Sunday, January 20, 2013

Miss Montana

  Before I begin, I would like all of you to know I am not exactly a beauty pageant sort of person. Honestly, I'd rather be watching Doctor Who or reading a book. However, Miss USA this year I found surprisingly interesting, and I would like to tell you why.
   One of the contestants was not like the others in this particular competition. Alexis Wineman, aka Miss Montana, is an officially diagnosed Aspie. She decided to enter Miss Montana to see if she had what it took and, surprisingly, won. She then advanced to Miss USA. "It seemed kind of ironic: a girl who was told she was different and considered an outcast by many, in the nation's biggest beauty pageant," Alexis said later. Alexis did not win Miss USA, but she did win America's Choice, a title given to the person who won the online voting poll for the pageant. She was so honored and could not believe so many people out poured their votes to a total stranger just because of her amazing story: going from an outcast to the top fifteen in the Miss USA pageant. It is truly incredible.
  However, Alexis did not stop there. She is now using her fame to promote autism awareness and teach the world to be more accepting of people who are different. She wants people to understand "Normal" is just a dryer setting and people like her deserve not to be treated as outcasts. Alexis herself says "I will be successful if just one person encounters a child who is overstimulated without staring, if one teenager invites an "outcast" to lunch or just smiles at him or her, or if one employer gives a job to someone who might not be able to look the interviewer in the eye".
    What Alexis Wineman is doing should set an example for the world today. We may be different, Aspies, but never be afraid to reach for the stars. Alexis did, and today she is Miss Montana. Never be afraid of who you are hindering what you will be, because as Doctor Seuss says: "Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Girl Who Would Be Queen

  When Princess Sophie Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst was born on April 21, 1729, there were no miraculous occurrences that announced that this girl would one day rule an empire covering one-sixth of the world's land mass. In fact, if you had been there at the birth and told anybody that, they probably would have laughed in your face. Sophie, they would have told you, was a daughter of a minor German princess and an army officer. She would be lucky to marry a lord, and ruling? That was out of the question.
  However, Sophie was a born leader who envisioned herself as a Queen from a very young age, because she was smart, capable, and a natural thinker. When she was fourteen, Sophie and her parents received a letter from the Empress of Russia, Elizabeth, offering a marriage between Sophie and Elizabeth's nephew, Grand Duke Peter, the heir to her throne. The family agreed, and Sophie and her mother went to Russia to marry Sophie to Peter. Sophie had to change her religion, her life, and even her name was changed to Catherine.
    After her marriage, life at the Russian court became a prison for Catherine. Her every move was watched and criticised, and everyone she grew close to the Empress reassigned. She was not even allowed to write home without copying "form letters" word for word. Peter wasn't any better; he was rude, childish, and their marriage was a disaster.
    When Elizabeth died and Peter ascended the throne, life became even worse for Catherine. Even though she had given Peter a son, she was terrified Peter would murder her and marry his mistress. However, most people recognised Catherine would make a better ruler than Peter and six months into his reign, Catherine and her supporters organised a bloodless coup and put her on the throne. Peter died in custody six days later.
   Many thought her reign would also be short. After all, she was German with no Russian blood and was merely the daughter of a minor Army officer. However, Catherine proved all her critics wrong and ruled for thirty four years as sole autocrat of the Russian Empire. She turned the economy around, encouraged the arts, and was the first inoculated against the smallpox in Russia. She created schools for everyone around the country and even granted freedom of worship in Russia. During her life, she was offered the title of "The Great", but declined. "I leave it to the posterity to judge impartially what I have done", she said.
   So why am I telling you about her? First, even in the face of hardship, Catherine never gave up her dream, even when she was alone with no friends at all. She rose above her circumstances and was patient and in the end rewarded for following her dream and patiently waiting for it. Second, many historians guess that Catherine herself had Asperger's. She is a great example to look to for guidance, because she is a wonderful example of an Aspie who, against all odds, overcame to become one of the most famous women in all of history.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thank You, Mean Girl

  I looked around the table last Thursday and smiled at what I saw. We were on break from class, and my friends and I were discussing gun control laws. Anne, Paulina, Anna, Summer, Gabby and Ashley were going back and forth on what we should and should not own, Anne mentioning our second amendment rights, Anna claiming that was back in the time of muskets; when I smiled and turned to Anna and said: "I am so lucky to have you guys.".
  She smiled and nodded, but she couldn't have known I wasn't thinking about gun control, but a day way back in the August before my first grade year.
  I can remember it clearly: sitting in the back of the ice cream parlor and waiting to meet my "buddy", she was new to my grade school and I was asked to help show her around and help her make friends. I remember, for some reason, thinking to myself, 'This is a day that will change my life forever'.

 I couldn't have been more right.
    The girl I would meet that day I would befriend and bring into my small group of two other friends. We were all close until seventh grade, when Amy (not her real name, but the girl from the ice cream parlor), decided to turn my best friends against me. They would run away and call it a game. Then Amy began to turn the rest of my school against me. The worst day happened in the fall of my seventh grade year when I walked into math class and my name was written all over the board accompanied by the words 'the Camel', which, Amy explained, was the tallest animal she could think of with the smallest brain. The teacher wasn't there that day, just a sub who was new and had no clue the comments were directed at me. That day, at lunch, I didn't eat but went into the bathroom and cried because I felt so alone and I had no one to sit with at lunch.   I knew my Asperger's made it hard for me to made friends, and I vowed, there, on the floor of the bathroom, that I would never let this happen to anyone else like me, if I could prevent it.
   When I went to high school, I will be honest, I did not trust anyone. Amy had taught me to choose friends very carefully, if at all. However, all of that changed in freshman PE, when I met a girl who, like me, was injured and couldn't participate. We bonded quickly and she introduced me to her group of friends who accepted me immediately.  Even when they knew about my Asperger's, they still chose to befriend me.  They are the most amazing friends I could have ever asked for, they don't know how much they have changed my life, and I owe them so much.
   I never forgot my vow on that day in seventh grade, and I decided to try to made friends with Aspies like me. They, too, have enriched my life beyond words. They are gracious, kind, and unbelievably brilliant. I feel as close to them as my siblings due to the bond we share.
  What I said to myself over a decade ago is now true. Amy has changed my life forever. She brought me pain and sadness, but she taught me what real kindness and real friendship means.  Because of her, I was able to make real friends who I trust and Amy also helped me find my calling in life, to work with kids on the autism spectrum.   Even if you are having a tough time making friends, Aspies, don't worry, one day this will be a distant memory and, like me,  you may actually thank the person who hurt you because they will shape the person you become. That August day before first grade  changed my life forever, and I truly mean it when I say, "Thank you Amy."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Adapting to the interests of others

"Watch it."
"It's good!"
"I said no!"
"I won't give up until you do!"
"Fine, I'll watch the show. I didn't say I would like it!"
   This was the conversation that went on when my friend Anna was trying to convince me to watch Doctor Who. I eventually agreed to watch it, and by the third episode I was in love with the series, as I am still. If I had not bowed to watching her interests, I never could have found the love I have right now for Doctor Who.
   In addition to finding a new TV show I liked, I also was able to adapt to what Anna was interested in. For Aspies, this can be hard: we have our strict routines and don't like having them disturbed, especially by new, fast and sudden change. However, if you don't try to show some interest in what others like, you may never discover you really like something, especially if your friends are trying to introduce it to you. They are like you, so maybe you will like it too, give it a chance!
   However, there is always the time where you absolutely cannot stand something that other people, even your friends, like. It's stupid, or pointless, or both, and you cannot interest yourself not matter what you try. Don't tell them how much you hate it, but rather try to smile through it. It may not be your passion, but these people support yours, so it is important to support theirs, be it TV show, book, movie, or game. They would do the same for you.
   In short, Aspies, give a bit of change a chance. Maybe you will find you love what your friends share with you, and if you don't, try to tolewrate their obsessions, because they do the same for you.