What I said to them

Here are Miss Illinois and me at the 2008 Raising Student Achievement conference in St Charles, Illinois this Monday. Imagine . . . she and I were talking to the teachers, while across town . . . the FBI was arresting the governor. Miss Illinois was a big hit with the superintendents, especially the males. I even got in on the game, getting her to sign a picture for Cubby.
I'm bigger, but she got all the attention. And for those of you who want specifications . . . she is 24, not married, not engaged, and continuing with college. 17 to 24 is the age range for this competition. She's friendly and personable, and the crown is detachable. She did not offer to let me try it, though.
Luckily there were no arrests at the Pheasant Run resort. The teachers were all well-behaved. I arrived the night before my talk, as everyone was rolling into town. Once I'd gotten settled in my room, I ventured downstairs to get a feel for the audience I'd have in the morning. I found some teachers in the bar.

After first ascertaining that they were friendly, I set out to answer some questions. What do you do? I asked. Are you teachers, superintendents, or something else? Most were teachers. I asked if they were dedicated, and they all said yes. I asked if they planned to attend in the morning, and they said yes to that, too.

Knowing I had a dedicated audience, I retreated to my room to re-read your comments and ponder what to say at the opening bell. Thank you all for the suggestions in my last thread, What Would You Say to Them? I did my best to pass on your ideas during my three sessions. I spoke to the entire assembly at the conference opening. After that, I had a session with regional superintendents, and a session with teachers.

The whole thing went very well, thanks in large part to your suggestions.


Dana said…
I would be quite interested in hearing more on this - for very selfish reasons. You were within 20 miles of my home. I have no doubt my son's school was represented by at least one person in attendance. Unfortunately, my experience with the public schools in IL has not been a good one. I do hope the "locals" were listening!
Polly Kahl said…
Sounds like you did a great job and a good time was had by all. You look very handsome in the picture, too.
wrongshoes said…
This post was really funny :-)
jess said…
Thank goodness the crown was detachable.

John Robison said…
Jess, you are exactly right about the crown. The people who have those things surgically attached are often no end of trouble.

I've had people show up at work with implanted anal sticks, and they can be very, very difficult. Snippy, bitchy, and just generally nasty.

And they never seem to figure it out. If they just withdrew the stick and tossed the smelly thing in the trash, a lot of their discomfort would go away.

Miss Illinois did not seem to be in that category. She seemed happy, well adusted, and able to remove and refit all the acoutrements at will.
Joy said…
I was fascinated by your book and commend you for your success. I have a friend who I think is AS but I haven't mentioned my suspicions to him. I'm especially interested in how AS affects your relationship with your wife ie, re communication and such. I also bought three of your brother's books -- and WOW! You guys are really amazing.
Crazy Momma said…
Glad it all went well. And glad that they were all well behaved - no arrests. Sad to hear you were not offered the opportunity to try on the crown. That would have been a fun picture :)
cincyr said…
I'm almost done reading your book. My husband found out he has Asperger's at the age of 40, like you.

Looks like our 5-year-old has it too. He hasn't been diagnosed yet but we've given his teacher a heads up. Our son has a really hard time following directions and always wants to do things his way, not the way you're "supposed to".

I'm really hoping that his teachers will get educated on AS. At least do a simple Internet search!
Kanani said…
I'm really bummed you didn't get to try her tiara. I think maybe we all need to chip in and buy you one!
Osh said…
I'm so glad it went to your liking.

I just finished your book awhile ago, and I must say I drove my son crazy while reading it. After every few pages I would stop and ask

"Evan, is this like you? Am I like this? Talk to me! Fill me in!"

and he would just sigh and give me the old "omg mother, you are embarrassing me again" routine (mind you, we were alone in our own home)
Niksmom said…
I can't wait to read more about your presentation. Glad it went well.
Andrew said…
It was nice meeting you at the airport, and thanks for the flashlight - Grant (8)
Samwick said…
When's the last time she had a meal?

The way we obsess over nutrient-deprived toothpicks in this country is pretty f'n disgusting. I'm sure she's nice, but her type is just symptom of a shallow...a deepy, incredibly shallow...culture.

Barbie-doll worship: vile stuff.
Anonymous said…
You look great in that picture, John. I'm really excited about how things are turning out.
TheresaC said…
Sorry I didn't make it, I had too much personal stuff going on to attend to. Please do let us know more if you can. Please try and get to the Chicago area next year. I will try and make it then.


Tell us more!! Boy, she must either be tall (and very pretty) or wearing high heels. I think I come up to your mid-arm! Do you notice your smile in the photo? WITH your eyes too? I do!
Sounds like everything went well. By any chance, did you mention what I said at our dinner----that by today's standards, many of the very, very smart Aspergian kids (mostly boys) who were in my "Gifted And Talented" program when I was a kid in the 80s would now be relegated to Special Ed, to their detriment and peril?

Again, I had a really great time talking to you last week. Looks like you had a great time with the teachers (and don't forget Miss Illinois). Too bad Miss Illinois now has to deal with being from the same state as Rod Blagojevich!
Polly Kahl said…
Both of our sons are in special ed, and they're both very happy there. The words "special ed" mean something very different from when we were kids. Our sons are both gifted and the older one is a mathematical genius. They are in regular classes except for their gifted class which meets every day, where they get total freedom in the classroom and have interesting experiments and assignments with a specialized instructor. Neither are at all Aspergian, although there are some Aspergians in their gifted classes. Today special ed kids are mainstreamed as much as possible, at least in schools here. But once in a while a gifted special ed kid declines to go to the special ed classes so they can be in all of the regular classes with most of the other kids. I don't know what it's like it Chicago, Jill, but hopefully it's at least as advanced as it is here in rural PA. Gifted kids would have to be extremely low functioning to not be in these classes. We're very happy with our system.
In Illinois a lot of Aspergian kids are by law relegated into "low functioning" special ed classes, even when these kids are extremely intelligent. This has to do with how funding is allocated in the state (there's a lot of $$ available for "low functioning" kids, almost no $$ for "gifted" programs.) Illinois is 47th out of 50 states for state education funding (which makes no sense when you consider IL is the 3rd wealthiest state after NY and CA), so schools make some perverse choices here about how to maximize funding dollars. Where I grew up in Ohio the situation is very similar.
John Robison said…
I see the same thing in my travels. Gifted programs don't have any funding muscle. A town can get close to $100k for the same kid if he's in SPED.
It's almost the reverse situation versus when I was a kid, too, John. When I was growing up, there was a ton of $$ available for gifted programs, almost nothing for special ed. Now it's the reverse. Time Magazine did a cover story last year on the long-term implications of our country's education system neglecting its best and brightest in favor of chasing funding dollars for kids in the lower half of the achievement scale.

Polly, you and your sons are extremely fortunate to have such a progressive school system. But your situation is not the norm, I'm afraid.

Another reason so many exceptional kids (many of them Aspergian) are getting shortchanged has to do with teachers and teachers' unions. I'm a liberal and generally pro-union, but in Illinois especially, the draconian demands of entrenched teachers' unions hurt kids. Many exceptional kids who have socialization problems (like Aspergians) get relegated to special ed simply because teachers don't want to "deal" with them, and use their unions to change matriculation rules for them. And one of the main reasons the Chicago Public Schools are so bad is because of the Chicago teachers' union. Among other things, the CPS school day is 90 minutes shorter than school days in the rest of the state because the teachers' union has always refused to go to a seven-hour teaching day. (I especially think this is ridiculous because in Hong Kong, where my husband grew up and two of his sisters are teachers, the standard school day is TWELVE hours!)
John Robison said…
Jill, the teachers I talked to at the conference really did seem intersted and dedicated. Many talked about their fondness for one Aspergian kid or another.

So I don't think they all blow the kids off. Several of them told me about working with kids on the spectrum. But of course the teachers I met may be the exceptional ones, as shown by their attendance at the conference in the first place. I always wonder that . . . do teachers I meet represent the majority, or are they the most dedicated ones? I can't tell.

As to unions . . . I really have no idea about that. The subject of unions did not come up at all during any of my conversations at the conference.
I think the teachers you see at the conferences are definitely the exceptional ones. I noticed that the Chicago Public Schools weren't really represented at the conference when you showed me the program, which isn't surprising. Also, Chicago Public Schools has a huge issue with hiring unqualified teachers, and then keeping bad teachers on the payroll due to union rules making it almost impossible for them to be fired. They just move the bad teachers around from school to school in the city. Suburban districts for the most part have better teachers. Though there are a few special magnet schools in the city that are good and have good teachers, the majority of the city schools are awful, just dumping grounds for poor inner-city kids that do little to educate their students. There have actually been nearly 40 kids shot and killed on Chicago public school property just this year. Sad.
Hiya. I'm Robert, a Monarch student. We've met briefly before. Anyway...with that reintroduction aside, I just wanted to say it's excellent that the public education system is beginning to take notice of what you have to say. I think that everyone, including educators, can benefit from hearing you out and taking the time to understand what is, in my opinion, one of the most important issues that we face today.
It used to be nearly impossible to get an aide for a spectrum kid. It took a few years and a few "See. I told you so" circumstances for the school district to cough one up for my older kids.

The current policy in my school district is that now you can't get one UNLESS your kid is on the spectrum. The student must be particularly low functioning.

My youngest kid's evaluations are "borderline". She has been relegated to the back of the room with the other 'problem students'. We held her back this year and I wonder if they will cough up an aide for her once she fails the 4th grade again. I hear the term "slipping through the cracks" quite a bit. Hmm...
ImperfectParent said…
My 5 year old was dx w/ Aspergers by the University of Chicago and my husband and I fear that we won't be able to afford continuing him at Montessori where he is now in Kindergarten. The problem is, he is reading and doing math at around a 3rd or 4th grade level and if we put him back into the public school system, he will be largely ignored and bored. It's such a shame that schools lack the funding to develop the skills of the children that could make a monumental difference in our country if given the proper guidance.

TheresaC said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheresaC said…
Jill, thanks for your insight. I am in Illinois too and thought the problems were mostly due to No Child Left Behind and the games school administrators have to play for state funding. I didn't think about the unions.

What I'm really mad about is that my school district just recently changed their testing requirements so that more kids would score better on standardized testing so the district will keep getting state funding at similar rates to previous years. The neighboring district did the same thing last year....Is this really teaching kids to learn????

My kids are not made to use cursive handwriting after grade school. In the neighboring district we came from almost two years ago they were taught cursive in third grade but never made to use it. My son (youngest, not Aspergian) got a multiplication table last year in 6th grade to help him with his homework. I went to school here back in the 70s-80s and we used cursive well into high school and had to know our multiplication tables by heart in 4th grade. We didn't get to use cheat sheets. It's a whole different school system now. Is it the same around the country?
Unknown said…
I recently found and read your book. Awesome. I have a daughter who I believe falls in the Autism Spectrum, but because she wants so badly to have friends, the school district Autism team decided she did not fit into the Spectrum... Your book was encouraging. My daughter flapped her arms as a toddler, but has outgrown many of the typical symptoms that would place her in the Spectrum. The district wanted me to have her evaluated by mental health. Reading your book brought me back to my senses. I will not take her to someone who is not an absolute expert in Autism because I supect they will try to attach a handle to her in an area of medicine they are most familiar with. I know schyzophrenia is one of the most common misdiagnosis, and as you said, all your doctors tried telling you you were a sociopath. I am frustrated, but I will continue to advocate for my daughter the best I can. Thank you for sharing your story.
Unknown said…
enjoyed your book a lot it made me laugh during AIT i had a rough time of it sometimes getting through my training to be an aircraft electrician in the military i made it. the best part was making friends with another aspergian,the worst part was the pranks that the sergeants would play on me but even that was entertaining to my new friend so I had other girls take pictures of their pranks to send to his phone and he enjoyed telling my stories and troubles to his class.Your book helped me to feel less alone in the world as did my new friend.
Unknown said…
I like the Indian,saw one being restored in Morelia,Michoacan,Mex.at a carpentry shop were I was working back in 2000.I think it would be a nice size bike for me if I could find another one.
Unknown said…
There certainly was a lot of excitement about having Miss Illinois at the conference!
I thoroughly enjoyed our chat at lunch. Thanks for your time. My daughter is visiting from Boston, and I shared your book with her. She is going to take back your info to an interested friend.

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