Monday, December 29, 2008
I first went into the woman's office so we could discuss what I would be talking about in the meeting. She and another woman who co-runs the group were there, and at first, they seemed perfectly nice and eager to have me speak to the group. But the primary woman kept insisting that I say something to the women along the lines of how I was told that I could join the group, but felt that I wouldn't be able to because of the distance, and so I chose to speak at it instead. I understood her reasoning for this after she told me that the women in the group questioned why I was speaking to them instead of being a member myself. That made sense to me, to try and appeal to the women and not alienate them, but I couldn't and still don't understand why this woman seemed to be treating me as though I were like the other women in the group, and not someone who'd come to speak to them.
I need to explain that last part more clearly, because I know it sounds strange the way that I said it. I do not, in any way, shape, or form, think that I am better than the women who are in that support group. The reason that I no longer attend support group meetings is because I never really felt like I fit in at them, and although they did serve a purpose at one time, I am no longer at a point in my life where I would need a support group as that type of resource. I have friends with whom I speak and share my triumphs and woes, not to mention the fact that I also tell my parents pretty much everything. So I'm no longer at a juncture where a support group would be of great assistance to me, but in no way am I demeaning the value of the group to these other women. I would rather another person be in the group instead of me, if they could get more out of it and have it be more useful to them than it would be to me.
That said, I tried explaining all of this to the woman, but I don't know if it really got through. She kept saying to me that I should tell the women how I still have my own issues to work on--which I do, this is true, and I can understand it being said for the purpose of inspiring a spirit of camaraderie and friendship--but I felt like her point in saying it to me was for a different reason. She just kept reminding me that I'm "one of them" ('them' being the other women in the group) and that I could come to a meeting anytime to work on my issues. Weirdness abounded as her repetition of the phrase grew, and I became ever more uncomfortable.
I know that I'm not what one might call an "authority" on anything. I have no capitalized letters after my name, nor any really notable accomplishments to speak of up to this point. But why on God's green and verdant landscape would she ask me to speak to this group of women if she didn't think I had something to share with them? If she didn't think that I've achieved something that they haven't? If I really am "one of them," then I should be sitting in that group engaging in what certainly felt like organized and staged dialogue; conversations facilitated by neurotypical puppetmasters. If there's one thing I despise about any support group that is run by individuals not on the spectrum, it's that: the almost plasticine need to force conversation between the group's participants. Their intentions are all well and good, to be sure, but it still irks me to have to listen to their tones of voice sounding so faux enthusiastic.
Maybe I am reading too much into this and misunderstanding it all, as per usual. But my encounter with that woman has made me question everything about myself and my so-called "expertise" as a public speaker. The truth is, when it comes down to it, the most important thing isn't what that woman or any other group facilitator thinks of me; the most important thing is if I was able to reach the participants in the group, if I was able to make sense to them and help them in some way, even a small way. I've never encountered a situation like this before, where I felt a sort of lack of respect coming at me from the facilitator of a group. I know that I'm on the spectrum, but I'm there speaking to other women who are also on the spectrum, and frankly, I think I'm better equipped to be running that group than that woman was. Call it blasphemous or crazy if you like, but how or in what way could she know how to talk to those women or get them to open up better than I could? I don't know. I just don't know.
I fear now that perhaps I am not being taken as seriously as I thought I was; that teachers in schools or support group leaders don't see me in the light that I thought they had. The director of Special Ed in the Port Jefferson school district hasn't contacted me since I waltzed into his office over the summer with my curriculum vitae. Yet, I heard from my father that a woman he ran into recently (who used to be the tenant in our old house that we rent out and who was one of my nurses in elementary school) had herself run into this man, and he'd been raving wildly about me. Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake here or not quite understanding this all clearly, but I don't see how the guy could be raving about me when he hasn't spoken a word to me, electronically or otherwise, since August. Sigh. Respect, people. I don't think it's too much to ask for.
In other, far more random news, I got straight-As this semester (I got an A- on my research proposal paper, which is going to be the foundation for my actual thesis next year) and my GPA is up to a 3.53. I also have received news that the ARTS documentary that I'm in is locked and finished, and will be out on DVD in mid-January. So look for more tasty tidbits on that in here as I find out more info. I've also gotten back in touch with the literary manager in Los Angeles with whom I worked on ARTS, to seek her assistance in breaking into the world of television, and she's agreed to help me in any way she can. So, while I may not quite be ending 2008 with a bang, I think 2009 is going to get off to a rollicking good start. I'm just tired of things happening on other people's terms rather than my own, and so I think 2009 is going to be about making that happen. I just wish these bumps in the road with doubting myself and my abilities would go away for good. All in good time, I guess. All in good time.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Conference-wise, I spoke on the "Transitions to Independence in ASD" panel at Kean University's "Autism: Putting the Pieces Together" conference on November 21st. I had never even heard of the university or the conference until my business manager Nicole told me about it. She had initially asked if I wanted to vendor a table with her, as she was going to reserve a vendor table for her company, Learning By Design, LLC. I readily accepted her offer, and that was when she told me that she'd spoken to the woman running the conference and had told her about me, and now there was a possibility that I'd get to speak on one of the panels. We waited a little longer, and after not hearing back from that woman for a few weeks, I took the reins and sent her an e-mail myself, expressing my interest. She responded, saying that she'd love to have me speak at the conference on the "Transition" panel. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, this conference was different from ones I'd attended in the past, in that the keynote speaker was a proponent of DIR/Floortime, an autism therapy created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. In fact, the speaker was his own son, Jake Greenspan. I knew from my classes at school that there is no scientific evidence that validates the claims made by Greenspan. Indeed, there is not one empirically validated research study attesting to DIR/Floortime's effectiveness. But, I felt it best to go into the conference with an open mind, and I had not been shy about mentioning my affiliation with Caldwell College and the ABA program when asking to speak on the panel, so the fact that they wanted me to speak there had to mean that they were willing to welcome other disciplines and those who subscribe to them. That did make me feel more comfortable with being there.
My comfort level slowly started to decrease, however, when in his speech, Mr. Greenspan took a few shots at the methods and practices of ABA. Of course, he made a (thinly-veiled) attempt to disguise the fact that it was ABA about which he was speaking, but Nicole and I knew the truth. Now, I'm not one to take pot shots back at someone, but the whole time I was sitting there, all I could think was, "This guy is saying things, and at the same time, not saying anything at all!" It was baffling. I'd been surprised enough when he first came out onstage; I was expecting an older, bespectacled, somewhat nerdy fellow, perhaps one who wore a brown corduroy blazer. But, Jake Greenspan was, in fact, a hunky piece of man-beef to the nth degree. I was stunned. What was this could-be GQ model doing delivering a keynote speech at an autism conference? It didn't take me very long to catch on, though. He was a figurehead, a puppet for his father sent to represent him and his creation, DIR/Floortime. After all, who better to have standing onstage before an audience than a dashing young man who could easily woo and sway the masses? A very clever ploy, indeed.
Let's get one thing straight, though: this is not about finger-pointing or feuding. There are too many families, too many children and adults with autism spectrum disorders who need help and answers, to engage in petty, childish rivalry. That's what really grated my cheese about Mr. Greenspan's comments; instead of encouraging a partnership, instead of urging differing schools of therapy to work together and cooperate, he furthered an agenda of division and animosity. It's really just sad, because it's individuals on the spectrum who are losing out in the end. I'm not a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but I intend to do my absolute best to rise above trading jabs at conferences and vying for professional or personal glory. That's not what I care about. My interest lies solely with doing everything I can to raise autism and Asperger's syndrome awareness, and to help the people who are here now, fighting to survive in this world. That's what matters most.
A large part of the reason I haven't updated in so long is because on November 5th, I moved from my old apartment in Caldwell to a new one in Upper Montclair. I'm now living with one of my best friends, Dan, who is from Long Island. I feel that where I am now is a major upgrade from where I used to live, both physically and psychologically. Before, I was just renting a room in a house; now, the whole space (a third floor of a house) is mine (and Dan's). It's so relieving to be able to stretch my wings at last, and to be rid of the stressors that plagued me over the last few months. I'm still settling in and getting used to things, and the fact that this move was in the middle of the semester made things really hard, but it's becoming easier, bit by bit. I think this place is going to help me be much more productive, in terms of both writing my book and carving out a career as an autism liaison.
Finally, I have one more thing to share with you all: I'm in print again! I was interviewed by Liane Willey for the Winter 2008 issue of Autism Spectrum Quarterly magazine. Diane Twachtman-Cullen, the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, accepted for publication an article that I wrote (it'll be in the February 2009 issue), and asked if I would want to be interviewed by Liane for the "C.E.O." (Celebrations of Excellence and Originality) column, as a lead-in piece. I readily agreed, and the issue is now finally in print. I haven't received my hard copy yet, but my parents got theirs a few days ago, and I had my dad scan the article so that I could disseminate it around the Interwebs (and I will do the same when the February 2009 issue comes out). So, here it is! (Click on the images to make them bigger.) If the thumbnails don't work, click here and here to read the article.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
So, without further ado, I am proud to present my article, "Miss Peach Strikes Out," and a sidebar that I also wrote, "The Naughty Autie's Top Five Dating Tips for Girls with Asperger's Syndrome," both of which are featured in the Fall 2008 of the ASCEND Newsletter.
In other news, I am also excited to announce that another article I wrote, "I Can Cook, I Can Write: Prenatal Testing, Asperger's Syndrome, and the Journey to Existence," has been accepted for publication in the February '09 issue of Autism Spectrum Quarterly magazine! I am also being interviewed by Liane Holliday Wiley in the "C.E.O.: Celebrating Excellence and Originality" column for the November '08 issue, as a lead-in piece. So I will post links to the articles here as they become available. Don't forget to look for the hard copy issues on newsstands, too!
In terms of public speaking engagements, I have several events that are occurring this month. On October 19th, I will be performing a reading at Herstory's 12th Anniversary Gala Luncheon at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY. On October 26th, I am facilitating a workshop for parents of children on the spectrum at the Special Day for Special Kids event at the West Hills Day Camp in Huntington, NY. Finally, I am scheduled to speak at two social skills group meetings at the JCC in Manhattan; one on October 21st, the other on November 4th. I'll also be co-chairing, along with my business manager and friend Nicole Turon-Diaz, a vendor table at Kean University's "Autism: Putting the Pieces Together" conference on November 21st. There is also the potential that I may be speaking at the conference. I'll be sure to let you all know how that pans out.
This bears little repeating, but, I (obviously) have quite a busy schedule ahead of me these next few months. I'm also going through a bit of personal turmoil at the moment, trying to find a new apartment in which to live with my friend Dan, as my current situation is coming to a close and I'll need to move out of here soon. Sigh. So much to do, so little time. I'll see you folks at the next bend in the road.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I'm a member of a messageboard for fans of the director Kevin Smith. Last night, a member of that board made a thread in the off-topic forum titled, "Would you abort a pregnancy due to fetal Down's syndrome?" Rather than engaging in a sound, rational discussion, the person who started this thread resorted to tactless and emotionally charged statements such as, "I see no good reason to sire an individual who will never be self-sufficient" and then later in the thread referred to individuals with Down's syndrome as "glorified pets."
Suffice it to say, this thread struck a chord in me. I felt a real need to stand up and say something, and so I did. I think that what I wrote is quite germane to the topic of prenatal testing, and so I have edited my response and submitted it to the magazine/journal Autism Spectrum Quarterly for publication. For those wanting backstory, here is a link to the thread. Here now is what I originally posted in the thread:
"Let me tell you a little story.
Many years ago, I attended a meeting. It was one of several, actually, but each was the same. I sat in a conference room at my old elementary school, my parents on either side of me, and the director of Special Ed at the head of the table. The other faces at the table shifted over time; Dr. Stolzberg, the elementary school psychologist; Mrs. Sigda, the guidance counselor; Mrs. Levin, the speech-language pathologist in middle and high school.
But I was 11 years old at this particular meeting, right smack dab in the middle of fifth grade. I knew very little about what the adults around me were discussing, or why I was there. Words like "IEP" didn't mean anything back then. Only the grass and the long, asphalt path outside the window caught my attention, flanked by the red, yellow, green, and purple-painted walls of the school building. The sun was so hot that I could feel the heat radiating off of the pavement. The light was so bright that it hurt my eyes, in stark contrast to the darkness in which I sat. And my ears strained to listen to the sound of children's voices off in the distance; the sparkling, youthful laughter I longed so much to be a part of, but could not.
What I did not know then were the phrases of abject hopelessness being whispered into my parents' ears. Phrases like, "sheltered workplace," "special school," "will never go to college." I sat there, oblivious to all of this, never having any idea of how little faith the people who were supposed to be looking after me had in my own abilities. And no one in that meeting, or any meeting before or after, spoke a word to me, or asked me how I felt. Perhaps I would not have been so articulate in my response, but it was they who believed I was not capable of responding at all. How could they know what I could or could not do if they never asked?
I'm 25 years old now. I graduated high school with the rest of my peers. I went on to college for four years and obtained a Bachelors degree in English. I'm now in graduate school going for a Master of Arts degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. I cook. I shop. I do my own laundry. I drive. I write. I speak publicly at conferences, workshops, meetings. I tell jokes. I can still fit into my original purple Cabbage Patch slippers from the '80s. I tutor undergrads in the writing lab at school. I'm writing a book about my experiences in the world of relationships and dating. I can program pretty much any electronic device without looking at the instructions. I moved 3,000 miles away from home and lived on the other side of the country for two years. I memorize phone numbers and lyrics to entire Broadway musicals. I travel.
But, I do not pay my own bills. I do not have a "regular job." My parents pay my rent for the room in which I'm living in a house in New Jersey. Despite all of the things I've mentioned in my previous paragraph, I am not (yet) self-sufficient. And by your reckoning, Mr. Übermensch, because of this, I should not exist. I am a drain, both on the economy and on my parents. A waste.
I have struggled for a very, very long time. Although I have not had to do so explicitly, I have, in many ways, had to fight for my right to have dreams, to contribute to the world. And, to exist. There is no way to describe how I felt reading what you wrote. That you, or anyone, could feel that because I am not self-sufficient, I should not exist. Those people in that meeting years ago, those so-called experts, believed that I would never be self-sufficient. I admit that I am not there yet, and I have to deal with the constant fear of never getting there, the self-doubt that plagues my thoughts from time to time, especially late at night when I'm lying in bed, unable to sleep.
I know this reply is rather bloggish, and for that I do apologize, but this thread struck something of a personal chord in me. Individuals with Down syndrome deal with many difficulties. But I envy these individuals for one reason, and one reason only: the obviousness of their condition. The fact is that Down's syndrome is visible to the human eye, and when people see them, they know. And while I don't envy the stares and the gawking these individuals must contend with, the rude comments and questions which they and their families are no doubt bombarded with, I applaud them for being who they are, no matter what, especially in a world that feels they should not exist. They truly cannot hide who they are. I wear a mask, a mask of "normalcy." But it doesn't change who I am. It doesn't change the fact that sometimes I feel sickened by myself and the fact that my parents are supposed to be enjoying their retirement years instead of continuing to support me. I know they are happy to do it. But the guilt persists. And the last thing I ever expected or wanted was to find a thread on here that not only exacerbated that guilt, but even broadened it.
I have wondered often if my parents would have aborted me if they'd known that I had Asperger's syndrome. If they'd known that 25 years down the line, I still wouldn't have yet had a "real" job. And so I really have to marvel at anyone who can take all of these complex issues, issues faced both by individuals with Asperger's and their families, and individuals with Down's syndrome and their families, and boil it all down to a few chromosomes. I just hope that you'll never have to be in a position to fight for your right to exist as I and many others have had to do. I don't think you'll like it very much."
Ignorance is an ugly and difficult spectre with which to contend. All I really wanted was to make people think, even for just a moment. It's very difficult to shake someone out of their ignorance, and a fight over such things has nowhere to go but back and forth. What I want is to elevate people, to lift them up from where they are now and to show them something different. A view of the world that they've never seen before. That's why I'm in the field I'm in now, why I speak at conferences, why I'm writing my book. To educate people, to help them learn how to help people like me, people with Down's syndrome, people with all sorts of neurobiological disorders. That's one of the biggest reasons why the prenatal thing drives me bonkers--because as important as the lives of future people are, the lives of people who are already here matter, too. There are so many people speaking for the unborn, but hardly anyone is speaking for those who already exist but are not truly "alive," because the world has not given them the tools to be alive. So that's what I'm trying to do.
Edited to Add, for Clarification: I am vehemently pro-choice. I am not telling anyone not to abort a Down's syndrome fetus, and while I don't think I myself would have an abortion, I'll be damned if I'm going to tell another woman what to do with her body. I wrote what I wrote in response to the person in that thread calling individuals with Down's syndrome "glorified pets" and saying "I see no reason to sire an individual who will never be self-sufficient." My point is that he meant that Down's syndrome individuals aren't self-sufficient, but there are others of us on the neurobiological continuum who aren't, either; yet, people like me would never be seen as "glorified pets" (or at least I would certainly hope not). But his idea of self-sufficiency is one that reaches across the spectrum of disorders, not just Down's. So my point was that how long would it be before prenatal testing comes to exist for Asperger's and autism? Already, 90% of Down's syndrome fetuses are aborted. My fear is that rate applying to fetuses with autism and Asperger's if/when prenatal testing for those disorders comes to fruition. That's all that I meant. I certainly do not mean that I face the exact same issues as individuals with Down's syndrome. But I have had just as many struggles, and my point is that people with Down's are more recognized--people see them and know they have a problem. People don't see that with me, don't see that I might not be as high-functioning as I appear, and that's what makes everything harder.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Unfortunately, it wasn't with good news. He said that from the title of my book and the description, he was expecting more of a humor book instead of a memoir, and he didn't have enough material dealing directly with the subject of Asperger's and sexuality to understand what I am trying to do with the book. He also said that he wasn't sure if he could find an editor who could market it correctly, and so he's stepping aside to let another agent have a try with it. Naturally, I was depressed after I read his message. I thought, "Oh my God, I'm marketing my book completely wrong. How incompetent and idiotic am I? Nobody's ever going to want to take me on." I mean, the book is supposed to have humor in it--it deals with serious issues in a humorous light, so as not to make everything all doom-and-gloom. My writing has been described as Ernest Hemingway crossed with Erma Bombeck--that's where the serious-stuff-made-seriously-funny thing comes into play. But, it seems that Mr. Schelling didn't quite pick up on that, which is okay, and I'm still very grateful that he did get back to me and offered some great advice and suggestions. So I'll be writing back to him soon with a few words of thanks.
What pulled me out of the funk induced by his e-mail, however, was another e-mail that I received just half an hour later, this one from Liza Dawson, the literary agent with whom I met in the city on July 1st. First of all, I could not believe that both of them got back to me on the same night, within forty minutes of each other, no less. I swear, it's as if these people have some kind of mind-melding, telepathy thing going on or something. Anyway, Liza said that she liked my first chapter, but wasn't 100% sure that the structure I'd laid out for the book was right for it. She asked if I had some additional material that I could send to her, and said that she looked forward to hearing from me soon. So, I consider that a pretty good sign, if I may say so myself. She didn't say, "Oh my God, I loved it, I want to take you on right now!" but she didn't flat-out reject me, either. That's the only frustrating part, is that I'm not sure if she definitely does want to take me on, or isn't planning on having a final decision until she has more of my material in hand. It's nerve-wracking, to say the least. But, luckily, my summer class has ended, and Liza's going to be away until tomorrow, so I'm working on something that I hope to get to her by the time she returns. In the meantime, I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed that this might mean that we've moved on to the next step of the process.
In other news, I recently submitted an article to the newsletter for ASCEND, the Asperger Syndrome Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. I met Deirdre Wright, the founder of ASCEND, at COSAC's annual conference in May in
I also received a phone call from Charlene Schermer, who was referred to me by the
In addition, I've just completed a summer course in Developmental Disabilities, which adds three more credits to my Masters degree that I am working to obtain at
Finally, I received two other public speaking offers. One came from a woman in my summer class, who told me that she spoke to her supervisor about me and showed her my business card, and her supervisor is now interested in having me come to speak at their school as part of a professional development workshop. The other offer came from a woman that I know from high school, who works in a program affiliated with Catholic Health Services, and she, too, asked if I would be interested in speaking to some of the staff at one or two of their locations on Long Island as part of a professional development workshop.
So many things are in the works right now, and I must say that I almost feel a bit overwhelmed. I'm beyond excited that things are picking up, though, and as I mentioned in my previous entry, please don't hesitate to contact me about a potential public speaking engagement or workshop. My services are slowly starting to become more in-demand, so book me for your event while I still have some free space on my calendar! :)
Monday, July 28, 2008
Those of you reading this are no doubt somehow involved in the world of autism and Asperger's syndrome--either you're parents of autistic/Asperger's children, teachers or paraprofessionals working with autistic/Asperger's individuals, or a person who is on the spectrum themselves. And odds are that you know a little bit about me already, but the purpose of this entry is to tell you about why I would make a great public speaker for your autism/Asperger's organization, group, or school.
My name is Amy Gravino. I'm a 25-year-old woman diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm also a writer, and am currently working on a book about my experiences with relationships and dating as a woman on the spectrum. The title of the book is The Naughty Autie: Not Your (Neuro)typical Dating Guide, and I am hoping to sell it to a publisher sometime in the next few months. I am also a graduate student, and am about to start my second year in the Masters program in Applied Behavior Analysis at Caldwell College in Caldwell, NJ.
My business manager and I have decided to put together a press packet to send to school districts here in New Jersey, in the hope that they will want to hire me as a speaker, either at an assembly for students, or as part of a professional development workshop for faculty and staff.
Having spoken publicly since the age of 14 at autism conferences all around the country, most recently at COSAC's annual conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, I feel that I am an intelligent, articulate, and qualified individual who is ready and willing to speak at any event that will enable me to help people and improve the lives of children, adults, and families in the autism and Asperger's community.
I am trying to reach out to those of you who either work in or have children in public schools, and who think that these schools might benefit from or be interested in having me speak there. Due to my school schedule, as well as financial constraints, I would prefer to keep the locales at which I speak strictly in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and possibly also Pennsylvania). My rates for speaking vary by the length of the speech expected and the budget within which the organization or school can work. I would be willing to travel outside of the Northeast for speaking engagements if travel expenses can be covered by the organization seeking my services (this also can be negotiated depending on circumstances, however).
Anyone wishing to obtain more information can feel free to leave a comment on here with your e-mail address and I will contact you, or you can go to my User Profile and find my e-mail address there and contact me. I have a curriculum vitae (C.V.) and a brief biography that I will gladly send to those who are interested. For more booking information, please feel free to e-mail my business manager, Nicole Turon-Diaz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much, and I hope to hear from you soon!
Friday, June 27, 2008
I've sent out seven query letters in total, and gotten back two responses thus far, both of which were rejections. Which--to put it plainly--really sucks. Don't get me wrong, though; I fully prepared myself for this. Rejection is a large part of the publishing industry, and I'm lucky that I even got the responses that I did. Both agents who wrote back to me were very kind, and offered words of advice and encouragement. All some people ever get is a rejected stamp. So I'm fortunate in that regard. The one agent made a good point, actually; he said that he wasn't head-over-heels in love with my book proposal to see it as part of his list, and both he and the second agent who wrote to me emphasized the importance of finding an agent who absolutely loves your idea and is dedicated to getting it published. I'd much rather have an agent who is passionate and excited about my book, instead of one who is just "eh" about it. So, onward I go, hopefully to bigger and better things.
Second item of business: the Gersh Academy graduation. As I mentioned previously, a few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a high school graduation for the Gersh Academy, a school in Hauppauge out here on Long Island for kids with autism, Asperger's, and other neurobiological disorders. I wrote up my speech earlier this week and sent it to the woman with whom I'd met, on her request, so it could be reviewed by her and the Board. She also sent me a copy of the graduation program, and that's when I discovered that I had been given the title of Keynote Speaker. Keynote Speaker. Me! How about that?
Anyway, June 27th was the big day. I arrived at the school at 10:15am, and the ceremony began shortly after 11. I was the last person to speak, but you know the old saying about saving the best for last? Well, there you go. Don't think I'm saying that out of pure ego, however. I'm only saying it because almost every person in the audience came up to me after I delivered the speech and told me how inspirational it was. One woman even said that it made her think about how she'd behaved in high school, and whether she could have been a little nicer to those who were different or who didn't run in her social group. The best compliment of all was when one of the graduates told me that he loved my speech. He and the others were whom I was hoping to reach, and it looks like I did. So yay me. :D
In addition to my speech at the graduation marking my first-ever keynote address, my father was able to record it using our new videocamera. The audio is a little wonky in the beginning, but it gets better as it goes on. So, without further ado, here is my keynote address from the Gersh Academy 2008 graduation:
Good morning distinguished guests, family members, friends, the faculty and staff of the
When I was asked to speak here today, I immediately thought of my own high school graduation seven years ago. I remember being forced to listen to a speech given by our class valedictorian, in which she described school events and parties that “everyone” had attended. In truth, her speech excluded me and so many others who had never gone to any of these events, rituals of youth that we were supposed to be remembering fondly yet had never actually happened.
So I knew that I had a responsibility to you, to talk to you about something to which you can relate, something that affects your lives right now, today. I wanted to be able to give you the speech that I wish I could have heard all those years ago. A speech that spoke to me, a young person on the autism spectrum, specifically Asperger’s syndrome. An outcast.
“Finally, the answer” is the motto of the
When I graduated from high school, I was not Amy Gravino. Amy Gravino did not yet exist. There was only a shell, fragments of self-esteem lying in shattered pieces after being chipped away at for years by my fellow classmates. I was whatever they said I was—if they called me ugly, I was ugly. If they said that I was a freak, I was a freak. I was defined by how they saw me. And though I had my parents to tell me differently, the words of my peers carried far more weight, making any other positive affirmations almost impossible to believe.
The journey of discovering who I am started to take place when I went off to college. Slowly, the pieces were picked up. Slowly, I began to realize that I wasn’t in high school anymore, that I no longer had to be ugly or a freak, and my confidence grew. Slowly, Amy Gravino began to emerge.
Getting to that place, to that point where I started to find out who I was, took a lot of effort and hard work. For so many years, no one believed that I was going to be able to do anything. They said I wouldn’t go to high school, wouldn’t graduate—in short, I wouldn’t amount to anything. I learned at a very young age that the world is not an accommodating place, and I fought for the right not only to follow my dreams, but to even have them at all.
Your years here at the
But the day will come that someone will ask you the question I mentioned earlier: Who are you? This is where perhaps the most powerful tool you can have comes into play: self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is an invaluable asset, not just for individuals with neurobiological differences, but for everyone. Those of us who are a little bit “different,” however, have to work twice as hard to make our voices heard. I can remember well sitting in on IEP meetings in elementary school, surrounded by adults all discussing my future (or the very possible lack thereof). You would think that my presence would ensure an opportunity for me to speak for myself, even for a moment. But I didn’t. No one ever asked me how I felt, or what I wanted. Even if they had, I’m not certain that I would’ve been able to tell them.
Many years have passed since then, and I am happy to say that I have become a strong self-advocate, loudly and proudly proclaiming my “difference,” and I now see it as a strength, a high mark of character, rather than a weakness or flaw. Your disabilities have presented each of you with challenges, and the people at this school have worked with you to face those challenges. Now, as you head into adulthood, you are starting to find your own voice, and becoming a self-advocate, learning the skills to articulate your needs and feelings will enable you to use that voice to tell the world who you are.
The last thought I’d like to leave you with is this: You have worked so hard and for so long to get where you are at this very moment. Surrounded by your friends, loved ones, teachers, and therapists, it seems hard to believe that your life as you know it is about to change completely. But rather than seeing this day as an ending, you must also look at it as a great beginning. I once sat where you are sitting, and as angry as I felt listening to that valedictorian’s speech, my face also burned with shame over the fact that I’d failed at having the “typical” high school experience. I could clearly see what was ending, but I had no idea what was about to begin. Leave yourself open to endless possibility, and take with you the lessons you have learned and the guidance you have received here at the
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
It is my greatest hope that those of you reading this will be able to glean insight into the life of a young woman with Asperger's syndrome trying to find her way in the world. I am proud and excited to take you on my journey as I make my way through graduate school, public speaking, and the process of writing and publishing my book. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time to be here.
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