Alumnus dispels stereotypes

Saturday is a slow work day for Robert Moran. He arrives at the KABC-TV studios at 9 a.m., proudly sporting a blue “Good Morning America” baseball cap, along with a comfortable beige polo and blue jeans.

Courtesy of @hoda007

Courtesy of @hoda007

He checks his email on a computer running what seems to be an outdated Windows 95 operating system.

His organized workspace is just left of the breaking news desk in a small room that would terrorize a claustrophobic individual.

But today is different. An email confirms that Moran’s Saturday will be spent digitizing footage by inputting disc numbers and descriptions into a digital library.

He heads over to the library room for more footage to digitize.

The library, a small room with three large bookcases and just enough room for Moran’s body to get through, contains tapes with footage that ranges from Michael Jackson’s death trials to B-roll of LAX.

He mistakenly grabs a handful of mini-DV tapes that have already been digitized, as the green dot on them indicate. Once realizing his mistake, he begins to reorganize them.

For 40 minutes, he looks carefully at the combination of numbers and letters on the cases’ spines. One by one, he places them in alphabetical and numerical order on the second-highest shelf of the second-furthest bookcase from the door, where they belong.

To the average person, this tedious task would prove to be stressful or even annoying.

But Moran finds pleasure in doing his work well, even if it means spending almost an hour arranging tapes and stretching to reach the shelf.

He can focus well on a task because he’s a perfectionist, he says, and he moves a mini-DVs’ shelf location. His strong focus is also a symptom of Asperger’s syndrome, which he was diagnosed with at age 15.

“When it comes to my particular disorder, there is a lot of ignorance that goes around and I’ve experienced it firsthand,” Moran said, rubbing his index finger and thumb together. “I’ve had people call me retarded, stupid, dumb.”

 

A welcome to “Aspie Land”

 

But Moran, 35, is none of that. The Pomona, Calif. native graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a B.A. in broadcast journalism in 2012 after he transferred from Chaffey College in 2005. At his community college, Moran discovered his passion for telling stories—a skill he now uses to inform his online readership about Asperger’s.

Asperger’s syndrome belongs to the higher-functioning side of the autism spectrum.

As defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, its essential features are impairment in social interaction and the development of repetitive patterns of behavior.

But, just as everyone is different, persons with autism are on their own spectrum, according to John Douglas Liverpool, learning disability/mental health specialist at the Disabled Student Services program’s office at CSUF.

Persons with Asperger’s, in general,  learn quickly because of their ability to focus well. They also often excel in school.

“We deal with a lot of stereotypes,” Moran said. “That we’re all geeks and nerds; we wear the pencil protectors and things like that. That’s exactly what people associate with Asperger’s … They think that’s exactly what we’re like and it’s like, ‘No, we’re not like that. We’re all different.’”

Through his blog, “Welcome to Aspie Land,” Moran seeks to challenge and disprove the  cookie cutter image of persons with autism, he said, by sharing his own life experiences and multimedia stories about other people with autism.

As an adult, he has overcome tasks that proved to be challenging for him, such as shaking hands at age 21.

“I had to learn how to properly shake a hand because the way I would do it is, I would do it according to my own height,” Moran says. “Because I’m tall, I’d stick my hand out straight across and (if) someone’s like two feet shorter than me, they have to reach up to reach my hand.”

Aliah Mestrovich Seay, program coordinator of support services, works with students with autism who seek support and help to overcome such challenges. Studies of an interpersonal development group run by Seay showed that 75 percent of participants improved in engaging with others and involving themselves in extracurricular activities after attending group sessions.

Liverpool said that one reason students with Asperger’s seek help from DSS is because they want to overcome social interactive challenges.

 

Some people with Asperger’s also display a behavioral pattern, such as Moran’s finger-rubbing stimming motion.

“We feel emotions, but because we have less filters than most people do, we actually feel those emotions much stronger than people who don’t have autism, so we tend to stim a lot more,” Moran said.

Individuals with Autism on the higher-functioning side of the spectrum can also focus well on subjects they feel strongly about. Sometimes this is noticeable in their speech.

“I have noticed that when I would engage with him in conversation, that he would talk for quite a while on certain subject matters,” said Craig Grossman, a CSUF alumnus and friend of Moran’s. “The fact that he talks for a long period of times about certain subject matters shows that he’s very knowledgable about those areas and that’s not a bad thing at all.”

 

An admiration for storytelling

 

One of the things Moran feels strongly about is journalism.

Moran’s focus in his work and career shows in his accomplishments, said Grossman.

As a college student, Moran worked for Chaffey College and the Daily Titan. At CSUF, he also worked as a news anchor for his news/talk show on Titan Internet Radio and an anchor and reporter for OC News.

He and a small group of broadcast classmates were also winners in the Fox News Channel College Challenge, acquiring an internship at Fox News in New York City. As a college graduate, he interned at KABC-TV, where he would be hired in less than two years.

Now, Moran is a news desk assistant at ABC News, and segment/social media producer and arts/entertainment reporter at Crown City News.

He also freelances for Examiner.com.

“My journalism idol is Peter Jennings,” Moran said. “He’s the whole reason why I wanted to work at ABC News. He was the reason why I wanted to work for this company that I do, and it’s been my dream since I was 9.”

Moran became interested in journalism as a result of his admiration for storytelling. As a child, Moran listened to stories of his family’s history. He remembers learning that his family members are descendants of former Mexican president and general Plutarco Elías Calles.

The main reasons he has sought a career in journalism, Moran said, were his innate curiosity and listening to stories as he grew up. The unpredictability and knowledge-searching journey of the job also attracted him.

Sorting and digitizing footage on a Saturday may sound a long way from Moran’s dream job of producing at ABC’s New York studio in the “nerve center of the newsroom,” but Grossman said he sees Moran going far in his career.

“I’m also confident that he will continue to overcome the naysayers and adversities that he’s been facing for such a long time,” Grossman said.

“I definitely see him working in a high-level position in a newsroom in the next few years. He’s very committed to his career goals, and knowing Robert for the last few years, when he commits himself to that certain area or subject matter, there’s no limit with him. Everything that he touches turns to gold, so to speak,” he added.

The fact that he organizes and digitizes footage at work on Saturdays doesn’t bother Moran.

“Everyone has to pay their dues,” he said, as he cheerfully places a mini-DV between two others on one of  the bookcase shelves in the library. He moves on to place another tape on the shelf. “No task is without (its) rewards.”

About Vanessa Martinez