Interview with Dr. Frank Gaskillby Leslie Burby
Leslie: Today we are here with Dr. Frank Gaskill. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. G: Thank you.
Leslie: Dr. Gaskill is a psychologist with Southeast Psych down in North Carolina and he is also the author of Max Gamer the comic, correct?
Dr. G: Max Gamer Aspie Superhero
Leslie: The comic is actually how I stumbled upon you at first because my Aspie husband and daughter love comics.
Dr. G: Max Gamer II is set to be released Spring of 2014. In it Max Gamer meets a little girl named Christy and she is an Aspergirl, too.
Leslie: Oh great! My daughter was asking where the girls were with Asperger’s?
Dr. G: That’s right. I have a little DSM public service announcement that I have and in the graphic, there is a little girl on the front sitting with Temple Grandin and on her shirt, it says Rev the Reptagon, that is like someone else I know that is really into lizards so it kind of worked.
Leslie: That’s great. [She laughs] So you have a prominent psych practice down in North Carolina, how did you get started as a psychologist?
Dr. G: My business partner, Dave Rehagen and I were in another practice and it closed its doors. So he and I had lunch one day and said well maybe we should do this ourselves. We set a requirement that’s basically if we like talking to you and you are funny and we want to have you over to our house and play and joke around and you happen to have a degree well then that works because most psychologists and psychiatrists make us crazy and are weird and I’m weird. I mean I am really weird. I want to work with my best friends and I do. It’s phenomenal.
Leslie: I know you have many interns and you are known for your quirkiness and your videotaped pranks. So I wanted to know which is your favorite prank?
Dr. G: Well it isn’t videotaped but I was convinced by Dr. Kelly Bolton here at the practice (she works with Aspergirls) that an individual within the practice was obsessed with drinking straws and would collect them wherever she went and so I believed it. So I started to go and buy straws and take them back to show her and say, “Hey look at this straw.” I would leave them for her and put the straws in her desk. I can’t say how I found out about it but as it turns out, it was all a prank on me. When I found out about it I convinced her to do some research and find out where I can buy straws. Long story short, I bought ten thousand straws, stole the keys to her car and emptied all ten thousand straws into her Honda Accord. In case you are wondering, ten thousand straws goes up to the headrest in a Honda Accord.
Dr. G: Me and my buddy, Andrew King, we just returned the keys and went home. I got a call later that night of just laughter. That was a pretty epic prank but I probably have a hundred of those.
Leslie: That’s fantastic. My favorite one that I viewed online was the one where you are dressed up as Darth Vader and the intern was instructed to go stand by Darth Vader and have her picture taken and you jump at her.
Dr. G: Actually, the same woman in that video is the woman that I put the straws in her car.
Leslie: I thought that was hysterical. It was priceless. Well, I wanted to ask you as a psychologist what your thoughts were about the changes to the DSM 5? Although, I just saw that you recently did a video on that topic so I wasn’t sure if you wanted to explain your opinion or not in regards to how the autism diagnosis has changed.
Dr. G: Well a few things and my opinion are evolving over time but I am pretty clear on where I fall. The issue for me is really the big picture that the DSM and how we view people is such a negative viewpoint. The positives or strengths are not discussed. When I heard Asperger’s was being deleted it really threw me. Asperger’s itself before in the DSM-IV it was hard to do research on it because the description is so broad. So the research that I have read is fundamentally flawed because how do you know who your subjects are and how do you make it a consistent sample size but then for me I am very much, well Asperger’s is not a disorder and it is not a syndrome it’s a different kind of brain and in some ways I think it is a better kind of brain. When I read the description of autism spectrum disorder the word disorder drives me crazy. There are these words like “abnormal patterns of socializing” and in the lowest level of care, it says something like “fail” just all this negativity. So, on one hand, I am glad they got rid of the term because they shouldn’t be describing it anyway if it is that negative. The problem now is that some of my clients if they want to get serviced we have to write down on a sheet of paper that you have Autism Spectrum Disorder and I am fundamentally against saying that a lot of my guys are “disordered.” When I look at the clients that I do have right now, if I look at the lowest level of care in the DSM 5, they wouldn’t meet that criterion. It is also context-specific, it says “difficulty or failure to socialize appropriately.” Well if I put ten of my Aspie guys in a room they are having a blast. They are socializing perfectly because they don’t have to deal with humans/neuro-typicals who believe you have to be a certain way to be accepted. You know just because everyone doesn’t socialize the same way neuro-typicals do doesn’t mean that they have a disorder. So for me it’s frustrating but the upside is maybe Aspie-nation will own that word and carry it forward that wouldn’t have been done previously.
Leslie: I guess my frustration, especially now, scientists have proven that there are distinct brain differences between someone that has Kanners verses someone that has Asperger’s and I just think that it was a horrible time to group everyone together. Especially now that they have the scientific proof and they have the neurological difference seen by an MRI. I personally think that it is going to cause more confusion for the general public. When people ask me about my daughter and they see my daughter. They are often confused. People say, “What do you mean she is autistic? She doesn’t seem to act autistic?” So then I feel like I have to explain Asperger’s to them which I don’t mind because I am all about raising awareness and acceptance and that can’t be done without knowledge of the topic. My fear is that it will be more difficult for people to get a diagnosis and then get services that they may need. I just hope that it allows people to get the help that they need if they do need help.
Dr. G: I look at John Elder Robison and I think – Really?! You are going to call that a disorder?
Leslie: I know! I just read John’s book and was very honored to write a review for him. As a writer I have a huge amount of respect for him. He is such an amazing storyteller. For someone to stand there and say that he is disordered, I don’t believe that. He has an auto business and is a successful author. I also don’t believe that my daughter is. I do believe that she has some struggles but what person doesn’t?
Dr. G: Yup, see the word “struggles” that’s fine. Everybody has some struggles. But you see that is where our system is so flawed. You have to speak of it as a this or this. That is why I use this thing called the Lemon Continuum it is on my show. It is a glass of water, a glass of water with lemon on the side, lemon flavored water, lemon, lemonade, lemon and a lemon farm. It’s less or more. Not good or bad. So you have Thomas Jefferson over there is a lemon farm. He never combed his hair, walked around town with a bird on his shoulder, mumbled his speeches, founded UVA, an economist and architect, a lot like Einstein. But then over here you have lemon flavored water and there are a lot of people over there that needed some support when they were younger. It doesn’t mean that they have a disorder.
Leslie: Well that’s an interesting analogical continuum. I had never heard anything like that before. Moving onto a more fun topic, I want to know all about Max Gamer Aspie Superhero. How did you come to create your comics and the character?
Dr. G: Well, I have a co-author, his name is Ryan Kelly. He is finishing up his PhD to be a psychologist. I’ve always felt this way about my Aspie guys and what would be a better medium than Manga or Anime? Here is Max Gamer on the back of it I have this little thing about Asperger’s and what it is. When Ryan Kelly and I were thinking about what the original character would like we had two different versions, both of which Kelly drew. One looked more like a regular cartoony character and the other was Anime. Hands down, all my Aspie guys and Aspergirls loved the Anime version. They are drawn to Anime features because of the exaggerated eyes leads them to read facial expressions better. My favorite part when it was done. It starts out Max knows all the dinosaurs, he fixes computers and he can list all the presidents. Then he talks about how he’s not invited to parties, he’s bullied, he feels alone and different and doesn’t know why. So his grandparents think let’s throw him a party, which is a bad idea because of all the sensory stuff and he freaks out and runs upstairs crying. His grandfather gives him a present and it’s a video game. He is looking at the video game. His sister, who hates him, comes in and grabs the game and presses the on button. She defrags and disappears onto the game board. He is like, “What?!”
His grandfather says, “You can save her. You can do it.” So he defrags himself and goes into the game to save her. Using his processing speed and his Dynogon cards and his backpack he defeats this bad guy named Gadget and saves his sister and brings her back to the living room. Once in the living room she tells him, “You are my superhero. You are quirky and weird but I love you and you saved me.” It is all about empowerment and helping kids to say, “That’s me!” When I passed out the prototype to about ten of my Aspie guys (ages nine to twelve), the room was silent. After a few moments one of the kids came up to me and asked, “Dr. G? Do you follow me around?” I was like, “Wow!” He [the kid] said, “This is me how did you know?” It is just empowering and exciting. In this next episode it’s called Max II Rise of the Bully and it’s about how Max learns to defeat bullies without resorting to violence. It’s going to be epic. Nobody knows this, you are the first to know but we have incorporated Steampunk artwork into this comic. You have to look it up it is very cool. Google Steampunk Star Wars.
Leslie: I will have to look it up. I love art!
Dr. G: Google it and you will see the most ridiculous. It’s almost like an industrial western type of art. Han Salo is like this cool cowboy guy but Chewbacca is this big boxer dog wearing a Derby hat and a cigar. Darth Vader has all this mechanical steam engine stuff with like a blow torch lightsaber. [See artwork of Bjorn Hurri here http://conceptartworld.com/?p=15093] It’s just very cool.
Leslie: [Laughing] Okay, well, once you had your story how did you go about getting it published and reaching out to the community?
Dr. G: Well at Southeast Pysch we are built on three platforms. Our mission is to get psychology into the hands of as many people as possible to enhance their lives. In order to do that we have the Southeast Pysch Studios, which is where all of our shows about psychology are – that’s where the Dr. G Aspie Show is http://www.southeastpsychstudios.com/shows.php. Then we also have Hero house publishing, which is a publishing division where we publish books and other things that promote resilience, strength, growth and who you can become despite the odds. We also have Super Speakers Division where we [psychologists of the practice] give free talks in the Charlotte, NC area. So it’s been through these venues, and twitter. Then I met Temple Grandin and she endorsed the comic book, which was huge. I’ve also have some other cool endorsements lined up for this second comic.
Leslie: That’s great. I was looking at Southeast Pysch’s website [http://southeastpsych.com/], you guys are huge. I don’t think you have left anything out. You have a picky eater section and then the tutors, which I love because I used to own a statewide Special Education Tutoring Company so education is extremely important to me.
Dr. G: That is by Dr. Craig Pohlman. He is the head of that and the author of How to Help You Child Succeed in School http://www.amazon.com/Succeed-Parents-Teachers-Learning-Problems/dp/0470383763.
Leslie: Well, I will have to check that out. I love that the practice is all about fun. How the main or the first core value of the acronym [FIRE] that the practice is based on is Fun. I’ve always said that when it came to teaching that has to be your first goal is to have fun because if you don’t then the kids are going to zone out and you are never going to get any knowledge into their brains.
Dr. G: That’s right.
Leslie: I love that it is entertaining and you make sure everyone is having fun. To learn more about Max Gamer Super Hero and buy the comic please visit http://www.maxgameronline.com/. To learn more about Dr. G’s practice visit http://www.SoutheastPsych.com. To learn more about the Dr.G Aspie show visit http://www.SoutheastPsychStudios.com, right?
Dr. G: Yes or you can go to You Tube and type in “Gaskill Aspie.” I think I’m up to 33,000 viewers now. I’m pretty excited about that.
Leslie: That is fantastic!
Dr. G: Asperger’s and me being weird and just having fun.
Leslie: Having fun of course. [laughs] I just have one more question I wanted to ask you. What would you say to people that ask you: Do people with Asperger’s need a psychologist? Or how would Aspies know if they needed one? And what could a psychologist do for them?
Dr. G: I would say to them pretty much the same thing I say to any human being – you always need a Yoda. Somebody that’s gonna give you some coaching or some life direction, encourage you, challenge you, tell you to “knock it off” (meaning stop it) when you are being ridiculous. For my Aspie Families it’s really about skill building. Number one, like Tony Attwood says is “self-acceptance, self-awareness.” The biggest predictor for success for Aspie nation is you have one best friend, if you have that then you are good and that is true for all of us. That is what I tell all my families, make sure no matter where you go to see a psychologist or to a social skills group or wherever – that they walk away with a friend. That friend can move right along with them for the rest of their lives. If you got that, you are good. Loneliness is the killer for a lot of Aspies.
Leslie: Right. Yes, I agree.
Dr. G: You know what kills me with some families is when they say, “My kid can’t be Aspie because he’s not all introverted and quiet.” And I’m like, “No if you’ve met one Aspie, you have met one Aspie.” There are extroverted Aspies and introverted Aspies. They are like everybody except they have way better brains as far as I’m concerned.
Leslie: Yes, I’m very jealous of my daughter and my husband.
Dr. G: My Grandpa and my Dad were Aspies and when I have families come in they ask me, “So you are too?” I say, “No, I wish was, but I do admit that I have seen Star Wars over 430 times, so there is that. I can quote it from start to finish. It’s pretty sad.
Leslie: Well we all have our interests. Though I don’t think I have ever watched the same movie more than five times (with the exception of A White Christmas that I watch once a year and have ever since I can remember). Anyway, I want to say, “Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed today I know you are a very busy man.”
Dr. G: Thank you. You guys are awesome!
Leslie: Thanks so much.