Blog #308: Being Neurodiverse in a Cancel and Woke Culture

I’m pretty sure it’s everywhere you see now in our society…woke and cancel cultures have pretty much taken over our way of life as human beings. The values that we have been taught and values we have cherished are either being removed because people are just plain sensitive or they feel that those values are woke.

As a neurodiverse individual, it both infuriates and saddens me to see this happening. The recent closing of Splash Mountain at the Disney Parks has really brought about whether or not we as a society are forgetting the fact that stories associated with cultural icons like Splash Mountain are something to be talked about because they are a part of our history.

Now, as you know, I embrace history greatly. Children today need to learn every aspect of history especially if they are of great importance. The problem is that as someone who works in the general public, I see plenty of kids who are going to be denied the option to learn parts of American history simply because someone was too sensitive. Sure, there are some areas that I feel embarrassed about such as vaudeville and stereotypes, but simply pretending they don’t exist is bad. You experience something and then you talk about it afterwards.

Sometimes I feel that it is impossible to go about my day and not hear something about cancel culture or woke culture. Am I sensitive? Yes, but I don’t go demanding that something be changed entirely like the M&M mascots being replaced by Maya Rudolph. Me and Change is like a two way street…sometimes I embrace change and sometimes I resist change.

But when you go erase something of history because you are sensitive, it sends a message that perhaps you are entitled to get rid of something simply because it upsets you when it doesn’t upset others.

My nieces will never get to ride Splash Mountain in the United States because of the cancel culture that is going on in our world right now. I first heard “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” as a kid and I still hear it today. Will I obtain Song of the South on DVD or Blu Ray via eBay so that they can see Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and all the others?

Of course, because by watching something like Song of the South or experiencing a video on YouTube of riding Splash Mountain and then having a discussion about why something happened during the time Song of the South takes place is just as important. You gain an understanding for what went on during that time in our history as a country and you gain respect for those who had gone through such adversities.

Now people are embracing woke and cancel cultures at a rapid pace which is such a shame because while we have to be open to change because it’s sometimes good and refreshing, you cannot erase something of the past that may hold great value. In other words, we need to sit down with those who are embracing this unnecessary change and they need to understand that they are in the wrong when they think they are in the right.

In conclusion, I think that maybe these two scenes from “Mary Poppins” explains it best:

Catch you all later!!

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Blog #307: Having Special Needs DOES NOT Mean You Get Special Treatment

Let’s start at the beginning…shall we?

When I was at my day job last week, there was an associate who has down syndrome and has a tendency to wander away from her post. Now, this associate was someone who started her shift late and when she left her post, she would be gone for no more than 20 minutes.

Then, I had another associate who always keeps asking me if anyone complained about him constantly and then of course, another associate who would always want to talk to me when I was trying to get stuff done.

Furthermore, at the beginning of last year, I had someone on the autism spectrum refuse to be a team player and play by his own rules and as a result, he was quickly fired.

You may wonder why I bring up something like this? Well, in addition to being constantly irritated, I feel that these three specific associates feel that since they have special needs, it gives them the right to do whatever they please. Now, this is not to say that I am NOT bad mouthing anyone. We all want to be included and want to be able to learn and grow at our own pace.

Maybe it could be that people with special needs that are capable of working feel that being part of a team is voluntary and that they can do whatever they want. But, being on a team means that you have to play by the team rules. These three colleagues of mine at my day job try their best and maybe I’m just complaining about it. I get the fact that we are not flawless and that we are a work in progress.

But, if you are going to be in a working environment, some accommodations are given to you right away and there are other requests that you have to earn. Just because you have special needs does not mean that you automatically get what you want or you get your way with something.

For one thing, you don’t choose to go off the line for 20 minutes at a time to either check your phone in the bathroom or check whether or not your lunch is made properly. In the mind of the individual, they probably don’t understand that these kinds of actions have consequences that can result in getting fired from a particular job.

It’s up to the job coaches to make special needed individuals have somewhat of a mindset that is geared towards the job that he or she is working. And if you ask me if I once had this same mindset, yes, I did. Had it not been for my job advisor and others around me, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now. If you are going to survive at a job, you need to follow the rules to the best of your ability and that includes not getting special treatment on a silver platter.

Catch you all later!!

Blog #306: How Often Should You Have IEP Meetings?

As we enter the midway point of the 2022-2023 school year, I am pretty sure many special education parents and teachers are wondering one question…how often should there be IEP Meetings?

The midway point of the school year is like the eye of a hurricane. You are between the beginning of the school year and the ending of the school year. You’re stuck in a predicament, but you can’t go forwards or backwards. You’re in a holding pattern waiting to land at the nearest airport.

But you need a plan to land at that airport to the best of your ability. In order to do that, you need to summarize how the child has done over the course of the school year up to that point in time. Going back to the airplane analogy, an IEP meeting is like laying over at a major airport like Atlanta or Chicago/O’Hare. You are trying to make a flight connection, but you want to make sure that you can make that flight or if its something work taking.

Of course, that all depends on how many stops you want to make. For some people, having two IEP meetings may be enough. Think of the beginning of the school year as the origin airport and the ending as the final destination airport. The IEP is the laying over airport, the time to sit down and transition to the next flight.

When you reach the midway point, the parents and teachers need to think about whether or not you want to make that layover. Parents and teachers need to evaluate the performance of the child and if after one IEP meeting, the student is struggling mightly in something, then you need to make an emergency landing in the form of another IEP meeting.

The truth of the matter is that while the average is 2 to 3 meetings per year, there is always going to be that moment where more than 3 is needed. In other words, you are going to have to be flexible with the timing of these meetings. For example, if the student is having a hard time with behavioral issues or struggling with a hard subject like math, the team needs to come together and go over what needs to be done by adjusting the IEP plan for that school year.

Yes, I know for some people, having too many IEP meetings is too much. But would you rather have less IEP meetings and watch the student struggle greatly? What kind of parents and what kind of teachers would you be then?

Remember that as you go forward into the second half of the school year!!

Catch you all later!!

Blog #305: A Neurodiverse Response to the Passing of Lisa Marie Presley (1968-2023)

We are barely 20 days into 2023 and already we had a major loss in the field of popular culture.

Lisa Marie Presley was the Princess of Rock and Roll and someone who had a tremendous legacy to carry that was set by her father, Elvis. But there is a very good reason as to why I bring up Lisa Marie not just as a tribute to someone who had led a somewhat complicated life with multiple marriages, etc.

You see, Lisa Marie was someone who had at least tried to maintain and carry on the legacy of someone who was famous. Most celebrity offspring would often have a hard time living in the shadow of their famous parents. Celebrity parents would often have their parental failures be aired out for all to see and while Elvis was taken advantage of. But Lisa Marie and her father had a strong relationship that went well beyond his death 46 years ago.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I look at Lisa Marie Presley and often times I see that I have a legacy to maintain. Now, my family are not celebrities and sure that both my father and grandfather were corporate executives, but rather than follow in their direct footsteps (such as going to college and getting into the field), I decided to follow in their other footsteps of being involved in philanthropic causes.

The problem is that we tend to view someone for their negative actions rather than their positive ones such as being philanthropic. I can imagine that people right now are probably looking at Lisa Marie and attributing to her cardiac arrest as punishment for her failed marriages to Michael Jackson as an example. Or another example would be jumping to conclusions by saying that wasn’t not being physically there for her son, Benjamin, after he committed suicide in 2020, which is probably a murderous thought to think of.

But if you choose to focus on that side of Lisa Marie, then shame on you for you don’t know the real side of someone who poured her heart out for others.

Remember, had it not been for Lisa Marie’s charitable side, would a legacy have been properly maintained that went beyond rock and roll? Fame and fortune don’t come from being in front of the camera or in front of an audience, it comes from being there for others and that’s what Lisa Marie did, especially after Hurricane Katrina.

My mission, along with that of my colleagues in the field of autism/neurodiversity, is to be there for others, just as Lisa Marie was there for others less fortunate than her. All I can say is that Lisa Marie tried to do what she did and while she left us far too soon, it’s safe to say that Lisa Marie has earned her place in heaven alongside her son and her father, Elvis.

Catch you all later!!

Blog #304: Praying for Abby Zwerner and the Richwood Elementary School Shooting

Why? Just why?

These are the emotions that go through my mind as a former special education student. Teachers are no different than you or me, going in to teach children about a variety of subjects, having to put up with the antics of some of the students for the purpose of making a living being a teacher.

So, when I heard that there was a shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, VA, I couldn’t help but think to myself “not again.” When is enough going to be enough? How long will it take for something to be done to protect our teachers and students?

Then, I heard the shocking news that a 6 year old…A 6 YEAR OLD…had shot his teacher with a loaded handgun. I get it that teachers have to put up with a lot, but this was something that I took extremely personally. If I had been upset with a teacher, a student or having a bad day as a whole, I certainly would not resort to such extremes.

You see, teachers and school administrators are part of my core audience as a self-advocate and public speaker and this goes far beyond when I had a strong relationship with my teachers in school. I was there for them just as much as they were there for me. They saw me as a son to them in a way that no other student would be viewed as such.

Hearing that a teacher getting shot at by her own student is deplorable and disgusting and it just makes me so mad. It goes to show you of the dangerous world that we are subjecting neurodiverse individuals and children to in terms of what is happening in our society.

Now, Abby is a teacher that is no different than any other teacher. Just the fact that she is a 25 year old young woman already going through this nightmare sends a message that teachers are just as vulnerable as the students. It also makes me think of when I first met my middle school mentor, who was only a year older than Abby when I first met her in the summer of 2000.

To me, I look at teachers as more than just teachers, I see them as parental figures and people to look out for in the same manner as they would look out for a student. Being in special education allowed me to interact with teachers on a level that a general education student would not have. If I was a special education student at Richwood Elementary School and I heard that Abby got shot, the first question on my mind would be “is she okay?”

Sure, there would be a lot to process, but could you really blame any neurodiverse student for having to process a lot? Not only is there a gun involved, but being around frightened students and teachers, the sounds of police and firefighters running around trying to get students out safely, the parents worrying about their children and asking a barrage of questions. It would absolutely be a sensory inducing nightmare.

And one might wonder just how more of these shootings can we take not just in our society, but especially for the health and well-being of neurodiverse individuals? Did the 6 year old who shoot Abby on Friday afternoon care about any neurodiverse students in his school, let alone in the classroom at the time?

If there is one thing I can say to the 6 year old who brought the gun to school and his parents…it would be shame on all of you and I hope you are all punished to the fullest extent of the law.

For the students and teachers at Richwood Elementary School, please know that as the uncle of two little girls, I can say that I understand your fear and frustration of what goes on in schools these days. But as long as you stick together and take one step at a time, you will get through this nightmare.

As for Abby Zwerner herself, I am continuously praying for you in your recovery. You did your job; you protected your students and anyone else from getting into harm’s way. Your whole family and your whole community are proud of you for saving lives in a moment of sheer terror and anxiety. Be proud of yourself, even though that it is easier said than done right now. Get well soon!!

Catch you all later!!

Blog #303: How Neurodiverse Individuals can connect with “Angelina Ballerina.”

In the early 2000’s, I was introduced to a character called “Angelina Ballerina” that was being aired on the PBS affiliates in Boston and Providence. Ever since then, I’ve often looked at this female mouse who did classic ballet and say to myself, “wow, I strongly connect with Angelina and her friends.”

Now, to give you an idea of what “Angelina Ballerina” is, is that it is based on a book series by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig. The books are about an aspiring ballerina named Angelina Mouseling who often faces many challenges with not only trying to become a prima ballerina, but also with the challenges of growing up.

For an adaptation that last 39 episodes, each episode allows the viewer to sympathize with the character and put ourselves in her shoes. I think one of the reasons I connect deeply with Angelina is because a lot of what Angelina goes through is what I go through as a neurodiverse individual.

One of those examples was in “Angelina’s Baby Sister,” where Angelina struggles with getting used to her new baby sister, Polly. As I have said before, change is never easy for anyone, especially for someone on the autism spectrum like myself. In fact, Angelina’s frustrations reach a boiling point because she has a hard time processing the fact that she has a new addition and that she is being ignored by her parents and grandparents.

Now you may think that Angelina is just being jealous that Polly is getting more attention, but its primarily because she can’t really process the stimulation and sensation of the situation.

That’s not to say that Angelina herself is on the spectrum. Maybe she is or maybe she’s not. Most of the episodes involves her in a situation where she is stressed and ends up crying. Let’s face it, I was in a lot of those situations growing up and I don’t even do ballet, but I have had a hard time navigating those situations as an individual on the spectrum.

Another factor I notice when it comes to Angelina is that sometimes we get so high on a pedestal that we end up falling and crashing down to earth as neurodiverse individuals. This is often the case with Angelina who lots of times set her standards so high that she ends up getting into trouble as a result.

Another trait that Angelina possesses the same way as neurodiverse individuals is the fact that in addition to not being able to handle change very well, Angelina has an extremely hard time of being flexible when it comes to her ballet.

Perhaps one of the most notorious examples was in the first tv special, “Christmas in Mouseland,” (which features Derek Jacobi in a guest role) where Angelina’s ballet class is doing “Cinderella” and Angelina ends up being cast as the Wicked Stepmouse because she can’t sing very well as Cinderella with the role going to her rival, Priscilla Pinkpaws.

Rather than being flexible and adaptable, Angelina makes the production extremely difficult and even after quitting, she puts the production in jeopardy after accidentally injuring her mentor and mother figure, Miss Lilly.

Now, you might say that Angelina is in denial of the fact that she can’t always get what she wants and that is true. The truth is that Angelina couldn’t handle change and if someone on the spectrum was in her ballet shoes, they would have behaved in the same way. It was a shame that it took her mentor’s injury to finally wake up. Fortunately, she ends up embracing her role as the Wicked Stepmouse in a pretty good musical number called “Mad, Bad and Dangerous.”

This, of course, are just two examples of why this show is so relatable to those on the autism spectrum. It’s a shame that Angelina didn’t go beyond 39 episodes and 3 tv specials. There is a lot of lessons that neurodiverse individuals can learn and can put themselves in the shoes of the characters.

And it’s not just Angelina we can put ourselves in, we can put ourselves in the shoes of Alice, William, the Pinkpaws, Henry and many others in Chipping Cheddar. Hell, we can even put ourselves in the adult characters as well such as Miss Lilly.

Although there is no complete series boxset, all the episodes are scattered on multiple individual DVDs that you can find on Amazon.com. I strongly recommend this show for any child on the autism spectrum because not only will the child discover something about themselves in Angelina, but also adults too as they will discover something about their children.

Catch you all later!!

Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism/Walt Disney World 2023 Pre-Marathon Event on Thursday January 5th, 2023

Photos taken from my speaking appearance at the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism/Walt Disney World Pre-Marathon Event on Thursday January 5th, 2023 at the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, FL

Blog #302: My Neurodiverse Individualistic Response to the Barney Documentary, “I Love You, You Hate Me”

Now I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I never really got into Barney the Dinosaur growing up. I was more of a “Thomas the Tank Engine” kind of kid in the 1990s, but I did watch plenty of PBS Kids shows such as “Arthur,” “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

However, when it came to Barney, I found him both strange and didn’t really feel like connecting to him as a kid. However, when this documentary came out this past fall, it didn’t take me until Christmas to watch it because my folks have Peacock streaming service. Upon watching “I Love You, You Hate Me,” I couldn’t help but take notice of how society treated Barney and the people who brought him to the screen.

Now watching this documentary opened my eyes to the fact that Barney was one of the first cult children’s shows to come out of popular culture. Sure there was “Sesame Street” and a few others, but what is it about Barney that drew children to him? Was it the fact that he was warming and loving in general? Was it the fact that he promoted Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in preschool form? Was it even something else about him that we don’t even know about?

Part of the answer comes from the fact that Barney represents neurodiversity in terms of how he behaves and speaks. He is always positive, never negative just like how some neurodiverse individuals want to be.

To me, Barney represents a routine that a neurodiverse child may find fascinating in him: he comes to life, teaches the lesson of the day with the help of the Barney Kids and his friends, sings “I Love You, You Love Me” and turns back into a doll at the end. There is a good part of the neurodiverse population that wish they would probably just do that on a daily basis.

However, watching “I Love You, You Hate Me” also made me think of something else…the Brony Fandom. For six years, I devoted my time and effort to this fandom because there was nothing positive that came out of popular culture that people could connect with. Sure, there were comic book characters like Marvel and DC, Disney and a good many others.

But it was because the fandom even existed were there individuals that want to cause harm to the fandom and everyone in it. Seeing Barney being beaten, tortured and everything else in between got me thinking that neurodiverse individuals who love Barney or My Little Pony are at greatest risk of being bullied just for something that they love.

Case in point? Michael Morones, a young boy who was big into “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and got bullied to the point where he tried to commit suicide. As a result, he ended up being brain damaged for the rest of his life after that.

When it came to the people that worked on Barney, they were either bullied, ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, or got so obsessed that they ended up losing touch with reality.

The sad truth is that we see both sides of the coin in all fandoms and the Brony Fandom, like the Barney fandom, was no exception. We have seen “loyal” fans or Bronies or any other children’s show fandom like Barney end up getting involved in some pretty sick trouble and most of them weren’t on the spectrum to begin with.

I believe that if anyone who is neurodiverse or neurotypical that is interested in something like Barney and ends up watching this documentary, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of the documentary such as how a father who formed an Anti-Barney group ended up embracing Barney as the main reason for staying sober for over 30 years.

And that’s the other point I want to make…people connect with Barney or any other cultural phenomenon had credited that particular phenomenon with saving their lives. But sometimes we have to go through the bad before we get to the good. Some phenomena can be lifesaving, but plenty refuse to believe that.

So, if you love “Barney and Friends,” good for you! Embrace something that makes you happy, but if you are someone who resorts to violence to show hate towards something like Barney, you’ve missed the whole point and I’m sorry for you.

“I Love You, You Hate Me” teaches that violence towards a cultural phenomenon only makes something stronger with each blow. Even though it’s been off the air for over 10 years, Barney still gets a loyal following and there’s nothing wrong with that!!

Catch you all later!!

Blog #301: My Response to the Damar Hamlin situation as a Neurodiverse Individual

Let me tell you something…I was not expecting this to be my first blog of 2023, but sadly, life just isn’t like that. I woke up this morning to the news of what happened in Cincinnati involving Buffalo Bills CB Damar Hamlin and how he suffered cardiac arrest right on the field.

Personally, I am in shock and disbelief of what transpired, and it is a constant reminder of how precious life can be. Given the nature of the situation, there’s a chance he may never play football again because of what happened. As a Roman Catholic, the only thing I can do now is pray for him to survive and live another day.

However, I can relate to the fact of what the entire sports world is feeling as they wake up this morning. What I do as a self-advocate and public speaker is similar to the NFL in terms of being out there for the community and sharing what I can do. But there are some neurodiverse individuals who were probably wanting to watch the rest of the game and were wondering why the game wasn’t starting again.

They were probably upset that when the game was postponed, they were asking why this is happening?

The truth of the matter is that sometimes something like a football game just doesn’t seem to be all that important. In the autism/neurodiversity community, we are no different than any organization like the National Football League. We are people trying to make a living just as much as trying to make a difference.

We don’t participate in contact sports like football, but some of us in the community live on borrowed time and not knowing when our time will come. These can range from illnesses to sudden events to life changing situations. One day, you could be alive and ready to take on the world and the next minute, you could be cashing in your chips either expectedly or unexpectedly.

In 2019, I attended AANE’s annual conference and Becca Hector talked about borrowed time in the autism/neurodiversity community in her keynote address. She would later talk about this same story at an Autism Tree Project Lunch and Learn later on in 2021.

The important factor is that we all need to live our lives to the fullest each and every day. We may never know when our time will come so each and every day, we need to sometimes treat every day like it is our last.

Case in point? Last spring when we lost David Sharif to an epileptic seizure. Our community was shattered to our core and it’s still taking a long time to recover from his sudden death. Sometimes the only thing we can think of is that a human life is more important than anything worth meaningless. Sure, he and I had plans for the Global Autism Project and Autism Knows No Borders community, but when he died, those plans and any possible future plans died with him.

But did it matter that our plans were dead? No, it didn’t because the only thing we could think of was being there for his family. I can imagine that the Buffalo Bills and for that matter, the entire NFL will be coming together in the coming days to support his recovery.

The truth is though that what happened to Damar Hamlin could happen to anybody and should serve as a reminder of why we need to be constantly treating each day like it could possibly be our last. For now, though, I ask God to try and give Damar a second chance at life because he still has much to give.

Catch you all later!!

Blog #300: A Look Ahead to 2023

Well, here we are…Christmas Day and the last blog of 2022. As I said in my previous post, 2022 was an up and down year for me having both low and high points. Now that 2022 is about to close, attention will now shift over to 2023 and what is to be expected for “Going the Distance.”

First off, we will be starting 2023 right out of the gate beginning on Thursday January 5th in Orlando, FL where I will be speaking at a Flutie/Disney Event hosted by Doug and Laurie Flutie along with several other Flutie Fellows.

Also, in 2o23, I am looking to continue growing my involvement with the Flutie Foundation by participating in various events such as marathons and other functions that they either host or are involved with. I believe that my involvement with Flutie will grow rapidly in 2023 more so than in 2022, but only time will tell.

Still, the action really doesn’t pick up until Late January where I will be teaching a class at Unicorn Children’s Foundation called the Disney Decades Club. This class will run for 10 weeks and will cover Disney’s 10-decade existence from 1923 to Present Day. What’s more, this will be a tremendous opportunity to teach developmentally different individuals and get them to open up their eyes about a topic in a way that they haven’t seen Disney in before.

This will be my third major activity with Unicorn Children’s Foundation since I joined the organization in 2021 first as a Junior Board Member and then as a member of the Board of Directors. Of course, UCF will also have it’s gala on March 11th at the Boca Raton Hotel in Boca Raton, FL. The theme this year is “Golden Age of Hollywood.”

Next up, my appointment to the Flutie Foundation this past fall has given “Going the Distance” the opportunity to land more speaking engagements and trainings.

Already, I have several events lined up for the first quarter of 2023 which you can check out in the “Upcoming Events” section of this website. The ultimate goal is to do in-person events beyond “Going the Distance’s Core Triangle in California, Florida and New England. However, this could only be done with generous financial support and backing from you, the community.

So, if you would like to offer me financial compensation for my speaking services, please do not hesitate to do so. Once again, I can speak at comic cons/fan conventions and educational as well as employment conferences/trainings.

Furthermore, I also continue to do book signings of the book I contributed to “This is Autism” by Jessica Leichtweisz and Aidan Allman Cooper at events, conferences and trainings. So, if you would like to purchase a copy and then have me or the other contributor’s sign at a future event, you can find it on Amazon.com for only $19.97!

Next, you might be wondering what I have planned in terms of what I will be presenting in 2023. Well, in addition to “Autism in Disney Characters,” “School Safety Drills and Autism,” and “The Man Behind the Curtain,” I also have an entire menu of presentations that have yet to be shared with all of you, including presentations on both educational topics such as school assemblies, IEP’s and high school senior class trips as well as employment presentations on topics such as flexibility.

If you are interested, be sure to check them out here:

I also have targeted several local anime conventions in Boston and Providence in the spring and summer to debut a presentation called “Cosmo the Seedrian: What Does She Represent in Autism/Neurodiversity?” about how the character from the anime adaptation of “Sonic the Hedgehog” display traits of autism/neurodiversity.

It’s similar to “Autism in Disney Characters,” however, it’s aimed towards anime fans who are connected to autism/neurodiversity. If you want to take a look at the presentation, feel free to take a look:

Lastly, my friends and colleagues over at the Autism Tree Project Foundation in San Diego will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2023 and it’s more than likely there will be some events to mark this tremendous milestone. Stay tuned for any details for any events I might participate in and in the meantime, you can also contribute to their year-end campaign which goes through till December 31st and of course, you can donate at any time.

So, there you have it, 2022 is now in the books and it’s time to look ahead to 2023 as “Going the Distance” will enter its second year of operation.

I thank you all for your continued support and I hope you have a great holiday season and happy new year. Take this time to reflect on the year that was and get excited for what is to come in the year ahead. Trust me, it’s gonna be big!!

Catch you all later and I will see you all in 2023!!