What drives a person to jump out of a plane? Hike 2,174 miles on the Appalachian Trail? Write a memoir of the heartbreaking ups and downs of his life? A mission and Jesse A. Saperstein has one. His mission is Anti-Bullying and he speaks on behalf of not only those finding themselves on the autism spectrum but also anyone who happens to be a little different, weird or just plain “atypical.” This also happens to be the name of his superb memoir, “Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters.”
For Jesse, diagnosis of the syndrome came at 14 years old so during his formative years, his behavior was labeled as a “character flaw.” The rejection and isolation which led to bullying on many different levels made life a living hell. Luckily for Jesse, he was given a chance to take that negative energy and pour it into positive action. He worked as a camp counselor at Joey DiPaolo’s summer camp for teenagers with HIV/AIDS called Camp Teens Living a Challenge. This experience proved to be pivotal for Jesse’s ascension out of victim consciousness and led to 3 inspiring missions.
After graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2004 with a BA degree in English, Jesse set out to hike the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail to benefit the Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation. He began hiking from Georgia to Maine on March 9, 2005 and successfully completed the journey on October 18, 2005, raising more than $19,000 for children to attend summer camp who had contracted HIV/AIDS through prenatal transmission.
The adjustment to life after college and Appalachian Trail hiking was extremely difficult. Living as an adult with Asperger’s (a mild form of autism that can render one lacking in social skills, common sense, and resistant to change in routine) exposed him to the many cruel realities of social interaction. He decided to write a book in an effort to use his voice to advocate for himself and his peers who are not always able to do so for themselves.
The book became a best-seller. I myself couldn’t put it down. It is heartfelt and wise along with being enormously engaging and many times outrageous. These days, Jesse is a motivational speaker traveling to schools across the nation, advocating for people with disabilities. He hopes to initiate a middle/high school class in New York State called “Lessons in Dignity” that will be similar to Health but will focus on educating young people about misunderstood disabilities as well as the psychological and legal consequences of bullying.
After receiving a grant from the Anderson Center for Autism (ACA) in Staatsburg, New York, Jesse completed his first skydiving jump in front of his community in an effort to eradicate bullying.
“Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012” is currently a popular video on YouTube: www.youtube.com/jessesaperstein
We caught up with Jesse on his birthday, April 2nd, which also happens to be Autism Awareness Day. Happy Birthday, Jesse! And many more happy returns.
For more information on Jesse A. Saperstein and the organizations he supports please visit GRASP (Global & Regional Asperger’s Syndrome Partnership, support groups for individuals on the autism spectrum), Autism Care & Treatment Today (ACT Today) (support for military families having children with autism) and Autism Speaks! along with www.jesseasaperstein.com.