Zach and Gram is going now. If that were me, I would definitely have some choice words for Ms. Kathie Lee after that hideous song. The refreshing thing about college has been that I have experienced no bullying situations yet. It is great to know that people are generally more mature and know that such disrespect is not acceptable.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for reading!

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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.

I hope you enjoyed reading!

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