By Dr. Michael McManmon, Founder of CIP and author of “Made for Good Purpose”
In 2003 my Academic Dean walked into my office and asked if she could talk to me. I said “sure, sit down”. She was very hesitant and somewhat nervous. She started by saying “I hope you will listen to me, I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to be offended by it, but I think it is important and I just want you to hear me out and be open to listening to me”.
(She can talk on and on, like that at other times, so I knew it was something that had negative connotations for me. I wondered who I offended lately or what I said that was inappropriate. I felt like I was going to get one of those lectures that my staff give to me from time to time when they are attempting to set me straight, because they care for me. So, I tried as hard as I could to listen and not judge what she would say).
She whipped out a couple of pieces of paper from her bag and unfolded them and again said “I want to read this to you, not to judge you or point out your deficiencies, but to help you understand something that could be very important to you”. Now, I was even more clueless as to what she was going to say and a little apprehensive.
She stated that this list was a list of the twenty two characteristics of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. She said that after talking it over they felt that I had most of these characteristics. She started to go down the list and give me examples of situations that had occurred over the ten years she was employed by me, which fit the characteristics. She would stop and repeat that she was not judging me or being critical.
Before she got very far on the list, I told her that I had been thinking about this myself for some time and thought there was some basis for their thoughts. I started to tell her some clues I had gotten, especially about the rigidity of my thought process. I had trouble with eye contact, and a whole lot of problems with social relationships. I also had some great assets with my art and visualization abilities.
This interaction started a whole chain of events which has culminated in the founding of first the Brevard Center in Florida and subsequently the Bloomington Center in Indiana, the Berkeley Center in California, the Buffalo Center in New York and new centers in the planning.
Looking back at all the events of my childhood and schooling, there are so many insights as seen through the eyes of ASD. It explains so many situations and difficulties to me, but mostly it is a source of strength.
I have learned about all the assets behind my differences and now as a fully awake adult, I can use them for good purpose. I can live intentionally and create wonderful things in my life. Having gotten out of the box, I am free to enjoy the world and to genuinely be myself. I am using my creative ability to set up these centers to assist other individuals like me to become self-actualized.
Young people with Asperger’s and Learning Differences have so much to offer the world. They are often under-employed, because of their lack of social understanding and competency. They often live lives of isolation (with or without a College degree). Self-knowledge and understanding is the key that can unlock the door to an open life for them.
The College Internship Program desires to be the most comprehensive college program in the world for college students with Asperger’s Syndrome ,NLD and Learning Differences.
I was the sleepy child who sat with his desk against the front blackboard for half the year in second grade, not because I was disruptive to the class, but because I could not stop doing my special interest which was drawing war ships and airplanes! I did not learn my multiplication tables until after I passed Statistics twice in my Masters and Doctorate Programs.
The long term staff at the Berkshire Center, my adult children and my x-wife can attest to the social understanding difficulties I have had throughout my adult life. It was a huge relief to put a name on it and to start to understand all the aspects of my Asperger’s.
The creation of the centers started with a full review of the literature for an entire summer by the staff. We then wrote out the premises upon which we wanted the program to be built. It was important to do backward planning, placing the vision first. Then we decided how we would do what we wanted to accomplish.
We adopted the principle that “we are made for good purpose and are inherently valuable” and that statement has remained our guiding light. We also know that Asperger’s and NLD are learning differences as opposed to learning disabilities. This is not semantics but a real understanding that is necessary to help young adults understand and accept who they are.
I use the analogy that we are apple computers in a PC world. The world is run by PC computers. They operate all the businesses and operational systems. Apple computers process differently. They can do graphics, visual design, music, etc., things that IBM’s cannot do. Would you say that an Apple computer is disabled or defective?
No, it just processes differently than a PC. It’s like the PC’s speak English and we speak Chinese. We need to learn English to get along in the neuro-typical world. We need to learn to interface with the IBM’s. The interface is a social interface—learning the social competencies of the neuro-typical world. Our students must place equal to their special interest, learning non-verbal language and the social competencies of the IBM world.
Our students must be courageously honest and willing to learn flexibility and not repeat all the same patterns they have exhibited over and over during their young adulthood. They must be willing to change. It is my good purpose: to be the best Apple I can be.