Friday, October 26, 2012


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 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


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


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!