Learning How to Live

As the fall of 2017 comes to a close, I am one step closer to a new degree and one step closer to a new adventure. When I attend these welding sessions, I am reminded of the engineering classes I took in high school. CADD, circuitry, machine tool; in high school they were to highlight of my day. This is why I am a firm believer that shop classes such as these are more valuable than most academic courses. For me, learning with real-world tools was more valuable than learning from books. As started before, I’m a visual learner and a practical learner. If I’m given a history book and asked to memorize what happened between 1677-1754, I’m only going to use that information once and then never use it again. In an industrial arts class however, you wake up and learn something that you will use in the immediate future and you learn how to be self-reliant in the real-world.

If my school had a class for cooking, I wouldn’t need to rely on fast-food for meals. If there was an automotive course, I wouldn’t need to rely on mechanic as much to fix my truck. If there was a ceramics class, then I could create my own dishes instead of relying on a big-box story for my home needs. The list can go on! Plumbing, glasswork, metalwork, carpentry, and even hunting.

Just to clarify; I am NOT a hunter! I have no desire to hunt. I have a deep love for animals. With that being said, even I can see value in hunting classes for kids. Such classes can teach gun safety. How to hunt responsibly. And most importantly, how to respect your kill.

If my children ever ask me to ask me to take them hunting, I would have two conditions. (1) Be safe. (2) Make dinner out of whatever they killed. Hunting should be related to survival, not killing for the sake of killing. A hunter should kill for food, not acquiring ghoulish trophies. If children learn from the being what a hunter should be, then maybe we can begin to eliminate some of the many murderous poachers in the world.

To be independent is a difficult ability to most people, especially if they are on the spectrum. There are plenty of things I don’t know how to do to survive in the real-world. As such I constantly need to refer to my parents anytime something goes wrong because I wasn’t prepared beforehand. The long and short of the matter is I believe school need to care less about memorizing useless trivia and needs to be about teaching skills they can use to be self-reliant.


Taking that first step to leave the path of social work was not easy. I invested a lot of time and energy learning how people worked. Years of classes, projects, homework, and tests were just going to be shelved and forgotten. Granted, I wasn’t getting anywhere by wishing upon every star in the galaxy for that fabled phone call from a social service agency. Nonetheless, it was still sad and frustrating that I can’t put anything I learned into practice. So, after ignoring the cold reality social work route has reached a dead-end, I finally started research on a new track, welding.

The first steps to learning more about welding were terrifying for I was on my own. I didn’t have KAP (Kelly Autism Program) to hold my hand and no one in my family has ever taken this path before. I was taking a real-world risk were this was going to pay off or I will be worse off than I started. I was walking into this field on a wing and a prayer and the fear of failure was crippling. So much so I decided to tiptoe into this field by only taking the introductory course.

In Fall of 2016, I arrived early to my first day of class, expecting to walk into a classroom I have sat in a hundred times over. A plain and clean room facing a whiteboard with a teacher behind a podium. What I actually walked into was a gigantic industrial grade garage. Everywhere I looked the classroom(?) disorganized mess of large machines, powerful grinders, tanks of gases, and welders that were twice the size of what I used before. Even the air was saturated with the smell of hot iron and metal shavings, informing me that this room has been well used. I couldn’t see one clean place to sit down, I thought to myself “was this really a classroom?” It also occurred to me that it was a mistake to wear blue jean shorts and tennis shoes this morning.

That first day was spent looking over the syllabus, meeting our professor, meeting our professor’s assistant, meeting our new classmates, and raiding the workshop lockers for tools that have been abandoned by former students.

The first few weeks was split between doing bookwork at home and practice welding in the workshop. The bookwork was composed reading chapters, filling out workbook pages, learning terminology, and learning the individual parts of the welder itself. These sessions did not last long though. After reviewing 2 chapters from the book, the session shifted from lecture to an open lab.

The practice portion involved me actually using a welder to complete certain tasks. The first task I had to complete was drawing a straight line on a small plate of metal with the welder. Sounds insultingly simple, right? Maybe to expert metal-smith, but not to a novice like me. I can’t tell you how many hours (and curse words) I spent trying to get this project right. It seemed like anytime I pushed the nozzle of the weld gun to a piece of metal, all that would come out is a lumpy string instead of a straight line. After 15 or so tries, I realized that welding, although is a type of engineering, is not an exact science but a practiced art. There was hand-eye coordination, precision, technique, patience, and lots and lots of practice. When I learned that, the straight line got easier and I FINALLY was able to move the next project.

At times when I weld, I feel like I’m operating a paint brush instead of a fire-spiting gun. When I wasn’t working on my assignments, I was practicing in other ways. Sometimes my parents needed a trailer hitch for their lawnmower. Sometimes there would be some old chairs frames that needed to be repaired. And sometimes I felt like making some art.

Working on little projects like these are fun for me. I am finally becoming a craftsman and making something extraordinary out of ordinary. Now I get to finally walk in the footsteps of other metal artist. Not to mention, very informative for me. When I am tasked to fix or make something, I am learning about different materials, how to adjust my welder, and putting what I learned to practical use.

I’m not entirely certain where this new direction will take me. Will welding  bring me fortune, adventure, or happiness? I don’t know, but I’m the one that made this decision for better or for worse and i know deep in my heart that it is a step in the right direction.

Path of Hot Iron

“That’s something you could do”, my dad commented.

Years ago, my family was having a day out for fun by visiting the KY State Fair. I wasn’t so interested about the livestock divisions of the fair as I was local artist and collectors exhibitions. I am always amazed to see the brain children of Kentucky’s local artist. My favorite kinds of art are the junk artist. I am envious of the artists that could take the contents of a junkyard and transform it into metal art. Cutlery to Jewry. Spare parts to mini motorcycles. Car mufflers to tin men. I wanted to have that kind of sideways thinking and make something out of nothing.


While exploring the various booths and galleries my dad pointed out a series of humanoid figures for sale that were made from silverware.

My Dad saw the display, knew of my passion for building, and prompted a thought, “That’s something you could do.”

Since then his comment became one of those ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to go away.

I was a frequent customer to local junk shops that sold a wide assortment of wears that could be identified as “yard sale clutter.” So, finding junk silverware to destroy was the easy part. Next, I had to ask myself, “What kind of creature can one make from forks, spoons, and knives?”  My answer, a sea turtle. All it would require are a shell, a head, and four fins. What other design could be simpler? What came next was a little trickier.

As it so happens that one of my old friends from the Boy Scouts was a mechanic and let me borrow his small wire welder. A tool I have never used before, not even in my engineering high school, but wanted to try it anyway. As a typical male I thought: “How hard could it be?” However, I soon learned why people go to school for these kinds of tools.

As I began my first weld, I ran into problems I didn’t think existed for my simple project. The biggest problem I had was that I had no idea what I was doing. Up till now I thought a welder was just an oversized glue gun and treated the strange device as such. I didn’t know what the little dials on the machine did, I didn’t know I had to attach a big ground clap to whatever I was working on and I certainly didn’t know how hot the metal would be after a little bit of weld solder! My Dad, who was helping me, was even more mystified by this device than I was. The project was one big frustration.

My first attempt wasn’t so successful, but that was to be expected. Disappointing, but expected.


After my first attempt, I decided to give back the welder and try again with JB Weld glue instead. The results were much more satisfactory. I was so impressed by my own ingenuity; I entered my turtle in the 2013 KY State Fair and won 2nd Place!


A great achievement, but welding with glue was not fun for me. So, I decided to shelve my thoughts on metal work for a later date when I can come across better tools and learn how to use them. Flash-forward about three years later, I decided to revisit route. This time, with some proper training.

Jumping the Tracks

My job has been offering tuition reimbursement for its employees for years. However, because I was still tied up with loans from my first run through of college I couldn’t consider re-enrollment so soon. Now debt free, it was time to warmup the java and hit the books again. But… as what?

The job tuition program does offer coverage for a multitude of professions, but not social work oddly enough. Not that I think it would help now. The reason I was turned down from any social service job in the first place was not for my intelligence or lack of trying, but my lack of real-world experience. So even if I went back to school and earned a doctorate in social work, I would still only be book-smart and that is not what the social service industry wants. Being book-smart was not the same as being street-smart and no amount of studying would change that. I realize that now. As such, I made the difficult decision to forsake the road of social work and began looking for a new direction.

One day in the Spring of 2016, I was at work contemplating what to do with my life when came across a familiar poster. I have seen this poster several times to and from my work brakes, but that day it looked a little different somehow. The poster was advertising the need for welders and my warehouse can pay for the classes. “Welding?” I thought. The talent of being able to assemble pieces of metal for buildings, machines, and vehicles. My mind began to wonder.


My original passion in life was building. Legos, Knex, Erector Sets, furniture kits. I enjoyed taking little parts and making something new. Before I entered into social work, I tried to pursue engineering at WKU to fulfill my desire of assembling for a career, but I could not get past the intense mathematics required for the profession. Maybe…just maybe, I could resume my original passion through trade school.