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The Little Professors

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In the lobby of the Center for Spectrum Services in Kingston hangs a painting. Thin, fine lines detail the Center, illuminated under a darkened sky. Precisely speckling the blanket of night are the constellations that appeared when it was painted—mapped to perfection. It sprang from the mathematical mind of Jesse Park. She has a disorder known as autism.

Inspired by people like Jesse, Jamey Wolff, cofounder and director of the Center, created the documentary The Asperger’s Difference, screening at Upstate Films on February 6, about this less commonly known disorder on the high end of the autism spectrum. Not part of American lexicon until the mid-1990s, Asperger’s was mainly overlooked (or misdiagnosed for ADD, depression, or anxiety) leaving kids in a futile struggle to fit into a regimented academic and social world alone. With little details known as to where it stems from and why, and even less understood about how best to teach students with Asperger’s—high schools and colleges contacted Wolff for support. It became clear that these kids were “starting to hit a new set of circumstances—a new set of challenges and people not trained or prepared to deal with it,” says Wolff.

Wolff decided on a hands-on approach. She wanted to create a teaching tool sympathetic to the learning style of kids with Asperger’s by relying heavily on repetition and visuals. Broken into chapters, the film helps Asperger kids build their own self-advocacy while enlightening others on how to connect with them. Wolff follows three young adults with the disorder; Annie (age 13), Noah (age 16), and Jeffery (age 18).

According to Wolff, the hardest thing to understand is that despite the aloof behaviors of kids with Asperger’s, “they care about social interactions—they just don’t have the skills to be successful socially.” Annie explains feeling like the “odd one out,” the isolation that can result manifesting through her tears. Yet, compellingly, talents come with such ease some are deemed “savants”; commonly possessing heightened mathematical or musical ability. Noah is a fluent singer with a nearly perfect memory. Often finding himself compulsively obsessed with perfection he hangs a plaque on his wall: “Perfection and procrastination are the enemy,”—he jokingly points out its imperfection—words scratched out, “procrastination” awkwardly jammed in, a seeming afterthought. And since face-to-face conversation is difficult, Jeffery turned to the computer. Majoring in computer game design at Marist, he created an online graphic novel, amassing thousands of followers, yet absorbing him so fully that he needs to limit himself with an egg timer. “Their skill set can be a remarkable complement to the diversity of the population...with proper support, understanding, and the right education,” explains Wolff.

The Center for Spectrum Services, started with two kids; it now serves 250 kids and has community-based programs spanning a 75-mile radius. With one in every 100 kids now impacted with an autistic spectrum disorder, the documentary breaks open a small hole in the wall of our knowledge. By letting the kids speak for themselves, we’re forced to acknowledge our lack of understanding of them, of the disorder, awakening us to the small breadth of genius that lays in their wake.

The Asperger’s Difference will be screened at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on Saturday, February 6 at 11am, followed by a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers and students. (845) 336-2616 x116; www.centerforspectrumservices.org.

Noah, one of the stars of "The Asperger's Difference," which will be screened at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on February 6.
  • Noah, one of the stars of "The Asperger's Difference," which will be screened at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on February 6.

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