My son has expressed how he can feel alone at times. Through photography and his explanation of his art, he has conveyed a feeling being different and solitary, and believe me, as his mom, that's never easy for me to hear. That said, I want him to feel comfortable with his feelings, accepting of his differences and know that there are others who feel very much the same way. Hell, it seems to me that we all would want feel that way, right? This was the day where he could see that there are others like him, even in his own community.
We got there early, and as more and more people took their seats, I found myself watching the mannerisms of those that settled in to see if I could spy other Aspergians and maybe another parent with whom I could make a connection. But then Jesse entered.
After watching the YouTube video of one of his presentations (the one above) and reading his book, I knew what to expect to an extent. While, I was not surprised by his candor or frankness, I wasn't expecting his compassionate ability to think on his feet for the sake of another in an uncomfortable position. At one point in today's talk, he held up a mirror and asked us all to take time to look into our mirrors at home and say a positive thing about ourselves. He offered up the opportunity for someone in the audience to share something special about themselves while looking into his mirror. Two boys had gotten up and made comments that left them radiating with pride. But one boy just couldn't think of anything at first. Then, he returned to say that he was horrible at math and he wasn't able to get past that. With quick wit, Jesse turned the statement around to make the comment become a more positive statement regarding honesty and that boy returned to his seat with a smile.
My son struggled to control himself during the presentation. He chose not to take his ADHD medication, and without it, he has less self-restraint. During times that he feels a bit uncomfortable, overwhelmed or even bored, like today where he probably felt a little of all of that at various times, he can find it difficult to be still. He may rock a bit, kick his legs, slightly roll his head, fidget with his fingers, make awkward facial expressions and even talk childishly. I believe it's his form of stimming, but since his symptoms of Asperger's is milder than many on the spectrum, his stimming is usually a little milder as well. When he's on medication, those actions are non-existent so many don't realize he even has those behaviors. Despite seeing many of the kids in the audience with the same difficulties, it's still difficult for me to watch. I just know what kind of misjudgement that type of behavior can bring upon him, and I'd love to protect him from all forms of erroneous impressions no matter how unrealistic that may be. Seeing Jesse describing how he manages these behaviors, I have hope that my son will find his way as well.
As we stood in line for the book signing, my son showed more of his stimming. When we got to Jesse, he childishly said "Hello"with eyes wide and a mouth even broader. He continued his silly voice to answer when Jesse asked him what he was going to be for Halloween. I tried to break the ice for my son a bit, by getting him to share what he liked best about Jesse's presentation. With normal voice returned, he shared his excitement over an anecdote involving a Studebaker (the antique car aficionado that he is grasped onto that one small mention of a car). He then preceded to contradict the man about the size of a Studebaker. Oh boy... Well, it's not an ideal discussion, but I do like seeing him show confidence. Confidence dispels stimming.
We both left smiling about what we heard and learned about compromise, understanding, and acceptance. I certainly felt motivated to continue to advocate, and surprisingly more motivated to continue with my writing. My son hasn't completely shared his thoughts on today with me yet, but based on his smiles, I think he did get more from it than a Studebaker comment. But then again, I guess that could've just been the candy he got from waiting in line. Nah, I don't think so.
I know I got a lot more of out of it. Even his inscription gave me a thrill and a little more clout with my boy. The last line of the note stated to my son that his mom is awesome. Now, I know he doesn't know me from Adam and he was being gracious, but I sure don't think my son needs to know that! It brought a smile to my face and made me walk just a little bit taller. Awesome is something to live up to at least and I'll do whatever I can to be just that. So thank you, Jesse A. Saperstein, for the lessons of a lifetime and for the simple yet meaningful accolade. I look forward to seeing your future endeavors and will be cheering you on along the way!
Please check out Jesse's website, jessesaperstein.com, to view his blog, The Atypical Blog, and to learn more about Jesse, his amazing feats (like hiking the 2,174 mile Appalachian Trail) and Asperger's Syndrome. I highly recommend his book, Atypical: Life with Asperger's in 20 1/3 Chapters, as well. I found it funny, enlightening and well worth my time.