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How “Celebrity Apprentice” Evokes Hope

This is a guest post by Aaron Likens, an adult author who has Asperger Syndrome. You can follow Aaron’s blog at lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com.

I started watching “The Apprentice” from the first episode in 2004 and have followed it every season since. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2003 and started writing about my experiences in 2005. As I started to write Finding Kansas I had no idea if anyone would ever read my thoughts or feel with me as I wrote, but in an episode several months after I started to write, a new upstart charity was featured.

In that episode, Suzanne Wright, one of the founders of Autism Speaks, mentioned that their goal was to “give a voice for those who can’t speak”. I was so elated that the autism spectrum got air time and that the message of awareness was delivered through that episode and that elation translated into a deeper passion to share my story. It makes a profound impact when one realizes they aren’t fighting alone, and that episode and that quote was a turning point in my life.

Flash forward to this season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” and once again autism is a topic. Unlike the seasons that started the series that saw players playing for a job in the Trump organization, this season is the third installment of a Celebrity version where celebrities play for their favorite charity. Holly Robinson Peete has a deep connection and passion for her charity, the HollyRod Foundation that benefits those with autism, because she has a son with autism.

Going into Sunday’s episode there were five players left. Quickly the field would be “fired” to just two. Prior records were examined and a task that Holly won raised a non-finale record of $347,893!

The boardroom to determine the final two was an emotional and passionate battle. Sharon Osbourne made several comments about Holly’s huge heart, and Holly’s battle looking at her child each day and also, “I don’t know what I’d do if I had a child that wasn’t well; it’s devastating.”

I was moved by this, I live with being on the autism spectrum each day, and the compassion shown by Sharon towards Holly’s battle was much like that first moment I heard Suzanne Wright on that episode back in 2005.

Holly showed great resolve in these final boardrooms and after being interviewed by the first Apprentice, Bill Rancic, and last season’s celebrity winner, Joan Rivers, it was time for Donald Trump to choose who the final two would be.

The field was reduced to three, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete, and Bret Michaels. Each of the three have a personal tie to their charities and each had been an amazingly strong player in the game. Mr. Trump took his time, and the moments on the television screen probably didn’t give justice to just how intense it was, and in the end Holly Robinson Peete and Bret Michaels made the final.

The final task involves making a new Snapple drink that will utilize their charity in the design. This is no easy task as they must make a 30-second television spot, a three-page ad, and make the drink in just three days.

Who won? The finale is next week and either Bret Michaels or Holly Robinson Peete will hear the words, “You’re hired!” I know who has already won though. Autism is often misunderstood and still there are those that don’t know what it is. For those who have it, or know someone who does, autism is a 24/7 condition that there is no current cure for. For families to see the resolve and passion that Holly Robinson Peete has shown for her cause, she has surely evoked a sense of hope.

I started writing my best work once I knew I wasn’t alone and there was someone out there that knew what autism was and the challenges that goes along with it. That was five years ago, and once again Donald Trump’s television show, “The Apprentice,” may give others that same passion I felt. So, win or lose in the game, Holly Robinson Peete is a winner in more ways than she may ever know.

  1. May 17, 2010 at 11:03 am

    As Aaron’s father, I remember watching the Apprentice show that featured Autism Speaks in 2005. In March of 2005 he and I were in Kisumu, Kenya on a filming trip and as he wrote in room 312 at the Imperial Hotel he realized that he was going to become a voice for those who can’t speak. He didn’t fully understand what he was about to do as he continued to write.

    His book, Finding Kansas, has been compared to Temple Grandin’s Emergence. As I watched Aaron watch Celebrity Apprentice last night, I could see that he really understood what a winner Holly is even though the final episode will not be aired until next week.

    Aaron describes having Asperger’s Syndrome as living behind a wall. If you want make a trip behind that wall I invite you to read his blog. You can access it from his website at http://www.findingkansas.com.

    God bless my son, he’s my hero and it is an honor to stand in his shadow.
    Jim Likens

    • Peter Bell
      May 18, 2010 at 8:51 am

      Thank you BOTH for sharing your insights and writing talents with our community! No matter who Mr. Trump “hires” next Sunday, autism is the winner and we have Holly Robinson Peete (and many others) to thank for their passionate advocacy. Thank you Likens family for reminding us about these lessons.

  2. Kristie Fowler
    May 17, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I LOVE The Celebrity Apprentice, and although, Holly Robinson Peete, has turned me off a few times this season, her devotion to her foundation, as well as to her committment of hope to Autism Spectrum Disorders has moved me. I have a son with Asperger’s, however I see myself as lucky for the following reasons–he has taught me more than probably any of my other 3 children, I have not only learned a lesson about the beauty of the world, but because of his unwavering sometimes brutal honesty, I have learned about some of the ugliness of the world too, that sometimes, us optimists, miss. I am also lucky because he was diagnosed far earlier than most with Asperger’s (he was 5) this helps us to learn and grow from his diagnosis, instead of sitting around wondering–“What is wrong with my child?” When in all honesty NOTHING is wrong with him, he is perfect in the way that God intended him to be. Asperger’s needs to be brought to the forefront, it needs to be discussed and there needs to be more education put in place regarding all 5 disorders on the spectrum. We could look at the disorder as a “problem” but I intend to see it as something else entirely….My beautiful, wonderful, awesome, honest, Ramsey, it is sometimes difficult, but I cannot imagine my life without him. I know I will compile a book someday. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I applaud you!

  3. Ginger Boyington
    May 21, 2010 at 9:14 am

    The Celebrity Apprentice has been a double blessing for me. I am a Type I diabetic with a beautiful, 7 year old son with autism. It moves me to see the passion that these final two have for their charities.
    Diabetes is so intense. Many think of it as, “ok, no more dessert”, but we are faced everyday with careful decisions for everything we consume, from the cream in our coffee, to a quick mint for fresh breath– it can be overwhelming at times.
    Then throw a mind-blowing diagnosis of autism for your child into the mix. Besides being completely physically draining, the experience is emotionally devastating as well. Sleep deprivation, worry, stress, and ultimate desperation takes a toll on a body that already struggles.
    Holly Robinson Peete and Bret Michaels are my heroes and I feel their pain and their passion in every episode. They both deserve to win. Thank God for the awareness that has come about because of this show! I hope that people will see past the antics of the characters and see the message here, that we can change the world and make things better for people that are suffering, by giving from our heart.

  4. Jen Goldszmidt
    May 22, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Thank you, Aaron, for sharing your story and your enthusiasm for raising awareness about autism. My eight year old daughter was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of two. She can speak, and she has improved over the years with intensive therapies. However, my greatest fear and despair comes when I see how others outside our social/educational/medical sphere react to her behaviors. Once, for example, she stole a french fry off the plate of a man at a restaurant. Even though my husband explained our daughter’s disability and offered to buy him another meal, the man yelled at our daughter and my husband for her rude behavior. My daughter, of course, did not understand, and my husband was both embarrassed by and furious with this outraged french fry eater. As long as there is no cure, awareness will be the most important facet in our daughter’s life.

  1. May 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm
  2. May 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

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