The Autistic Brat Pack – Adventures of an Optimistic Autistic

Our columnist John Scott Holman has this to say:

“I’m going to be on Autism Talk TV,” I declared absent mindedly, while flattening peas with my fork.

“Scotty, don’t play with your food,” my mother said, reaching across the table to swat my hand. I had told her all about Autism Talk TV that morning, though I doubt she was listening (my family has learned to ignore me when I discuss my special interests).

Newly diagnosed, I had quickly become obsessed with learning everything I could about autism. I stumbled across Wrong Planet, and devoured every article and Autism Talk TV episode on the homepage. Wow! After countless hours of researching Kanner, Asperger, refrigerator mothers, and vaccines, I happened upon a breath of fresh air – Alex, Jack, and Kirsten – the hip, fun and young faces of autism. These were my peers, they were autistic, and most importantly, they were cool!

If John Hughes had directed a film about autism, Alex, Jack and Kirsten would be the autistic brat pack. I imagined sitting in detention with them, our autistic behavior having landed us in a spectrum inspired version of The Breakfast Club.

I was determined, from that moment on, to befriend Alex and his autistic crew.

“So,” my mother continued, “you’re going to be on Autism Talk TV?”

“Well, it isn’t official yet. Actually, it isn’t official at all. No matter – I’ve decided I’m going to be on Autism Talk TV and so I shall! “

“What’s Autism Talk TV?” my father grunted.

“The show I’m going to be on…”

I’ve always been rather persistent. I’ve learned to utilize my autistic perseveration to my advantage. When I set a goal, you had best clear out of my way! Only a few months after my diagnosis, I was invited to write for Wrong Planet, join Alex in San Francisco to be on Autism Talk TV, and write an article about Hacking Autism .

Meeting Alex was surreal. I had never met another adult on the spectrum. It was strange to see so many of my idiosyncrasies mirrored in Alex’s behavior. Meeting Alex led me to realize that every aspect of my personality is influenced by autism.

While covering an event for Hacking Autism, Alex and I became fast friends. We must have been quite a sight; two autistic buddies running madly through HP’s Executive Briefing Center, abducting one developer, writer, or corporate big-wig after another for an onscreen interview.

We interviewed Andy Shih, Phil McKinney, Peter Bell, a young aspie named Schuyler, and many others. I was positively giddy the entire time – I was living my dream.

Alex should be posting footage from the event in the very near future. Until then, my family will have to endure my stories about my adventures in San Francisco. “If I have to hear one more word about autism, San Francisco, or Alex Plank, I will be putting you in a headlock until you turn blue!” my little-big brother said just yesterday (several years younger than me, yet several inches taller, David is quite a lumberjack).

I have yet to meet Jack and Kirsten in person, but will be speaking alongside them, Alex and Stephen Shore at ASPEN’s spring conference in April. I can’t wait.

Asperger Syndrome is quickly becoming a pop-cultural phenomenon, represented in shows like Glee, Community, and The Big Bang Theory, as well as movies like Adam and Dear John. In reality, aspies are just people, with fears and dreams like everyone else – we all want to fit in somewhere. We all want to have meaningful friendships.

A longstanding outsider, my diagnosis has enabled me to be a part of something truly special. People with autism are no more or less worthwhile than anyone else. Some of us suffer enormously, while others are capable of leading very fulfilling lives. I am lucky enough to be able to embrace my differences and use them to my advantage. Along the way, I’ve met some fascinating people and gained some great friends.

“So what is Alex like?” my mother asked me when I returned from my trip. “Is he like you?”

“Alex is… like Alex,” I said. “In some ways he is a lot like me, and in some ways he is not. He is an individual.”

Watching Alex, Jack, and Kirsten, I saw an autistic brat pack and I wanted more than anything to be a member of their club. Meeting Alex, I found something more than a character in my autistic, pop-culture soaked imagination – I found a person.

We are all individuals and it is up to us to represent ourselves as such. Autistics are a vital part of our culture; if we wish to be accurately depicted in that culture’s popular media, we must take charge. People like Alex, Jack, and Kirsten meant the world to me when I was first diagnosed… and they still do. They let me know that I am not alone. They let me know that I am a part of something larger than myself.

When we take pride in our individuality, we inspire others to do the same. It is not always easy for me to find value in myself, but with a little boost from some viral autistic celebrities, I have learned to see myself as something more than a person with autism — I am an individual.

Be an individual. Proudly embrace your differences; not only for yourself, but for those you may unknowingly inspire.

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