Autism Advocate Meets with Islip Educators

When Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School speech language pathologist Deborah Velasquez heard author and autism advocate Jesse Saperstein speak at a conference, she knew she needed to invite him to speak at Sherwood. On Dec. 13, Mr. Saperstein volunteered his time to speak with faculty at the Islip school and work one-on-one with two students recently diagnosed with a form of autism. “He’s just incredible,” said Ms. Velasquez. “To be able to ask solid questions about what is going on in the head of an autistic individual is so beneficial to the faculty.”

Mr. Saperstein, who was diagnosed at the age of 14 with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, spoke about compensating for challenges, compromising, moving forward instead of having to let go, forgiving oneself and others for mistakes, controlling impulses, “looking in the mirror,” and viewing situations and conflicts from the perspectives of others.

“‘Move forward’ is the most important phrase I use,” said Mr. Saperstein. “When someone says to anyone – especially to someone with autism – ‘just let it go’ or ‘you need to move on,’ it just doesn’t work. I wanted to turn it into something positive. People are more likely to move forward than let go.”

Mr. Saperstein also gave insight and advice pertaining to real-life lessons regarding education, being social, and working and getting along with others. He also advised students and shared personal experiences with them about employment and self-advocacy. He explained information in child-friendly terms and spoke with sensitivity and understanding, while relating to the children on topics such as SpongeBob and video games.

“This shows our kids that you can grow up and be whatever you want,” said Barbara Nelson, the district’s director of pupil personnel services and special education. “I think it also gives all of us, as educators, the feeling that what we do has worth. Our students are going to be great adults.”

To thank him for his visit, Ms. Velasquez presented Mr. Saperstein with two frames featuring the students’ fingerprints, as well as a poem she had written.