Administrative Asst to Clinical Director/Autism Treatment Center of Texas
Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his late 30's, and has worked with Autism Treatment Center of Texas since 2003. He is currently the administrative assistant to the clinical director. He also helps facilitate three different self-advocate groups, and in the Spring of 2015 was presented with the "Angel Award" by the National Autism Association of North Texas for the works he has done with these groups. He has also done public speaking on the subject of autism/Asperger syndrome, and has spoken to various educational and parental groups. When not involved with autism, Ken has led the singing at the same church since 1988, and has also been the fill-in preacher at this same church. In 2006 he was called on to sing the National Anthem at the Autism Society of America's national convention in Dallas, and performed the same song at ATC's rodeo fundraiser. He also enjoys writing, and formerly wrote articles for a website dedicated to reality television. In 2011 he got married for the first time, and his wife Rachel works for ATC in Adult Services. Ken graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1987 with a Bachelor's in Mass Communications, and once worked as a radio traffic reporter, interactive announcer and writer, and news producer in Dallas. He views Asperger's as a difference, not a defect, and has come to appreciate the positive aspect's of Asperger's.
Q: Could you go into detail on other types of relationships (friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) that you have had? Do you have a specific example of a misstep? Or situation that you were able to handle because of something you had been taught?
A: Years ago, I was asked to help lead songs for a college-age Bible study (I was 30). Eventually, some of the women in the group went to the leader and told him they were uncomfortable with the way I looked at them. I was asked not to come back. I was in complete shock, and kept trying to figure out where I went wrong.
A little over a year later, I overheard a co-worker make a similar complaint about me (she was on her phone and didn’t realize how loud she was).
It was then that I realized I did indeed have a problem with staring, and didn’t even know when I was doing it.
I worked with a counselor who taught me techniques on giving people space, and how to give people a break from my eye contact. He taught me things about body language that I had never thought of before. I put these learned techniques into practice in subsequent social situations.
I learned to closely monitor how long I looked at someone, and how much personal space I was giving them. These things were extremely beneficial to my interaction with others, and I’m sure made others more comfortable around me.
There’s no comparison. I used to compare myself to everyone around me, and they always came out better. Is the grass really greener?
For much of my life, I have had a hard time understanding not only the non-verbal communication of others, but how my own non-verbal communication affected others. Sometimes, if I was irritated at someone, I would simply keep my mouth shut, the rationale being “They can’t hold me accountable for something I didn’t say.”
What I failed to realize was that sometimes silence speaks louder than anything you could say, or that you could say one thing, but your facial expressions, actions, and certainly body language tell the real story.
Many diseases during our lifetime have been, if not eradicated completely, at least greatly minimized. These include smallpox and polio, among others. But will there ever be a cure for Asperger Syndrome? For that matter, does there need to be?
Remember that A.S. isn’t a defect so much as a difference: That is, the Aspy brain is wired somewhat differently than that of the so-called “neurotypical.”
While those differences do cause problems in a neuro-typical world at times, they can also be very beneficial if channeled and directed properly. For example, Einstein probably had A.S., but in spite of, or perhaps because of that, he went on to fill his resume with accomplishments that would give anyone cause for envy. Would you say he needs to be “cured”?
Remember Ellie Mae on “The Beverly Hillbillies?” She was portrayed by Donna Douglas, in her day considered one of the most beautiful women on television. But she also once played a character who wasn’t so beautiful.
In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled, “Eye of the Beholder,” Douglas portrayed a woman who was so ugly, she underwent an operation to make her less so. The suspense was built up by the fact that we never saw her face until the bandages around them were removed. When they were removed, they revealed her to be the strikingly beautiful woman she was, but the doctor recoiled in horror and said, “No change, no change at all.”
At that point, we saw the faces of the doctors and nurses around her, which were all distorted and misshapen in grotesque fashion. In the end, she’s sent to live in a colony with similarly “ugly” people, and accompanied by a handsome male escort.
She asks him, “Why are some of us born so ugly?”
Obviously, her character was not inherently ugly, but she was simply born in the wrong world. That’s a dilemma similar to that which the Aspie faces.
When I was young, teachers (and peers) realized I could do math in my head. In third grade, I got my multiplication tables down before anyone else. When I started a new school in eighth grade, my classmates discovered I could multiply two digit numbers times other two digit numbers in my head. My senior year of high school, I entered a “number sense” competition and placed 2nd out of 15. Right before I started college, I tested out of math and hence, never had to take it after high school.
Years later, I tracked down via email an old co-worker who had a successful career in advertising. He wrote back and told me he had recently been sitting in a business meeting with facts and figures flying around and thought about how nice it would be to have my math ability. To this day, if my parents or brother have a mathematical dilemma, I’m the “go-to” guy.
He was born in Austria in 1906. As a child, making friends didn’t come easily and he was considered lonely and remote, but he was talented in language. In particular he had an interest in poetry.
He was known to quote his favorite Austrian poet to classmates—not that they were interested. He also quoted himself, and sometimes referred to himself in the third-person. He displayed characteristics of the condition that would one day bear his name.
At Aspergers101 we strive to encourage an open conversation among the community. Here is a look at what people have been saying about Ken’s blog, along with a response to one of our readers from Ken.
“I love what you have so perfectly expressed! Our biggest challenges are living among members of a society made up of people who are afraid of differences that they don’t understand, making us another marginalized culture. It’s time to educate!”
“If Aspergers was ‘cured’ I would be deprived of some of the most wonderful, creative and passionate patients and friends that I am blessed to be connected with. My life would be duller, less fulfilled and less inspired by the courage and resilience individuals on the autism spectrum have shown me.
Want to be wowed?
Want to be inspired?
Want to love what you do?
Work to reduce social discrimination against individuals on the spectrum and consider their gifts. Want to explode the myth that individuals on the spectrum cannot empathize, love, be compassionate, parent well, love well, contribute to the quality of our lives? Meet someone on the spectrum! It’s called a spectrum because we’re all on it, no right or wrong, just differences to be celebrated, peace (and who really cares about that).”
“I like your blog and agree with all you say – but how long has it taken you to arrive at your positive feelings about having Asperger’s? I’ve worked with many kids who suffer badly at school, particularly as they become adolescents, and find it really hard to cope with some of the social challenges of trying to be one of a group and relate to their peers. I will try to use what you say to encourage them but I don’t think we should minimize the problems either. The neuro-typical world can be an uncomfortable place.”
Q: “Many people see children with Asperger’s and they don’t understand that their needs are lifelong. They don’t see that even if you watch your child succeed at a young age, there will be new territory to navigate as they get older and new situations arise.” This is so true, my son was diagnosed with Aspergers in the 90’s when there was not a lot of “buzz” about it. He did okay, but now as an adult he seems to be having difficulty especially with anxiety and confidence. I am worried for him, and keep directing him towards counseling, but he hasn’t yet. Any suggestions?
I can completely relate to this. Near the end of my high school days, I garnered several accomplishments and awards, but college was a completely different ballgame, especially since I was four hours away from home. Once I got out of college and moved back home, the working world was a completely different situation as well, and I struggled mightily at times. Each new job, new relationship, and new situation is a challenge, but an opportunity as well. Fortunately, my family could not have been more supportive of me over the years.
My son, now 30yrs old has had difficulties since childhood, and we know he has Aspergers. During his teens he was extremely angry and sad but he came through this period. Today he lives independently, has his own home and car but for the past year he has not spoken at all to anyone. His life is restricted to his job, which is in jeopardy because of his refusal to speak to his co-workers. He was visiting me on Sunday but now that has ended. He literally speaks less than a “Yes” or “No” to anyone. We have been to social service, doctors, clinicians, speech therapists, psychologists, and he refuses to see any of them. Everything I read online is about children. Any advice?
Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”
That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer than others to learn some things.
However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn’t do to save their lives.