Sometimes dates make a difference.

August 2, 2006 is one of them: it was on this date that my older son, Jacob, received his official Autism diagnosis from Robert J. Rome, PhD of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. At the time, Jacob was slightly more than a month away from his third birthday.

Receiving the diagnosis was an emotional experience, though it was not entirely a surprise. Actually, in many respects it was a relief because having the diagnosis allowed Jacob to receive an array of helpful services for which he did not previously qualify.

Jacob and MeAt the time of his diagnosis Jacob had very limited speech (3 to 6 word sentences were the extent of his verbal communication). He also lined up items, heavily stimmed and exhibited many obsessive compulsive behaviors. In addition he had many fears and also lacked basic social skills. Despite these challenges, he emanated a beautiful and loving spark that just needed some help to shine more brightly.

Since then Jacob has made remarkable progress, most notably due to early intervention services such as Applied Behavior Analysis services provided by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD).  Founded in 1990 by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh CARD is a leading provider of autism services.

Due in large part to CARD, Jacob’s inner light now shines brightly. He has truly emerged into the wonderful, thoughtful and intelligent little boy he always was. Grateful is a word that barely communicates how I feel.

He is fascinated with numbers and can calculate large sums. His favorite number is “infinity!” Not surprisingly he also loves Buzz Lightyear (“to infinity and beyond!”). For a while he could even tell you the day of the week on which your next birthday would fall! Actually, I suspect he still can, but his therapists have discouraged the behavior.

Jacob and MeHe also loves to tell bad jokes — specifically those in the classic “knock, knock” variety. He is also a wonderful artist who loves to draw and paint. Although I am his Dad, I can honestly say he has an impressive talent.

It makes me smile that he can now not only communicate verbally but artistically as well. Occasionally he enjoys playing music with his brother, Max.

He is also an “old soul” and has engaged me several times about topics seven-year old boys don’t often ponder.  Once he asked me “Dad, do you have to be dead to be in heaven?” I replied, “I suppose you do.” His response: “But God is in heaven and he isn’t dead!” Nietzsche retorts about God possibly being dead aside, I was stunned that this little boy was thinking about such big concepts. More recently he asked me what is on top of heaven!

Impressively, Jacob’s success story is more common than it is rare, as evidenced by the inspiring 20th anniversary video from CARD, below:

Looking to the future,  one of my goals is to eventually create an organization called the “Ourtism Association.” The mission of the organization — named to recognize how autism affects everyone in a family and that it is “our” responsibility as a society to help — is to provide supplemental income to families and adult individuals with a diagnosis.

Right now it is only a dream, but I am working to make it a reality someday. My “big harry audacious goal” (nod to Jim Collins) is to raise enough money to provide $50,000 to 50 families each year.

I suppose that isn’t outrageously audacious (it is “only” $2.5 million!), and 50 families is the tip of the iceberg, but my own experiences have inspired me to make a difference. This would be my contribution to that noble mission.

Jacob and MeOn a personal level, I will continue to encourage Jacob as the unique individual he is.

I enjoy experiencing educational activities with Jacob, but also recognize his need to be silly. Despite his uncommon maturity, the last thing I want to do is rush him into adulthood.

It is my hope that Jacob can always exist in his ebullient essence.

I remain committed to Jacob’s enduring progress and will forever be his most ardent ally. I continue to make the most of my moments with him and my younger son, Max, and celebrate his achievements every day.

Speaking of Max, the other night when I called to say goodnight to him, Jacob told me a “knock, knock” joke:

“Knock, knock!”

“Whose there?”

“Max.”

“Max who?”

“Max no difference!”

Have you declared your independence from indifference?liberty-bell-656871_640

Today, as Americans celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, many of us repeat the following passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thinking about the “pursuit of Happiness,” I find myself wondering if indifference prevents people from experiencing the happiness of  their life’s purpose? This leads me to ask questions like:

  • How many of us truly pursue that which makes us happy?
  • How many of us have a longing for something greater?
  • How many of us envision a path we have not pursued?
  • If obstacles were removed would we pursue our dreams?
  • Do we limit ourselves with fear and excuses?

Like the character Neo in The Matrix, there are times when we sense something is not right, but we choose the blue pill because we fear the reality of the red pill. Fortunately Neo embraced the unknown, but not everyone makes the same choice.

In his inspiring TED talk, Why we do what we do, Tony Robbins argues that, despite tremendous obstacles, we all possess the power to realize our dreams. Robbins explains that we fail to achieve our dreams not because we lack resources, but because we lack resourcefulness — the emotional ingenuity to achieve our dreams:

Consider the seemingly insurmountable odds America faced when it declared its independence from England.  The odds of success were minuscule, but those odds discounted how driven to dream the colonists were. But they weren’t naive either; instead the colonists embraced the philosophy that would later be defined by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties – and at the same time – confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Certainly, we all face limitations, but I encourage you to look to what is, rather than what is not. The past two years have been challenging and rewarding to me personally and professionally, but I continue working on moving forward rather than back.

Reinforcing this philosophy, Fortune Cookie: Discover the Power within YourselfI recently received a fortune cookie that read “Discover the Power Within Yourself.” As trite as this message sounds, it inspired me. Taking those words to heart I continually re-frame my situation to see it realistically while retaining faith I will prevail in the end.

So, whenever you find yourself encountering adversity, I encourage you to declare your independence from indifference and discover the power within yourself to achieve what you dream!


With graduation ceremonies in full bloom this time of year I felt inspired to resurrect a satirical commencement speech.

eKjoVZqjglI first wrote this in 1997, following a year of working surviving at my first “real job” in the corporate world after completing my BA in English from UC Santa BarbaraYears later, it still seems accurate and relevant (and is hopefully still even just a little bit funny).

Note that my use of parenthesis represents a pseudo-subliminal voice I imagined using while giving the speech — meaning, that the words within them would not be subliminal at all.

 

So, you’re graduating.

You’re about to make the transition from undergraduate (scourge of the academic world) to entry-level employee (scourge of the professional world) with typical, sentimental pageantry. Your family will cry with pride, your friends will smile with happiness, and you will anxiously await the commencement of the incredible future you were promised.

Unfortunately, after a final night of Dionysian revelry, you will awaken to a strange, frightening, and unfriendly world.  A world in which you must sacrifice all you hold dear for a paycheck, a world that strips you of your youthful vigor, a world in which a truck driver is paid more than a teacher, a world in which the glass is always half-empty.

You will become that which you had hoped never to be:  your parents!

Don’t get me wrong, the real world isn’t totally unbearable.  While there is always the potential for success, it will certainly not happen overnight.  It may not even happen after ten years.

And, unlike college, there is no margin for error. The blessing — and curse — of the real world, is that unlike college, there is no schedule to follow, and no way to know if you are around the corner from success, or if you have a long way to go.

However, it never hurts to have a little inside information to help you deal with the slings and arrows of reality. So, in an effort to provide a public service , I thought it may be interesting, or at the very least, mildly amusing, to compare the Pros of graduation with the Cons of the real world.

Pro:  Income. This is the most alluring benefit to graduation.  After years of surviving on ramen, an entire world of material possessions await your purchase.  You can pay your own way and make your own rules!

Con:  Expenses. Unfortunately, once you subtract a retirement contribution; medical co-payment; supplemental insurance; and state, federal, and local taxes, you will be left with very little.  Don’t forget living expenses, car payments, car insurance payments, gas, credit card debt, and the cost of other seemingly insignificant expenditures.  You will soon find yourself left with barely enough money to buy a couple of ties, a package of undershirts, and some dental floss! Don’t throw away that ramen just yet.

Pro:  You will no longer be crammed into tiny classrooms with smelly, annoying people. I can’t count the number of times I was forced to share a room built for 100 people with 150 or more (not including dogs, skateboards, bikes, and other obstacles).  Luckily, after graduation, you will finally rid yourself of these hideous conditions…or so you would think.

Con:  You will be crammed into a tiny cubicle with smelly, annoying people. Welcome to Cubeland!  Please keep your hands and feet within the box at all times, and prepare to speak in a muffled hush for what may feel like the next millennium.  You will be surrounded by fuzzy, four-foot high “walls” that wobble when you sneeze, and amplify anything you may attempt to whisper into your phone or to a co-worker.  Also, don’t be surprised if your phone calls, computer usage, and innermost thoughts, are monitored.

Pro:  No more wasted time. How many hours did you waste sitting in a miniature desk, forced to intellectually interact with responseless, disinterested people, whose idea of learning was to sample different brands of beer during class? How many Teaching Assistants did you have to tolerate as they droned on about the Jacobins and the Girondins or, if you were lucky, something called the “homosocial circle?” Well, new graduate, time is now on your side.

Con:  More wasted time. All right, so I lied.  Prepare for endless meetings — and meetings about meetings!  You will be surrounded by responseless, disinterested people, whose idea of learning was to sample different brands of cream cheese on their bagels at the weekly department meeting. Instead of listening to a Teaching Assistant, you will endure lengthy speeches about teamwork, synergy and, who can forget, having a sense of urgency!  Learn how to sleep with your eyes open.

Pro:  No more collegiate political correctness. During your undergraduate years you were coerced into replacing your standard language with an entirely revised vocabulary.  Let’s call it Unibonics (Political Correctness).  You were forced to intellectually regurgitate words and phrases like colonial imperialism, destructive consumption, capitalist oppression, words ending in “ism” and “geny,” and how could you forget, phallus.  Once you spin the tassel, you can truly expand your mind and cleanse the doors of perception.

Con:  More corporate political correctness. Okay, I lied again.  In our excessively litigious society we are no longer free to think, behave, act, or even ponder as we desire.  And what is the evil word that brought about this Orwellian nightmare?  LIABILITY.  In response to this litigation fascination, you will be subjected to a barrage of rules and regulations.  Everything from sexual harassment policies, to dress code standards that would make Mr. Blackwell proud.  Don’t trust anyone, and remember, if there’s no proof, deny everything.

Pro:  No more obnoxious professors and university employees. How many times have you paitently waited at a university office to settle a dispute, only to be turned away because the clock has struck twelve and everyone is off to lunch?  How many times has a professor treated you like an intellectual inferior, when it is you (or perhaps, your parents) who pay his or her graciously tenured salary?  How many times have the Parking Police cited you unjustly, or just rudely?  Fortunately, after graduation, you can blow a kiss goodbye to these insensitive buffoons.

Con:  More obnoxious supervisors, managers and vice presidents. Once you don your corporate monkey suit, you will become the target of surprisingly sadistic superiors.  While you may get along with your colleagues or even like your supervisor, when it comes to performance reviews, disciplinary action, or other work related issues, your manager is still your manager. Read up on Lao Tzu and prepare for war!

Pro:  No more academic sycophantic antics. From midterms to finals, term papers to homework assignments, it is made clear that your main purpose as an undergrad is to massage the egos of your professors and TAs.  Most professors demand total submission to their ideas, beliefs, and interpretations.  Contradicting them can result in a low, or non-passing grade.  Not surprisingly, most college graduates have never conceived of an original thought.

Con:  More corporate sycophantic antics. As you enter the real world, you will rapidly descend from the noble perch of intellectual investigation to the entirely insipid nadir of utilitarian unrest.  You will lose the ability to develop independent, creative thoughts, and will instead concern yourself with such trivial necessities as dry-cleaning, commuting, Day Planners, project timelines, voice mail, dry-erase boards, life insurance, and the like. Outside of work, you will become content watching television talk shows, the home shopping network, and other senseless drivel.

 

Despite the cynicism of this speech, it is not my intention to submerge your spirits.  Rather, I hope you won’t feel as surprised as was I.

Sure, we all must pay our dues, but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender your soul in the process.  I encourage you to understand and embrace the Stockdale Paradox:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”