Yes, I’m seven seasons late to the beauty that is CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. The comedy won one of its lead characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a third Emmy this year in addition to his wins in 2010, 2011. Yet I’ve just discovered what a gift the show is to the community of people who have an interest in Asperger Syndrome. It is aspie cool to the nth degree.
Actor Jim Parsons portrays Dr. Cooper, a gifted, gawky and genuinely lovable geek who exhibits some of the traits that can be associated with Asperger Syndrome: aloofness, inward focused, eidetic memory, discomfort in unfamiliar settings, the love of routine. The genius of the character and his place in the show is that he has a strong social group of peers who help him navigate the tricky world of interpersonal relationships. Oh that such social groups were the norm, not the exception.
Finding the right social group, one that you not only fit into but that makes you a better person, a higher achiever and moves you ever further toward self-actualization is sometimes an elusive goal for the person with an Asperger diagnosis. One-on-one relationships often can be easier than navigating group situations. Yet depending on one person for the bulk of your social activities can be limiting and disappointing, especially if schedules don’t mesh and opportunities to get together are minimum. That’s true even for people not on the spectrum and those who have no trouble meeting and connecting with new people.
A number of groups have sprung up to help anybody and everybody make social connections. Several are geared to young adults. Meetup.com is a great starting place to find an affinity group. Perhaps you love anime or videogames or cycling or outdoor adventures. Whatever your taste, there seems to be a Meetup to suit it. There’s even a specific Asperger group Meetup. Just go to the website, put in your Zip Code and you can find a group that gathers near you. Beyond that, churches, community groups, workplaces and the pages of your local newspaper or favorite local news website often provide information about activities and social groups that might appeal to you.
When a dog has to go, it has to go. But until recently, there were few “pet relief areas” at the nation’s major airports for service dogs traveling with fliers with disabilities. That’s changing big time, according to USA TODAY. Add Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix to the growing list of airports providing doggie bathrooms for four-legged fliers. The Department of Transportation began requiring airports to offer pet relief areas as part of changes made to the Air Carrier Access Act, which spells out travel rights for people with disabilities.
If you thought the debate was over on whether vaccines are a culprit in the rise of autism, think again. PBS and its show Frontline tackles the subject anew at 9 p.m. ET tonight. The controversy continues. On one hand are medical professionals, scientists and researchers who wave their evidence that there is no connection between autism and the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine. On the other hands are parents and autism groups who insist there is a link. According to PBS’ website: “In communities like Ashland, Oregon, up to one-third of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids at all. And some advocacy groups, like Generation Rescue, argue that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge; they view vaccines as responsible for alarming rises in certain disorders, including ADHD and autism.” The controversy has raged for years in medical journals, in the news media and now online. I doubt much new will surface tonight. But for anyone interested in the topic, “The Vaccine War” is must-see TV.
Do people with Asperger Syndrome have any hope of joining a fraternity (or sorority)? That question is peppered throughout cyberspace and the answers vary. Students with AS are reluctant to approach Greek organizations for fear of rejection. And fraternities — many of which actively partner with Autism Speaks and other autism-related groups on fundraisers — vary in the degree to which they have AS members in their organizations. Fraternities are highly social organizations which, by their very nature, attract people of like minds. The nuances of such a group might be difficult for a person with AS to navigate without a sponsor or friend who can facilitate integration into the organization. But if you’ve always wanted to be a Greek and are willing to accept the responsibilities that go along with that, check out fraternities. You might find that there are other fraternity-like affinity groups, such as in the arts, community service, technology, and sports that are more attuned with your interests.
All this week, colleges and universities across the country are conducting workshops, showing movies and providing a range of educational and fun activities to raise awareness of the special challenges facing people with disabilities and the resources available to them. During National Disability Awareness Week, Spoon River College in Canton, Ill., is emphasizing the invisible disabilities, such as autism and Asperger Syndrome. “When we hear the word ‘disability,’ we often picture a person in a wheelchair, a person who is visually impaired using a cane, or a person who is hearing impaired using sign language or wearing a hearing aid,” said Janet Munson, Student Services Advisor/Disability Services. “Many disabilities are not visible, however, and the majority of our students with disabilities have ‘invisible’ disabilities. UCLA and Oklahoma State University will host a variety of workshops and activities related to disabilities. Films Raising Kate and Tints of Autism will be featured at UCLA. This week also marks the final days of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which highlights the talents and contributions of Americans with disabilities in the nation’s workforce and works to tear down employment barriers.
Reading comprehension and critical thinking skills are fundamental to success in school. SATs, exams, GREs all test your abilities to decipher, decode and analyze information. Teachers and professors will ding your grade for failure to organize your footnotes and bibliographies according to style, but the root of what they are looking for in your papers is your ability to synthesize and enlarge on the information you assemble. Here are a few things you can do to keep your mind nimble and continue to strengthen your reading skills.
1. Break reading assignments into small digestible amounts and make sure you understand a few pages before moving on.
2. If you don’t know a word, look it up. Create your own mini glossaries. You’ll expand your vocabulary exponentially over time.
3. Find out what assistive technology your schoool or university offers that can help improve reading comprehension.
4. Read a national newspaper daily. Not only will it broader your knowledge of the world but will build your skills at deciphering more complex writing.
5. Fiction can be harder for people who tend to be more concrete in their thinking. But the more familiar you become with the imagery and the ideas, the easier fiction reading becomes.
An increasing number of students with Asperger Syndrome or autism are opting to use service animals on campus. Social Service Dogs, more commonly known as SSig Dogs, can give the user behavioral feedback, aid in navigating the campus environment, and relay social cues and other types of sensory input. Check with your school’s disability support service office for policies on service animals. But under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as any animal “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” There are a number of local and national organizations that provide service animals. Paws With a Cause is one resource. Students under age 18 can turn to Asssistance Dogs International. While theories abound about which breeds make the best service dogs, Doberman lovers tout the breeds’ strength in partnering with people on the autism spectrum.