Jesse A. Saperstein
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Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of fourteen, Jesse Saperstein has struggled with many of the hallmark challenges of the condition-from social awkwardness and self-doubt to extreme difficulty in dealing with change and managing his emotions.
A delightful storyteller, Saperstein puts a human face on Asperger's-and makes us laugh, empathize, and better understand what it means to see the world through the prism of autism.
Jesse Saperstein is a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. A committed advocate and popular speaker, he continues to work to demystify Asperger's syndrome and autism. He lives in Pleasant Valley, New York.
- One of Jesse's biggest challenges is understanding and cultivating empathy. Can empathy be learned? Do you think he's made progress in this area?
- Jesse points out that "neurotypicals" (that is, people who are not on the autism spectrum) often fail to say what they mean, which is a tendency he struggles to understand. Do you agree? And is there something to be said for being more direct than most of us usually are?
- What does Jesse learn about himself during his bar mitzvah? Was it a positive experience, in the end?
- Among Jesse's ritualistic obsessions are sending cards and letters through the postal system, and watching his beloved Disney DVDs. Is there any significance to these particular activities? And is indulging his love for them a good thing?
- Bullying has been a problem for Jesse throughout his life-often as the victim, and occasionally as the bully. In what ways does Asperger's syndrome make bullying more difficult to deal with? How has the internet played a role in this all too common problem?
- Jesse's analysis of much-loved characters like Charlie Brown and Calvin and Hobbes, found on page 97, raises the question of what "normal" is. Can you think of other examples of fictional characters who would be considered "atypical" in real life?
- Jesse describes the validation and peace of mind he gained from finally getting an accurate diagnosis of Asperger's. Can you imagine how getting this news would affect you?
- Among Jesse's most difficult experiences as an adult are dating and finding the right job. Can you relate to these struggles? Is Asperger's the reason for his difficulties, or just an added complicating factor?
- Jesse's parents don't let him use his disability as an excuse for his unemployment and other setbacks. Should parents adjust their expectations for children with disabilities, or does this only make the child's relationship with the real world more difficult?
- Why do you think Jesse identified so strongly with Joey DiPaolo and the Teens Living a Challenge?
- Jesse gained self-confidence during his Appalachian Trail hike, but had difficulty re-adjusting to normal life. Do you think the hike was a worthwhile experience? How do you think he'll fare on his second hike, on the Pacific Coast?
- Jesse tells us how much he hates two pieces of advice he hears quite often-"Just be yourself" and "Just let it go." Do you agree? What advice would you give him instead?
- Do you think Jesse is a positive role model, even if he "sometimes entertains himself by farting in public and conversing in gibberish to his cats"? Do you find his story inspiring?
- Recently, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it plans to eliminate the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, grouping it in with the broader diagnosis of a autism. In light of Jesse's experiences with the condition, does this seem like a positive development?