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Power 5th Grader Shares Award-Winning Speech About Asperger's, Bullying

Thomas Lichtenberg talks with 4th graders at Gill Elementary about how he uses optimism to overcome the challenges that come with his condition.

Despite being bullied and knowing he has Asperger's syndrome, Thomas Lichtenberg is an optimist. 

"I have so much optimism, I have even bcome an optimist about Asperger's," the 5th grader told a group of 4th graders Friday. 

Thomas openly talks about his condition, which is an autism spectrum disorder, and he has even helped his classmates understand it. 

"He's amazed me this year," his teacher Nancie Jahshan said. "The joy he's brought to our classroom has been amazing. He has a voice that needs to be heard." 

Jahshan felt so strongly about Thomas' message that she made arrangements for him to speak to four classes at Gill. He met the first two on Friday and will speak to a second group on May 17.

Having just taken 3rd place in the , he was well prepared to talk about how optimism helps him cope with the challenges he faces.

"Asperger's is one of my biggest obstacles," Thomas told an attentive group of students from Brian Davis' and Ronnell Johnson's classes. "One of my challenges is I don't have many friends."

Thomas likened his trying to relate with other kids to going back in time, to the days of the Civil War, and talking to them about modern concepts. "I just don't get them," he said. 

Hardest challenge is bullying

People with Asperger's syndrome often focus on one subject and learn everything they can about it, Thomas explained. His remarkable memory, in addition to helping him ace quizzes in school, retains minute details about the world of Star Wars and The Adventures of Tintin, a comic book series and 2011 feature film. 

Since learning about his Asperger's, Thomas has worked to keep those details to himself, and to use other techniques that help him better relate to others. But others have not always treated him well.

"The hardest challenge I have with Asperger's is I get bullied a lot," he said. "I've dealt with this by learning to stand up for myself. I get help when I need it." 

"My optimism doesn't let me give up," Thomas added. "I've even made friends with someone who used to bully me."

After his speech and a short Powerpoint presentation with factual information, including a list of famous people who have Asperger's, students peppered Thomas with questions. He told them that he was "just born with (Asperger's) There's no way to catch it." 

He is still bullied and said "that's not gonna change, but it does get better."

"How does it feel to be different?" one student asked.

"I don't really know," Thomas replied. "Everyone's different in some way." 

Mike May 14, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I am interested in learning more about the techniques Thomas uses to better relate to others.
Susan Lichtenberg May 15, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Thomas has worked on both independently and in groups on basic communication skills: Looking people in the eye (or at their forehead/nose, as eyes can sometimes be too threatening); saying "hi"; and active listening skills. He works hard to minimize monologues, as well as trying to observe signs of someone being bored or checking out. None of these things come naturally in Aspergers, and he continues to work at employing them.
Theresa May 15, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Mrs. Lichtenberg you must be so proud of your son!!!
Cheryl V September 04, 2012 at 03:46 PM
You do have an amazing son. I live in FH and my 10 year old daughter has had a preliminary diagnosis of Aspergers. Would love to communicate more with you if possible. Cheryl
Jody October 31, 2012 at 10:54 AM
My son has had the diagnosis for a year. This year get is really struggling with bullying. His school has discouraged us from telling his class but he and we think it would be a good idea. Any thoughts on how to get his teachers on board? Jody

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