Humans of TCGMC: Peder Hagen
After a summer hiatus, HOTCGMC returns! For the premier post of the 2019-2020 concert season, Josh spoke with Peder Hagen, a longtime chorus member with insights on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
JOSH: I’M JOINED HERE TODAY WITH PEDER. LAST WEEK, PEDER GAVE A “THREE-MINUTE SHARE,” AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A CHORUS MEMBER TO SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT THEMSELVES DURING REHEARSAL, AND WHAT THE CHORUS MEANS TO THEM. PEDER DISCUSSED HIS LIFELONG JOURNEY WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER. PEDER, THANK YOU FOR YOUR VULNERABILITY AND WILLINGNESS TO SHARE. TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER AND HOW IT HAS BEEN PRESENT IN YOUR LIFE.
Peder: I was diagnosed as a baby. At the time, what they told my mom was very distorted and not accurate, as a lot of information has been about disabilities over the years. I always needed help when I was growing up. I was in special education and I moved to the Courage Center when I was young, a Sister Kenny Institute with special services. I moved to a couple of group homes. Even when I moved to the Twin Cities, I never really got the help I needed.
JOSH: CAN YOU HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHAT AUTISM IS, FROM YOUR FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCES?
Peder: Well I can give you some examples of people who have it. Bill Gates has it, Daryl Hannah has it, Benjamin Franklin. It’s not really being stupid or whatever people think a disability is. Actually, people with disabilities often have one particular thing that they’re focused on, and they’re exceptionally good at it. A lot of people with disabilities are bad with cognitive things. People with disabilities have usually made a difference because they’ve thought outside the box. One example is Greta, the 16-year old from Sweden [who is an activist for climate change]. People need to think about disabilities in a different way. In fact, mainstream society has to catch up! Much of our collective understanding has been known since the seventies.
JOSH: AND HOW DOES AUTISM PRESENT ITSELF FOR YOU? WHAT DIFFICULTIES DO YOU HAVE?
Peder: I think I have more strengths than difficulties! But the social piece has always been difficult for me. It’s what I might misinterpret from another person – what my face does, my body does… For many people, all those things mean something, and for me, I kind of mean what I say. It’s not a song and dance for me. I get to the point. It’s hard for me to be phony. I don’t put a lot of expressions in my face. I just try to be authentic.
JOSH: WELL I THINK THAT’S RATHER REFRESHING! AND PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR FOCUSING SO MUCH ON THE NEGATIVES OF YOUR DISABILITY. WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS?
Peder: I am really good at art. I was nominated for a Diamond Award last year, an award for exceptional customer service for my work at Crayola Experience. I didn’t win, but I got to go to the banquet in Bloomington. I try to make everybody’s experience at Crayola Experience happy. I compliment them, I comment on things I like in their artwork, and I try to engage with each person. Carlos [my manager, who is also a member of TCGMC!] wrote some wonderful things about me, which was really nice.
JOSH: THAT’S SO SWEET! WELL PLEASE, TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR ART!
Peder: I developed a work called Presio, which is loosely based on the Roma people. I also do fairies, I do abstract art – drawing with gel pen, pencil, colored pencil, and black ink. I have some of my art on Instagram; I can show you after.
JOSH: PLEASE DO. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE JOYS YOU GET TO EXPERIENCE ON A DAILY BASIS?
Peder: I like it when people get to be complimented on their art. There’s a lot of art in this culture, but not as much as theater or other things. When someone feels good about their art, it makes me feel good. When I see their facial expressions, I see that it’s important to them – that they did things either as a family or as a group around art.
JOSH: THAT’S BEAUTIFUL, PEDER. I’M TRULY HAPPY FOR YOU. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO CONCEPT OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER TO KNOW?
Peder: I would say that just because there are times when we might not talk to people, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to. Now, it’s easier for me to talk to people – like this. I couldn’t have done this when I lived in Mankato. A social skills class that I took when I was 25 at the Courage Center really helped. It took lots of trial and error! And just because somebody might not show it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling the same things that you’re feeling.
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.