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Harsh Reality and Stereotypes of Teen Pregnancy; Bullying Leads to Sleepover Suicide
Aired April 22, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST: All right. Here we go.
Tonight, a community is rocked. A teen`s fake pregnancy exposes ugly stereotypes. That`s right, I said fake pregnancy.
Then, suicide tragedy. Did Facebook smears and a deliberate campaign to bully cause two young girls to kill themselves in a suicide pact? Come on, now. Let`s stop this.
And Ed Asner is here to talk about autism. There`s no cure, so what can we do now to help?
Let`s get going.
You`ve got to check this out. Tonight, a high school student actually faked a pregnancy for a school project. So why did she do it and what were the consequences?
Nicole Lowther has some thoughts. She was actually pregnant and had a baby at age 15.
We also have Sarah Brown. She is CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She`s going to weigh in with us.
And I have a psychiatrist with me, Dr. Dale Archer. We`re going to hear from all of them in just a minute.
But first, the story.
JUANA RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER FAKED PREGNANCY: When she said "pregnant," I was like, "What? Are you serious? Are you crazy?"
PINSKY (voice-over): But Juana Rodriguez`s 17-year-old daughter, Gaby, wasn`t pregnant. She was faking. It was an elaborate and protracted hoax, all for a school project.
GABY RODRIGUEZ, STUDENT, FAKED PREGNANCY: I started wearing a lot baggier clothes, bigger sweaters, started wearing a lot of sweats.
PINSKY: The goal: examine the harsh realities and stereotypes of teen pregnancy. The players: Gaby`s mom, boyfriend, best friend and principal. The result: harsh treatment, insult and harassment played out over a six- month period. It came to an end when Gaby dropped the bomb in front of a school assembly, where she revealed examples of the vicious treatment she endured.
G. RODRIGUEZ: I learned that the environment you surround yourself in takes a major toll on, you know, your decisions in life.
PINSKY: Well, there`s a lot to be learned from what she did. And, of course, teen pregnancy is a big issue in this country. We do less well than most of the industrialized nations in the world. So I`m glad she`s raising awareness. But I`m not sure bioethically, Gaby made the right decision.
In addition to her brothers and sisters not knowing about this pregnancy hoax, Gaby`s boyfriend`s parents didn`t know either. So she really did an experiment on humans where she could have hurt people without getting their consent.
So I want to start with Nicole.
What`s your reaction to this stunt? And were you belittled, or did you have lots of sort of nasty comments going your way when you were 15 and pregnant?
NICOLE LOWTHER, PREGNANT AT 15: Oh, yes. Everybody. They were all negative about, you know, me finding out that I was pregnant and I was so young. Everyone had, like, all these future plans they thought I was going to do. And so --
PINSKY: Do you have any take, Nicole, on this stunt? Was it a good thing? Was it worth it, to raise awareness and have this conversation?
LOWTHER: I do. I think it`s really good. I think more teenagers should do that in the school and people not know about it. Just do it. I think it was a really good one.
PINSKY: Here`s what Gaby said about her boyfriend`s parents reaction to what they thought was a genuine pregnancy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
G. RODRIGUEZ: When they found out that I was pregnant, they were just, like, disappointed because they were just saying, oh, you know, you`re going to have a difficult life now, it`s going to be harder to go to college.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Sarah, I want to go to you, from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Do you think this stunt was worth it?
SARAH BROWN, CEO, NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY: Well, I think it really depends on how it`s followed up on. I mean, I think Gaby opened the door to having a very serious conversation in that school, and maybe in Yakima generally, about the level of teen pregnancy and childbearing, how it can be prevented, the proper role of schools and parents.
So, I think the real story is what happens as a consequence of this, which I must say, I`ve been doing this for years, this field. I`ve never heard of anything like this. This is a first.
PINSKY: And Sarah, let me say that, although I pointed out that we do poorly in this country, we`re doing a lot better. Isn`t that right?
BROWN: Yes. It`s true. This has been one of the greatest public health successes in the nation.
The teen pregnancy and birthrates are down 35 percent to 40 percent nationwide. Now, this city of Yakima, where Gaby lives, they have long struggled with high rates of teen pregnancy and birth. So, it may be that she saw a lot of this around her and thought, well, what can I do in my school to really shake people up and get them to focus on this?
PINSKY: Which I think is the desired outcome. And I hope it was worth the means.
But I`m going to ask you, Dr. Archer, do you think it was worth the risk to people she may have hurt? And did the other adults who were in on the stunt, do you think they showed good judgment in allowing this?
DR. DALE ARCHER, PSYCHIATRIST: Yes. I think that in this particular case, there`s no doubt that there may be a little bit of pain from the family members and the people that were close to her. But on the other hand, I totally agree. It`s what is done now.
So, I think it`s incumbent upon her now to write this up and to publish it, because I think this is an amazing learning experience for everyone out there. I mean, here`s a case where perception becomes reality.
She was treated differently because they perceived her to be pregnant. She wasn`t different. Nothing else about her changed. So I think this is fascinating and I think it was a good thing. I really do.
PINSKY: It is certainly fascinating. And I agree with you, Dr. Archer, I think it was a good thing finally. I mean, taken in total, I think the outcome is good. And as Sarah was saying, the fact that teen pregnancy is something that`s so common in that particular region, hopefully it will elevate the conversation.
Nicole, do you think it`s going to do that?
LOWTHER: I do. I think -- I definitely think that it`s going -- I think it`s going to open more people`s eyes to the teen pregnancy situation around.
PINSKY: And let`s also point out that, you know, I`ve worked a lot with teen pregnancy and preventing teen pregnancy. And the point about teen pregnancy is it -- well, traditionally -- it often unravels young lives.
How have you made it through?
LOWTHER: You have to be strong. There`s a lot of negativity out there about teen pregnancy, and if you`re not strong, then it`s going to bring you down and you won`t succeed, just like Gaby.
LOWTHER: And Sarah, I`m going to go back to you also. Can we put some pointers out there for parents at home that are concerned about this issue?
BROWN: Well I think, again, this is an opportunity to talk in families. I mean, what is the family`s expectation of their children with regard to graduation, further education and so forth? How do they feel about sex in high school?
If the young people might be having sex, are they concerned about contraceptive use? Are they supporting the notion of delaying sex? You know, all those are very important topics.
Remember, Gaby, herself, said that she would, again, consider really getting pregnant, having a child after college graduation. And I think in a way that was the headline, because she focused everybody on the fact that adolescence, high school, all this, has to be used for education. And not just high school, even college, especially in this tough economy.
And I think parents and schools have to talk not just about how to postpone childbearing, but why. Why is it that we are all so concerned about these young people starting their families too soon? So, there`s a lot to talk about at school, at home, through this wonderful program, and other things that you do so well.
PINSKY: And Dr. Archer, I`m going to give you final thoughts.
ARCHER: Well, I think this would be a fantastic thing if it would spread across the country and in schools all over that girls would be doing this type of thing, because I think the message is abundantly clear. This is not an easy road for anyone.
And as you pointed out, young lives are often unraveled because of teen pregnancy. And I think this is a lesson. This is what you go through. This is how bad it can be from your friends, from your family, from the people that you think would be on your side.
I think it`s a very, very important lesson.
PINSKY: I want to thank my panel, and I want to say to my viewers, also, young people are not foolish and not stupid. If you give them a relatable source and you teach them what the consequences are going to be, and, as Sarah said, if you help them understand why delaying and what the consequences are going to be if they don`t delay childbearing and child- rearing, they`re going to do what they do.
They`re just trying to get through life. They`re trying to feel better. They think pregnancy is a solution to their problems rather than something that`s going to unravel their lives.
But you give them a relatable source like conversations like this, like National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, like programs that are out there now dealing with teen pregnancy, you give them a relatable source, they will learn. And we have got to keep this conversation going.
When we come back, two young girls have killed themselves after relentless bullying. Really? Here we are again. Here we are talking about kids who are cruel, who are bullying, and now somebody`s lost their lives.
And later, TV legend Edward Asner, he`s here. We`ll talk about autism and its impact on families.
PINSKY: Tonight we have a stunning tragedy. Two teen girls carry out a suicide pact at a sleepover.
Now, my question is, did constant bullying drive them to this? Wait until you see this.
PINSKY (voice-over): Fourteen-year-olds Paige and her best friend Haylee were having a weekend sleepover. They often did. No one guessed the girls had a dark plan.
The teens hanged themselves in an apparent suicide pact. Haylee`s mom found the girls and tried to resuscitate them, but they were already dead. The teens` families say they were both the victims of merciless bullying from classmates. They were targeted for weight, hair color, and their friendship.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She put a status update that said, "I`m so nervous and I just want to get it over with. And I love you, Paige."
PINSKY: This is becoming a disgusting trend, teens bullied so badly, they think suicide is the way out. Both girls left suicide notes. Paige told her parents not to be sad for them. Haylee said she wanted her funeral to be pink.
PINSKY: I am just getting sickened by all this. I mean, every day we seem to have a story like this. And, you know, that 12-to-14-15-year-old window is a delicate window, and kids are just brutal to one another.
Parents, you`ve got to watch this.
These two girls had their whole life ahead of them. What made them think that suicide was a reasonable answer?
Joining me to answer this are Haylee`s aunt, Robin Settle, and her cousin, Jessica Settle. They join us by phone. Also back with us is psychiatrist, Dr. Dale Archer.
So, Robin, were there any signs that your niece was suicidal or even depressed?
ROBIN SETTLE, HAYLEE FENTRESS` AUNT: Dr. Drew --
LOWTHER: And let me say, before I ask the question, I`ve just got to say, my heart goes out to you guys. This is one of the saddest stories I`ve read about in a long time. I am so sorry.
SETTLE: Thank you. I can tell you that -- I`m sorry -- that right now I feel like shattered glass. But I also have a determination in me that comes from Haylee that I`m not going to let things go unsaid. Something has got to change. I`m sorry.
PINSKY: Were there any signs that she was depressed?
SETTLE: Yes, there were plenty of signs, and I have to say that I think, for the most part, that they were posts on her Facebook. I would sit nights and go back and forth with her and try to talk her through things. And, yes, she had a lot of -- you know, kids this age have a lot of problems anyway, just life --
SETTLE: -- and dealing with it, and how to handle it. And then, you know, then the added situations that Haylee had, yes, there were lots of signs. There were plenty of times that she would say, "I just want this to be over," or "I just want this to end." Or "I can`t take it anymore."
PINSKY: When she would say, "I can`t take it," was she talks about the bullying?
SETTLE: She just felt displaced. And there were -- you know, in my mind bullying, at my age, was when somebody would sneak up from behind a garage or something and beat you up and run or whatever. But today, it`s mental, it`s verbal, it`s via the Internet, Facebook, texting, whatever it is. And, yes, a lot of her problems, and I believe what finally sent her over the edge, was the bullying.
PINSKY: And Jessica, you`re there with us as well. Did you know about the bullying?
JESSICA SETTLE, HAYLEE`S COUSIN: Yes. I was aware of the bullying. I had talked to Haylee several times as close up to a week before her and Paige took their life. And I tried talking to her about it and told her that everyone goes through it, I went through it, and to stay strong.
I hate to think -- Dr. Archer, I`m going to go to you -- I mean, that someone has to say to a 15-year-old, hey, everyone goes through this, especially in this Internet age. Really? Are we at that point? That`s one question I have for you.
And the other, in the little research I`ve done on these suicide pacts, my understanding is that when they occur like this in a pair, sometimes the signs of depression aren`t that obvious.
ARCHER: Well, talking about the bullying first, you`re absolutely right that bullying has taken on a very sinister tone in the modern world. Twenty, 30 years ago, it was getting beaten up, perhaps after school. Now it`s 24/7.
It`s Facebook. It`s Twitter. It`s texting. It`s phone calls, voicemails. On and on and on.
There`s no respite. It goes through the weekend. It goes on nights. And the kids are literally bombarded day, night, constantly.
So it`s not the same as it was. And that`s why we`re seeing this rise in suicides because eventually they say, I cannot take this anymore.
And you look at Phoebe Prince, look at Asher Brown, you look at Tyler Clementi, the names go on and on and on. And bullying is at the root of it.
You go next to the question of the suicide pact, and clearly this is a difficult situation because depression is always prominent. But depression is very difficult to determine in adolescents as it is.
And in this particular case, oftentimes in a pact the two individuals bond. So they`re bullied separately.
They find each other. They bond together. And they say, with each other, we will be OK.
But then they start thinking, you know what? We don`t have anything else. We don`t have friends. We don`t have anything else except for each other. And maybe we would be better off dead.
PINSKY: Dr. Archer, I have to tell you that you dropped several bombs there. I actually had, like, a shudder.
So we`re saying that bullying is directly connected and this Internet which -- I`m an adult, and I get bullied every day on the Internet. You`d be amazed. I read tweet stuff sometimes that people say to me -- just to give people a taste of what we have to go through. I can imagine if I were 15 years old.
Yes, I`d get depressed. I would get severely depressed.
And so you`re making a direct connection there. That`s one thing. And that actually made me shudder.
And I`m sick and disgusted. That`s the word I keep using, and I`m really disgusted by this.
And then, secondly, the suicide pact phenomenon, it really -- it`s not necessarily a romantic union, but is a very dependent union. I guess for people out there that want to try to get their heads around this, it`s like Romeo and Juliet. That was a suicide pact.
ARCHER: Well, what it is, is that you feel it`s us against the world. You feel that no one else gets you, no one likes you, no one understands you, you`re never going to have friends, you`re never going to fit in. But then you find this one person and they get you, and you relate to them and they relate to you. And it becomes a bond, and it`s an amazingly strong bond.
Now, the good news here is that most of these pacts don`t end up in suicide. Sometimes only one goes through. And every now and then you get the double suicide.
So this is not the norm and it`s not common. But, of course, it doesn`t make it any less sad. And again, in the Internet world, I`m afraid that this is becoming more common.
PINSKY: Well, thank you, Dr. Archer.
Jessica and Robin, I want to finish with you.
There`s no words I can say to make this OK or to make you feel any less shattered by this. It`s just -- I`m so sorry.
Is there anything you`d like, as a way of sort of trying to make sense and give back, anything you`d like people out there to know or to watch for or to understand in their own families?
R. SETTLE: Well, you know, the doctor touched kind of on it, and you had asked me if there were any signs. And there were very prominent signs, but he hit the nail on the head.
And in Paige, Haylee found herself, a mirror of herself. And they created that bond and they disguised it very well in the end, for the last two weeks of their lives. They completely appeared happy-go-lucky.
And I would just say to teachers, to friends, to parents, to aunts, to uncles, whatever, whoever it might be, that we have got to do something about this and we`ve got to pay closer attention.
PINSKY: Thank you, guys.
Later, I`ll be talking to Edward Asner about autism. I`ll also be answering your questions on our "On Call" segment.
Now, when we come back, we`re going to talk more about the teenage mind and why these beautiful young girls would hang themselves in a suicide pact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`re so young. I just never thought anything could be so bad where you`d think that somebody would to that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, we`re born for a reason and you deserve to live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to believe, myself, that they had thought this out, you know, pretty thoroughly, because I just noticed little changes in the way they were -- or, actually, I should say Haylee was talking or posting things on the Internet. It seems to me now that they were going out of their way to keep this to themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Boy, boy, boy, boy. That was NBC`s "Today Show."
We`re talking about the deaths of two teenage girls. They killed themselves, evidently related to harassment and bullying by classmates about their appearance and the nature of their friendship.
Haylee`s aunt, Robin Settle, and her cousin, Jessica Settle, are here with us on the phone.
And Robin, there`s still so much to be discussed. And again, I just can`t -- I can`t say how sorry I am. I can`t say it enough.
But let`s try to, for people at home, get something out of this so this doesn`t happen again. There really are two issues.
One is, signs and symptoms of depression. And I`m going to ask you about what you saw in Haylee.
And then number two, what Dr. Archer just told us, which I found stunning, which is that he does believe there is a direct connection between the incidence of suicide and the amount of bullying that`s going on, and the absolute uncontained quality that it has got now on the Internet.
So, Robin, did you see signs of depression? And they`re difficult to see. And let me talk about that a lit bit for people at home. So you tell us.
R. SETTLE: I absolutely had seen signs of depression in Haylee. I had seen a bright, charismatic, beautiful, bubbly little girl turn into -- I wouldn`t say introvert, but I would say a lot more quiet, a lot more kept to herself, not mixing and mingling even with the family like she had.
I heard her stories of -- that she was taking Dexatrim and other pills to try to lose weight because she was made fun of being fat. And she wanted to dye her beautiful hair because she was called names over the color of her red hair. And so the depression was definitely there, but it was really hard to make the difference in the depression and the fact that they would actually do what they did.
PINSKY: Well, and that -- and it sounds like, you know, I would have thought to myself, even as a trained professional, well, she`s reacting to the bullying, maybe it`s not depression.
So, for people at home, depression is hard to pick out in adolescents. They don`t necessarily cry and complain about dysphoria the way an adult would.
Drop in grades, that`s number one. Number two, as you heard Robin say, isolation, change in their peer group, change in their appearance. Obviously, drugs, alcohol, sexual acting out, these are all signs of depression in an adolescent. Irritability, acting out in ways that are just uncharacteristic.
Now, there was one thing that was mentioned in this little intro about the two of them. What was the nature of their relationship? Was it just a friendship, was it -- did something happen there?
R. SETTLE: I believe that it was truly just that bond that they had found in one another, that they completely accepted one another, and they could block the rest of everything out between the two of them. They had each other to turn to. And it has been turned into the question of homosexuality or a deeper relationship, and I really just don`t believe that that`s the case.
PINSKY: And I want to say, Robin, that you don`t need to bring that element in to just say that this was a dependent relationship where they found, as you said, a mirror in one another and they could find refuge against this bullying.
R. SETTLE: Exactly. And that`s what I believe it was.
PINSKY: Stop it.
All right. When we come back, actor Ed Asner, who is also an advocate.
Thank you, Robin, by the way. And again, my heart is out to you.
We`re going to remind people there`s hope for autism when Edward Asner joins us here.
PINSKY: All right. I`d like everyone to be aware that April is National Autism Month, and we want to do our part to inform and educate about this condition for which, so far, there is no cure but tons of hope. Tonight, I`m pleased to have Edward Asner with us. He was, of course, Mr. Grant on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." I was a huge fan, myself. His son, Matthew, is here as well. And we`ve got Matthew`s son and Ed`s grandson, Will, who has autism.
Also joining us is Dr. Shafali Jeste. She is with us and she is from UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment. Now, I want you to watch this piece of tape, and then, we`re going to have a very interesting conversation out here. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (voice-over): This may come to mind when you think of autism, but the condition goes far beyond Dustin Hoffman`s portrayal in "Rain Man." As many as one in 80 children in the U.S. has autism. A new case is diagnosed about every 15 minutes. The number has shot up in the last 15 years and so has the controversy over suspected causes. Beyond that, there`s the human story. Families and individuals adjusting to a mysterious lifelong condition with no known cause and no known cure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (on-camera): So, we`re going to be discussing this condition, and for those of you out there that may be concerned about your children or planning to have children, this is a very relevant topic because this is something that is on the increase, and it`s very puzzling for people. The terminology gets confusing. So, we`re going to try to sort all that out. First, I want to start with Matthew and Will.
Uh-oh, got to go to the bathroom?
MATTHEW ASNER, SON HAS AUTISM: He says he has to go to the bathroom.
PINSKY: Oh, good timing, Will. Can you hold -- we`d take the cameras with them, but if you wouldn`t mind taking just a couple of minutes, buddy. I want to ask your dad. Can you hold on? What you thought when you first were given -- when he was first given that diagnosis?
MATTHEW ASNER: Well, the first time he was diagnosed, he was diagnosed twice. So, the first time was with UCLA (INAUDIBLE) UCLA, and we had so many people coming at us saying he`s not autistic, he`s not autistic, he`s not autistic that we decided to have it again at Kaiser. We did. And that was the earth shattering news that we got because the doctor basically told us that Kaiser basically told us, you got to prepare yourselves for a life where your child doesn`t work, is not able to hold down a job. And so, effectively, that doctor really killed my hope. I mean, it was a really devastating --
PINSKY: It must have been awful.
MATTHEW ASNER: And I`m sure you`ll --
PINSKY: That`s not the message.
MATTHEW ASNER: OK. We have to wait. We have to wait.
WILL ASNER, HAS AUTISM: I just have to go.
MATTHEW ASNER: OK.
PINSKY: He can be excused if he wants. Do you want to be excused?
MATTHEW ASNER: Do you want to be excused?
MATTHEW ASNER: Can someone walk him there?
PINSKY: All right. See you, Will.
MATTHEW ASNER: You come right back, though, OK?
PINSKY: Ed, you also have a son with autism, is that correct?
EDWARD ASNER, ACTOR: Not this one.
PINSKY: Not this one. This one has a different condition. I`ll be talking you about that later. We`ll bring you back for that conversation.
EDWARD ASNER: I had a later son, he`s high functioning autistic. And it took a while, you know, and as recently as 20 some years ago, we moved light years from that point to this with what people know as human and regard the affliction as. When we first had him in public school around seven or eight, he`d be in a special needs class, which they determined he needed to be in. He`d be rolling on the floor. And only his mother kept driving, driving, saying he can do better, he can do better, he can do better. And he was gradually elevated in the classes which he excelled.
PINSKY: Did you have a similar experience to Matthew in terms of feeling so shattered when the diagnosis was finally --
EDWARD ASNER: No, I was in shock. Also, I couldn`t be sure, because he is high functioning. I couldn`t be sure it truly was autism. My wife, at the time, said that, hey, he really doesn`t suffer from autism. He suffers from asperism (ph).
PINSKY: But you know, one thing I`ve noticed, Matt, about, particularly, little boys with autism, there`s definitely a sweetness about them, isn`t that true? They will be very sweet, which got to make it very, very difficult as a parent because they`re also behaviorally very difficult, you know what I mean?
MATTHEW ASNER: I do. I`m very lucky because Will is an incredibly affectionate boy.
PINSKY: This is so common. I see this, young males --
MATTHEW ASNER: They`re so sweet. Completely, you know, so sweet.
MATTHEW ASNER: And, you know, I really have to watch him with people because, you know, he will go of with someone, you know?
PINSKY: He`s gone off with our stage manager. Welcome back. Welcome back.
EDWARD ASNER: That`s what you call a quick trip.
MATTHEW ASNER: You know, I was in a yogurt shop not too long ago, and he, you know, someone came and took him by the hand and took him over to see their dog. He was either the dumbest person in the world or a predator.
MATTHEW ASNER: And I scared him off. You know, he ran away. And, you know, it taught me a huge lesson that I needed to learn. And, but, you know, it`s tough. It`s really tough.
PINSKY: Do you find --
EDWARD ASNER: I could not teach my kid to lie.
PINSKY: That`s kind of a common thing. Things like lies and jokes are difficult for Asperger`s and autistic kids.
SHAFALI SPURLING JESTE, UCLA CENTER FOR AUTISM: Right. And I mean, just to sort of, you know, clarify like to me, criteria for autism, you have to have social impairment.
PINSKY: Well, let`s look at some of the signs here. Some signs that we`re going to put up on the screen. One is not responding to name by 12 months, not showing interest in objects by 14 months, avoiding eye contact and then wanting to be alone, spend a lot of time alone. I think that`s what you`re referring to. The social skills are different.
JESTE: Right. Absolutely. So, I think the core issue is the sort of difficulty with social interactions. Sometimes, kids can be a little bit kind of almost too social, and at times that they don`t get social cues, they might be, you know, willing to go and, you know, interact with someone that maybe they shouldn`t. So, that can be -- but they absolutely can be - - I mean, kids on the spectrum are extremely affectionate. They can be very affectionate and loving and wonderful. And so, the issue is to sort of -- absolutely.
PINSKY: Well, that`s what is hard as a parent because behaviorally can be so difficult to deal with the tantruming and things like that. It must be very conflicting.
MATTHEW ASNER: I think you have moments of incredible frustration every day that most parents don`t have. And then, there are those moments that shine where, like, the other day -- the other day his -- Will has never been able to sit through a movie. So, we take him to a movie including the premiere of "Up," and he would sit there for five minutes and then what would you do? Get up, right?
WILL ASNER: Get up and --
MATTHEW ASNER: And say, I don`t want to see this. I want to go out in the lobby. I want to do other things. So, we`d have to take him out there and walk around the lobby for two hours. So, the other day he said to my wife, I want to see "Up." So, she took him to see "Up." He really wanted to see it, and he sat through the whole film. That is a great -- that`s like a great achievement, you know? That was a wonderful, wonderful thing.
PINSKY: We have a Facebook question. This is -- let`s go to Matt with you on this. "How do you go about dealing with the public`s rude assumptions that your child needs further disciplinary actions if their behavior is different?" That`s how I sort of put that question anyway.
MATTHEW ASNER: That`s a good question. I had a friend growing -- I had a lot of training in it because I had a friend growing up who had Tourette`s syndrome and had it really bad. And I saw a lot of rude people talk to him in very rude ways, and I experienced a lot of it. So, you just have to have a lot of patience with people and you have to explain to them what`s going on. And if they choose not to accept what`s going on, that`s their problem, that`s not your problem, that`s their problem.
PINSKY: Dr. Jeste, you used some language that I want to clarify for you, but we got only like a minute and half to do this. So, prepare yourself. You used the term autistic spectrum already.
PINSKY: Sure people all around went, huh, what was that? How do people know the differences amongst these different disorders? What are they briefly and what kind of criteria do you use to assess?
JESTE: Great question. So, it is a spectrum, and we see that, it means that, you know, you see five kids with autism, they`re all different. But to meet criteria for being anywhere on the spectrum, you need to have some difficulty with social interaction, some delay or difficulty with language, and then, the presence of either repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. So, as you can imagine, those are three categories that, you know, again, build the spectrum, but you can have a child who might have better language than another child.
And so, he`s still on the spectrum, but he has a different level of functioning. So, again, the key, though, in thinking about a spectrum is that the child has difficulties in communication and social interaction. And so -- so we talk about, you know, kids being different levels of functioning. It`s true. Some kids have language. Some kids don`t. Some kids really struggle more with repetitive behaviors or needing to be the same in the way they play.
You know, those sorts of things. And so, you know, really, it is a very, very mixed group of, you know --
JESTE: Disorders, basically.
PINSKY: You call them disorders? We call them disorders?
JESTE: We do call them disorders. Absolutely. Because, they -- you know, kids struggle with functioning with them, but there`s a big spectrum in how they function.
PINSKY: And that quickly, -- I understand, you have a deep insight into how Will`s mind works. Can you take us inside that a little bit?
MATTHEW ASNER: Well, Will gets fixated on things, you know? We`ll go to -- one of our favorite things to do on the weekend is go to the dog park. We`ll go to the dog park and what`s the first thing you want to do when we go to the dog park?
WILL ASNER: Go to the porta-potty.
MATTHEW ASNER: Yes, he did. And you know what, for a germaphobe, it`s a very difficult thing to keep going to porta-potties, you know, but that`s the first thing he wants to do, you know, and I understand that, and so, I take him, you know? I mean, it`s -- it`s worse not to take him because, you know, it can ruin a whole day, but, you know, I think there`s -- there`s a hyper-obsessiveness that goes on with him sometimes that makes it very difficult to go out in public and do things that typical families do.
PINSKY: Hyperfocus on certain objects and activities and things. That`s part of the spectrum. Edward, thank you for joining us. I appreciate you sharing the story.
EDWARD ASNER: Thank you for having me.
PINSKY: Matthew, thank you for being here.
MATTHEW ASNER: You said something, I just want to add one thing.
MATTHEW ASNER: Is it OK?
PINSKY: Of course.
MATTHEW ASNER: You said something about hope, you know, and I think, I think hope is all we have. And the one thing that I think has to happen is, I think, the community has to come together as a whole. I think we`re fractured by race, by class, by disorder, and I think for us to affectionate any kind of change, I think, in the system, and to keep services coming, I think we all have to get together and speak together as a group of people. That`s a very important.
EDWARD ASNER: Practice tolerance.
PINSKY: Well said. Well said.
PINSKY: Dr. Jeste, you`re going to stay with me. We are going to address the topic of difficulty with social functioning because we have a couple up next on the Asperger`s spectrum where that is such a prominent feature. This affects the whole family. You`re going to want to see this, so stay tuned.
PINSKY: As I`ve been reminding you guys, April is National Autism Month. This is a great time to inform and educate everyone about a condition for which there is no cure, but as we said in the last segment, there is tons of hope.
Joining me now are Tom Anastasio and his wife, Karen. Tom has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It`s had a very big impact on their marriage, obviously. And Dr. Shafali Jeste is here from UCLA Center for Autism. And as we`ve discussed, Asperger`s is on the autistic spectrum. She`s back with us. So, Karen, I want to start with you. When and how did you find out about Tom`s condition?
KAREN ANASTASIO, HUSBAND HAS ASPERGER`S SYNDROME: I noticed over a period of time during our marriage that he did not think like other people and it caused frustration.
PINSKY: What does that mean? For people at home that might not get their head around this easily.
KAREN ANASTASIO: He didn`t have the same social skills as other people whereas when I would meet someone, I`d put my hand out to greet him, and he would keep his hands to himself and look down. Looking away is very common of Asperger`s and autism.
PINSKY: I`m going to go to you. There`s a lot of other conditions that cause people to withdraw and look away and not respond to social cues, but in Asperger`s, it`s not reading social cues. Isn`t that the big --
JESTE: Well, it`s that, and also, it has to be to the point that it causes impairment. So, it actually makes you struggle in the way you function. So, yes, there`s a lot of people. You know, we joke that everyone has a little bit of autism in them. So, we all have a little bit of social difficulties here and there, but we learn to compensate, you know? And people with either autism or Asperger`s, they struggle with the social cues and the social functioning so much that it gets in the way of their relationships.
PINSKY: And Tom, my understanding is from friends and people I know that have Asperger`s, sometimes, they have exceptional skills in certain areas, by the way, intellectually, particularly, but things like jokes, when rooms respond to laughter, when there`s contagion of emotion, people I`ve dealt with say that that`s kind of mysterious to them.
TOM ANASTASIO, HAS ASPERGER`S SYNDROME: I guess, in certain situations, yes, like, one person might think it`s hilarious, it`s like, I don`t get it.
PINSKY: Don`t get jokes. That`s just a common thing, too, is it not?
TOM ANASTASIO: Like my son might do something, you know, really small, and I might break out laughing from it. So --
PINSKY: How do you experience this condition?
TOM ANASTASIO: I don`t really think about it too much. I mean, they tell me I`ve got it, but it doesn`t -- I don`t really change how I --
PINSKY: You have no awareness of it day in, day out.
TOM ANASTASIO: They point it out to me, oh, yes, I`m doing that. She said I do the thing with my hands like that.
KAREN ANASTASIO: Just like that. One television show, the legal show where the guy walks with his hands under his legs, he would do that. He walked (INAUDIBLE).
PINSKY: But it does affect you interpersonally.
KAREN ANASTASIO: Yes.
KAREN ANASTASIO: He doesn`t really have any close friends. He doesn`t have close contacts even with family members.
PINSKY: Do you feel intimately connected to him?
KAREN ANASTASIO: Not so much anymore. He doesn`t understand what can make people really happy or things that can make you really low or what will hurt your feelings. And he`ll know he`s hurt your feelings, but he doesn`t know to what depth. And it can be pretty --
PINSKY: You seem emotional just talking about it. It makes you sad?
KAREN ANASTASIO: Absolutely because I`ve told him many times. I`ve said, you`re destroying a piece of my heart, and it gets to a point, after decades, it`s like you`re not going to get that back anymore. He doesn`t understand. He feels like he, like, everybody`s against him or everybody`s better or if he breaks an object that`s irrelative, that`s fine. I say that`s really important to me, and I`m sad about it because it`s broken. He doesn`t understand why he`s not more important than the object.
PINSKY: So, Dr. Jeste, are there tools for a situation like this?
JESTE: It`s a great question. Before answering that, I would say that, you know, in some ways, you have to think about Asperger`s as if you think about, you know, any other medical condition where it`s something that is not in the control of the person per se. So, he does not process social cues and relationships the way, you know, you and I do. And so, it`s not intentional.
You know, it`s not that he doesn`t care or he doesn`t -- it`s just -- so there are actually -- there`s a very big body, it`s kind of research now looking at ways to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders or Asperger`s pick up social cues, you know, work in social situations, and a lot of it is training. It`s really just literally learning how to interact socially. Things that we take for granted, things we do very naturally need to be taught.
PINSKY: I`ve heard of it spoken of as though an Asperger`s patient is an anthropologist from Mars. It`s like you`ve been dropped here in this situation where people understand what`s going on intuitively and you have to kind of study it and make it explicit. And there are treatments -- Karen, this must affect physical intimacy, emotional intimacy.
KAREN ANASTASIO: Every aspect of my life and his children, our children feel the same way.
PINSKY: Have you sought treatment?
KAREN ANASTASIO: We`re in an area where I don`t think there is treatment for adults.
JESTE: The challenges that we are just now realizing how many adults are affected with Asperger`s and high functioning autism. You know, 30 years ago, I see kids, young kids with autism, and the parents say, well, if I, you know, if it was now, I probably would have been diagnosed, but I never was kind of thing.
And so, people just kind of plug through their life, but we are now realizing there are so many adults with this condition that we are working on treatments for adults. It`s really an underrepresented area.
PINSKY: I tell you what, we will stick around, the four of us sit around and talk about this after we get off the air because I bet there`s something we can set up for her. Thank you for joining us, Karen, Tom, Dr. Jeste, thank you so much for being part of this conversation.
On-call segment is next here to answer questions. As I promised, we`ll have some more on this topic, I`m sure, but nothing is off -- no topic is taboo, as we say here.
PINSKY: All right. Time for on-call, but just, first, a couple bits of business. I want to point out that our last couple, Tom and Karen, we`re going to get some treatment for them. Dr. Jeste had some really great ideas. She`s helping them out right now while I speak to you. Secondly, his case really points out something I want to bring attention to which is that autism and Asperger`s are adult problems as well, and they are exceedingly common and there is treatment.
Raise awareness. Do something about it. And then, finally, I want to thank whoever ordered us our Dr. Drew cups here. You see these things? Yes. Here`s the problem with them, guys. Just so you know. I grab them with my right hand, look what happens. Isn`t that nice? So -- which one of you screw balls did this? So, I`m going to have to keep doing it with the left hand if you want to see the logo. So, all right. So, here we go.
First, we`ve got Michelle, and she asks, I believe this is a Facebook. There`s my fancy Facebook thing. She asks, "I got in a car accident last year, and I`m still suffering memory loss, job loss, money problems, depression, migraines, et cetera. I`ve been to speech, occupational, physical therapy. Is there more to do?"
And listen, I thank you for asking this question because yesterday, we did a whole segment on concussion and football injuries, and one thing we did not get to that really killed me was the post-concussive syndrome, and it`s something you need to be aware of. After even relatively mild head injuries, yet alone full-blown concussions where you lose consciousness or have memory problems, mild head injuries can cause a full syndrome of mood disturbances, sleep disturbances, problems functioning at work, problems functioning socially, irritability, changes in thinking.
These are all protean (ph) symptoms that come on from a relatively minor head injury. And she asked, specifically, is there more to be done? I mean, she`s obviously had quite a head injury and is getting therapies for it. You may have a mood disturbance on top of it which is very, very common. And sometimes, getting on some mood stabilizing medication can really make all those other symptoms get better. The good news is the post-concussive syndrome while it can last for months and months, usually, does get better.
We`ve got now somebody on the home. Barbara, she`s calling from Washington. Barbara, what`s going on, kiddo?
BARBARA, WASHINGTON: Hi, Dr. Drew.
BARBARA: I received very hurtful responses from my family on Facebook about posting regarding no one visiting a family member I had who was hospitalized for a week.
BARBARA: And it has led to a break in our family. And my question for you is, do you think that the ease and availability of electronic communication leads to an increase in anti-social behavior?
PINSKY: Well, you know, this is something that is becoming near and dear to my heart. Not so much that it`s increasing anti-social behavior so much, but it`s provided a virtual slow (ph) for the acting out of aggression. An anti-social just to be clear is a personality syndrome where people don`t see other people other than as objects for their use. They don`t really appreciate other people have agencies and feelings. So, I wouldn`t say that it causes more anti-social, but boy, anti-socials can really act out in that environment.
Laurel S. now has a question. This, I assume, is a Facebook question. "How do you distinguish between real signs and typical -- real warning signs and typical moody teenage behavior," she asks? You know, great question. I only have a few seconds to answer it, and it is very hard to point out. If you heard Dr. Archer a few minutes ago, he was saying it`s very hard to sort this out. The number one thing you look for, a drop in grades.
And this is something that drives me insane because schools, sometimes, look at those kids whose grades drop as a problem student or a problem kid. First thing to think about if a kid has been doing well and their grades drop off suddenly, that is very likely to be a mood disturbance. Get the kid evaluated. We`ve had a show here. We`ve seen what happens if people don`t get help. Please, if you have any questions, ask your doctor, get help, do what you can, be vigilant.
Thank you for watching. I will see you next time.