Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moving Forward



One of the most prominent characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome is the inability to “let go.” It is just one reason why the public sometimes vilifies this population even when they understand a little about the condition. Our passion for holding on tends to rage against both common sense and the essence of life itself. After all, life is all about moving forward and putting the past behind us. “Letting go” is the advice that composes most motivational books and negative terms are attached to my attitude.


Obsession...perseveration…anger…dwelling…annoying…relentless...scary...unhealthy…


As I grow older, it has become easier to justify my refusal to deal with life and letting go.  The need to hold on has led to a substantial number of life accomplishments.  I was able to complete the entire Appalachian Trail back in 2005 for a Pediatric AIDS Foundation despite having no hiking experience.  Furthermore, almost twenty thousand dollars was raised for the organization.  There were plenty of times when I probably should have quit due to constant discomfort and mental suffering…but I continued.  Whatever agony I experienced on the trail would be temporary compared to the obsessions waiting for me back home if I made a premature departure.  My inability to let go has, in fact, cured me of the most tenacious symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome.  It has offered me a future when there once seemed to be nothing but doom on the horizon.  There was a time during my younger years when I could not control whatever came out of my mouth.  It caused me to ruin two careers in teaching and human service after graduating college with consequences that still linger today.  Placing myself into a career where I did not belong and would most certainly lead to disaster solved this problem.  I chose to work in a funeral home where it felt like I had hit the “Asperger’s Syndrome Lottery.”  The main clientele did not react either harshly or negatively if I actually did say something inappropriate.  On the other hand, I did a lot of work with the families who came in to mourn their loved ones.  Such an experience caused me to become someone I was not by pursuing skills that were not inherent…someone better.  One does not have to accept their realities if they are unbearable and life seems more like a “living nightmare.”  I am happy that I’ve given myself a future by refusing to accept my weaknesses.

Pushing against my own boundaries has often led to success.  On the other hand, pushing against the boundaries of other human beings has not always had pleasant outcomes.  Others push back just as tenaciously.  With a lack of support services and mentors who also had Asperger’s, all of my life lessons had to be learned the hardest way possible.  It eventually occurred to me that people do not like to feel controlled regardless of whether the intentions are benevolent.  Not every acquaintance enjoys receiving a long birthday card from Jesse A. Saperstein.  And former relationships are going to end abruptly and remain severed irrevocably for a plethora of reasons.  I began to accept these realities and form compromises.  Sometimes I would even compromise on the original compromise.  I also mastered the fine art of “backing off” and putting these obsessions on a backburner.  With my sense of Asperger’s naivete, I expected the rest of the world to show mercy based on the efforts I was putting forth.  This did not always happen especially in the world of online dating where survival and an avoidance of legal trouble is dependent on completely “letting go” and accepting a lack of closure in most cases.

My adventure in online dating began at least five years ago after I had ruined my two careers and the best I could do was the twelve-hour night shifts at an IBM manufacturing plant in East Fishkill, NY.  During my breaks (or when the supervisor was not looking), I would troll around for potential dates on the popular singles site, Match.com.  One day, I came across the profile of a beautiful woman who was not Jewish.  But that was the last thing that mattered at the moment.  She is a former special education teacher and, at the time, worked for Fox News.  I looked at her age and my mouth dropped open in shock.  The woman was a few years older, but did not look thirty-one years old in her profile photo!  It had to be a very old photograph.  But maybe she was just one of those individuals blessed with beauty that is not marred by age and/or the hardships of life.  My heart jumped when she consented to a meeting in New York City shortly after our first conversation.

The day I was supposed to meet this beautiful woman, our meeting was cancelled and never rescheduled.  Despite my disappointment, I tried not to take it personally.  (It is almost never personal when the rejection happens so promptly without provocation.)  I began to receive vibes that she just wanted to be left alone and had no desire to meet me in public.  Therefore, I made an effort to respect her boundaries and gingerly made contact in increments of a few weeks at a time.  Then it became six months.  And finally, I reduced my attempts to once a year in hopes she could handle that mild persistence.  There was more than physical beauty that promoted me to continue.  I always saw compassion and the hope she could see something special in me.  My most recent attempt to make contact was just a few weeks ago and this time I took a chance and let her know the main reason I continued to keep in touch.

I told her about my case of Asperger’s syndrome and how many obstacles have been surmounted over the course of five years.  And how much personal growth it took for me to “back off” in increments of one year at a time.  Even though I felt no personal shame in my past actions toward this beauty, I also apologized for doing anything that made her uncomfortable over the past five years.  Not only did she reply with a gracious letter, but consented to having diner with me in New York City.

For my peers with Asperger’s syndrome, I hope you see what may be accomplished through persistence and not letting go.  In six years, just about everything that was once destroyed by my inappropriate behavior has been rebuilt and I published a memoir with the second-largest publishing company on earth.  But it would be irresponsible to not discuss the dark side of persistence.  As my future date pointed out, persistence may also lead to police involvement, restraining orders, fears of being attacked, and accusations of stalking.  Knowing when to stop is critical.  When a person threatens to “take further action” or get the police involved, it is really time to stop…forever.  If not…try ”backing off” in increments of one year at a time and look outfor these signs to stop.  But judging from the events of the past week…a “responsible” amount of persistence may lead to persistently-wonderful memories.

It was possibly the most incredible night with a woman I have had in a long time.  I did not have to watch every word that came out of my mouth and offered the same courtesy to her, too.  If I said something that could have been construed as offensive, it was not held against me for the rest of the night like so many other dating experiences.  (When I claimed my lack of marriages and long-term relationships made me “pure,” I had to explain that I was not implying that she was contaiminated!).  The topics that were brought to the table were often negative and/or bizarre, at least according to the rest of society.  We also discussed our past romantic experiences (much of them negative).  Perhaps this night was the reward for all my suffering and freakish, bad luck.

There is a different kind of “letting to” that we should all try once in a while.  There is the “letting go” of all those who have condemned us as ‘damaged goods” and unworthy of a chance.  I would like to believe that I helped her along this path while talking about our favorite movies and countless other points of common interest.  I was also able to let go of the periods when my persistence was completely vilified.  As we held hands looking into each other’s eyes…it became clear we were not the same people from five years ago.  We are better, stronger, healthier, and know we have something to offer.  The waves commanded by Poseidon tossing our fragile self-esteem through constant squalls have made their way to calmer seas…at long last.

The days after our initial meeting have only reinforced the fact that I do not deserve to be judged on the ancient demons that used to ruin my life.  The old Jesse A. Saperstein from five years earlier would have called mercilessly and text messaged relentlessly.  He would have grown irritated when a woman did not text message him back in half-a-day.  Boundaries would have been trampled with little regards to other people’s comfort zones.  And most important, I would not have been honest about the condition that drives this persistence.  For every person who tells you how inspired they have been by your actions, there may be seven more who will remind you about something weird or inappropriate that happened several years ago.  I hope all my blog readers will reach a point where they take into account the Lion’s Share of progress they have hopefully made in recent years.  You will also understand that anyone who still condemns you over the mistakes from years earlier does not belong in your life.  On that note, I will keep you updated on what happens as I earn back my career in education despite past immaturity.  A conference with the superintendent of my old school district has been arranged for the start of 2013.  We shall see what happens…

I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.  If we continue to be a part of each other’s lives as friends or romantic partners…I will do everything I can to help her succeed professionally and build on innate strengths.  I’ll try to compensate for all those who have made her feel inferior.  If it does not work out, I will still be very proud of myself and know that I have something profound to give anyone who offers me a chance.  But please heed my words about knowing when it is time to stop and continue learning from my mistakes.  Life is much too short to make them all yourself!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MY “INSIDE EDITION” DEBUT AND THE LEGACY OF FEAR

Awkward…struggled to have a conversation…extremely intelligent…very few friends…loved to play video games…prone to temper tantrums.  Murdered twenty gimlet-eyed, innocent children for no reason along with six, unarmed women.  I have everything in common with the gunman except for the last sentence, of course.  Nobody wants to admit they have even one thing in common with a mass murderer, but it is important to admit to bitter honesty.  If that last sentence of carnage were taken out of his description then I would immediately come to the conclusion that this 20-year-old man also has Asperger’s syndrome.
 
I knew this day was coming and just was not prepared for the magnitude of monstrosity.  All sorts of people from all walks of life commit mass murders and other atrocities.  Evil is not confined to specific religions, ethnicities, or abilities.  Eventually there would be someone who is posthumously revealed to have had Asperger’s or waves his diagnosis around the courtroom like a white flag in a vain attempt to shave off a death sentence from his lifetime behind bars.
 
Like the gunman, I used to live a life of solitude and the only friends I had were ones set up by forced play dates on behalf of my mother.  During “Free Time” at Hillcroft Day Camp, I often preferred to be by myself peeling bark off of dead twigs or doing other weird activities.  My adolescence and early adulthood were often quite sad.  The lack of self-control and inability to filter inappropriate comments cost me two careers in Human Service as well as Teaching.  There were moments of profound rage during this period of stasis and career impotency.  I was angry because of my own inadequacies and society was not allowing me to earn my life back despite steady progress.  The periods of hopelessness and rage continued as life seemed like it was showing little mercy.  But during this time, I always maintained my humanity and that is the whole point.  Adam Lanza may have had a very sad life and never received too many of the breaks that most people enjoy at least once in a while.  But he was also not human.  He may have been human at one point in his life, but lost any kind of respect for human life when he chose to enter that elementary school classroom.
 
        
I mourn for the victims of Newtown, CT and am also scared for my fellow peers who live with Asperger’s.  There are definitely people who show compassion and know that Adam Lanza does not represent someone on the autism spectrum.  But other people will be swayed only by their fight-or-flight response and will not want to take a chance.  For the past seven years, I have been struggling to return to the field of education after a rough start.  I cannot help fearing how this is going to affect my journey as a member of a already-misunderstood and vilified population.  The gunman will create fear after his cowardly act and death that we must confront right now.
 
 
 
This is a time of action and the autism community will join the rest of society in helping the people of Newtown, CT heal after these unspeakable horrors.  But they should also not be shy about advocating for themselves or letting the gunman’s legacy dictate fear for the rest of society.  Last Monday, December 17th I had the chance to make a difference by traveling to New York City to film an interview with the television show, “Inside Edition” that will hopefully air sometime in the near future.
 
I definitely had mixed feelings about this rare opportunity to speak out in such a grand scale.  This national, television interview came at the expense of 26 innocent lives, but it is important to make sense of tragedies by trying to make something good come out of the anguish.  Sometimes we must laugh as hard as it may be.  “Humor is the nectar that we squeeze out of our profound anguish.”  I took the train into New York City with fear of saying the wrong things, but wanted to focus on the reality that the gunman is a freakish anomaly and not a representative of anyone in the autism community.
 
The interviewer was a young woman named, Emily, only one year older than myself.  She made me feel at ease even as I sat in a chair with blinding lights.  The setting was more like an interrogation room in one of those crime movies and not the fake living room of the Today Show, but my words flowed with surprising ease because of her kindness.  Emily asked whether there is any link between Asperger’s syndrome and acts of violence.  I gave her my best answer.
 
 “Individuals with Asperger’s are capable of violence in the sense they are as human as everybody else.  Human beings are known to commit crimes of passion or may react strongly if provoked long enough.  But no human being with or without a disability is capable of what the gunman committed in Newtown, CT.  My peers have a much greater chance becoming a victim of a crime than a perpetrator, as well.”
 
 Emily asked more questions and I tried to very cautiously give her the best answers.  I even got a little bit personal and revealed the extremes I have had to go through to give myself a fighting chance in society.  I worked at a funeral home for a while to condition myself to stop blurting out inappropriate comments.  My rage was never a threat to the rest of society and merely motivated myself to continue pushing for better realities.  My anger was the catalyst for a bestselling book and skydiving adventure.
 
 Unlike Adam Lanza…my failures and disappointments eventually waned.  I still have not been able to earn my old life back, but am putting teaching on a backburner while embracing my new reality as a public figure.  Like many of my peers…I have little ability to “let go” and will keep pushing.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if nothing worked out for me as an adult and my failures continued.  I would have been miserable, depressed, and could have given up hope.  But no matter what…my humanity still would have remained intact.  I would never have reached the breaking point and gunned down twenty-six innocent lives.
 I am still waiting for my words to air on “Inside Edition” but my interview has been temporarily scrapped in favor of more pressing news stories.  It is the nature of the media and nothing personal.  They always go with the story that takes more of a priority.  But I thank Emily and the rest of “Inside Edition” for understanding this tragedy will affect more than the victims of Newtown and my peers deserve a voice.
 I would like to say a few final words.  We have a right to be angry and search for blame in this senseless act.  But I wish society would stop villain-izing the mother, Nancy Lanza and treat her as one of the victims.  How could she have known?  Maybe she and her child were only able to bond over this common interest and he showed no traces of violent tendencies until that fateful Friday morning?  My kooky interests such as donating blood every two months and skydiving have separated me from the rest of my family. The only way my father and I are able to bond is over our mutual love of Blackjack at casinos.  Maybe she needed that bonding or anything at all.
When a person loses both their parents…they are known as orphans.  When a person loses a spouse…they are described as widows.  There is no existing word for when someone loses a child because it is just too damn painful!  Perhaps this will change and those who have survived the death of children will be called, “newtowns.”  They should have this legacy because they are surviving this tragedy with dignity and are not displacing any anger on my unique peers.  The legacy of the heroic children will hopefully live forever as the legacy of the gunman dies soon…

Friday, October 26, 2012

RETURNING TO THE SOURCE OF IT ALL AND EVERYTHING


Nostalgia is a powerful weapon and everybody holds onto those pleasant memories of those days of yesteryear and times of yore!  And despite all the painful realities that did exist...my generation has much to be nostalgic about when we reminisce!  

We were the last generation to enjoy primitive video games where we could function without the constant bombardment of relentless, and addictive, game play found with Angry Birds as well as its brethren.  We experienced the lushness of economic prosperity in the eight years of Bill Clinton.  Recession and Depression were merely buzz words from years before we were born.  There were definitely realities we should forget, but it is my choice to hold on for dear life.  I have never been able to let go and this perseveration may be attributed to some of my life's biggest successes.  It is why I completed the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail and published a book back in 2010.  I choose to hold onto the bad stuff.  This is partially why I returned to the yin-yang symbol of beauty and ugliness.

On the date of Thursday, October 18. 2012 I had the privilege of delivering a speech to the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) of the Arlington Central School District.  Back in 1996 - 2000 there was no such organization in existence.  There was also no IMPACT program, which thrives in the middle and high school.  The IMPACT program caters to mostly students on the mildest end of the autism spectrum.  It exists to provide a haven while letting them experience the rest of the school community.  Most important, it always reinforces the notion there is something to fight for and everybody has something profound to offer those who give them a chance.  There was plenty of bullying during the days without an Anti-Bullying Movement.  There were 
also teachers who failed to understand that my uniqueness was something to be nurtured and not a flaw that needed correction.  But somehow, with the absence of our modern understanding, I was still able to thrive within the halls of Arlington High School.  The mercy not delegated from my peers in class was obtained in many of the extra-curricular 
activities that I tried over those four years.  Life was marred by traumatic bumps like an intense, six-month case of cyber bullying back in 1999, but it is not hard to find nostalgia.

On that Thursday evening I had the gift of giving a semblance of hope and realistic advice to parents with kids in the Arlington School District.  They are worried about the present and future.  Like my mother and father, they may want to instill in their kids a sense of normalcy and help tone down their eccentric behavior.  They are hurt by their child’s isolation and want them to be embraced with the rituals of dates to the school prom...tasting victory in a sports game…and all the rituals that are supposed to speckle the high school experience.  My mother and father frequently told me, “You can be as weird as you wish.  But keep in mind there are going to be consequences.

The social isolation would be far less intense if we could accept one inalienable truth.  We are all a little weird in our own wonderful ways.  Wonderfully weird, if you will.  I brought out a cup-and-ball toy and started playing with it.  Then I invited an audience member on stage and she got into it.  This silly, “inappropriate” toy became addictive and fun.  It was important to remind the audience that when they learn their child is affected by a lifelong disability…they experience a whirlwind montage of milestones that may not come to fruition, such as those corsages at the prom, standing ovations, nights out with friends at the movies and other venues of teenage euphoria.  These moments in my childhood have been few and far in between, but they have definitely thrived just a little.  And the greatest way to help their children is by focusing on continuous and relentless compromise.  No matter how ridiculous or age-inappropriate a problem may seem…it is important to first focus on the compromise before trying to force a determined child to “just let it go.”  I have come to accept and embrace this characteristic a long time ago.  I cannot and will not let go or move on.  I have instead learned how to compromise, put something on a backburner, and the most effective quality of all…move forward.

There was an unusual amount of passion in my words that night despite the fact that I was still fighting off the aftermath of a horrific cold that brought me to my knees for a solid week.  The passion was also very personal because of the lessons and contrition that the Arlington Central School District infused in my life long after I had left the classroom.  When I graduated college and completed the Appalachian Trail…I decided to take a small step backwards before moving forward with my life.

My college education had been devoted to taking English and Educational courses because it was my career path to be a teacher.  Every test pointed to this career and I was also aware of my power to make a contribution.  My immaturity coupled with the Asperger’s syndrome ruined these prospects.  Six years ago in 2006, I attempted to substitute teach within the Arlington Central School District and was met with disastrous results.  As I explained to the audience, my outbursts in the classroom were not involuntary like Tourette’s syndrome, but they were as close as possible!  It was not an uncommon occurrence for me to pull a stunt like answering my cell phone in the middle of class or make a reference to the overpowering sexiness of Eva Longoria from Desperate Housewives.  This was the first time in my life when I realized there would be brutal and long-term consequences for behavior exacerbated by the demons of Asperger’s syndrome.  And there have been consequences that have haunted my life for six years.

The Arlington Central School District was the only school that was fair in terminating my employment during those days of pain and harsh lessons.  Other schools made up reasons such as, “You accidentally told a student your name is Jesse instead of Mr. Saperstein” and “We did not feel you related well to children.”  Returning to advocate for the abilities of the current students and myself was both powerful and cathartic.

The past six years have been spent building my life back and proving that I am not going to be a liability in future, employment venues.  I have taken on jobs that were initially not for me and I certainly did not belong.  But they worked out when they should have failed.  And with that said, one of the most important qualities that will lead to success for those on the autism spectrum is this same tenacity.

I am never going to stop fighting for myself as well as those students struggling to build back their life after a rough start.  It was clear the audience was ready to join me!  Every day there is a little more to fight for as well as the hope that I may someday return to the familiar halls as a Human Sequel and become more of a consistent voice for my peers…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CLEANING MY ROOM (BOTH LITERALLY AND METAPHORICALLY)



I have never claimed to be perfect and having a case of Asperger’s tends to exacerbate these imperfections (at least according to public scrutiny).  But there are plenty of private imperfections that cause me immense shame.  I know I could be better and these quirky weaknesses tend to rage against my adulthood.

For some reason, I have always had a great deal of trouble keeping things clean.  It never starts off as messy and the process is painfully gradual.  This is the way most disasters occur.  Credit card debt…grotesque weight gain…drug addiction…and messy cars or rooms progress with the speed of a tortoise from hell.  My former nickname for my silver Toyota was, “The Mobile Landfill.”  The only reason the front passenger seat was clean is because the garbage had been continuously thrown in the back.  When I did have a guest it was shameful.  At times, I was also ashamed to be a role model for the boy with Asperger’s I mentor at the Poughkeepsie Children’s Home.  How could I side with his staff about keeping his room clean when I could barely do this with anything in my own life?  At long last, I decided I had enough and bought the largest box I could find at the post office.  Alas…my car sits in the driveway as a recently-polished gem and the box of debris sits in the basement.  I am positive that most of the box contains useless papers, but will still go through it someday to figure out what is quasi-valuable.  The car was defeated and the mess had died.  But there was a more formidable disaster waiting to be conquered.

Most nights I ended up sleeping on the couch, which is probably why I also starting going to the chiropractor for most of the summer.  But it had become somewhat hazardous to navigate a path in my own bedroom on account it was filled with garbage and bags of newly-washed clothes that had never been put away.  Not all of the boxes were mine and over a period of a calendar year, my mother had turned my personal space into an unofficial storage room.  But MOST of it was my own doing and I had nobody to blame but myself.

In the movie, “Limitless,” the protagonist played by Bradley Cooper is a procrastinating writer living off a book advance and in his own filth.  One day he takes a free pill with a value of hundreds of dollars.  An alien, electrical potency erupts in his brain as he starts writing his book just days before the publishing company’s deadline.  The book is written in just a couple of days.  Another sense came over him during the same time period.  “I suddenly realized that I had to clean the house,” he says.  The apartment quickly becomes spotless with his newfound motivation.  I did not take a fictional pill, but the same light went off in my head the other day!

My electrical impulses of motivation started firing at around eleven o’clock at night the other day just out of the blue.  I looked through the doorway at the pathetic state of affairs and realized this had gone on long enough.  Furthermore, I had run out of lame excuses that seemed justified due to my public speaking schedule.  Now…here was a block of time without any significant commitments that would allow me to move heaven and earth.

For the first time in many months, my block of space looks like someone else’s bedroom.  And there is nothing BUT space!  The “room” technically sits in a huge box in the basement along with my “car.”  But it is finally clean and I am “square with the house.”  The challenge will be continuous just like any other aspect of newfound self-improvement.  It is difficult for those with Asperger’s syndrome to maintain a sense of self-esteem and mercy in a world that fails to delegate either.  For now, I am able to look at myself in the mirror and clean out some of the neurotic anguish cluttering up my own mind!  Furthermore, I have shed the chains of hypocrisy when lecturing the boy I mentor about being more responsible.  That is enough…for now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MY EMOTIONAL ADVENTURE FIGHTING BULLYING IN BUFFALO, NY



On the date of Thursday, October 4th, 2012 I had the privilege of delivering a lecture at the University of Buffalo, which was sponsored by a company called, People Inc.  People, Inc. runs the Museum of DisABILITIES just down the street.  A man named Doug gave me a tour of the museum that paints the bitter realities of how those with “differences” have been viewed throughout history.  They were known as “imbeciles” “idiots” and “morons” more recently than we would like to admit.  It is hard to imagine these terms were once freely tossed around in educated social circles and/or were seen as politically correct.  But even with this unvarnished view of history…some aspects of the tour stood out like fine lines of sunlight fighting their way through tight blinds.  There were the occasional sports heroes and I learned the hand signals in baseball were germinated from the first hearing-impaired player around the start of the last century.  Furthermore, there were a nice number of individuals who decided that they could not live with the miserable realities that clung to “their kind.”  I witnessed historical examples of individuals who really played the horrible hand they were dealt in this life.  Some people with disabilities found their niche.  Those with dwarfism ended up posing as fantastical creatures in movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and even had shows to raise money for their conditions.  I have some faith they were very happy while playing the hand they were dealt.  The exhibit also talks about those who were exiled from their communities and even deported from this country out of fear their imbecility would contaminate the normal population’s gene pool!  I am sure there was a lot of bullying during those days and it would take another museum to do it justice.


Bullying is a merciless reality for so many individuals these days and it is especially tenacious for those individuals who suffer from disabilities.  We have evolved in society so that someone with a very noticeable physical or intellectual disability is not tormented.  We were taught better than that in early childhood.  You know?  Don’t stare at someone with a disability!  And how dare you laugh at that man in the wheelchair?  You know better.  But what about that grey area where someone just seems like a kook or is abnormal?  Maybe they have a disability or are just downright weird?  But the purpose of my visit to Buffalo was not to determine who deserves to be made fun of and who is entitled to be left alone.  As is the case in all of my presentations, I try to emphasize bullying is a disabling misery that leaves newly-disabled individuals in its wake!

The auditorium at the University of Buffalo was vast enough to accommodate hundreds of attendees.  They started off the night by screening the movie, “Bully” that paints a brutal and somewhat-hopeless portrait of schoolyard torment.  It is haunting and now I understand why most theatres refused to show it.  People tend to flock to the movies to escape their troubles.  But  “Bully” has the effect of making you relive the horrors of junior high school.  The main subject in the movie is a painfully-awkward child named, Alex Hopkins, with oversized lips.  He is one of the survivors, however.  One of the most wrenching scenes involves a child in a casket who has given up in the worst way possible.  There was really only one way to end the abuse…

The movie is not possible to describe in a blog entry because it is too painful.  It was a terrible movie because there was no ending that gives a semblance of hope of this epidemic ever getting better.  Perhaps this is the whole point because it is time for us to finally write our own ending!  My subsequent speech was received with modest applause and minimal book sales (compared to the other presentations), but it was the only time when I did not mind so much.  The night was all about the movie and I believe the audience was too emotionally-drained to stand up and cheer.  I would like to thank the Weinstein Company, the kids depicted in the movie, and all those involved who made us want to rise that particular night.  The greatest lesson I learned from “Bully” is how, “Apathy is the glove in which evil slips its hand.”  Therefore, it is time to rise!



Saturday, September 29, 2012

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY OF A LIFETIME…


In life we must give things up at a relentless pace as we grow older and having Asperger’s does not make things easier because one of the most challenging aspects of this condition is the inability to let things go.  I no longer have time to write people long-winded birthday cards and even my favorite pastime of skating the night away at Hyde Park Roller Magic has been usurped by adult responsibilities.  Therefore, it becomes ever the more special when we seize back what has been lost whenever possible.  If I cannot give up adult responsibilities or childlike whims of fancy then perhaps it is possible to combine the two entities.

I work with an incredible co-worker named, Tannequa (whose name I probably misspelled).  Her little 3-year-old boy had his third birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s by the South Hills Mall and it was on a weekend when there was a lot to get done.  (Actually…every weekend entails A LOT to get done!)  I had heard that one of his passions is Sponge Bob Squarepants that transcends all ages and boundaries.  Therefore, I made a choice to purchase him a DVD from Amazon.com featuring Sponge Bob episodes that are Halloween-related.  Little snippets of benign horror that I thought would be perfectly appropriate for a little boy who was just barely out of the Kingdom of Toddlerhood.  And that is one thing…understood!

For a second, it was tempting to merely attend to these adult responsibilities and call it a night.  I could give her the belated gift at work in two days and it would not make much of a difference.  But at the last minute it was my choice to make a pilgrimage to Chuck E. Cheese’s and devoted my time toward giving a little boy his fantastical birthday.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world caved into their adult responsibilities and neglected to show up.  There were no guests except for myself.  I scanned the arcade for a semblance of the games, which speckled those moments of my childhood when it felt like I was in Seventh Heaven.  And they were no where to be found.  Pac Man…Donkey Kong…Pinball Machines with a labyrinth of surprises…are practically obsolete.  The only pinball machine was a sad eyesore that was “Out of Order.”  They have been replaced by arcade games of chance whose reward comes in the form of a couple of tickets.  His mother and I got to work trying to win as many tickets as possible while finding games that were appropriate for his skill level.  The one game that really paid off was Sponge Bob Squarepants where all Trayvon had to do is drop a fake coin to land on the green part of Sponge Bob Squarepants and not the lesser characters like Squidward.  Apparently…the pitifully cheap prizes cost about five hundred tickets and we only had about 150 tickets.  I contributed two dollars of my own money to cover the difference and little Trayvon walked away with his Sponge Bob Pick-up Sticks in a state of gimlet-eyed bliss.

The euphoria and magic were present for all of us and I will try to remember this whenever the adult world threatens to take away all that is left.  Someday I will return to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.  And I have reserved Roller Magic for my 31st Birthday at the end of March.  On Halloween I will also stay up all night long to carve my Jack O’Lanterns and even Trick-or-Treat to a few houses that “know me.”  Better yet…perhaps I will have a good excuse to engage in these age-inappropriate pastimes.  The purpose will be, of course, to give another little boy an amazing birthday and because I made a promise.

The birthday party caps an incredible few months working alongside Tannequa in the kitchen of Anderson Center for Autism (ACA).  She has been an incredible help and even gave me a piece of those childhood days of yore back.  Tannequa has my phone number and may give me a phone call anytime she needs an extra seat filled for another birthday celebration!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jesse Saperstein Speaks at Woodbury Middle School, Wednesday


A Presentation for Members of the Region 14 Community

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 
6:00 - 7:30 p.m.

Woodbury Middle School - Gymnasium
67 Washington Avenue
Woodbury, CT  06798

 Please RSVP to Joy Geraci (jgeraci@ctreg14.org) or 
Debbie O'Leary (DOLeary@ctreg14.org)

RSVP - (203) 263-4306

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jesse Saperstein to Speak in Millbrook New York, April 21





Jesse A. Saperstein is a best-selling author, autism advocate and motivational speaker. He is considered one of the most respected leaders in the Anti-Bullying movement of his generation. Jesse also has a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome (AS). Individuals with Asperger's are impaired by a profound lack of social skills, common sense, and resistance to change in routine.



Jesse's story, "Atypical: Life with Asperger's in 20 1/3 Chapters," was published by Penguin Group (USA) in April 2010 and immediately became a popular memoir due to its practical advice and outrageous humor. The book quickly rose to the top of Amazon.com and placed Jesse as a dynamic media personality, motivational speaker and most important, an advocate for people with disabilities.



After receiving a grant from the Anderson Center for Autism (ACA) in Staatsburg, New York, Jesse completed his first skydiving jump in front of his community in an effort to eradicate bullying.  "Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012" is currently a popular video on YouTube:  www.youtube.com/jessesaperstein



Jesse visits schools on a regular basis and has been successful with wiping out bullying or at least dramatically alleviating it with every presentation. He is currently working on initiatives to pioneer a middle/high school class in New York State that will be similar to Health, but will focus on educating young people about misunderstood disabilities as well as the psychological and legal consequences of bullying.  The class will be called, "Lessons in Compassion."


His talk at the Merritt Bookstore & Toys of Merritt on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. will cover his wacky misadventures with mortuary science and substitute teaching.  He will also focus on strategies that have helped him survive in the social world, such as compromising on the original compromise and laughing once in a while.  ("Humor is the nectar that we squeeze out of our profound anguish.")  And most important, it is important to look into the mirror once in a while and give to ourselves what may not always come from someone else!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

HOLDING ONTO THE GLORY OF MY BIRTHDAY!

Photo by Maribel Lopez-Gabiger
The older we become, the more we are forced to let go of and it never stops. In fact, it is absolutely relentless. For me, it was devoting two weeks for writing Holiday Cards. This used to be one of the most profound joys of returning from a semester at college that always came with social and academic challenges. I would become immersed in nostalgia and the joy of all things related to the post office. But the mounting responsibilities of the adult world took that away, too. Little by little, I also had to watch my old friendships and acquaintanceships completely disintegrate. The older you become…the less people want to stay in touch unless you serve a direct purpose in their life. And as I continue to become more busy as a professional writer, I am finally crossing over to the dark side. There are fewer people I want to remain in touch with because there is just never enough time in the day and it is nothing personal. But we cannot let go of everything regardless of how age inappropriate it may seem. When we lose everything…we are left with emptiness! I’m still holding onto Halloween for dear life and the joys of celebrating my birthday every year.

Technically speaking, my technical birthday was stolen by the adult world. On April 2nd, I was forced to wake up by six a.m. to begin a day of radio and magazine interviews related to Autism Awareness Day, which also fell on April 2nd. The sacrifice was justified by the realization that I was using MY day to promote the gifts of Autism. But it was not enough. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that I just made up two seconds ago: “The celebration of one’s birthday is a prism of one’s soul.” Now…what do you think about THAT?!

Two days earlier, I ended up having my 30th Birthday Celebration at a children’s roller skating complex called, Hyde Park Roller Magic. I am the second oldest person to have their birthday celebration at this childlike utopia. But birthdays are celebrated on my terms. My original plan was to celebrate turning thirty at Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or some other gambling mecca. Such plans are almost always unrealistic unless they are planned in advance and the host pays for everything. Most people have families, lives, and/or prior plans. Roller Magic was the next best alternative to this solution. It turned out to be an amazing fit for everyone.

In a typical Aspergers-ish fashion, I ended up opening my birthday to the entire community and sent the invitation to almost all of my 3,000-plus Facebook friends. It would have been great if total strangers showed up or friends of friends. “Any friend of your is a friend of mine.” At least thirty souls showed up at the complex and they were all cherished friends from the community. Even the Dutchess County Commissioner of Health came to celebrate with his family. There were no questions or snide remarks about the “inappropriate setting” for a thirty year old man. I had full-blown acceptance, which has been my lifelong goal all along.

The climax of my birthday came when the staff allowed me to dress up as the Roller Magic Mascot, which is a composite of a giraffe and one of those fantastical creatures from the 1990s Disney animated cartoon, “The Wuzzles.” I foolishly did not warn my friends that it was me inside and tried to send a flamboyant hint by grabbing the incomparable, Shannon Lashlee who was my old supervisor at the funeral home. She was pulled in the middle of the “Hokey Pokey” mayhem and spun around. (It was extremely hot and uncomfortable inside that suit. I have profound sympathy for those poor souls entombed inside the suits at Disney World!)

A few hours before my big day…I even found time to attend the Dutchess County Anti-Bullying Walk on the Hudson River Walkway. Brendan Caldwell and his amazing sister, Julia were two of my guests at Roller Magic and here is a photograph of us posing on the Walkway!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesse A. Saperstein Urges Nation to ACCOMMODATE AUTISM, 1 in 88 children has disorder

30-year-old autism advocate, best-selling author and motivational speaker Jesse A. Saperstein says this World Autism Day, April 2, should signal the start of America accommodating those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Saperstein, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome (AS), says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest research is showing that 1 in every 88 children is diagnosed with an ASD. Saperstein says this reinforces what the nation has known for a long time – autism needs to be addressed immediately.

“Autism is an epidemic that seems to be growing grimmer with less hope of reversing its severity,” says Saperstein. “As we fight for answers, whether they may be scientific or spiritual, our collective mission should be to adapt the world to accommodate those who are affected by this enigmatic disorder.
Reverse the bullying, knee-jerk impressions, and irrational fear that have marred so many lives as we open our eyes to the gifts that have finally allowed me to succeed as an adult with autism."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDP), the new statistic is a 78% increase since the study first began in 2002. The latest figure reconfirms that autism is more prevalent than juvenile diabetes, childhood cancer, and pediatric AIDS combined. ASD is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication challenges, and restricted, repetitive, or stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include milder forms known as Asperger's syndrome (AS), Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) and Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Saperstein, who earlier this year began an Anti-Bullying movement across the country for individuals with autism, says he will continue to spread the message and needs others to join him in the crusade. Saperstein’s video, “Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012” (www.youtube.com/JesseSaperstein) has become a popular staple on You Tube and is being screened at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN on Thursday, April 19, 2012.

"Let this be the first generation to enjoy acceptance while having something to fight for. It cannot get better someday. It will become better TODAY," says Saperstein.

According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, children with Asperger's may be more prone to bullying because they are often placed in mainstream schools with “typical” students. The Institute also said certain behavioral traits including clumsiness, poor hygiene, rigid rule-keeping, talking obsessively about a favorite topic, frequent meltdowns and inflexibility may make children with an autism spectrum disorder more vulnerable toward abuse.

Saperstein urges the public - children and adults - to find their own unique way to become heroic.

"It's time to advocate for those who deserve a friend. Or give somebody a voice that has been silenced by abuse and ignorance. The person you fight for today could be the life you're saving tonight."

"Jesse changed my life," says 10-year-old Todd Weaver of Hyde Park, New York. "I see my Asperger's like my super power now. Jesse really made a difference in my life, and now I want to help other kids like me in the same way."

Saperstein visits schools on a regular basis and has been successful with stomping out bullying or at least dramatically alleviating it with every presentation. He is currently working on initiatives to pioneer a middle/high school class in New York State that will be similar to health, but shall focus on educating young people about misunderstood disabilities as well as the psychological and legal consequences of bullying.

For more information about Jesse A. Saperstein visit www.jessesaperstein.com.

For speaking inquiries and press interviews, contact D. Plump Consulting at pr@dplump.com.


About Jesse A. Saperstein:

Jesse A. Saperstein is a best-selling author, autism advocate and motivational speaker. He is considered one of the most respected leaders in the Anti-Bullying movement of his generation. Jesse has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome (AS). Individuals with Asperger’s are impaired by a profound lack of social skills, common sense, and resistance to change in routine.

After graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2004 with a BA degree in English, Saperstein set out to conquer the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail to benefit the Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation. He began hiking from Georgia to Maine on March 9, 2005 and successfully completed the journey on October 18, 2005, raising more than $19,000 for children to attend summer camp who had contracted HIV/AIDS through prenatal transmission. Shortly after his hike ended, Saperstein was exposed to some of the cruel realities of living as an adult on the autism spectrum and was treated as a social pariah by members of the community who did not understand. His decision to write a book was an opportunity to escape these realities and advocate for his peers who are not always granted a voice.

Saperstein’s story, “Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters,” was published by Penguin Group (USA) in April 2010 and became a popular memoir due to its practical advice and outrageous humor. He chronicles his misadventures and extremes to improve his social skills. The book quickly rose to the top of Amazon.com and placed Saperstein as a dynamic media personality, motivational speaker and most important, an advocate for people with disabilities. After receiving a grant from Anderson Center for Autism (ACA) in Staatsburg, New York, Saperstein completed his first skydiving jump in front of his community in an effort to eradicate bullying. “Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012" is currently a popular video on YouTube (www.youtube.com/jessesaperstein). Saperstein resides in Pleasant Valley, New York.

For more information about Jesse A. Saperstein, visit www.jessesaperstein.com.

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