Saturday, July 31, 2010

Home Is Where the Hard Is

Sitting on an enclosed deck in the middle of a thunderstorm has become a favorite pastime of mine. I used to be terrified of thunder; as a child, even the slightest rumble would send me flying under the covers, shaking with fear. Even now, the storms seem scarier when I am inside, so I call upon my father to join me, where we settle into the green and white-striped chairs--his, always the recliner. With the sounds of whipping wind and falling rain all around me, I am calm.

My parents still live in the house I grew up in, about a two hour's drive from where I am now in New Jersey. Graduate school has kept me almost absurdly busy, and I don't go back there very often, except for the occasional orthodontist appointment or holiday.

There is a danger in visiting one's old hometown, in that you run the risk of seeing people you know. People from the past, who remind you of the person you used to be, and who you spent years trying to forget.

People you went to high school with.

The beige and black building is much smaller than I remember. At its feet rests a verdant landscape, the grassy, crater-shaped bowl used for baseball in summer and sledding in the winter. A long handrail in the middle of half moon-shaped steps leads the way to the front doors, whose once heavy handles yield easily to my hand. From faraway glance, it is peaceful, serene, and immaculately kept.

For me, it is and was my vale of tears.

It can be said that people spend most of their lives trying to figure out who they are. It can also be said that this process almost universally begins in high school. Jock. Nerd. Homecoming queen. Band geek. Class president. Loner. Which one are you? Now's the time to find out, to find others like you and stand together--allies in the silent war of the hallways.

But to do that, you first must know that you are a person. I never got that far.

Sometimes it was only a look. A brow furrowing in disapproval, eyes rolling almost comically far up into their heads, a brief scoff before finally turning away. I never knew what these things meant, but still I was left with a deep burning inside my heart. Chest heaving, cheeks flushed, the beginnings of teardrops forming in my throat. A powerful poison that was slowly, methodically, killing me.

I knew I wasn't like my peers. Not popular, beautiful, happy. Not normal. Through elementary and middle school, my apartness from them became painfully obvious in almost every way, but it wasn't until high school that I realized the true nature of the divide between us.

They were human. I wasn't.

I believed this. At first, it was because they told me. "Psycho. Freak. Loser. Retard." In between classes, alone in the hall, standing by myself not saying a word. If there was an opportunity, they took it, hurling insults like tommy gun-loaded paper airplanes whizzing through the air.

Am I someone? Am I even alive? the questions plagued my thoughts. After a while it became impossible to see the difference between their lie and my truth. Their words were pinballs, firing around in my mind through the maze of neurons and synapses, reverberating, shrieking as they traipsed and ran and looked for the end of the labyrinth, to no avail.

I was convinced that I wasn't really there; just a body, floating through those halls day after day, with no essence or tangibleness behind it. Nothing to tether me to the earth, to the rest of humanity. My soul belonged to them.

This was the storm that I lived in, with no shelter to run to, no protection to shield me. No matter where I tried to hide, the thunder always found me. And it roared.

My father gently rocks back and forth in his recliner, the screws squeaking quietly as I listen. The rain is beginning to subside now, the sky brightening, and the air is tinged with a crisp coolness. The trees are stained, their leaves heavy with damp. Tiny droplets hang from every edge, pulling them down as if bowed. Another survivor. I nod my head gently in reply. We have both made it through the storm.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Participants Still Needed!


I am recruiting males over the age of 18 with a clinical diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome for a study to teach how to ask someone out on a date. All volunteers will be required to have their own transportation and must be able to come to Caldwell College (located in Caldwell, NJ) three to four times per week. The study is currently ongoing and participation for each volunteer should last for approximately three weeks. If you are interested in participating in this research, please contact Amy Gravino at Thank you!

Study Participation Criteria:

- Must be over the age of 18
- Must have official Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis from an outside agency or clinic
- Must have transportation and/or live in the NYC/northern New Jersey area.
- Minimal to no previous social skills training
- Must have at least two to three unsuccessful previous attempts at asking someone out for a date.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thoughts on a Tragedy

I recently had the following link posted to my Facebook wall: It's the horrifying story of a woman in Texas who murdered her two children with autism by strangling them with a wire.

What is there to say about a terrible story like this? It's sad. It's tragic. Beyond anything else, it's representative of a failure on so many fronts. It would be easy to blame the mother, to call her a whole host of names and condemn her to the lethal injection that is probably coming her way. But she is not the only one at fault here.

The articles mention that Texas is ranked #49 or #50 in terms of mental health services and supports. It's likely that there is also not much in the way of autism awareness, which leaves this woman--the parents of not one, but two autistic children--isolated, with no access to information or resources, and slipping deeper into the depression that the article said begun when she moved into that apartment.

Up here in the Northeast--especially the NYC area--there are autism organizations all over the place. Autism Speaks, Autism New Jersey, ASPEN, GRASP, the DJ Fiddle Foundation, AHA-NY, and more.

It is difficult enough raising a child with autism here, where awareness is high and resources are numerous. It is difficult, too, for we adults on the spectrum to find the services we need. Therefore, I can't imagine what it must've been like for this woman down in Texas, where there aren't many or even any of these groups, any support services of any kind; where "hope" is the longest long shot that there is.

It is circumstances like this that lead to desperation, to this woman thinking there was no other solution than the one she chose. Don't misunderstand me; I am not defending what she did in any way; she took the desperation she was feeling to its most extreme end, and two innocent children are now dead for it. But the whole atmosphere down there--the ignorance and the misunderstanding--is what helped to set the stage for this in the first place. thing that would move me to condemn her outright is how, in the article, she is quoted as saying, "They're autistic...not normal. Not normal. I want normal kids." That is an incredibly heartbreaking thing to say on top of everything, and unfortunately gives a sad insight into her mental process and perhaps that still of society at large--that having a "normal" child is better than having one with autism.

Had she even given the children up for adoption--which would have been better, because at least they'd still be alive--who knows how hard it would've been to find them an adoptive family because of their autism. But at least they would have had a chance. At least they would still have their lives.

So what do I think of this? I wish I could say I was shocked. I used to be, when I'd hear stories like this. Now I just add it to my growing mental list of horror stories that have come to represent such a system-wide failure. It is stories like this that make me ever-more determined to do what I do--to make this world a better place for individuals with autism, so that things like this never happen again.