Paper #2: Proposal for Replacement of High School- Idea for a New Education System

This paper is going to focus on an outline of a different program for teenagers to participant in in order to make better use of the information that is known about development during these years of life. The outline will start with a brief description of the different parts of the new system and then will be followed up with explanations how this system supports the bio-psycho-social model and the other theories.

This model has several goals in mind to facilitate strong development of skills needed for a strong healthy life in the adult world. The primary goals are to teach the following: encourage responsibility, time and money management, self-awareness, self-confidence, and involvement with family and community. As the prior paper has shown, most of these goals are not supported with the current education system and in many ways the adaptations of the going technology is continuing to help with the failure to learn these skills and tools.

It is important to remember that this is an outline for a system and is not finite. If there is ever an actual interest in developing this program and funding is provided for full development and testing, then that bridge will be crossed. It is understandable to expect that the outline of the system is subject to extreme changes if there is a desire to design and test the replacement for high school.

Apprenticeship and Social System

The first step is to remove the teenagers from being in the high schools as much as they are now. As it was pointed out, placing teenagers in to environments where they are isolated together does not help with teaching strong interaction skills and it does not help to provide good role models of behavior, communication and interactions. One of the best ways to do this is to help the kids to be in environments in which there are opportunities to be exposed to role models of these skills.

Talking to many people of various age background about their memories of high school, most of the primary memories focus into one of two categories: job and socializing. When asked about classroom experiences and information learned during this time, the answers were limited or focused of one or two small items. With this in mind, the question was asked about where the energy of teenagers could be better used and learning be better focused.

The first answer was in apprenticeships. In the past, most teenagers would invest the years between being a child and being an adult in refining skills and learning to expand on those skills. Many kids at this point in time have an idea of what they would like to do in adulthood and as a result, this is a good time to test those fields of work. The author of this paper had a desire to be a kindergarten teacher until during her junior year of high school she had the opportunity to work part time in the classroom doing just that. The result was self-removal at the end of the semester and deciding against the career in elementary education.

Many industries are looking for people to fill part-time jobs and positions with individuals whom are willing and able to learn in the environments and high school student can test their desired field with these entry level jobs. With working only 24 hours a week (4/6 hour shifts), the students have a chance to try something new that could lead to a career in the future. Most of the placements will be for 6 months and can either be changed or extended depending on how the work and relationships are between the student and the teacher/ employer. This does ask a lot of many industries with regards to work practices and the education of student/employees but in the long run there will be a stronger work force for the future with a little extra work and patience now.

Another bonus of placing teens into the work force part time is the opportunities to make use of their innovation skills and creativity as well as encouraging the innovations that many teens have shown to have. With the chance to be in the environment, they can come up with new ideas and then work to see them brought forward. Research has shown that most humans will plateau in innovative thinking around the age of 40 though the skills that they are will be needed for many more years. Teaching those skills as well as being mentors, judges and listeners for new ideas are ways in which the finite memories can mix and work well with the younger and less experienced mind of the teenagers.

The next step is with socializing. Most teenagers will spend at least half of their time each day socializing with one another in one way or another. With the reduced hours required for school and extra school related activities, most teenagers will have a greater about of flexibility to spend time with each other in social environments. This gain an opportunity to encourage face to face interaction in a world in which there is ever growing use of the internet for the majority of interaction. Encouraging more face to face interaction helps a person to learn stronger communication skills like verbal communication and the use of body language in healthy and appropriate ways.

One complaint that is heard often is the lack of places for teens to socialize with one another in which there is both mild/ light supervision and freedom. The author has interacted with many people that wish to open a coffee shop/ café/ arcade for teens to spend time with each other in that awards them both freedom and light/ casual supervision. If more of these venues were available, the author is confident they will be used especially if the teens are paid for their work in their apprenticeships.

Debit Cards/ ID Cards

Most teenagers look forward to the day that they receive their drives license and this is not just because of the chances to drive, it is also about the identification card. To many, having an ID outside of school is an indication of membership to the larger society. With the mobility of people and how often teenage will travel together without supervision, it is important that they get a form of identification upon the completion of junior high school, if not sooner. With this ID card in hand, the system is also able to provide a means to pay students for their work with their apprenticeships and also have a means to pay for their social activities. Technology has already shown that it is possible to make the magnetic strips on the back of most ID card multi-usable and with combined ID and Debit Cards, teens will learn to keep track of their money and their ID. Also this works as additional security to make sure the teens are not buying anything that is illegal to them or that they are not stealing each other’s cards.

It should be noted that these cards should not be sent up so that the students can make purchases online with them. If online purchase need to be made, then the students should work that out with their parents and not use the funds that they earned from their apprenticeships. That money should be used for snacks, social activities and things the student purchase in person.

Community Service and Exercise

Two complaints heard often about teen activities is that they are not involved enough with the community and they do not get enough exercise. With this system, exercise is mandatory as well as the student’s choice. If they wish to go for a hike or play basketball with friends, then they can use their time for either. Vigorous activity for at least one hour a day is recommended for most teenage and currently they are only getting about 2 hours a week unless they are involved in sports at school. This is an area in which the current high schools can come in handy with the use of the facilities. Students would need to check in and check out to verify that they are getting at least 6 hours of exercise a week, and it should be encouraged to be higher. Exercise can be both interactive with peers as well as done alone for those whom like to spend that time thinking on their own.

Community Service should also be mandatory and can include doing things like reading to children at a day care or picking up garbage on the side of a highway. Most of the community service done now is used as a punishment and as a result, many community maintenance activities are neglected until there are enough prisoners to do the work. Community service should be seen as a social activity that can be both fun and rewarding and these skills can be learned during the teenage years with active participation. Encouraging community service can help students to learn to look beyond themselves and see the influence they can have in the larger world. Additionally, this is another area in which the creativity of the teenage mind can help to service the community as well as empower the future to stronger, better and more socially conscious thinking.

Interactive Education and Independent Study

In a 2008 documentary on teen use of the internet, a student admitted that he had never read a whole book and opted to use online ‘spark notes’ for reading assignments. He stated that he would love to actually read the whole of assigned works but he did not have time. With this system, there would be more time for reading and other independent study that is ideal for the rapidly growing mind, additionally this would give students the chance to practice skills that will be needed for growth and education in college and beyond.

Students will be expected to gather for no less than 4 hours a week to test, discuss and question materials they are assigned to cover independently. Much of the work will focus on basic reading, writing and arithmetic that they had been learning through each grade level up to the end of 9th grade. A great deal of the information that is taught in junior high school is repeated again in high school. This means that the information is already there and should be used rather than reeducated. Teachers can use the weekly meetings to cover specific information with more depth and variety and allow the teacher to have more fun and flexibility in the classroom. Additionally, each student will be assigned to a cohort with whom they will take all of their study time with and the cohorts can be rearranged every 6 months as needed. And there is no longer a need for summer/ winter breaks with this system, so there is no loss of education during breaks that are several months long. Many teachers specialize in one area of information and they will continue to teach in that area, but doing so in a far more interactive method of small classes of no more than 20 students.

Independent study is key in this model, and each student will be expected to work with others in their cohort as well as alone outside of the classroom. The expected time ratio for independent study is 2:1 or 2 hours of independent work for every hour in the classroom. This balances out to a total of 12 hours of learning in addition to the other activities. This study environment places responsibility on the student for self-management and other member of the cohort can encourage one another to remain active and involved in the work. Susan Cain argued in her work on introverts that creativity can come from collaboration but it also comes from quiet contemplation alone… this interactive and independent system allows for both.

Teachers/ Case Managers

By this point there is a question of what to do with all of the high school teachers whom will not be spending 8 hours a day teaching and the answer is simple. They will be cross trained to be case managers for the students. In order for a student to be placed in an apprenticeship, assigned community service, assigned a cohort and make arrangements for recreation/ exercise, they have to work with their case manager. Also, the case manager will make changes for the student as is needed such as going to a different job, needing a new community service project or if they are having difficulties with the studies. Case manager will act as a guidance counselor but unlike many guidance counselors now, they will have a case load of 30 students at the most. In most cases, it would be most helpful to have the case manager also act as one of the cohort’s instructors so that the case manager can see the students weekly without the need for phone calls or emails, unless there is a lack of attendance or the student seems distressed.

When a student is ready to graduate or move onto college or full time work, the case manager will help with future planning as well as preparing applications and other paperwork to go forward with those plans. In order to provide the best service possible without interruption of daily living, it is best if the student meet with their case manager for an hour or two, every six months.

Another benefit is if there is a shortage of teacher to cross train for case management, this would open up a breath of jobs for people with skills and a bachelor’s degree in any of the following areas: psychology, sociology, education, communication, liberal arts and depending on the individual, political science. For many with at least a four year degree, this could be a good job in which to be a role model and advice others of their possible future. If needed, a simple test and supervision could lead to a license in this area of work so to protect the students and provide work for a population in need of employment.

Free Time/ Family Time

This model seems to make a lot of use of a lot of time but when it is truly calculated, you will find that the students will have over 20 hours of free time. This is important for three reasons. 1) Teenagers need to be able to sleep, a lot. Several researchers have found that the ideal amount of sleep for a teenager is about 10 hours a night. Most teenagers in the current system are lunch to get 6 hours most nights and so the flexibility of this system is to ensure that teens are able to sleep as much as they need to. 2) The free time is family time. Teens still need time with parents, and other family members and so this time is for family dinners and outings with parents and siblings and even spending time with aunts, uncles and grandparents. 3) Alone time. Most teens need to be able to spend time alone. Whether it is to work on a project or playing video games and thinking about relationships and other problems, it is good to learn how to use alone time well and in healthy ways. Free time is so little used that when many have some, they have little idea of what to do with it. Encourage a parent/ child hobby that the child can work on alone, it is healthy and good for the cognitive functions.

Applications within the theories and models

In many ways it is easy to see the accomplishment of this system to fit with the goals of teaching responsibility, self-management, self-confidence, time and money management, as well as family/ community involvement. Additionally, this model works with the bio-psycho-social model and the many other theoretical approaches of adolescents.

Biologically, growing teenagers need plenty of sleep (this system budgets 10 hours a day for sleep), lots of exercise, healthy foods (most teens do not eat well or enough because of fatigue and time restrictions) and plenty of social interactions and alone time (to help reduce stress). Research has shown that teenager are bodily developing at the same rates as a child between the ages of 0 to 2 years old and so it is vital that good food, exercise, and plenty of sleep are had by the growing teenager.

Cognitively, the brain is developing connections and processing at incredible rates which allows for grand scale learning and adaptation but can also result in being over-whelmed and confused. This system allows for both conditions with working and independent study. Many of the teenagers will have good days in which they can be involved and active and then there is allowance for the frustrated days in which the teen can step back and allow another student their chance to shine while they pull back to a contemplative place. Most people have good days and bad days and with this system there is room for the bad day without causing problems for the teenager and there are days in which they can be active in the apprenticeship and possibly make a discovery that will be a benefit to the world.

Jean Piaget stated in his work that adolescence is the time for developing formal thinking skills and this includes learning about concept, abstractions and forward thinking. The abilities to reason through a problem using logical systems is supported in an environment in which there is freedom to make choices and also supervision to help with guidance. With this system, there is not only the parents and teachers to help guide the students but also employer/ mentors and the adults working in the social venues the student will frequently attend.

Socially is the most important area of development for teenagers, and this system supports that development far better than the current system does. The first area of support is found in variety. In most high schools, students will find their group of friends and socialize solely with that group in all other environments. With the community service, assigned cohorts, apprenticeships, and recreation time in addition to the social expectations, there is not only lots of time to spend with friend but also a necessity to interact with other on professional and academic levels. The working and community service environments will not have the same people as the education and social environments. The variety of interaction will help the student to develop a health set of schemes towards people of a variety of different background and additionally help to reduce and maybe one day, eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

Adolescence is about finding one’s place in the larger world (according to Erik Erikson) and with the variety of activities as well as the variety of people to interact with, there are many chances to try on different roles before concluding on which is the most comfortable for the teenagers skills and talents. With regular meeting with their case manager, there are plenty of opportunities to switch to different fields and different community service activities until a good fit is found, and this is done in a social supported system, thus reducing the risks of dangerous behaviors or habits.

The balance of family, work, friends and alone time is delicate, important to mental well-being and is best learned during adolescence. Most of the tools needed by adults for health lives are learned during adolescence including boundaries, regular exercise, and time management. This system encourages learning on all of the level the current system is failing to teach and encourage. Additionally, this system allows for people with a variety of tools and skills to participant instead of empowering a select few with the skills to make it through high school.

Conclusion

This was a brief over view of an idea to help improve the education for people between the ages of 15 or 16 and 18 years. This focuses on the ideas of learning while works as was once done with apprenticeship programs. Time is opened for a larger variety of activities such as time with family, friends and self through the use of a variety of venues for socializing and recreation time. Education is pared down to encourage independent study and critical thinking skills as well as freeing the teachers to engage with the student more and provide a variety of educational topics. Additionally, teachers will be cross trained to help with case management of the student’s schedules and help the students to navigate what will be expect of them once they graduate and go into the adult world.

Healthy activities like community service and regular exercise will be mandatory to facilitate teaching these skills so to be carried into adulthood. Other healthy living skills will include: getting enough sleep, money and time management, and strong social skills. Case managers, teachers, parents, mentors, and other involved adults will have the opportunity to coach student through the trials and tribulations of social interactions and will be able to encourage the development of healthy respectful relationships with all people.

In many ways, this model reflects the Bill Clinton’s statement “It takes a village to raise a child”. This has been found to be truer with each passing year and this system allows for the village to be available to the child as he or she grows into an adult. This system allows a lot of freedom to the adolescent and that freedom is necessary for growth… to make good choice, one must be allowed to make mistakes. But keep in mind that there are still people each step of the way looking out just in case a really nasty mistake needs to be stopped before it is made.

 

 

Paper #1: Proposal for Education for 16-18 year olds (to replace the 3 years of high school): The issues with the current system.

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If one were to stop and ask people on the street about how well high school education works today, you might get a small group that think high school education is working just fine. The majority of people asked, including most parents of teenagers and the teenagers themselves would agree that the education system as it is now is not working very well, if at all. Many parents will say that school is not teaching their child about issues and skills they will need in the future, and in many schools it is agreed that the classroom is more like a place for children to be babysat rather than taught. Even grown, successful adults now have a difficult time remembering any detailed information that they learned in high school; instead citing work and friends as much of what they learned during that time.

There are many reasons for the failings of the present school system including the often used statement “it does not prepare children for adulthood.” This is truer for high school than any other part of the education system. This paper will look at the many different ways in which high school does not prepare students for the future as well as addressing many of the larger social issues dealing with the 16 to 18 year old populations of Americans. Among the issues with the current system that will be considered here are issues dealing with the discoveries about the development of the brain, legal concerns about teenagers misbehaving, and the focus areas of the education system and how they are not addressing the real focuses of the teenage psyche and development.

This paper is a blunt, focused and simple description of what is a large national issue, there is little debate that the United States of America fails in our education of teenagers and young adults. This is a description of the difficulties with this system and will have a follow-up paper with a possible solution. The hope is that within 20 years America will have changed the ways of managing education in order to maximize the learning of each students by encouraging the use of positive reinforcement, proactive self-management and opportunities to look forward to the next step in life. These papers are an effort to bring attention to the problems with the current system and then offer up a solution to better aid the teen population to better and more satisfying adulthood.

Issues with Current System- Brain Development

Issues with the current system have been debated in many different environments and have been studied, analyzed and examined time and again. If you ask a teenager what the number one issue they have with high school, they will say ‘it is boring’. One of the first issues that comes up is that students are not really learning anything in high school classrooms. There have been debates as to the reasons for this including the students not paying attention, the teachers not being paid enough, and the lack of qualified instructors, but none of these make as much sense as the argument about the neuropsychology of an adolescent. Research that was outlined in the Frontline special “Inside the teenage brain” indicated that the development inside of the adolescent brain is as intense and massive as during the first two years of life outside of the womb. And during this time, most of the major brain structure is broken down and rebuilt within the walls of the skull, and American society is also expecting our teenagers to take on more work than ever before and retain more information than is expected in earlier educational settings. In many ways this is asking our teenagers to push a two ton boulder up a hill while suffering from a 5 year long headache.

In an unofficial survey, the author asked several dozen people what they remember most from high school, and the results focused on incidents of dating, school yard fights and working in low wage jobs. Very few people could remember an incident of learning a new piece of information, though they will tell you about a note that was passed to them during a class. Much of the brain activity focus during this stage of human growth is on learning about one’s place in the world (Erik Erikson’s theory of Development Stages). Many of the habits and behaviors that are considered to be within the roles and responsibilities of the person’s social place are trained and reinforced during this time of life. Examples can be found in groups of individuals that don’t ‘fit the mold’ of what is socially expected of the individuals. Comparing the childhood experiences shows nothing, but comparing the adolescent experiences shows that the social training of expected behavior is done with teenagers. An example is that most girls learn to be feminine during the years of puberty and the reinforcement of expected behavior is more profound in not only the home but also the school yard. In the modern day, it is not hard to find a movie or television show that reinforces the stereotypes of much of the roles American society expects. Girls act like girls, students like students, and accountants like accountants.

The current high school environment does not support the development of the brain in the focus points of social interaction and roles of the person in the large social structure. Much of the synaptic pruning during this point in development is focusing on the social cues, traditions, and other stereotypical behavior. Those individuals that were alienated to the outside of the typical social networks often don’t learn all of the details of many roles and as a result, tend to fall outside of the normal behavior expectations as an adult. For many of those people, they are referred to as eccentric and are frequently recognized later in life for strong success financial stories but socially maladapted. In many ways the environment of high schools makes this worse and there is an increased focus on the popularity of a student rather than the success in functional behavior. In other words, teenagers might learn more about appropriate social guidelines and behavior if they spent less time surrounded by each other.

Another major problem with our current system and the brain development of a teenager is that there is too little physical movement. Most of the day for an average high school student is spent sitting, and it does not require a lot of studies to see that the lack of movement is ill-effecting on the students; mentally, physically and socially. Though team sports are offered in most high schools it is not enough for all of the students and far from encouraging a diversity that needs to be learned but instead assists in creating a high form of selective skills, restricting learning other skills. Teenagers should be physically active during large parts of the day, partly to use up the extra energy of growth but also to facilitate and focus the physical development of the brain. For most teenagers’ brains to develop well there should be a diversity of experiences, social activities and physical activities.

Issues with Current System- Theories in Development being ignored

Development theories have agreed that there are many different parts of a whole that work together to assist a person in their growth and maturity through life. Adolescence is consider to be some of the most important time for the development. Up until the 1960’s, the teenage years were considered to be part of adulthood and as a result, most teenagers were treated as adults with adult expectations. In the 1960’s, the view was turned around and as a result, most teenagers are treated as if they were still children. Both views have their problems and the problems have created new problems. One of the first problems is found in a lack of balance in the bio-psycho-social model (the unbalance is out lined in the prior section). At this point in time it is fine for a child that is younger than a teenager but not suitable for an adult. The current system does not maintain a balance for a teenager’s needs; which are somewhere in between a child and an adult.

Other theories that are ignored are Erikson’s Development stages. Adolescence is a time in which a person works to find their place in the larger world and having teenager shuttle between home and school does not encourage self-learning of one’s place in the larger world. The theories and research support that this is the time that people should be the most involved in the community and larger society rather than locked up in a building with others having the same experiences of brain development.

According to Piaget’s theories, this is a time for the development of abstract thinking and comprehension of the emotional experiences. While emotions do run high during the high school, often they are hyper-inflated because of the isolation of the students with each other within the building. Many of the individuals that offered descriptions of their experiences said that they learned more about emotional regulations and abstract thinking while at a job or community service activity rather than the school yard which was often more stressful due to the ‘drama’ that was created in the actions of the other students.

In looking through the information about the current high school system, the author could find no theory to support the current system as being psychologically functionally, or even socially benefiting for anyone but the people that wish for teenagers to stay out of the way until they grow up. This also comes with the problem of ignoring what teenagers can offer the larger society. One of the greatest problems with the function of the current system and what research has shown about teenage growth is that this is a great moment for development and the high school system holds our student in a stationary place for 3 to 4 years, handicapping them much like a prisoner in a cell.

Issues with Current System- Involvement in the community

            Ask a teenager for an idea and they will give you ten… adolescence is a time of innovation and creativity. This is not a point that needs be researched because we have examples every year in the forms of awards given to high school students for innovation and creativity. There are more and more contests and competitions each year encouraging innovations and many of the results of these competitions have ended up helping to change and better the world. The loss of these resources can be considered when considering the possibility that each person has a potential for a world changing idea and for many that idea comes during those years of the freedom and lack of fear that comes from being a teenager.

Additionally, there are heard many complaints that teenagers spend too much time living in their own little worlds and not being involved in the larger community, society and world. While there are many adolescents that are proactive enough to find ways to get involved in their community, there are many that don’t know how or cannot find advice to ways to get involved; in addition to having a motivation to do so. There is a strong relationship between teenagers being involved in their community and later involvement during adulthood.

There are many high schools that require community service for graduation from students, and there are some teachers that require service for passing an important class for graduation. There are many churches that insist on teens volunteering and many after school programs that encourage and focus teenage energy towards community involvement. A common penalty for teenagers who break the law with less than a felony is community service. But this does not help with the majority of students that do not get involved in their community. While there are many in the current system that are trying to foster involvement, it is not enough to make a really impact.

Many adolescents have said that involvement in the community, either through work or service, is valuable but they would not have done it if it were not for being pushed by parents and educators (statements made in many different news reports and documentaries). Many teenagers are open and willing to be involved and many would like to be help, if only there is a way. The current system is not supportive of these drives and desires outside of the ways in which there is an effort to manipulate the time during the day for use towards a select amount of after school work and recreation. And because there is such a limited amount of time in the after school hours it is difficult to manipulate and fill the time well or comfortably. Most teenagers wish to have more responsibility like that of a job, a paycheck and involvement and the current system restricts this in addition to holding the teenagers back from many opportunities to grow in working and diverse environments.

Issues with Current System- Developing Healthy Relationships

Holding teenagers back from involvement in the community is not the only ways in which an adolescent is held back from their potential, there are also the skills of adulthood and the development of healthy relationships. Most of the focus of teenagers in high school is not on the school work or the future but on the relationships that are there. While there are some teenagers that have the select skills for being highly successful in the high school environment, most individuals will not develop those skills until they are in the college education world. Most of the skills that are being worked on during this time in the life span focus more on managing interactions with others, and finding one’s place in the social environments.

While many teenagers will claim to know that they will ‘want to be when they grow-up’ most of those decisions will change over time and experience. The idea skills to be learned during this time are: social balancing, social interactions, healthy boundaries, time and self-management, etc. Much of the learning for these skills are best done through practice and step by step guidance. The current system discourages interactions outside of very small windows and has resulted in socialization being done through technology and secrecy. The use of texting, instant message and many other tools has created a new set of frustrations with regards to the limits of communications and healthy relationships. Sometimes it is better to wait for a phone call than believe that the other person should respond right away, it allows time for thinking and processing of the information about the interactions and how the relationship should function.

The idea of a healthy relationship should not be limited to the current boyfriend/ girlfriend but should also include the healthy interactions of friends and family members. It is easy to keep a secret about distasteful behavior when you are interacting with another person through a limited medium like a computer or a phone, but it is harder to keep a secret when the other person is sitting next to you. While using text messaging and instant messaging has its usefulness, there is still a need for face to face interactions, and the current system does not allow for enough time to engage in these interactions. Because there is such a small window for socialization in the current system, many will put the use of their phone on a priority and then learn that is an acceptable behavior to engage in while in a social environment.

Because of the lack of time for interaction, when adolescents do find the time for socialization they will tend to focus their interactions on a small select group of friends and peers. These restrictions help to create a heighten isolation in small tribes or cliques and restricting experiences of larger social interaction as well as having those smaller groups facilitating the reinforcement of unreasonable beliefs about people from other groups. While it is true that there is less overt discrimination in the larger society, there is still a lot of implicit and subtle discrimination that is reinforced by an increase in isolation. Many of the stereotypes about sex, gender and behaviors is reinforced in smaller social groups like those found among many of the high school students now. Most students that have a strong healthy understanding for diversity and the failures of stereotypes have had experiences of which disproved and dispelled those beliefs, and the best time for these experiences are in the high school years.

One of the last areas of healthy relationships that suffer are the family and home interactions. While there are many high schools that have been able to foster a health relationship with family, most teenagers do not have good communication or relationships with their relatives. For many, this lack of a relationship or bad relationship can continue on until middle or late adulthood. Those individuals whom have good relationships with parents and family have had those relationships since the teenage years or before, and during the teenage years there was social interaction to reinforce the positive relationships. The current system keeps students in a state of non-stimulation (leaving them with little to talk about) and uses a great deal of the daily time which additionally leaves little time for social interaction between family and the teenager. If there is any interaction, then it is tense and there is not enough time to be able to relax, or the teenager would like to be in a different place spending time with friends.

One of the great struggles of the teenager is the development of communication skills and coping methods for the future struggles. The social interaction that teenagers have are the ones that help with the education in these skills. Not only with the interaction with the family, but also in social and employment environments. The current system does not support the interactions that many teenagers need to learn and be successful, and will encourage teenagers into increased isolation and smaller groups that increase discrimination. Additionally, in order to be successful after high school, one must be in the extreme with isolation and friend selection in order to have strong opportunities for the future. Time and again have shown examples of how this level of social isolation creates problems. One of the most telling is the use of popular movies as examples, like “Mean Girls” and “Heathers”. Working and being in diverse social environments improves a person’s chances of strong social skills, as could be easily seen by a person living in tight social environments like New York City or going to activities that have a lot of diversity.

Issues with Current System- Social Policy and Legal Concerns

            The current high school system is part of several other problems that are found in our society and if this system is changed, if could help to eliminate or reduce the ongoing issues. One of the first issues is with regards to gender stereotypes, of which the current system maintains. It is true there have been efforts made to reduce the gender discrimination in schools, and it could be reasoned out that the education system has helped to provide research and evidence for the discrimination that was not otherwise viable, it does not change the fact that the current system still facilitates and reinforces the beliefs about gender roles. Things like sports, cheerleading, drama, dance, etc. have helped to keeps the restricted guidelines on male/ female behavior. An additional paper can be written about the ways in which high school as it currently operates, works to maintain the gender roles and isolation that are still holding our society back from true equality.

Bullying is another concern for this age group and the current system of high school does nothing to dissuade this behavior no matter the efforts that have been made to modify and adjust the system. The larger structure of the system maintains a tiered hierarchy that is similar to chaste systems and make it difficult to move out of the way of the bullies. Bullies are the means in which most people learn to maintain the system and work the system to keep the people on top in that place. With the high school system as it is, the status of the person within the school is often the same out of the school because the large social structure places the school in priority. This often results in a person learning that the means to get what they want is to aggressively over-power a person and not compromise. These sets of behaviors could additionally be outlined in an additional paper.

Delinquent behavior has become an ever increasing concern for parents especially with regards to drinking, drug use and criminal activities. The concerns with regards to teenagers behaving in a way that could cause damage in the long term from the child and as a result there are ever increasing efforts to restrict the teenager’s movement and freedom. The increases in restriction has also created more desire to commit delinquent acts in order to meet the needs of independence, self-recognition, and autonomy. Restriction on the teenager to make sure that they have no chance of committing a criminal or delinquent act has created further issues of time management, lack of interaction, hyper-focus on productivity, and many of the other social issues that are related to difficulty with interaction and socialization. A common complaint about teenagers is that they will spend most of their time being idle and on the computer, and this could be traced to the responses that society has had to the rising numbers of criminal teenagers. Interestingly enough, looking up recent data from a number of websites, juvenile crime rates are no different now than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes the rates have gone down since the 1990s but there is no difference between the 1980s and the 2000s, though there is a significant difference in daily activities and productivity pressure of teenagers from then to now.

More and more there has been an increase in the idea that in order for a person to be successful in adulthood, there has to be notable success in the high school years. The use of the time and the resulted judgment on the use of the time will have a larger effect on the judgments made from college, work and other adult opportunities. Those who do not succeed with the select skill that are required to be successful in this system have a difficult time with access to resources later when those skills have developed. For most, high school is a holding place to stay until the law says that a person is able to leave the system and move on to a different part of the larger society structure. Those whom do not succeed at this juncture with the limited skill set are often doomed to be left behind for the rest of their lives.

Conclusions

Development research, brain research and sleep research have all come to the same conclusions about the teenage experiences and the adolescent development, it is intense and requires a lot of energy and work to process through. Much of the focus of development during this time period works with this idea of the adolescent trying to find their place in the larger world that they live in and management of the choices that they will need to make for the future. The current education system does not allow for the flexibility that most teens need to navigate these tough learning experiences and in fact the current system does the opposite of help students to develop the skills they will need for the future.

The current system is set up to support a select and small group of individuals with a select group of skills that most teenager’s learn to develop after the turmoil and frustration of the adolescence years have completed. For most teenagers, the year spent in high school are mostly a holding place until the choices of adulthood as bestowed upon them with the graduation or dropping out. Additional, in order to be successful in high school, a student must sacrifice learning important skills like communication with others, including family, and learning boundaries with others to facilitate the developing of healthy relationships.

Most of the high schools require an intense amount of focus on the part of the student and for most students this is difficult due the events going on within the brain and what has been found with the development of the brain. The brain is working double time to develop into what the adult result will be and the taxing information processing and other work expected in high school does not get done well and is disabling to the needs for strong development. Additional stress is found in the difficulties with recovering after high school with the current system, most people who fail to reach the bar of expectations in high school have a more difficult time with gaining success later in life.

One of the areas of the greatest concern with regards to teenagers is the legal issues. More and more there are concerns about adolescent crime rates and the mis-behaving or violation of social rules. The current system does little to nothing to support teens developing these important skills and keeping teens from using criminal choice to gain access to desires and needs. There have been every increasing efforts to adjust the system in order to reduce the criminal behavior and social faux pas, but the statistics of juvenile criminal behavior have not dropped below the levels they were in the 1980s, even with the increased restrictions on students’ time and schedules. On-going efforts to reduce the crime rates of teenagers has created further restrictions on their free-will and resulting in less anatomy and free thinking, creating a new and more difficult set of undesirable behaviors.

This is one of a set of papers on the difficulties of the current high school system. The next paper will address a section of a solution, or better put, a completely different system for educating and making positive use of the strength of unconventional thinking and speed that adolescence offers the world. Additionally the new system will seek to eliminate or better manage the problems that were discussed in this paper. As the current system is failing most of the American youth, hopes are that the new system will provide the future with greater chances for success and happiness.

The Pleasure and Pain of being a Modern Psychologist

There are few that are judged harder than those whom have engaged in witchcraft… and for a great many people the field of psychology is still tantamount to the world of evil witches and devils. Psychologist are often treated with mistrust, distain, and sarcasm; no matter what ways they use the information that they know and what good they have provided.

Part of the reason for this could be the history of psychology, the use of psychology in the last 100 years and the ways that it has been given attention by the news outlets/organization, the military, and the entertainment fields. There are few other fields of work that are as heavily used and at the same time mocked and referred to as a “soft science” with a sneer. And the sad thing is that this painful position started with a handful of misperceptions and stereotypes that started many years ago and have gone on to the current time.

This paper will seek to acknowledge and break down many of the most common beliefs and stereotypes about psychologists of each stripe. The first will look at the most common beliefs and ones that psychologist deal with daily and have often been faced with in social settings. Primarily: 1) all psychologists are therapists and 2) all psychologists are trying to get inside of your head and assess your flaws. The next belief is that all psychologist have a desire to fix everyone around them and provide counseling at the drop of a hat and then followed up with the belief that ‘all psychologists are crazy’. The final section will focus on the general belief that no one uses psychology but when looking closer, everyone is in fact doing the opposite. While there are many other beliefs and ideas in psychology and about psychology that could be expanded on, these are the top issues to frustrate most people whom teach, work and know the field of psychology.

Belief #1: Everyone in psychology is a Clinical Psychologist

A psychologist walks into a bar… seems like a start to a funny joke but like so many other humans, psychologists enjoy a cocktail or beer from time to time. There then might result in the conversation with a stranger in which at some point the question of occupation comes up and needs to be answered. It is important to note that asking about another person’s occupation will result in killing the conversation temporarily (it is difficult to find something to say outside of ‘that must be interesting’ even if you know the occupation well). But psychologist will often get one of three reactions: fear, disgust or concern/ pity. The first two are the most common but there are times in which the third reaction happens, though this is related to belief number four.

There are the times in which a person hears that another person has a background in psychology and as a result they believe it is necessary to ask about any number of disorders and illnesses that affect the mind. There are some times that the psychologist is expected to give a diagnosis or assessment on the spot for what ails the person asking. A little known fact is that only 11% of psychologists are actually practicing Clinical Psychologist or working in the field as a specialist of mental illness (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Many of the people that work as psychologist work in business or office environment and as many as 11% of the total number of psychologists are in fact working in the educational (college/ university level) and research environments. Most of the focus of the industrial and research environments has little to do with the abnormal psychology and more to do with what many think of as ‘normal’. Because of the rate in which information is gather and disseminated, most psychologists are like other scientists and have knowledge in their specialized field and little time to spread out to everything else.

Though there is truth that most people whom get into the field of psychology have a desire to help others, this does not always mean that they wish to give out free advice on one disorder or another. Most people going into a social environment with to spend time being social and not working, and this is true for a psychologist. It is difficult for most people whom are dedicated to their profession to 100% leave the work in the office, but it is nice to try when going out.

Belief #2: Psychologists are trying to get into your head and assess you

This is a belief that is played out in social circles and on television frequently and part of the reason that many feel that being around a psychologist is an unpleasant event. There is a fear of another person pulling back the mask that each of us has carefully put on to hide the inner vulnerable self from the outside world. Society, as it is currently, has put a premium on the people that are seen as strong and tough. For most the idea of strength and tough is retaining control and if another people has the ability to see beyond that which is placed in front, then they are able to take the control away. And there is a truth in that psychologists do enjoy have these abilities and this form of training and skill, there is no doubt that such skills are useful from time to time.

But there is the question of whether the psychologist you just met in a social environment has any need to remove your mask, or to see inside of your soul. Does it serve a purpose to dig into your psyche? In many cases, the answer is “no”. Though there might be a compulsive part of a person in this profession to make a list of behaviors or actions, it is like collecting small rock on a beach; in general, there is no reason to worry about the loss of information or damage to the overall picture.

Additionally, it might be wise to assume that the psychologist interacting with you in the social environment does not truly care to unearth your secrets or anything else of the kind. Unless you do something that could be a harm to yourself or another person, there is really no reason to be concerned about what a psychologist has picked up about you or your internal condition. It is believed that all psychologists are making list and checking it twice to have information to use against you but many might not care that much or feel any need to do that. So have no fear, the friendly neighborhood psychologist might be more of just a friendly neighbor to you. There is no voodoo or witchcraft there, nor any fear of assessment.

The good psychologist will tell you that a single conversation will bring a lot to light about a person but not enough to make any decisions. Most people that specialize in assessment and analysis will spend as much as eight hours a day for many weeks with a person before they come to a decision on anything. Assessment is tricky and should never be done by a person that is not trained and licensed to do so.

Belief #3: A desire to fix everyone

There is a general belief that psychologists want to fix everyone just like a medical doctor. Provide pills and a few words of advice, and the person is better. First, the people that are able to prescribe medication are “psychiatrists” and a small number of those in the field of psychology. Most good clinical psychologists are aware that all people have some problem and it is not up to the doctor to fix it but the person to make the choice and the effort. In fact a good clinical psychologist will tell you that there is no way to truly “fix” a person or restore them to something that they once were but instead work to help the people move forward and make the best of the condition. Additionally, trying to fix everyone is too large of a task for anyone to attempt and most would not want to.

There is another part of this that is not often considered and that is the ethical code with regards to dual relationship. A person known in a familial or social environment should not be a patient and vise verse. Though there are some exceptions to the rules, it is still clear that a person should not be a therapists in a professional sense, friend and lover to a person. Making suggestions for good mental health is not the same thing as being a professional therapist and the two should not cross.

Therapy is hard work from both the therapist and the client, and even the hardiest will burn out of the work if they seek to ‘fix’ everyone. Like most other workers, those of the mental health field prefer to have the work stay in the office, and not work during off hours. Assuming that they are in a social environment to be social and not work is the best, after all psychologists are human too. Working too much in all parts of life, might be one of the leading reasons for the need to seek help from another professional.

Belief #4: All (or most) psychologists are crazy

The belief that psychologists are crazy is not one that has ever been broken down and to a point, it is correct. But not because the people interested in psychology are crazy to begin with (as many have stated is the reason for the prevalence), instead many have a difficult time with the external response to the profession. Research on torture and abuse has shown that the most imbedding and damaging is the constant, long term and non-violent. This paper has already reviewed some of the assumptions that will affect a psychologist and result in their feeling boxed in or isolated and any social scientist will agree that it borders on being abusive. When a person feels the need to hide, or risk fear and ridicule, it wears up an individual’s sense of self-worth and social well-being. Humans are social animals and a lack of social interact or interaction that is not healthy or helpful can result in harm to the individual. And then leading to the psychologist needing therapy on their own.

A point of frustration is a lack of validation for the field of social sciences outside of the overlap with medicine and neurology. There are few public and well know awards for work in any of the social sciences and there is no Nobel Prize for work in any of the social sciences. Validation is an important part of human interaction and not receiving such validation can be frustrating and depressing to any one working in any field. As the social sciences seem to get some of the least acclaim, the validation is even more difficult to come by.

Another side of the frustration in discussing social science theory is that one may feel that conversation is targeted at the listener individually instead of hearing a theoretical overview. This can result in defensiveness of a listener and those social cues indicate to the speaker that the information is only acceptable in highly academic environments thus increasing the feelings of isolation for the social scientist. Most need a sounding board to work out ideas and this is difficult when the scientist is isolated to only talking to a select few in limited environments.

Frustration can continue on to include issues of people not seeing break troughs in the field as impressive. The discovery of DNA was heralded as a huge step forward but there is little difference in the world of biology, genetics, or medicine since that time. Physics has not had a significant break-through in years and biology has had few major changes. But the fields of the social sciences have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years and only been seen and recognized in the last two years and primary due to large steps in the field of neuroscience and medicine.

A last item that will harm a psychologist’s sense of strength in their work and ideas is simply that people use psychology each and every day, and in many way they are not aware that they are using it. An extreme example of this can be seen in the television show “Bones” in which the lead character frequently cites psychology as being anthropology. Many other social sciences are treated as if they are not influenced by the work of psychology or the interrelationship of all of the social sciences. The use of psychology is considered by many outside of the field as a means of aggression, and is targeted harm to others. Information that is useful is often credited to other sources or considered to be ‘thought of on their own’. Even where psychology has successes it has fight for the acknowledgement it deserves.

Using Psychology and the Social Sciences Every Day

Much of this paper has focused on how psychology is a victim but that is not the whole picture because there are some battles that it has won in the recent time. One of which is the increase in review of recent works. National Public Radio (NPR) programs have started to provide more briefs on research being done in psychology labs all around America and sometimes in other countries. Other disciplines are using more information from psychology to increase productivity, feelings of well-being and function in environments spanning from the sporting arena to the factory floor. Psychology has started to enter into the political debates as questions are rising about homosexual rights and women’s rights, not just being part of the discussion with regards to mental health and treating illness.

There is a long way to go for psychology getting the respect that the other sciences have earned but it is important to remember that psychology has only been around as an official science for a little over 150 years unlike so many other sciences that were documented on their own for hundreds of years. Before 150 years ago, psychology was considered part of the medical practices and largely ignored by doctors. In the last 150 years, it has had to do a lot of catching up and made a lot of mistakes, of which have been heavily documented and put through the wringer. While psychology is still called a soft science because ethics and law prevent taking the actions of a hard science to discover information (for good reason), it is proving to be every bit as strong as the other sciences.

There is a positive though due to humans being social animals and as a result spending a great deal of time thinking of the interactions of the self to the others in addition to looking at all of the other information that has been provided by psychology to help make the world a better place. Because of this ongoing and daily use of the information found and provided by psychology, this science is not going anywhere. In fact there are signs that psychology might start to take over more information as the world becomes more global, which indicated that there is plenty of research and work ahead. And as more people are working towards asking for help in what ails the weary mind, there will be increased need for counselors, therapists and social workers.

Conclusion

The last 20 or so years of psychology has been rough and wrought with changes but many things have not changed as fast. Among the things that have stayed the same or changed very slowly is the suspicion of psychologists. It is believed that psychologists wish to fix the problems of the world, take every person apart and diagnosis everyone. This has been shown to be not true for many reasons but the number one reason is that it is an expectation that is beyond any one’s abilities. In fact, most psychologist have no desire to pull apart you or your sense of self and well-being, and will only do so out of the professional environment in cases of necessity and following ethical codes.

Another difficultly is the burn-out of psychologists which can be partial attributed to the fearful or disdainful reactions to them but is also due to the lack of recognition for good works. This is changing in the academic environments and showing signs of trickling into the larger public but it has a long way to go. Psychology and Sociology are the babies of the science family and need to be given the chance to grow with all of the acknowledgments that a science needs to be stronger in the future.

On a final note, while it is great to point out information that you might know about the field of psychology, please be aware of how you say it to the psychologist. Psychologists are human and have feelings like all other humans. Just because psychology is a fact of daily understanding and life, it does not really mean that you know all that is being said. A good way to push the person away is to indicate that their effort and time is a waste. Humans spend most of their time outside of thinking of food, sleep and shelter considering human behavior… yes, that idea might be considered common knowledge, but is it… Really?

A Walk inside My Mind: Living with Asperger’s

A Walk inside My Mind: Living with Asperger’s

            I have thought of many ways to start this paper and I will more than likely think of many more before I am done with the writing, editing and reading of what I have written here. However, I guess the best way to start really is to say that which will be apparent to the reader soon enough. This is a personal piece and though I hope to write many more papers that have more serious and scientific emphasis, this is not a paper for that purpose.

I have spent many hours talking with people from many different lifestyles and during those many conversations, I have told many stories about my life. Some of the people that I have spoken with have indicated in words and facial responses that they would read a memoir that I have written about my life… and I respond much the same: The only reason a memoir would be interesting is if you know me, otherwise there are people far more interesting than myself in the world that have better stories to tell. I have no wish to clog the already full bookcases with a simple story that only a handful would like to read. In addition, I have no wish to relive my life in the ways that a writer would need to. I have lived it, verbally told the story, and I move on.

Nevertheless, it seems that there is a story in my life that I feel is worth telling in the written word, and not because it is an emotional tale, but rather a rational and simple one that I hope, many others would be able to gain insight on. My goal is to provide a point of view that will help others understand the points of view of loved ones around them. I am writing about the interaction of a personality and a ‘gift’ inside of my head, and I only hope that it will help more people than I will receive criticism for it.

What is Asperger’s Disorder?

            Asperger’s Disorder has been a victim of stereotypes and misperceptions over the years and part of this is due to the relationship that Asperger’s has with Autism.  Asperger’s is a form of high functioning Autism and part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (Sicile-Kira, 2004). Autism, in its lowest functioning forms, is a disorder much like Mental Retardation, so many individuals that hear the term “Asperger’s” assume a person is mentally retarded. There are many believed cases; including believing much like it was in the time of Jesus Christ, that the parents did something terrible to cause the child to be disabled. I am often amazed by how many people pity me or feel sorry for me or treatment me as if I am deaf and dumb when they hear that I am confirmed with Asperger’s. And then there are many that believe that I am a genius when they here Autism in reference to me… though my last online IQ quiz put me at about 140, but I think that happened because I was having a good day. I would ask the reader to please set aside the stereotypes now even if they are partly correct, and those with experience will probably agree with me.

While Asperger’s is part of the spectrum of Autism, I like to think of Asperger’s as the cousin of Autism: different but from the same family. When I discuss the relations of these two disorders to others in conversation, I will often draw out the image below on a sheet of paper or a napkin:

High Functioning ——- Asperger’s ——- [] ———Autism—————–Low Functioning

Asperger’s patients are not always aware that they have the disorder or that there is even a problem. In a lot of cases of Asperger’s, the individual will find ways to adapt to the environments they are in with either a focus on logic or a selection of friends that are willing to spend time with an eccentric person. Asperger’s individuals tend to have high intelligence but not always are they geniuses (as has been portrayed on television) (Sicile-Kira, 2004). Many experts in the study and management of Asperger’s argue that though it is part of the spectrum of Autism, it is also a different expression of the disorder. As a result, a person that has experience with an Autistic person might be able to understand shared traits of an Asperger’s person but not in reverse.

We obtain a diagnosis of Asperger’s and Autism by looking at three important areas of how the person interacts with others in the world around them: Social, Communicative and Organizational (though some people will call it ‘restrictive patterns of behavior’) (Mesibov, Shea & Adams, 2001). I am not going to spend time on the process of diagnosing or the criterion, but I will spend a paragraph discussing each of the areas affected.

Social is often the area that comes to the attention of care-takers and others first. Autistics like to be alone a great deal or they with use barriers between themselves and others like computers, screens or other devices. Many autistics will also have a difficult time with social rules and norms, in some cases refusing to follow them unless there is a reasonable and logical explanation for the rules. In many ways an Autistic child is asking why to every social rule that is put in front of them and if there is no reason for the rule, they will dismiss it.

Communicative is the next area, and this does not refer only to verbal communication but also nonverbal. Many people with Asperger’s remain undiagnosed because there is still a stereotype that only people with low or no ability to speak are Autistic. Robison (2011) does a good job of discussing many different social behaviors that can communicate the wrong information, but do not make any sense in a real communication. Most Asperger’s patients like their communication to be simple, straightforward and direct, and finished definitively. In the books I have read by Asperger’s and the conversations I have had, most of them like the communication to get to the point, complete and move on. Moreover, at times this can seem very rude to other people, thus communicating the wrong information in the interaction.

The final area is with organization of objects, life activities, and thoughts. If you spend a long time with a person of Autism Spectrum Disorders, you will notice that many of them ‘have a method to their madness’. The organization is multifold because it assists the person with many areas of their life. The first is in keeping track of information, because the Asperger’s brain will process through thousands of bits of information while trying to figure life, other people and the world they live in. The other reason for the organization is a need to feel in control of their environment. People of Autistic Spectrum Disorders are often easily stressed and as a result, many will develop tools and routines to help cope with stress (Dubin, 2009). The last reason for the routines is so that nothing is forgotten or neglected, because while living in one’s one little world, sometimes you will forget to feed the cat or take out the trash. The routine helps to keep the little things in life taken care of.

I have had many people ask me about the causes of Autism/Asperger’s and there are many different theories and ideas. One idea that I thought was the most logical was found in Mirroring People by Iacboni (2008) in which he say that Asperger’s and Autism, are at least partially caused by a low population of Mirror Neurons in the brain. Mirror Neurons are the parts of the brain that help children to learn social behaviors and emotional cues and how to empathize with others that are around them (Iacoboni, 2008). In addition, Iacoboni (2008) points out that the dysfunction or low population of these Mirror neurons could be connected to many of the social difficulties that people with Asperger’s suffer from. Many of the social difficulties include: not understanding a joke if the punch line is implied, not understanding others’ emotional response to an event that they are unrelated to, and not being aware of social cues such as a person attempting to engage attention or attraction.  I have been referred to as socially dense because of traits like these, and Robison (2011) points out many different rational skills that are used wisely in order to not socially alienate from the desirable group. The cause of the low population of mirror neurons is unknown but there are a few theories that are genetic, environment, or even evolution.

There a hundreds of books and articles on Asperger’s, Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders and at the end of the writing of this article I have included the books to which I referred. I believe that they are all good sources of information.

Who I am now and in the past

            Before I start, I should explain a little of whom I am. I am a 31-year-old woman and a budding academic in the field of psychology. I am currently teaching psychology and working to put my pen to paper or type my thoughts and ideas with the goals of improving the theories of psychology. Many consider me an individual of high intelligence and a rational observer of the human situation and its relation to the world. I spend time with friends and family and in all considerations thought to be a rather ‘normal’ person. The one way that I do not seem normal deals directly with my means of expressing emotion, as in there is not an intense and at times notable expression of emotion. For this reason, I have been accused of having no emotion, and there has been a couple of times that I have been asked if I am a sociopath. As I have been teaching for the last year, it is interesting to see many of my students responding to me as if I were cold as ice and I even had one call me egotistical, which I have never been called that by anyone before.

My life up until I turned 20 was not easy, and some of that could be due to a difficulty in my expressions of stress while growing up in a world that went from using answering machines to cell phones in a handful of years. Couple this with the many other difficulties of adolescence in the 1990s and turbulent world of my family, which I will not get into. What I will say that the trials I lived through not only helped me to develop a strong constitution as well as an interest and a heart-felt attachment to the subject I have made my occupation. I had someone ask me if I went in to psychology to figure out what was wrong with myself or someone else and I stared at them feeling confused (they thought I was angry at the question). After a moment I responded that I did not think there was anything wrong… instead I was trying to figure out people, I felt like I did not understand other people.

While reading this monologue, please keep in mind that I am an intellect, teacher and psychologist first before all other things and second to that, I am a human being. It is important to the writer that these concepts and ideas are first in my identity before everything else that this paper explains. I write this with the idea of being helpful to the larger psychological community and to help other humans because that is the most important part of whom I am.

My point of view on having Asperger’s Disorder

            I have talked to many different people about my having Asperger’s Disorder and I have gotten many different reactions. One reaction was to ask me if I thought of the prevalence of my having this disorder as a disability and my response was “No, I see it as an explanation”.  The reason I choose the word explanation is that I could see that I did not think about information in a ‘normal’ way. From the first psychology class I took in high school of the final paper of my master’s degree in psychology, I could plainly see that I did not think through information in a ‘typical’ way. I even went so far as to try to map out my thinking on a sheet of paper as a surveyor would with city streets. Even this simple act seemed weird to many that I showed it to… though they also said, ‘that is who you are and what you do.’

One concern that was brought up about acknowledging this explanation is that it gives me an excuse for anti-social or asocial behavior. I said in response that I do not see the excuse, but instead the way to develop tools to not behave in anti and asocial behavior. Tools that I might need would be doing some of the writing I am doing now, knowing that I need to spend time alone and understanding the ways in which I can better manage my resources and goals. As well as seeing the traits that I need to improve on that are typical of having Asperger’s. I passionately stand by the belief that a psychological disorder is no different from a medical disorder in the ways that people deal with it. Some people will use medical disorders as an excuse for avoidant and maladaptive behavior, while others will see it as a means to develop fulfilling relationships and benefiting goals. A disorder is only a disorder if the individual allows it to be a dictate on life and choices. I believe that both fate and free will work hand in hand, the determining result is the agreement an individual makes with himself or herself and the god (or lack thereof) that they believe in.

My family expressed concern about allowing the disorder to label me; however, I do not believe that I this disorder label me. Instead I view having Asperger’s as a pleasure and a gift. I think of my mind as a cave of wonders that I now have a map to and I am ready to explore. My explanation is also my joy, my gift, and my ability to provide the world with the ambitions of my goals for my career in psychology.  I hope to use my mind to help the world understand more of the functions of the mind and help a few great minds to find their own way to improve the world we live in. People with cognitive disorders like Asperger’s see the world differently… much like standing in different locations in a room will help you see the room differently. Some people stand in the center and other stand in corners, when you combine the points together you get a better map of the whole.

Asperger’s affects what I believe

            When I started to read and learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorders, my goal was to be able to provide accurate information to my students about a disorder that is growing in diagnosis and public awareness. There is a lot of misinformation and criticism with regards to this disorder and as a teacher it is important to provide correct information. I did not expect to find myself in the pages I was reading. I knew that I was a bit ‘weird’ and I have always made an effort to understand each of the traits. After I became more aware of the collection of traits that comes with the Asperger’s ‘package’, I felt that I found a mirror reflecting what I did not know. I later found out that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child but never told of it because of other concerns and difficulties in my life at the time. Also there was very little information about the topic and that was a tentative diagnosis.

One of the traits that struck me first was the need for alone time. However I choose to spend that time, I still need it. I have tried to force myself to be a highly social person in the past and the result of a forced period is the same: me being angry with other people and confused. As a result, I have learned that it is okay to take a break and stay home for a while, or be introverted from time to time and even restrict social interaction to one or two people at that moment. Many of my close friends and family have become use to me sitting in silence during group conversation and this is because the many conversations going on around me can be over-whelming. I have also learned that when it is time to go home, it is okay to go home, and most people have learned to not stop me from leaving.

Another trait that struck me was the routines and organization behaviors, of which I do a great deal. I have my bedtime routine, my dinner and dishes routine, and I even have weekly routines for chores and other tasks. I spent a lot of time thinking about the routines and I realized that the need for the patterns partially needed for stress control. I have experience with non-verbal autistics in the past and was trained and warned about never changing their routines, which of course, suited me just fine. Though I have learned to appreciate and in some cases, enjoy change, I have a difficult time with permanent changes and large changes (such as moving to a new city or changing jobs). The number one thing I have learned to help me cope with this is to tell others that I am upset, what I need, and telling myself that it is okay to be frustrated.

Telling people the truth about my reactions and me has been my greatest tool in help me to maintain friendships and relationships. Because I have a difficult time with display of emotions (one person pointed out that if I did not say that I was falling asleep on my feet, they would not be able to tell looking at me), I have learned to speak my emotions and take actions (such as giving people hugs) to indicate how I am feeling. I have also learned to tell myself that it is okay not to express my emotions all the time, and that I am perfectly welcome to be stoic when I need to be. Most Asperger’s have a difficulties with be touched and it has taken a great deal of work and talk to express to people when it is okay to hug me and when I need my space.     The lack of emotional affect has been my greatest challenge and has got me in difficult situation more time than I can account for. Emotional expressing is one of the most important ways for humans to communicate with each other and having a hard time expressing emotion leads to a large amount of misperceptions of how I am feeling.

There are number of frustrating things about not expressing my emotions to the same dramatic details of others around me. One is that if I do not seem to be feeling anything (displaying apathy) I have been ‘given’ emotions or told how I am feeling. Often the given emotion is no where near what I am actually feeling and it is frustrating to anyone to be told how you are feeling. The second is having other people deflect their emotional state on to you or having other react to you as if you are a mirror that they are watching themselves in and they do not like what they see. This behavior often is followed by the first frustration of having others tell you how you are feeling. The third frustration is in misinterpretation which happens often. Many misinterpret my tone or statement for a more dramatic emotion than is being conveyed. I have simple logical statement understood as being angry or rude, even through email and text message. The last frustration is being ignored because there is no dramatic show of emotion and as a result other assume that you are fine when you are not and need some one to ask “are you okay?”

My favorite trait of Asperger’s/ Autism is the ability to solve puzzles. Though many people enjoy puzzles and like to disassemble and reassemble puzzles, the Autistic brain will apply this to life and other events. Most Autistics are highly rational people in the way that they think and as a result, they will spend a great deal of time piecing information together as if it were a puzzle. As a result, many of them will develop the skills to form puzzled pictures and ideas together, drawing together lines of association. There are a handful that have used these ingrained and learned thought skills to organize their lives, cope with stress and become great scientists, inventors, and thinkers.

Conclusion

            Autism Spectrum Disorders have a long way to go before it’s completely understood by most people in the world, but for the time being there is more interest and as a result, there is more research performed. I discovered that I am a high functioning Asperger’s a little over year ago and have found myself become a home-grown expect on the topic. However, the point of this paper was a means of expression from a person proud to be on the Spectrum of Autism. I was able to see that my brain is in fact different from others and from that I draw my strength, understanding and hone my talents. Though I am looking for ways to help deal with some of the unpleasant traits of Asperger’s such as high stress, social anxiety, and tunnel vision (literally), I feel confident that there are ways to do it without taking synthetic medications. At the moment there are connections being drawn from the supplement “choline” and coping with Autism. There is a brief article on ‘livestrong.com’ that is a good start to hopefully a growing body of information on the use of this supplement.

Learning to live with your self is a life long task and having an explanation as to why to stand out a little more than other people is a way to help. The final thought on this topic is a few words of advice. First, autistics need time, whether it is brushing teeth or thinking, they need to go at their own pace. Second, autistics do feel and deeply even if they are not always able to express those feelings in words or actions. And last, rational thinking is not a why of insulting you or not getting jokes. Most autistics are highly visual (see pictures more than words in their minds) and as a result the information does not come across as words or sounds would, result is a rational processing of information.

I read in one book that the numbers of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders is increasing to almost one in 100 people. Why the numbers have gone up is any one guess but it would be a help to see a study of the populations of world to see how many people have Autism on some level or another. With more information of the true numbers there might be better theories about the causes of autism as well as how to help people better cope with the frustrations in the future.

References

Dubin, N. (2009). Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Stress Management. Dexter, MI: Thomson- Shore.

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others. New York, N.Y: Picador.

Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V. & Adams, L. W. (2001). Understanding Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Robison, J. E. (2011). Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers. New York: Crown Archetype.

Sicile-Kira, C. (2004). Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger\’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other Asds. New York: Berkeley Pub. Group.