Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is it Destiny?

Many questions are raised when it comes to autism.  Is is undeniable that autism is an issue where some action should be taken.  The differences rise when deciding what should be done.  How much money should be spent on autism research?  What is the true cause?  Is it singular or circumstantial, meaning is autism caused by one reason or can many different factors react in different ways to cause autism of various severity?  Many of those questions will not be answered in my life time.  I don't really expect them to.  What is clear to me is that I have a role to play.

I have a unique perspective of autism that can be shared through my writing.   I have been trying to do that in various ways in the past few months through this blog.  Feedback of any kind really helps me because I can come up with ideas, insights, aspects of my life that I think could help someone to better understand the spectrum as I see it.   Without any feedback, I feel like am just blundering forward, without any clear idea of whether my ideas are making a difference or not.

I know that a writer can never understand the full impact that their work has on the people who read it.  There will be critics for every declarative statement.  Not everyone will agree with what I say.  Not everyone will see the practical value of my words.  Let it be known that I am my own greatest critic.  I drive myself crazy over details of my writing, even those factors that I cannot control.   After I write something that will be read by others, I run over the outline in my head.  Of course there are parts that I think are pretty good.  The more I look at it, however, the more I see that could be changed. I make a point of not changing my blog too much after I post them.

I am a real worrier and everyone who is close to me will concur with that statement.  I drive my family crazy, fretting over aspects of my life, most of which that I can't control.  I worry about my classes.   I worry about work.  I worry about this blog. I worry about what I say is actually making a difference.  I know I can't control how many people read my blog and what they think.  I really worry about what people think of me.  That is the big thing.

I know that I have autism and that I'm a writer.  That has to count for something in this world.  My psychiatrist who I have been visiting for more than ten years told me that someone who both has autism and can exhibit insights about their condition through writing is very rare.  When we concluded the appointment, we both stood up, he shook my hand, and wished me luck in my writing endeavors.  That is something that I will never forget.

I first sat in that office as a depressed twelve year old who knew he was different and wasn't okay with it.  I wanted to fit in.  Now I know as a member of the autistic community, it is my fate to tread upon paths that have never yet been ventured.  Being different than others is not something that I accepted when I was younger.  I still fret about it these days.  I just have to tell my self that I have a gift.  I should use it.  The rest will take care of itself. 

So is it destiny?  That I have the ability to write about my autism?  I don't know the answer.  I just know that I'm going to keep on writing and do the best I can.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Autistic Story, Post Three

I am going to continue Chris’s story through this post, which was intended for my second post for this week.

I sat down in band class, watching the my chattering classmates.  Placing the elongated trumpet case on my lap I opened it and began to clean out the valves.  I found myself wondering: what would the world be like if more people were like me?  Would more things get done?  Would greater emphasis be placed on pursuing self interest rather than trying to flock together, to be the most popular?

My trumpet was simple to put together.  Don’t get it confused with a cornet.  It is true that they have a lot in common, but cornets are smaller than trumpets.  And besides, trumpets are better.

I had Ms. Cambridge’s band class second hour, which was right before Mr. Ike’s statistics class.  I like band better than statistics because there is less talking and more devotion to a single task.  In this case, we are busy preparing for our Spring Concert.  

I haven’t always liked band as I do now.  A few years ago, back in middle school, I really wanted to quit.  All I cared about at that time was making first chair.  I didn’t think that I stood a chance, since I have autism.   When I started high school, I also started marching band.  In marching band, I found a level of acceptance that I had never found before from my classmates.  

 I don’t talk to them as much as I feel like I should, but at least I have people I can talk to now.  I never thought I would meet someone who understood what it was like to feel panicked and crazed if my favorite show was interrupted.  I certainly didn’t find that back in middle school.

While writing this post, I tried to give an impression of how I felt joining the marching band and continuing playing my instrument in high school.  The difference in this case is I play the clarinet rather than the trumpet.  While I know a little bit about the trumpet, I couldn’t make a sound out of it when someone let me try one time in high school.  And that was not through lack of trying.

Another point I wanted to make in this post is that, while autism is a big part of the life of someone on the spectrum, people with autism are more complicated than that.  There are spans of time when I am so busy with school and work that I hardly think about my autism at all.  I just carry out the motions necessary to live my life and don’t give it a second thought.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lights! Camera!! Action!!!

I am going to deviate from my post this week about the fictional autistic story I have been writing.  Instead, I am going to talk about an extraordinary program offered for children with autism at my own school, Oakland University.

The Oakland University Center for Autism Research and Support (OUCARES) has been hosting a Film Camp designed specially for children on the autism spectrum. For two weeks, autistic kids ages ten to eighteen starred in films that they themselves created.  They wrote, acted, directed, and edited their own films. They had the assistance of a professional film crew, lead by actor/director Joey Travolta.  Joey is the older brother of the well known actor John Travolta.

Joey was courteous and professional when I was introduced to him.  He shook my hand and was interested in my writing about autism.  We couldn't talk for long, because he was busy in the final preparations for the film camp. For about an hour, I walked around to see the different areas of the film camp.  While I was watching the editing process, a young man with autism pointed out to the crew member that they had already seen the clip of film displayed on the screen.  The crew member pointed out that they had to replay the clips to make sure that they cut the scene precisely.  Truly a learning experience for everyone involved.

In another room, a crew member was coaching a group in acting.  There were about two dozen students all sitting in a semi-circle facing the white.  The acting coach was calmly instructing the kids in an activity almost like charades.  He plowed on, regardless of whatever autistic behaviors were taking place.  He would raise his voice slightly if the noise level got too high.  In the activity, one of the kids would get up in the center of the group.  After he took a bow, another member of the group would try to guess what he or she was pretending to be.  One boy pretended to play video games, and another boy mimed hitting a baseball.

It is the dream of many young children to be a part of a movie.  As a child with an exceptional imagination, I always dreamed of being a part of some sort of film.  For many individuals on the autism spectrum, that dream often never leaves their heads as the odds are too great for them to become a part of a real Hollywood production.  This is truly a dream come true for these kids.   I witnessed many bright smiles today.

On Saturday October 15, the films will be "premiered" on campus at Oakland University to celebrate the accomplishments of the participants.  The ticket price is $25.  To purchase tickets for the event, visit the following website

Monday, August 22, 2011

Waterford Diner Supports Autism Research

Earlier today, my brother and I went out for lunch at a local diner Bryan's Neighborhood Coney.  I was seated facing the door and the rumble of traffic on Elizabeth Lake Road in Waterford.  On the wall surrounding the window, I noticed a handful of sheets of paper hanging on the wall.  Each sheet displayed a light-blue puzzle piece with someone's name handwritten in the center.

I immediately recognized the puzzle piece as a symbol for autism.  Bryan's Neighborhood Coney is currently collecting money for the organization Autism Speaks for autism research.  As I was eating, another customer commented how few donations the diner has received so far.  I do not know how long they have been running this campaign.  I made sure, before I left, to donate some money for the great cause.  I encourage my readers to do the same if they can.

Not only will you get great food and friendly service at Bryan's, but you can also, support a great cause!  Bryan's Neighborhood Coney is located at 3861 Elizabeth Lake Road, right by the traffic light at the South Roslyn intersection.  The telephone number is (248) 681-1739.  Stop by to support a great cause as well as great food.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Andrew's Story

This achievement by someone on the autism spectrum is not recent, but I think that it is worth noting the magnitude of this accomplishment.  Almost three years ago, a young autistic man named Andrew Pegg of Frostburg Maryland, who was twenty two at the time, received the annual Personal Achievement Award from the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services and the Maryland Rehabilitation Association.  Andrew owns a small business Andilla Designs and Graphics.  Andrew is nonverbal and communicates only through writing.

Andrew has overcome an hoard of barriers in his lifetime to achieve something that few people achieve, even when they do not deal with the issues dealt by those on the spectrum.  He found what he did best, and makes money doing so.  As of December 2008, Andrew was very active in disability groups, composing slideshows to illustrate his points.

This is the website I used to find out about Andrew's achievements.

Autistic Story, Post Two

In this post I am going to continue Chris's story.  In last week's post, he solved a complicated word problem in his head and reflected on his lack of social knowledge while in the hallways at school.  Now, he is at home and without further ado, I will continue the story:

          The time has come.  This is my favorite day of the week.  I could never forget about it.  I sat on the couch staring feverishly at the TV.  My little brother wasn't home yet, which was good because I wanted to be left alone.  Not that any of them bothered me, they knew how important this was to me.  How could they not, after living with me all this time.  The jingle theme announcing the beginning of my favorite show came across the TV screen and I leaned forward.
         I recited the words as the announcer stated them.  My eyes did not even raise to meet those of the flashy TV detective.  Any second now, it would be my favorite part...
         MY world fell apart as the screen changed a news bullitan talking about some breaking news story.  My eyes bulged.  I blinked several times to ensure that I was truely seeing it.  They had interrupted my show.  MY show, to talk about a stupid bank robbery?!  I let out an inarticulate cry, causing my mom to come running into the room.  I rocked back in forth, my mind seething with shock at the indignity of it.  How could they cut off my show?  I was counting on it!  It's the one sure thing in the world!  Always at four thirty on Thursdays, it is always there?  I didn't understand why it wasn't there this time.
      I am bigger than my mom, so it wasn't easy for her to calm me down.  The bullitan ended, and the show resumed.  I had missed several minutes of it, but I picked up on the lines without any delay. My world was once again at peace.  My mom, realizing that it was safe to let go, gave me an affectionate squeeze then returned to the kitchen to make dinner.  I did not even glance up.  I was at peace.

Through this post, I tried to give an inside look of how someone with autism might feel if there was a break in their routine.  I feel these feelings on a smaller scale, I intensified them to give my readers an idea how someone with Aspergers Syndrome might feel.  Keep in mind, that each individual is different and this is my interpretation of the feelings experienced during sensory overload.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Learning to Read

When I was younger, I really had better things to do than learn how to read.  There were toys to play with, and movies to watch, and friends to play with outside.  I really did not want to sit down and look at the words on a page.  My mom made me.

I remember being forced to sit in my doorway to read Dr. Seuss' "Are You My Mother?"  In the book, this little bird hatches and falls out of his nest. Throughout the story, he keeps on asking both other animals and inanimate objects whether they are his mother.  He does not give up until he finds his real mother. This book can symbolize my mom's actions.

My mom held me in her lap, and held the book in front of us.  She tried to get me to read the words on my own.  To me, it was agonizing to stay and one spot and not be able to leave until I read this book.  The book was probably fifteen pages long.  To me, it seemed much longer.  I was perhaps four or five years old at the time.

I was stubborn, I whined and struggled and argued against reading.  However, by age twenty three, I have realized that I cannot outdo my mom in an argument she believes strongly in.  Although she got frustrated at times, she did not give up on me.  Over time, and much repetition of that very same book, I was able to read it on my own.  Ever since then, my mom has helped me to not only read the words off a page, but to seek out books on my own, to read.  All the time through, I fault against what I thought was difficult and altogether something that I did not want to do. 

We went to the library all the time.  She had no trouble getting me to read "Star Wars" books, but she tried to get me to read many 90's book series.  The Hardy Boys, The Berenstein Bears, The Littles, The Magic Tree House.  My problem was once I got comfortable with a book, I did not want to read anything else.  Another problem I had is I would not read each word, but skip around the page until I gathered the meaning of what was being said.  In the end, my mom's persistence won.  By middle school, she was tired of trying to get me to read.  I still wasn't reading up to the standard of other students, but I was now seeking out new books on my own.

I guess I have to say that the moral of this story is that persistence paid off in my case.  Don't give up, no matter how hard it is.  There is always a light at the end of the dark tunnel, a silver lining during the heart of the storm.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Meet Eric Sissom

For my first blog post about an autistic achievement, I went to a few websites to see if I could find a recent event that occurred within the past week.  After searching through several major newspaper companies, and not finding a single recent event, I resorted to Google to try to find an achievement made by someone with autism.  After some searching, I stumbled upon Eric's personal website.

Eric Sissom was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at age fourteen.  He has documented a large portion of his personality, his beliefs and interests, and many of his autism symptoms.  I has quite surprised when I read that milk gave him an almost nicotine type "high."  Eric will soon graduate with a Master's Degree in Information Systems from Middle Tennessee State University.  This is quite an accomplished young man.

There is no specific accomplishment to report here, as I had intended; just another success story that proves that those with autism can find a place within society and excel in the talents that have been given to them.

To view more information about Eric and his many insights into autism, visit his website at

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Autistic Story, Post One

In a post last week, I stated that I was going to begin a story about an autistic teenager.

So, let us now enter Chris's mind:
Like the rest of the class, I examined the problem on the board: You have four bins of tennis balls, and one of the bins is defective.  Each tennis ball is supposed to weigh one ounce, the ones in the defective bin weigh point nine ounces.  You have an electronic scale that you can only take one measurement with, how do you determine which of the bins is defective?
I finished reading the question and thought for a moment, my brain refusing to tackle the problem.  A line from a movie I had watched recently entered my consciousness.  The lines echoed in my head, Alec Baldwin's character following a trail of logic to solve a problem.  I tried to imitate that logic in my head and apply it to the problem.  I hit a wall, and thought about it some more.  I had a path to follow, but how do I distinguish between the bins.  Then it came to me, just like that.
I am a complete genius, I thought with triumph.
I quickly raised my hand.  I was the first one out of everyone in Mr. Ike’s statistics class.  I savored times like these like no other.
“Yes Chris?”  Mr. Ike looked eagerly at me.
I took a deep breath.  “I have the answer to the tennis ball problem.”  I said quickly then I stopped, my thoughts beginning to collapse.
“Yes, go on.”  Mr. Ike prompted me.
I was aware that the whole class was watching me.  I began speaking again, instantly my brain kicked into action: “First you have to label the number of bins as one, two, three, and four.  Next, we know the defective rate so we can use that to solve the problem.  Take one tennis ball out of the first bin, two out of the second bin, three out of the third, and four balls out of the fourth bin.  Place all of the tennis balls on the electronic scale and take the only reading we are able to.  Divide the weight given on the scale by the defective rate and you will have narrowed it down to the one bin with the defective tennis balls.”
There was silence in response to my answer.  I ducked my head, aware that every one of my classmates was staring at me.  Mr. Ike was staring at me too, but he was smiling.
“You are absolutely correct Chris.  Very good.  Now, did everyone understand that?”
There was more silence so Mr. Ike started explaining my answer to the class.  I wasn’t listening.  I was savoring the moment.  I had just solved the problem that no one else could.  And I did it all in my head.
*              *              *

I walked through the crowded hallways of school, keeping my eyes on the feet of the person in front of me.  I wanted someone to stop me and talk to me, with some sign of recognition, but that never happened.  Then I worried myself over what I would say if they did.  I always seemed to freeze up in social situations, I couldn’t help it.
I had received some appraising glances from my classmates as I let the Mr. Ike’s statistics class.  It had taken several explanations before the rest of the class understood.  I felt that everyone was watching me, wondering how I could skip several steps to solve the golf ball problem in my head. I just took a different caliber of thinking.
And yet, I still felt unsatisfied.  It didn’t make any sense to me how I could be so smart, and yet so…I don’t know.  Clueless.
I have autism, but at the same time it is not autism.  I know that doesn’t make any sense.  My official diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.  It is basically autism that cannot be placed into any of the major categories such as Aspergers Syndrome, or anything like that.  I can solve problems like Mr. Ike’s tennis ball problem by skipping steps, performing mathematical analysis in my head.  And yet, it doesn’t seem like I have what it takes to approach new people in the hallways in school to make friends.  It was something that I would just have to accept about myself, over time.

(In Chris's story, he solves a problem first that the class is trying to figure out. I did not make up this problem, if anyone was wondering.  I did solves an identical problem in a college statistics course last year in my head.  I was told by the professor that his more advanced undergrad course, a Spreadsheet Modeling class, was unable to solve that problem in an hour, and I was able to solve it in my head in in twenty minutes while the professor went on with his lecture.  That event formed the basis for this story, which, I admit, was written long before I decided to start a blog about autism.  I tried the best I could to recall the process I followed while solving the problem, and put that process in a form that someone else could understand.   The second part of the story is not based off of any particular event, but through that I tried to imitate how I feel moving through large crowds, such as the hallways in a high school.)

A Revelation Decision

I have talked about my retail job in previous posts, where I have discussed my new position in the clothing department.  Over my nearly five years of working there, I have considered knowledge of my autism to be private.  I only revealed that information to people I took into my confidence, people who I believed would have an understanding of the condition and what it really means.  I haven't always taken into account the my type of autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, is not typical for autism by any means.  I have learned that even if I reveal that I have autism, the question remains: what do I expect someone to do with that information?

My autism is not typical for the spectrum.  PDD-NOS is the category the doctors place people who match symptoms of autism that do not fit into any other category.  I have discussed this before in previous posts.  By choosing to reveal my autism through this blog to a number of people I have never seen face-to-face was a large step for me.  However, while at work the other day, I took an equally large step.  I told my boss at work that I had autism.

As I said, I have taken a number of people into my confidence at my retail job to inform them of my condition.  I no longer start these significant conversations by saying "I have autism."  I introduce the subject by saying to the person in question: "have you ever heard of autism?"  This allows me to figure out exactly how to approach this person and how much explaining I need to do.  I have approached people in the past who have never heard of autism before, which put me into the position of explaining (often poorly) what autism was and then revealing that I had an unusual form.

Over the past five years, I have never told the management at my retail job that I was on the autism spectrum for various reasons.  I was hesitant because I did not want to be treated differently than everyone else.  It was an ongoing argument I had with myself for the past few months. I felt that I needed to give an explanation, so that the fact that I avoided everyone's eye contact did not get interpreted wrong by my boss. 

So when I did decide to finally tell my boss about my autism, I was not sure if he would understand.  He told me he never would have noticed.  It turned out that he did understand.  During the rest of that day, I saw that he kept on changing how he gave me directions to figure out what worked best.  I could not ask for any more than that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Note to My Readers

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I have decided to reorganize my  blog to get out of the rut I have found myself in.  During the past few weeks, my blog has been very spontaneous, with little to no planning involved.  I literally did not know what I was going to write until I sat down at my desktop.  I feel that it has been affecting the quality of my writing.  So, starting next week, I am going to use a new formula that I have developed to organize my blog posts.

I have been consistently posting three times every week, so I am going to keep it that way.  During my first post of the week, I am going to be flexible and write about whatever that is on my mind concerning the autism spectrum.  That will allow me enough room to keep the thought process moving.

For my second post of the week, I am going to do something a little bit different.  I am going to use the advice given to me by Valerie West of The Oakland Press a few weeks ago, and chronicle an ongoing fictional story seen through the eyes of an autistic teenager in various situations.  I think that doing it this way will give more information to my readers than simply talking about topics.

For my third post each week, I am going to catalog a real world event that occurred that particular week concerning the autism spectrum.  I have done this a few times already in previous posts.  If any of my readers have stories they would like me to report to the public, feel free to email me at, preferably with contact information, so I can get a hold of you for more information.

I would like to thank all the people who have kept up with my blog during the past two months.  I hope this new direction I am taking will help people to gain more insight into autism spectrum disorders.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Autistic Basketball Star

I am going to take a moment to talk about a high school basketball player who earned national attention for his performance in a game back in 2006.  Jason McEwain, who was a senior at Greece Athena High School in Rochester New York, scored twenty points in four minutes.  "Swish" went the basket as Jason made a number of clean three pointers, many of which made no contact with the rim.  Jason has high functioning autism.

Jason earned national media attention and has become an inspiration to many who struggle with autism.  Even Former President George W. Bush was enthusiastic to meet the teenage star. "I feel like a celebrity," Jason was quoted in a CBS News article. 1

I remember watching this on a news broadcast during my own senior year of high school.  I can imagine how Jason might have been feeling during those four minutes. It may have been the greatest moment of his life, receiving the gratification from his teammates for his accomplishments.  I give the coach a lot of credit for allowing Jason to play that game.  Not everyone would have done that.

Interested in watching Jason's performance?  Click on the link below to view the news story as it appeared on CNN.

1 Dakss, Brian. "Autistic Teen's Hoop Dreams Come True." CBS News. March 1, 2010.  August 1, 2011.