Getting a Life with Asperger’s: Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood

by Cynthia L. McVey

As a Hobart student, Jesse Saperstein ’04 considered it a “dream goal” to write a book — now, he’s written two. In his second book, Getting a Life with Asperger’s: Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood, (published in August by Penguin Group U.S.A.), author, speaker and autism advocate Saperstein shares firsthand advice on such topics as overcoming bullying and chronic rejection, coping with compulsions, and making peace with ritualistic obsessions from excessive letterwriting to online gaming.

Saperstein graduated from Hobart with a B.A. in English cum laude. He is a strong anti-bullying advocate, producing public service videos, working to infuse anti-bullying education in public schools, and even addressing the United Nations. Saperstein also recently collaborated with New York University on the “Keeping it Real Project,” a partnership between NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project and self-advocates who have developed strength-based modules for middle schools to nurture students’ self-esteem and foster self-advocacy skills. (

In addition to writing and motivational speaking, Saperstein is teaching a course in creative writing at Living Resources, Inc. Since August, he has been traveling the country, from Boston to California, conducting book signings for Getting a Life with Asperger’s. Following a recent NPR interview, Saperstein’s book shot to number one in three categories on It is also available directly on his website, with personalized messages for his readers.

Q&A with Jesse Saperstein '04

What inspired this book?
My first book, Atypical: Life With Asperger’s in 20 1/2 Chapters doesn’t address transitioning into adulthood. That time of transition has fewer services and advocates for people with autism and a lot of heartbreak when it comes to searching for jobs. With this book, I’d like to make it possible for someone to avoid learning everything the hardest way possible.

You say you chose HWS for the available resources. Were you happy with your decision?
Yes. College was a lonely experience because people didn’t understand me. However, I think had I gone anywhere else, it would have been worse. I would have become clinically depressed or dropped out. For the start of the 21st century, the Colleges were ahead of their time, and I’ve seen how much they have grown since I graduated. They have great services.

Much of your advice pertains to appropriate communication.
I do have to consciously think about everything I say. I feel like I’m playing Russian roulette. I like to say complacency is the glove in which evil slips its hand. My fear is that if I become that complacent, I’ll slip up and it will cost me.

Why do you call autism both a difficult and beautiful condition?
For me, autism is a gift, especially at this point in my life when I’m writing books and giving speeches. For others with the disease, it’s not the same. For parents, sometimes it prevents their children from having a life. But just speaking for myself, autism has made me a better person. I can find creative ways to solve problems, and by dwelling on certain experiences I don’t repeat the same mistakes. I think one of the greatest gifts is empathy, although people with autism aren’t perceived as having it.

Why not?
Because we seem to have no consideration for others, but it’s just an inability to see other’s points of view, not an inability to relate to their anguish.

What advice would you give the neurotypical population in relating to people with autism?
Those on the spectrum don’t wake up thinking ‘How can I be creepier than yesterday, make people more uncomfortable or destroy a career opportunity?’ Tell them what they are doing to make you uncomfortable and soften the constructive criticism so they know it’s not a personal attack. For every one negative, provide three positives. Most of all, see our potential as outstanding employees and coworkers.

Nightstand: What are you reading?


Associate of Content Partnerships, Amplify Access, a company providing mobile learning systems designed by and for educators

“I just finished Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. It is the most elaborate exploration into the Muppets creator’s artistic and personal life that I have read to date. Jones shows the brilliance and struggle of art and the artist in a complex family medium. Henderson’s story brings joy and laughter to so many, young and old. If you need a good pick-me-up tale of grand craziness, read this biography.”


Graduate Student, George Washington University; Co-teacher, Chantilly High School, Chantilly, Va.; returned Peace Corps volunteer

“A favorite from my studies is A Practical Reader for UDL by Rose and Meyer. The article explains the theory of Universal Design for Learning, which emphasizes teachers as guides/coaches, views learning as a process, encourages cooperative learning, and enforces reciprocal teaching for literacy. The reading has been influential in helping to mold my teaching philosophy and outlook as a special educator.”


HWS Director, Global Initiative on Disability; Associate Professor, Education Department/Affiliated Faculty, Asian Studies Department

“I am currently reading Riding the Bus with My Sister, by Rachel Simon, about Simon’s relationship with her younger sister who lives independently, loves riding the city buses, and has an intellectual disability. The book is for my class, “Personal Narratives on Disability.” Our next book is Saperstein’s Atypical: Life With Asperger’s in 20 1/2 Chapters. I love both of these books because we gain so much by learning from the personal experiences of individuals with disabilities, and their families.”


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.