Thursday, January 24, 2013

BOXING WITH ALEX AND Our Fight Over Aspergers - Crosspost from Dr. Richard O'Connell, EdD and WPRCA member

               Our Fight Over Aspergers

By Dr. Richard O’Connell, Ed.D. A New York State Counselor of the Year and Award Wining Author.

I never knew how the mind of an Asperger’s person worked until I helped Alex write his book based on his very successful YouTube IN MY MIND with over 1,300,000 viewers.

You see, Alex and I used to fight a lot during the course of putting his thoughts together. We fought about almost everything. And truthfully, I landed several very hard punches, but he ended up knocking me out!

Our first fight was over the cover. I wanted a picture of his wearing a tee shirt imprinted with I HAVE ASPERGERS. He debunked this as undignified and came up with his own graphic which depicts his face and his forehead surrounded with "graphic metaphors" explaining his Aspergers, which are explained in his book. For example, his dream catcher graphic depicts all the bothersome noises that he hears about him and which he can’t filter out and which causes extreme discomfort, like fish caught in a fishing net all flipping around at the same time and can’t get out. He will tend to shut down when this occurs and when he can’t get relief, he can panic.

I won round two when it came to organizing the book. He wanted to organize it around the recorded conversations we had. Alex does not write prose. There were 110 of these and they were disjointed. This was an easy round when I came up the eight symptoms designated by The National Institute of Neurological Disorders. He agreed and we took all the recordings that applied to each of the symptoms to form the first part of the book.

Round three was a draw. Alex has his own style of dress, one of the symptoms, which most Aspergers people have, mainly for their comfort. Alex likes loose cloths, even at times to the point of wearing no shirt in private. So when it came to picture taking and personal appearance, he insisted on being comfortable. I insisted he look professional. "What you look like, is who you are," I would say. We finally compromised, he would wear a loose fitting tee shirt, but over it a very nice shirt, also loosely fitting. The same applied to shaving, here there was no compromise.

The next round he won and it was over the two worlds he lives in. He lives in our world and there is his comfort world. When upset or even depressed, which can happen when he is extremely frustrated or misunderstood, he likes to retreat into his world of fantasy: an addiction to TV, video games, cartoons, or even physical distractions like rubbing his hands or tapping the side of his head. I claimed it was childish. "No," he explained, " I get comfort and relief from these distractions. They relieve my mind of the torture that may be surrounding me. If I am not hurting anybody, why should I give up what gives me relief?" In a conversation with a parent whose young child had Aspergers, Alex explained his concept to her regarding her son’s stims.

(Stimming is a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner.) "If the child is not hurting himself or anybody, let him have some relief." I explained to Alex his concept is controversial, yet he held to it as a firm personal belief.

I was startled to hear why he liked cartoons, not necessarily for the silliness of the cartoon characters, which he enjoyed, but for the imaginative world that the cartoon artist has created. "Isn’t it great to see a character’s deep imprint on a concrete wall when he is bounced off it? This is not normal but imaginative."

When asked if there were a cure for Aspergers, "Would he take it?" In his book he explains it graphically with an hypodermic needle. "If there were a cure, I would not take it. I am very happy in the world I live, despite at times it’s like hell!"

My next battle came over Alex’s theory on Aspergers. Alex claims that Aspergers people have certain gifts which are far beyond the normal and this is attributed to the evolutionary development of the mind. He explains it is like a pie chart. The normal mind has a balanced distribution of parts. The Aspergers mind is distorted with one segment extremely large and gifted. He uses the example of the movie "Rain Man" wherein Dustin Hoffman is a mathematical genius. This is so in other Aspergers people who have a fixation on certain subjects such as physics, or palenotology, subways, cars, etc. They have a superior knowledge of these fields, beyond the extraordinary. Alex claims that now this causes an imbalance and their gift crowds out some of the other components, such as social skills, common sense, appropriateness, etc. Now, I tried to explain to Alex that some medical experts claim it is a virus that the defensive system of the body at birth can not contain, as recently written up in the New York Times.....You be the judge.

Alex may have won the following round when you read what he has to say about his particular gift. His gift is his capacity to understand himself and how his Asperger’s mind works. He is able to clarify and illuminate his particular kind of Aspergers. (Not all Aspergers people have the same symptoms.) Alex is able to think metaphorically and then translate his concepts into images as seen above. Again and again, he covers every aspect of his disorder. The explanations of his struggles and the pain he experiences would bring some to tears and his common sense approach to life can he hysterical. You sympathize with him when he wonders at 12 years of age and in appropriately kisses a girl in public. You’ll laugh with him when he tells one of his teachers who is forcing him to sit normally as opposed to sitting comfortably for him in Indian style, "This is not a booth camp, mister." Alex explains that the above is an example of the lack of knowledge that teachers, staff and other educational professionals have and it is one of the main reason why he wrote his book.

The knock out blow for me came when Alex delivered the reason he wanted to write his book, "I just hope that because of this book, and showing you the way I learn, and the way I express how I feel, that you guys can understand me much better. And treat people with Asperger’s as equals, and calmly give more respect to us, and treat us right, and not consider us as just plain odd people who want to get what they want. And if so, I’ll finally be understood, and have a break once in a while." Alex Olinkiewicz

For more information or to purchase text:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WPRCA Call for Nominations

January, 2013

Dear WPRCA Member,

On behalf of the Nominations and Elections committee, we would like to inform you of the openings on the WPRCA executive board:

President-Elect (Up to two candidates may run for the position)
This is a three-year position.  In the first year, the president-elect works with the current president and past-president, and is the chairperson of the program committee.  In the second year, duties as president include organizing and leading executive board meetings and mentoring the president-elect.  In the third year, duties as past-president include chairing the Nominations and Elections committee and mentoring the president-elect and current president.
Treasurer (Up to two candidates may run for the position)
This is a two-year position.  The treasurer keeps records of all official financial transactions of the Association, collects all monies due, files appropriate tax forms and information, and performs other related duties.
3 Trustees (Up to nine candidates may run for the three openings)
Elected trustees hold office for three years.  They are expected to attend at least half of the year’s executive board meetings.  As voting members of the board, their input and presence is vital to the organization.

A more detailed description of all of the executive board positions is included in the WPRCA constitution on our website under “Ethics/Standards” (  Please consider nominating yourself or a colleague for one of these positions. The future of our organization depends on current members who are willing to serve and lead.  Since 1939, when WPRCA was first organized, we have been fortunate to have had a constant line of energetic and innovative leaders.  The committee members invite you to join a legacy of service to the counseling profession.
I encourage you to contact me or any of the committee members listed below by phone or email if you have questions, would like to run for office, or would like to nominate a colleague. 
The deadline for nominations is February 8, 2013.  Thank you very much for helping ensure the future leadership of WPRCA.

Best regards,

Nominations and Elections Committee, WPRCA
Marissa Guijarro, Suffern High School
Chair, Nominations and Elections Committee, Rockland Liaison
845-357-3800 ext. 41323

Committee Members
Enrique Cafaro
White Plains High School
Mary Beth Del Balzo, The College of Westchester
Technology Liaison
Kathy Ilardi, Westlake Middle School
Middle School Liaison
Lori Merante, Berkeley College
Membership Coordinator
201-967-9667 Ext 1218
Christine Petrillo, Horace Greeley High School
Northern Westchester Liaison
Bob Sweeney, Mamaroneck High School
Director of Guidance Liaison

Article III – Nominations and Elections
Section 1.   A Nominations and Elections Committee of six members shall consist of the immediate Past President (to serve as Chairperson), President – Elect and four persons from the membership at large, to be appointed by the President.  These should represent elementary and middle school, secondary school, post-secondary school and other areas.  The Membership Chairperson shall serve as an ex-officio member.  Every attempt should be made for this committee to be representative of the tri-county area.
Section 2.   The Nominations and Elections Committee will make final determination of the slate and in no case submit more than two nominations for President-Elect, nine for Trustees, two for Treasurer, two for Secretary.
Section 3.  In the case of Trustee, the three candidates receiving the largest number of votes will be determined trustees.
Section 4.   In the case of a tie, a run-off election will be held and a plurality will determine the winner(s).
Section 5.   A member may not run for more than one position at the annual election.
Section 6.   It shall be the duties of the Nominations and Elections Committee:
a)            to solicit nominations from all members;
b)            to request that all nominations solicited on “a” above, be returned to the committee by a specified date which, in any case, is to be no later than March 15.
c)            To prepare and mail written ballots, no later than April 10 to all those who hold memberships as of March 1;
d)           To request that all ballots be returned to the committee on or before a specified date which, in any case, is to be no later than April 30;
e)            To present a written report of the results of the elections to the Executive Board no later than May 31;
f)             To disseminate the results of the election to the membership.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Save These Dates for WPRCA 2013 Winter and Spring Events


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6TH  Update from the NCAA A unique and special opportunity to hear directly and in person from Nick Sproull, Assistant Director of High School Review, from NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Learn about the new rules and changes for the recruitment and eligibility of student-athletes.  A must for any high school counselor!! Sponsored by Mercy College and to be held in the Rotunda at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry campus.

THURSDAY, MARCH 14TH  THE BARBARA CHRISTIE PROGRAM “Case Studies  for Working with College Students” a discussion about admissions, advisement, counseling, academics and identity issues on today’s college campuses. Sponsored by Lehman College and to be held at Knollwood Country Club.

TUESDAY, MAY 21ST   END OF YEAR PARTY!!!  Join us as we celebrate the end of the school year and recognize our retiree’s. Sponsored by Berkeley College and to be held at Knollwood Country Club.