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

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

Hans Asperger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Temple Grandin (2009 HBO Biopic)

Most of us on the Autistic Spectrum know who Temple Grandin is. She was the very first person to change the face of Autism and the livestock industry. Actress Claire Danes portrayed Ms. Grandin in a film about her life, simply titled “Temple Grandin”. I wanted to write about this movie because it is very important to me. I say that because she was raised in the 1960s, and very little was known about Autism. I am not going into great detail about it, but I want to tell you about a few of the characters and some scenes I liked in the film. The film portrays what life was like for people on the spectrum during that time period. When it comes to helping other kids with my diagnosis, I must say we have come a very long way. However, we still have a very long way to go. I want to emphasize that I do not believe in a “cure”, but I do believe that we still need to do a lot more in the way of researching and finding ways to help kids on the spectrum. (Especially those who have experienced similar struggles to the ones I have been through).

One thing I really enjoyed about this film was the opening scene. She stood in the Ames room, introduced herself and explain that you need to think differently when watching this film. I thought that was a perfect way to open the movie, because it helps the viewer realize you need to try to see the world as Temple sees it. She “thinks in pictures”, which means she is a very visual thinker. When she was younger, she didn’t understand that her style of thinking was quite different from everybody else. She worked in the cattle processing industry, and she would often ask very complex questions about the systems they used. People would often become frustrated because they couldn’t answer those questions. They were very detailed questions, and a neurotypical person often doesn’t think about the detail. When she designed systems for the cattle industry, she noticed many things that can cause the cattle to balk or become frightened. People would leave articles of clothing and equipment hanging on the equipment and on the floor. In her TED.com speech, she talked about how she noticed how the waving of a flag would cause the cattle to become frightened or stubborn.

There were also people who didn’t embrace her mind and they didn’t believe her systems would work. She also had to learn how to put up with harassment from some of the more ignorant people in the industry. When she was researching how cattle acted, she would often go into the chutes to see the things cattle were seeing. People obviously didn’t think that was “normal”. It was frustrating for her because many of the people in the slaughter-house were very uneducated and hostile. In one scene, they dumped bull testicles on the windshield of Temple’s car. I also noticed how they workers would stare at her and laugh when she became angry. The film portrays some of the prejudices she had to endure not only because she was Autistic, but also due to the fact that she was a woman. After I had the opportunity to watch the entire film, I watched the movie again and listened to the audio commentary. The writer, executive producer and Temple herself discussed all the scenes throughout the movie. She mentioned that people eventually started to respect her when they actually realized her systems not only worked, but they were more humane and efficient.

During the 1960s and 1970s, people with Autism were usually institutionalized.  It was not an enjoyable experience to be put in an institution, Understanding of Autism took a turn for the worst in the 1960s, thanks to Bruno Bettelheim. His theory stated that lack of bonding between the mother and the child caused Autism.  Luckily, modern technology and research has shown that he was indeed a fraud. Autistic people were mainly thought of as infant schizophrenic until the late 1960s. Temple’s was very fortunate to have such a dedicated and loving mother, Eustacia Cutler, because she obviously wouldn’t be the person she is today if it were not for her. She was one of those mothers that refused to institutionalize her. She knew she could become somebody in the future. I hope to buy the book “Thorn in My Pocket”, which was beautifully written by her Cutler. It explained her fight to make her the person she is today.

Aside from her mother, Temple was also fortunate to have her high school science teacher, Dr. Carlock as a mentor. I firmly believe that everybody (Autistic or not) deserves at least one person who will set a good example and will always respect you. I consider Aaron from Computing Workshop as a friend and a mentor. I started spending time with him three or four years ago, and he was still in high school at the time. It felt great to know that somebody was actually excited to see me, because nobody at Freeport really was. David Strathairn portrayed Dr. Carlock, and he was probably my favorite character in the movie. He used to work at NASA, and Temple got along with him really well because she was interested in science. I liked him because he was one of those dedicated science teachers who would always show their students interesting things. He was also one of the few teachers who actually recognized Temple’s visual skills and actually tried to understand her Autism. Dr. Carlock really convinced Temple that it is important to study and do well in school. He also encouraged Temple into going to college. In life after high school, Temple sought him for advice quite often, until his death.

As I said in the very beginning of this blog, understanding of Autism has really come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s. However, we still have a very long way to go. Public high schools are not set up right for kids on the spectrum, you know that from the experiences I have written about in the past. Public schools are not doing enough to educate faculty, staff and students about this disorder. I am trying the best I can to help people become aware about Asperger’s and Autism by writing my blogs. I am proud to say that 5,537 people have clicked on and read my writing so far. Every time people read my blogs, they become more aware of this disorder. Even thought we will not fully understand Autism, we most certainly can raise awareness and research ways to help kids on the spectrum. I do see this happening in the near future!

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Re: Temple Grandin: “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds” (TED.com)

You have heard of my horrible experiences when I was a student at Freeport. My freshman and sophomore year were full of bullying and disrespect from people who didn’t understand that I was different from everybody else. I felt like they spoke an unknown foreign language. People didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them. Asperger’s and Autism didn’t become a well-known disorder until the twenty-first century. When my parents were in high school they did not have learning support programs, social workers and social skills groups for these kids to learn they skills they needed for life. I must say that we have come a long way, but we still have a lot to work on. While Autism will never be fully understood, there are many things about society that need to change.

Temple Grandin recorded a fascinating lecture on Ted.com that described how her mind works. I must say it was one of the most fascinating online speeches I have ever listened to in my entire life. She stated that her mind works like Google Images. Words coming from another person instantly become movies in her head, equipped with sound. In her TED lecture, she described a scene in the movie. Her mother said the word “shoe” and images of shoes popped up in her head. During the 1950s, people had the common misconception that people with Autism would not amount to anything in life. Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders were usually sent to mental institutions. They had no idea about the continuum of traits from Autism. Anytime they would hear the word “Autistic” they would think they are non verbal and psychologists would recommend they go to a mental institution.

When I was a student at Freeport, I absolutely hated math and science classes because it mainly involved reading books and taking notes. I looked around and noticed that students falling asleep and looking out the window. That obviously meant they were not the least bit interested in the material we were going over. During 10th grade I had physical science during eighth period, the last class of the day. This speech directly relates to another topic I have posted several blogs about.

To reiterate my Lenape blogs, I talked about how Freeport tried to make a standardized test score out of me and not the best person I could be after I graduated from high school. Every day I had a structured learning support period. The learning support class is pretty much a structured study hall. It pretty much consisted of completing homework you didn’t do at home, or reviewing for upcoming tests. Every day I would complain about how much I hated that particular test I was studying for and I would say the material was pointless. My teachers would then respond “Derek, you can complain all you want but this material will be on the P.S.S.A tests and you need to take the class to graduate”. I then decided to keep my mouth shut because arguing would result in a trip to the office. After that, I would think “so what, I will never use this crap after I graduate so why should I care about this class?”

This is directly related to another point Temple made during her speech. There are many teachers out there who are not certified to teach but have a degree in science fields like biology, chemistry, physics or music. Any person in this country can get the certification to become a teacher, but the question I would ask my self if I were hiring a new teacher would be “are they willing and able to show how this particular class can apply to the real world”? I admire the fact that it is part of the curriculum at Lenape. They prove to you that they don’t make you learn algebra, trigonometry or geometry just because it is a graduation requirement or it is on the P.S.S.A tests. In our Technical Communications (English) class, we are required to write an essay about a career related to our chosen technical field. It has to be five paragraphs long, and you are required to put citations from your research sources at the end of each paragraph. After the essay is thoroughly edited and completed, you are then required to give a ten minute speech about the career.

Freeport requires juniors to give a ten minute speech about a career you wanted to pursue in the future. You are randomly assigned a teacher to grade you on the speech, who most likely doesn’t know enough about their chosen career. I had to give a five-minute graduation speech during tenth grade about a chosen career field, and I chose an Electronics Engineer. My English teacher obviously knew nothing about the career, so she gave me a 100% for the effort, because I only knew general information about the career field. The graduation requirement for your senior year at Lenape is more hands on. You are required to present a twenty-minute demonstration of a hands on task related to your technical area. It has to be ten minutes long and you must use correct terminology when identifying any of the equipment you are using. I am in the electronics program, and I will have to do this project for my senior year. You will have to explain how each component specifically functions in the circuit.

There is one more thing I will have to keep in mind about my job skills project. It will be graded by somebody that is in the industry. Simply put, it will be graded by somebody who works in a profession related to my chosen technical area. I will have to make sure I not only know what I am talking about, but that I am dressed appropriately and practicing proper safety techniques. A twenty minute long presentation is a lot to prepare for, especially when it is a graduation requirement. The best thing to do is think of this presentation as a learning experience. In the future, you never know when you will have to demonstrate something.

Temple Grandin is the reason many people on the Autistic Spectrum have gone to college and obtained successful careers. Usually, the so called “obsession” these individuals have when they are kids could have their children obtain a successful career in something related to it. I completely agree that schools need to stop teaching abstract skills. I never functioned well in classes like that, especially abstract math. If you can prove to me why I need this in real life, I will do well in the class. Lenape changed my opinion about school, and I think there need to be more full day technical and academic schools with a similar curriculum as Lenape. Education as a whole needs to become less abstract and more specific and related to the real world. If that changes, I feel we will have less students falling asleep in class and looking out the window and not being interested.

Click Here To Watch Temple’s Lecture:

“Not Everything That Happens Is Equally Important in The Grand Scheme of Things”

Think about the last time you had a really terrible day. I am sure every single person on this whole planet can come up with something. Your car breaks down and you have no other way to get to work. If you have read the book “Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships” by Dr. Temple Grandin and Shaun Barron, you have heard them mention that people on the Autistic Spectrum often think of the world around them as black and white. If you go back to my blog about honesty, I mentioned about how Shaun Barron didn’t like the board game he received as a gift from his friend because he already owned that same game. In his mind, he wanted to show that he was angry, and that he already had the gift. He just said I remember when I went to the Wesley Wonder Kids social group in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania they had a discussion about “big deal” versus “little deal”. A little deal would be something that only affects you right this moment, and that shouldn’t have an effect on you in the future. An example of a “little deal” would be somebody accidentally sitting in your assigned seat in the classroom. All you have to do is kindly ask them if they can move, or find another place to sit. However, and example of a “big deal” would be if somebody purposely pushed you into moving traffic. If you got hit by a car you could have been severely injured or even killed. The person who shoved you could also have faced charges.

Shaun Barron mentioned a “little deal” situation when he got extremely angry.  He went with his family to a Dairy Isle, and he ordered a chocolate shake. Anytime he would order a drink, he had this “rule” that was always very important to him, he wanted his drink to be filled completely to the top. When he finally received it, he saw that the drink was filled to just under the line. It was only two-thirds full. He was filled with anger, and he refused to touch the drink. To get rid of his anger, he decided to stomp on the cup until it was completely destroyed. I can imagine he felt a sense of relief after destroying the cup, because that was how he got rid of his anger. I can relate with Shaun very well in this example, there have been many situations where I have dealt with “little deal” situations inappropriately. One example was when I was in second grade at Buffalo Elementary School. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Coyne, and we were outside at recess. I was extremely bored at the time, and I decided to go sit on a swing. I walked up to the swing, and just before I sat on the swing another student said “I was going to use that swing”. I didn’t see him walking to the swing when I tried to sit at the swing. We then got into a verbal argument and he tried to grab the swing from me. I don’t remember what was said, because it was so long ago. I tried to come up with a way to show him how angry I was for telling me not to sit at the swing, so I then went to punching him in the stomach. One of the playground monitors saw me, and reported it to Mrs. Coyne. When we came back in from recess, she gave me a lecture and my punishment was lunch detention for a week. At the time I didn’t care that I was punished for the situation, I didn’t care that the situation was wrong, I was furious that he wanted to use the swing that I started to use. Looking back at that situation now, I realize that I reacted inappropriately. I think that we both of us acted inappropriately, I think this person should have just moved on and found another swing to play on. When he told me that he wanted to play on the swing, I should have done the same thing, but I didn’t, I reacted in a way that got me into trouble. That was a perfect example of a “little deal” situation. Later on, most people would think that a situation like this would be just a dim memory, I am sure that people wouldn’t even think about a situation like this later in their lives. I talked about this situation because it was a perfect example of many of the social skills that individuals on the Spectrum don’t understand.

Aside from big deal versus little deal, this rule also means you should not get upset about all the negative things that happen in your day. Shaun mentioned in the book that he got upset about a very minor situation, such was the case when they talked about his school changing the daily schedule. I had a very similar  situation, last year I toured the Lenape Vo tech school in Ford City, Pennsylvania. I was very impressed with the opto electronics program, they had a great instructor, named Mr. McCauley. He was one of those enthusiastic instructors that really enjoyed teaching. He had a goofy type of personality, and he made it taught in a way that would make anyone understand what he was teaching. I went to the electro optics summer program at IUP Northpointe and he was one of the instructors there. There he taught the electronics portion of the program. The kind of teachers I can’t stand are the ones who stand there and talk with an uninterested monotone voice. Most public speakers who talk in a monotone voice show that they either are not interested in the topic, or they just don’t know what they are talking about at all. That is one thing I have noticed. Most of those teachers stand there and talk for the entire class period, which is extremely boring! Mr. McCauley did do quite a bit of lecturing during the short time he taught during the summer program, but he was interesting to listen to. His enthusiastic attitude influenced me to realize that not all teachers are going to be grouchy, uninterested, over payed individuals who hate their job and every person on the entire planet. He inspired me to stick with what I want to learn for a future career, even if it means I will have to deal with the other kind of “teachers”, the ones who hate the world and all who live on it. I am sure I will have to deal with a few bosses like that, and I shouldn’t let them get to me either. Last year I went to Lenape and observed the opto electronics class, and I found out that Mr. McCauley was going to retire. Even though I didn’t get to know him at Lenape, I am still glad I got to meet him and have him as a teacher at the IUP summer camp. I am glad there still are some interested teachers out there who mostly enjoy their job and who like seeing their students succeed. In my opinion, grouchy uninterested teachers need to retire or find something else to do for a living. I am sorry if you are offended by this, but that is my honest opinion.

My final thought about this rule is that it shows me to not worry about the people and situations that piss me off and try to ruin my day. Anyone who tries to belittle me in any way, or that thinks I have problems means that they have problems themselves. When someone tries to belittle me I think I should just sit there and laugh about how stupid they really are. When I look back at my memories from junior high and high school, that is one of the things I am going to do! People who stand there and make fun of me need to get a life and find something better to do. Life would be so much easier without people like that! Unfortunately, I will have to deal with many of them. I want to ignore people who act like that and just keep on being myself.