29-year-old best-selling author, autism advocate and motivational speaker Jesse A. Saperstein of Poughkeepsie, New York has launched the “Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012" (http://www.youtube.com/jessesaperstein) campaign as part of his zero tolerance, nationwide Anti-Bullying movement. Saperstein, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome (AS), has suffered bullying from peers starting at an early age in school. The “Free-Falling to End Bullying in 2012" video shows Jesse jumping from an airplane 14,000 feet above the face of the earth, featuring the vocals of Grammy-winning artist Taylor Swift and her Grammy-winning song, “Mean.” It is the first video to feature an extreme sport and children with autism sharing their personal experiences.
“For a long time, my peers led me to believe that my abuse was self-inflicted," says Saperstein. "Now, I know better and want to bring awareness to the tragedies of bullying and make sure others no longer have to suffer and endure the fight alone."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDP), 1 in every 110 children in America is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), making autism more prevalent than juvenile diabetes, childhood cancer, and pediatric AIDS combined. ASD is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication challenges, and restricted, repetitive, or stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include milder forms known as Asperger's syndrome (AS), Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) and Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and the Bully Police of Minnesota states that 94% of children with a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome faced peer victimization including emotional bullying (75%) and gang attacks (15%). Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even chosen suicide rather than continuing to endure such harassment and torture.
"Nobody should have to jump out of a perfectly safe airplane to see better days. Let this be the first generation to enjoy acceptance while having something to fight for. It cannot get better someday. It will become better TODAY," says Saperstein.
Saperstein says he's not suggesting that everyone jumps out of a plane. Instead, he urges the public - children and adults - to find their own unique way to become heroic. "It's time to advocate for those who deserve a friend. Or give somebody a voice that has been silenced by abuse and ignorance. The person you fight for today could be the life you're saving tonight."
"Jesse changed my life," says 10-year-old Todd Weaver of Hyde Park, New York. "I see my Asperger's like my super power now. Jesse really made a difference in my life, and now I want to help other kids like me in the same way."
Saperstein visits schools on a regular basis and has been successful with stomping out bullying or at least dramatically alleviating it with every presentation. He is currently working on initiatives to pioneer a middle/high school class in New York State that will be similar to health, but shall focus on educating young people about misunderstood disabilities as well as the psychological and legal consequences of bullying.
About Jesse A. Saperstein:
Jesse A. Saperstein is a best-selling author, autism advocate and motivational speaker. He is considered one of the most respected leaders in the Anti-Bullying movement of his generation. Jesse has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome (AS). Individuals with Asperger’s are impaired by a profound lack of social skills, common sense, and resistance to change in routine.
After graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2004 with a BA degree in English, Saperstein set out to conquer 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. Shortly after his hike ended, Saperstein was exposed to some of the cruel realities of living as an adult on the autism spectrum and was treated as a social pariah by members of the community who did not understand. His decision to write a book was an opportunity to escape these realities and advocate for his peers who are not always granted a voice.
Saperstein’s story, “Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters,” was published by Penguin Group (USA) in April 2010 and became a popular memoir due to its practical advice and outrageous humor. He chronicles his misadventures and extremes to improve his social skills. The book quickly rose to the top of Amazon.com and placed Saperstein as a dynamic media personality, motivational speaker and most important, an advocate for people with disabilities. After receiving a grant from Anderson Center for Autism (ACA) in Staatsburg, New York, Saperstein 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 (http://www.youtube.com/jessesaperstein). Saperstein resides in Pleasant Valley, New York.