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The start of national autism month: An essay on CNN, and I visit another school

As we kick off national autism awareness month, I'm out doing my part. I wrote a short essay for CNN's I Report that you can read here: http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-7427

I'm out there talking about autism, Asperger's, neurological differences, and making it in the world. I've got a bunch of speaking engagements in schools this month.

Some of the schools I visit focus on kids with neurological differences. Other time, I visit "regular" schools and talk about the diversity of the popuarion. With the prevelance of autism today, just about every kid knows someone on the spectrum.

This morning I spoke to the students at the Lower Pioneer Valley Education Collaborative http://www.lpvec.org/index.html in West Springfield.

LPVEC is a trade school; otherwise known as a vocational high school. Trade schools teach the skills we need to run the world . . . auto mechanics; carpentry; landscaping; hairdressing; retailing; and manufacturing. As our society has gotten more complex, it’s gotten more and more costly to teach these skills. As a result, fewer and fewer schools do it.

You regular blog readers know I’m a hands-on kind of guy, so this was my kind of school. I loved it.

Let me show you how they do things, in no particular order:

As an old-time computer hacker and geek, how could I miss the computer lab? We talked electronics, and I signed their server. "Geeks Rule the World!"

When I was going upstairs I saw this poster for a fundraiser they'd just done for the Flutie Foundation. I told them I'd just been at the Flutie Autism Conference, and I was proud to see them hard at work here.

Now, these guys are in a packaging design class. You can't see it real well, but they're standing in front of packaging they've made up for chocolates. The only thing was, being a school, it was imaginary chocolate. They did not feed me any. My only consolation was, they didn't get any chocolate either.

Here we have real-life toilet repair in the building maintenance classroom. You can see from the coloration that they have a real broken toilet there. Snicker all you want, but a good plumber can make an excellent living most anywhere.

This is the greenhouse. I'm sorry I don't have any students in the photo - they had just gone on lunch break and I was running loose, looting and pillaging.

And here we have a few more, sitting at their workstations.

This is a fashion design and retailing classroom. And we have future fashionistas in the picture. I'm not exactly sure what they are being trained to do here, but training of some sort was certainly going on, because the lights were off and a movie was playing when I walked in. And there was a teacher in there too, but she's not shown in the photo.

This is the automated machinery in the wood shop - it's a far cry from woodworking in my high school. Safer and cleaner too. Check out those floors.

And here we have the auto shop. This auto shop is cleaner and nicer than 99% of the commercial shops in my area.

This is the print shop, with two kids cleaning one of the presses

And here's an example of what they print - a calendar. The students did all the printing, and they too the pictures and did the layout. Very nice.

I like this shot. They have actually built a mockup two-story home in one of the big shops. Talk about full-scale teaching models!

One of the students, Rebecca, gave me two pages of questions to answer. . . . a written interview. I'll post her questions and my answers in my next blog post . . . stay tuned.

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Thanks –- From the Sister of an “Aspergian”

John,

Thank you for telling your story – I just purchased a copy of your book for my family after reading your blog entry. My younger brother was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when he was about five; he's now twenty-one and studying computer engineering at a local college. In addition to seeing him doing well in school, the most amazing thing for me as a sister has been watching him experience what it’s like to have a friend (or even two!). Your entry makes me think of how amazing it would be for him to have someone like you as a mentor. (Although, perhaps your book allows you to do this on a larger scale.)

You may have written this in your book, but what made you decide to write your book?

- Heather Goyette, redroom.com

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Heather, I did answer that

Heather, I did answer that question in the epilogue to my book.  So you'll read it soon, hopefully.

As to being a mentor . . . I receive that question from many, many people.  If you look on my Google blog there's an up to date schedule of my speaking appearances.  In addition, on my website there's a list of Asperger support groups.  Here in New England we have www.aane.org  

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Looking Forward to It

John,

I'm looking forward to reading it -- the book shipped on Saturday! Also, congratulations on being named "Best Blog."

- Heather Goyette, redroom.com

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I wrote my friend about your book and here is the reply:

Hi Belle,

How are you doing? Thanks for sending me the information, I've actually already read the book. It was fascinating to hear his perspective on social situations and his school years. I think he said he dropped out of school at 15 and ran away from home. He's a very interesting guy.

Belle Yang

P.S.--My friend's young son has asperger's. 

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Thanks!

That is a cool school, John. Thanks for sharing your visit with us.