Monthly Archives: April 2011

James Durbin on American Idol: The Tale of Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

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Know what  you get when you try to fit a square peg in a round hole? James Durbin. Or any person with Asperger’s really. I could lecture, ahem, inform you on all of the ways Aspies just don’t quite squeeze into that hole, no matter how we position and rotate and twist and turn. Mind you, that assumes our hole represents neurotypicality (and, not to mention, that the pegs want to be shoved into the holes, which they don’t). But, poor James, he doesn’t even get that. He gets people, this blogger included (Fact or Fiction: James Durbin and AS?), questioning his square peg status. He has people telling him, “No, James, you are not a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. You are a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.”

All of this because he disclosed. He pronounced a rather unfortunate word with an attempt at a sophisticated interpretation — one that’s not all that uncommon, mind you. And, then, he acted too “normal”, other than that squinting. Too much eye contact, and coordination, and appropriate facial expressions.

All of this because he preempted possible comments about his mannerisms by giving us an explanation that should have lead us to say, “Ohhhhh, now I get it” or “Good for you, James” or “What a positive example for us to point to”. But, we have to find some way to judge, right? After all, isn’t that the point of the show he is on? If James hadn’t told us, we’d wonder why he was “weird” or “squinty”. If James tells us, we doubt his authenticity, his purpose. Joseph Heller might be tempted to rename his book, James.

This Catch-22 was echoed in my office today with two male clients who have very different views on disclosure. One sees no shame. In his words, “I look normal until I talk or write. Like when I write a check and it takes forever, and others start to wonder, ‘What’s up with this guy?'” The other struggles to admit the diagnosis even to long-time friends. “It will change their view of me. I can’t control that.” James is at the crosshairs of both problems. He’s looked normal, until he hasn’t. He’s disclosed and lost control.

So what’s a square-ish round peg to do in a static world? To start, I suppose, win American Idol.


Posted by on April 30, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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What Makes Someone “Aware” of Autism? A Baby Bump?

No, I don’t have children. Not that you asked, but, maybe, you were wondering. Or, maybe you don’t care in the slightest about the outcomes of my procreation habits, for which I thank you. No offense, but they are none of your business.

Or are they? Many, many, many people seem to believe that the answer to that very question is critically germane to my business, which most of you know by now, is an autism spectrum specialist. If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that a business is not what I consider my life’s work and passion, but I digress.

Perhaps because I am a woman, perhaps because I am a relatively young woman (30 next month!), perhaps because I arbitrarily look fertile or motherly or something, I am asked, “Do you have children?” frequently. No, wait, what’s more than frequently? Well, too much.

Sometimes, the question appears to be a moment of commiseration. “You know [insert something frustrating, annoying, embarrassing about having children], you have children, right?” Other times, the question is based on faulty pseudo-logic: “You [pick one of the following: work with, have patience for, seem to enjoy, have fun with kids], you must have some of your own.”  Most times, though, this question is wielded as a secret weapon that is, in the holder’s mind, a trump card. I don’t have that card in my deck, which means I lose. Game over. Don’t pass go and do not collect $200.

Two years ago, I met a family for the first time with their seven-year-old son. During the developmental history, a question and answer data collection procedure (not a time when I provide thoughts/opinions/recommendations — meaning, I had yet to open my mouth to do the helping portion of my job), the mother began looking around my office. Fairly typical and expected, especially during an initial consultation. My office is filled with toys, games, Mini Cooper Hot Wheels, dinosaurs, bean bags, and books. As her perusal continued, I became curious, following her line of sight. My degrees, awards, and other frame-worthy, credibility-indicating items are strategically in full view. Those were not the point of interest. What’s left in my office? I remember thinking. Well, nothing. Except me.

That realization hit when she made eye contact with me. It was like that stylized, cliched “high noon” showdown. You know, when two cowboys shuffle down a dusty road, hands quivering near their pistols or, I guess in this situation, baby rattles. Well, in this showdown, I didn’t have a Tickle-Me Elmo to counter with. “You don’t have children. You don’t have a ring on. You have no pictures of family. What makes you qualified to work with kids?” I stood my ground but shot blanks. They opted to not work with me.

For me, there has always been an inherent irony. Not having children has allowed me to work later (which means MORE) and to devote time and energy to my clients in ways that might be diminished if I had my own children. Irony aside, the idea that motherhood makes me more qualified is one that has never resonated with much integrity. In my mind, it’s like requiring an auto mechanic to have a car in order to provide you service. Hell, it’s even better if the mechanic has the same make and model. (I’m still searching for who can service my customized Mini Cooper.)

I’m not asking for parents to settle for the childless, nor am I trailblazing a Child Left Behind policy. Rather, I’m looking critically at the comparisons that can be drawn between ASD and NT. The countless developmental histories I have completed (in clients who have stayed and left) document how the trajectory and experiences that make up the “life” of a child on the spectrum are inherently, (obviously) diagnostically different from that of a neurotypical child. Yet, it is that very neurotypical child that others want me to have (as if I have control over that). That child would not help me understand my clients in ways that parents assume or hope.

On the flip side, I do think my clients help me understand all children and, for that matter, all people. I guess, when I do have a child, I have to make sure he or she is on the spectrum. I can frame the birth certificate and hang it next to my diplomas.


Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


Disclosing Aspergers to Second Graders: Parent or Expert?

One of the most intelligent people I know once said, “If you’re not passionate about the subject, your writing suffers.” You can see by my lack of posts for two months that the fire has not been stoked, and I have not wanted to waste your time reading something subpar. If you think about, that’s my very own Aspie trait — an all-or-nothing, perfectionistic approach to my blog. For a while, I though that, perhaps, I’m trying to take a more even-keeled approach to my career and passion — not letting every little ignorant comment someone says about ASD set me into a blind rage. If that’s the case, it was not a conscious effort. Regardless, the fire has begun to blaze again as I try to ascertain how in the world to explain Asperger’s to a group of second graders in a local parochial school. Because I am hoping for YOUR thoughts, advice, and recommendations, let me provide a bit of background.

Peyton is my client. He is a very thoughtful, engaging young man. He interacts with peers with zest and vigor. He is highly motivated to do well at school. But, it’s those darn kids that break rules that are the demise of my Peyton. You know — the kids who talk when they are not supposed, even if they are whispering. The kids who don’t hear the rules for an assignment and make up their own shortcuts. The kids who push in line to be first, even though they have assigned spots. These kids cause the scissors to fly, the papers to crumble, and the hands to push. These situations cause Peyton the Polite to transform into Peyton the Policeman, ready and waiting to give citations.

Peyton’s school has been phenomenal. Receptive to my recommendations. Open to patience, rather than punishment. Even allowing me to start a social skills group during the school day. We are trying to make the parochial placement work. In an effort to increase acceptance and understanding — mind you, I’m worried this will backfire — the parents and the school would like to tell Peyton’s classmates and their parents about AS. On Monday, we sat in a meeting during which all eyes fell on me for that honor. It is an honor, but, man, does that honor weigh a ton. This is an onus I’ve carried before, so I’m not sure why this time, this idea of disclosure is so nerve-inducing and off-putting and difficult.

Since Monday, I’ve asked many their opinions. “Don’t do it!!!!!” with endless echo has been one strong reaction. The other is advice on what to say, how to say, and, in essence, how to couch and explain the idea of a diagnosis that sounds like an explicit word-food. I’ve begun compiling a document with everyone’s advice because this disclosure will happen soon. A week or so. And, I have to have a plan soon.

So, I put to you, my informed, intelligent, and opinionated reader: What do I say? And, perhaps more importantly, do I take the advice of a colleague who said, “Have Peyton’s parents do it.”


Posted by on April 13, 2011 in ASD in the Schools


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