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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The "Don't Walk" Followers Concept

It's odd to start a blog like this, but let's start with a picture:

So what do you think of when you see this photo? Perhaps, "stop," or "don't walk" were the first to come to your mind. Here's another question: How often have you ignored this sign. You know, you look both ways and no traffic is coming so you go. Maybe you have, maybe you haven't, but whatever the case may be the law, at least here in America, states that pedestrians must follow these signs or, should one venture out whilst this sign is on, one would be considered to be jaywalking.

Why the lesson in jaywalking? I've observed an interesting dynamic in city areas and this sign. Typically, from observing, a person, or two, or maybe even three will be waiting because the orange hand is saying to and another person will reach the intersection. This person may be in a hurry, or may not like to wait, so they'll go past the people waiting and will look and see no traffic going and make the crossing. At this point in time those that were waiting, and following the rules, will more often than not ignore the sign and cross.

How does this dynamic have to do with anything? Ever since I wrote my Target: Autism post (which if you haven't read it you should!) it's been bothering me as to why it appears as if the incidences of people on the autism spectrum being abused, or having a prank pulled on them, is increasing at a staggering rate. Maybe it's just because the news and Facebook news feeds are reporting it. Then again, perhaps it is going up and if this is the case I have to wonder why.

In some of the stories I've seen regarding nasty and degrading pranks being pulled it's been more than one person doing it. This means it isn't just one person who might be having a bad day, or had a gigantic lapse in judgment and the disregard of another human being's feelings, rights, and self-esteem but rather a group of people. Going back to the sign, and maybe I'm making this to simple of a comparison, but could it be like the don't walk sign and since one person is doing it that means it's okay? Can people follow just one person where maybe one of the pranksters knows in their heart it is wrong but since the group is going therefore it is right and not something to be ashamed of?

I may be way off base here, but I need to know why this is happening because I don't get it. Quite simply, I do not get it but I hope that there's some logic to what I've put forth because if there is then could it work the other way as well. The other way? Yes, what if, instead of going with the group of pranksters one stands up and says, "NO!"? Who would people follow then?

Of course, I do need to say there is a big difference between those who cross against the light and the ones that abuse and prank. The concept here is that the people who were doing right followed the person who crossed against the light. So too, I wonder, do people follow that easily to someone who comes up with a sinister plan against a person? I have to leave it at that, just a question, because I don't know and maybe people are gullible and will follow one person feels that pulling a demeaning prank is a good idea. Maybe I'm just too naive, but I have to hope that it's this concept because the other is scary. So once again I ask, do people follow that easily? And if so, would they follow someone who stood up and said, "This is wrong!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Positional Warfare: Life on the Other Side of the Mic

This past weekend I worked the final USAC .25 pavement race of the year at Columbus Motor Speedway. The race season is winding down, and yet I still have four total events remaining this year. Anyway, on Saturday morning, I got a surprise as I was told I'd be flagging at the big track that night with the program consisting of USAC Honda HPD Midgets, Legend cars, and crazy compacts.

Our .25 program had run a little long so when it was time I was rushed away on a golf cart and to the big track I went which, as I took the flag stand, it brought back memories of four years ago at the same place when I flagged my first ever big car race. As with four years ago something new was about to happen.

Hot laps began, then qualifying, and then the first HPD feature race and the race went smooth, green to checkered (meaning no incidents) and when the race was the winner stopped at the finish line for the usual interview. However, the person who had been announcing was dealing with an off track issue so there was no one there. I then heard over the radio, Aaron, do you want to interview him, big guy?" What could I say to this? The voice in my head was the owner of the track and it'd have looked silly to have a winner there expecting an interview with no interview given. Besides, I've done interviews on iRacing so how hard could it be?

Well, it isn't so much wanting to interview but it takes a microphone to do so. I looked around the flag stand because I was told over the radio it was, "near the flags" hence why I was looking frantically around my flags and stand to which there was no mic. Maybe 15 seconds passed before I heard over the radio, "No, not your flags, the American flag in the infield." With that said, I ran to the infield and grabbed the mic and headed back to Austin Nemire, whom had won, to do the interview. As I approached him I said, "This is my first interview so go easy on me" and after I said that I heard the announcer in the tower throw it down to me.

Instantly I started with the type of questions I've asked of people on iRacing after races. If it weren't for that experience I don't know if I had been able to do this interview. Sure, I've given 557 presentations to almost 50,000 people total, but I have complete control of that environment now; I feel safe speaking in front of people. In that environment there is zero interaction and when it comes to interviewing people on broadcasts of iRacing there is no physical presence and it's just voices. Here in lies the first experience of "Positional Warfare" I've experienced in a long time.

Before I continue I need to state what the positional warfare is. There's a saying out there that, "people on the autism spectrum may appear uncomfortable in their own skin" which I call this the positional warfare in that, no matter how I have my body and posture, nothing feels right. So imagine being in public and second, third, and fourth guessing the way your arms should be, your legs, your facial expressions. And then imagine having all these thoughts raging louder than the loudest noise you've ever heard with anxiety pulsing down your arms and legs.

So back to the start of the interview, I began with the start of the race and how was the car and Austin gave a great answer to which I went into a leading question which I've learned to do on iRacing. What's this? It's a question but I tell a story. I asked, "In the race you took the lead only to lose it the lap after in lap traffic and when you fell back a few car lengths did you think you had enough to get it back?" and again Austin gave a great answer and it sounded like something you'd see at a top level of the racing ladder.

So I was able to ask good questions but take a look at that picture. It may just look like me standing there, but this photo has, for me, frozen a moment of social paralysis forever. What you can't see in this photo is just how frozen I am. I could not move my left arm and it was frozen like that the entire time I held the mic. My head did not move as well and the only movement that occurred was my right arm and the microphone. That's all I could move as the positional warfare raged in my brain.

As the interview wrapped up I began to think just how difficult this had been and I felt a little bad about myself. I had just spent about 10 hours flagging and had experienced nothing like this. When I flag I am free and there are no thoughts of movements, posture, or where I am in the space I am in. I'm also like this at presentations and yet, with just one change in the environment, I become frozen in space which is why I said I am thankful to have had the iRacing virtual interview experience. With that I knew the script of what to ask, that and of course all the races I've watched for the past 30 years and hearing pit reporters give interviews, but having the experience and doing it myself I had the spoken words down. When it came to understanding the physical appearance, though, I had no experience and if it weren't for my previous iRacing experience the positional warfare would have made it to where I would not have been able to ask anything. Well, I might have been able to throw out a simple, "How was the car? Uh. Um. Yeah. Congrats?"

It was first for me once again at Columbus Motor Speedway and if I ever get the chance to give an interview like this again I'll have a little bit more experience to go by. Maybe I won't be as stiff and maybe I won't experience the positional warfare as greatly as I did. It was the first time I've experienced this in a long time as I have become a master of my environment and I've gotten excellent at avoiding situations that create this issue so it was a great reminder of just how strong of a sensation the positional warfare is.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Ever Anxious Mind

Last week I wrote about the target that appears to be on those on the autism spectrum and the potential long lasting effects of this. To compound this, and I've experienced this in a way, is the fact that my brain is an ever anxious mind. I am always on alert so to speak. What does this mean? I'm overly in-tune with my environment. "What was that noise? Is that person angry? Is that person going to yell? Am I in trouble?"

Those questions are things that go through my mind on a routine basis. Over and over and over and if you've had a traumatic experience, then the brain has more evidence that bad things happen. Case in point:

I go back almost a decade for this story and a bowling league I was on. After the three games one of my teammates complained about the way another bowler's daughter was behaving to which the daughter's dad took deep offense to it, and perhaps a few beers added to the response, but the response was dramatic. There was instant yelling and talk of, "Do you want to talk about this in the parking lot? Do you? I'll smash your head..." and the talk went downhill from there but eventually this guy started talking going after other members of the team. It took a second because I felt like an invisible observer, but then I realized, "Wait a sec, I'm a teammate!" and I froze.

The argument went on and on and at one point in time they were chest to chest, which looked odd as the size differential was massive and my teammate was half the size, but the yelling, slurs, and obscenities continued and I was paralyzed. Thankfully, and mercifully, the spouses got into the mix and the event ended and I think they even shook hands, but for me, I was stuck in that moment of supreme fear. I drove home from the bowling alley, and by this point in time it was midnight, and when I got home I woke my dad shaking. Shaking? Yes, I was shaking in fear. Absolute fear. I had never been so close to an event like that and not only was I fearing the idle threats (they were not idle to me) but here's the thing; using the concept of "Film Theory" in my book Finding Kansas, this set a new snapshot that major, random acts of potential violence can happen at a moment's notice.

When this event happened I had been writing for a month and eventually I wrote something along these lines, "I don't understand people. Why are they so loud? Why do they use such vulgar language? Why are they so mean? This being so other people are not worth knowing." Of everything I've ever written the ending of that sentence sticks out to me the most, and I know this is a bold statement, but having such an anxious mind a new precedent had been set and if this had happened once it could happen again and since it hurt me so bad I became afraid of the pain that could be.

What am I getting at? Going back to my Target: Autism post, the lasting effects of major events such as bullying, or violence isn't something that just vanishes. The above story stayed with me and the next time I bowled I stood at my front door staring out into the wild, that is the world, wondering, "is it worth it? Why should I leave the safety of this house? Why? Why? Why?" I did, and it took all the tenacity that I had, but others might not do this. The ever anxious mind just doesn't turn off. While news stories, and viral Facebook stories will talk about bullying in a tidy 30 second package what isn't shown is what happens after. What isn't shown, or can be shown in any way is the lingering fear, anxiety, shame, and potential self-hate that lasts.

There is positive in this in that more places are wanting autism/Asperger's awareness and understanding. The more places reached the more people might just understand that autism isn't something that lasts for a 30 second news bit. What might have seemed small could have life-long ramifications and this is why we have to go all out in getting to as many people as possible. To slow down, to yield, to think that "we've done enough" would be a great sin because one event; just one bully experience could destroy a life and that's why we have to keep going full speed with an unyielding vigor because just one experience is one too many.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Marathon Begins

I wanted to tackle the long list of posts I have waiting to write, but that struggle still continues. Anyway, maybe during this marathon stretch I have I'll be able to write them as today I head to Columbus, Ohio for the first of four straight race weekends. This week and next week will be in Ohio, then it is off to California, and my last race before the final race which is the SKUSA Supernats will be in New Jersey. It's going to be a marathon stretch for sure and I'm hoping it will give me the write experiences to be able to write these posts which I have the ideas for but I've got too many ideas at once.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Idea Overload

I've lost count of how many of the "best blog post ever" ideas I have had only to have forgotten it later. It took me four plus years but I've finally realized I can make notes on my phone to keep the idea. Sounds good, right ? There is, however, a down side. 

A typical blog post takes a day of thought; typically right after I finished that day's blog. I have a creative process and as I go to sleep I'm plotting the words I'll use and the next day I will write it. That's my process but now, having seven ideas waiting, the process is off kilter. Why? Instead of trying to plot one post I've got more than a week's worth of posts and they're going to be great posts, but thinking of all of them at once is overwhelming. 

This is very a kin to what school was like for myself. If you gave me one assignment I was fine, give me two I'd get a little nervous, but get over the three threshold and I'd get overwhelmed. It wasn't that I was incapable of doing the assignment but rather my brain would be working on all assignments at once which would not allow me to do any of them because I'd be preoccupied with all at once. 

When I was first told to start my blog I got very anxious because I wondered how I could keep a daily blog for a month or two and keep finding things to write so I had a piece of paper that I came up with ideas. Yes, this sounds like system of notes on my phone but this wasn't because I had ideas bit rather that I was afraid I would not have anything to write about. This paper eventually had two sides of prospective posts but the ideas were forced and weren't natural and I'd see all the posts at once and just like now I got overwhelmed.

I don't know what's going to happen to these ideas. Writing is a process and is something that can't be forced and having preplanned ideas is a different process but they are amazing ideas that have to be shared. I can't think of them all. I have to do one at a time... One at a time. Only if I had a brain that could do that without planning them all at once. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Target: Autism

I have to begin by saying that I'm angry; furious actually so I'm trying to stay positive but it's difficult as there's been an epidemic of... of... I don't know the right word to use.

The past two months or so on Facebook have been shocking as story after story of a person being abused, kicked, mocked, or some other dehumanizing act performed on them and I have gotten to the point where I am asking, "What is wrong with the world? How has our culture gotten to a point where the person or persons performing the act think that it is okay?"

Look, I realize that 99.9% of the population frown upon any sort of bullying, or worse, to anyone on the autism spectrum (or anyone for that matter) but the stories... My God! How is this happening.

I don't want to share the vast amount of stories and talk about the brutality of it as most people understand this. What is alarming to me is that these stories are increasing. Maybe it's always been this way and is just being reported. Or, is it that the autism spectrum is increasing as a target for, for, I want to write what I'm thinking about these people but you can use your own words to describe them.

I've spoken to many students on the autism spectrum, and over 10,000 students in general nationwide, and from the students on the autism spectrum that have been bullied in any form the lingering effects are, well, lingering isn't the right word because that hints of something that hangs around and slowly dissipates as the smell of burned popcorn lingers for a while. No, lingering isn't the right word because the pain these students described was as if the event had happened right then and there. In my life I've never had a bully event or something of the like (or worse) but when painful events happen they don't linger but rather they stay fresh as if the event happened five minutes ago despite the fact that years go by.

What this all means is this; whether a person plays a tasteless and humiliating small prank, to doing something that crosses every line known to mankind, there can be extensive damage. And not only that, as much as these events are showing up and being reported it is almost open season and autism is becoming the known target. Is it because we won't speak up? Is it because we are misunderstood? Odd? Quirky? How can any person deem and desire to cause hardship, pain, and dehumanize another living, breathing person? Living life on the autism spectrum is hard enough and now there seems to be a band of bullies that wants to amplify the hardships. Again, I'm at a loss when I ask, "How can anyone do this?"

With all this I'm afraid of a new stereotype. I've written at least a hundred times on my introduction about my diagnosis of Asperger's and the website I read that stated, "People on the autism spectrum will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy" and for someone being diagnosed today, and seeing just how many sick minded people are exploiting and demeaning people on the autism spectrum, well, how could they think otherwise? Have all of our awareness and understanding campaigns been for not, or our some people just that way and they will find the easiest target they can find? If this is the case then does this mean we have to doubledown on our efforts? One school I presented at, and it was the first school I presented at actually, there was a student with Asperger's who was subjected to a brutal dose of bullying each day, but after my presentation enough students built a bully buffer and the problem disappeared. That's one of the events in my career that sticks out when I think about what I do, but I'm just one person and the stories of hate, and that's the word I'm going to use, the level of hate directed towards people with autism, per the amount of shocking news stories on the internet, is going up and I, for one, feel helpless about it because to the perpetrators that pull these events off they may think it's only going to cause a temporary pain, or temporary moment of humiliation, but for a person on the autism spectrum, contrary to some who think we lack emotions, that event will stay with us for a day, a month, a year, and potentially a lifetime. A lifetime, how can any person want to cause that much pain? I just don't get it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Fever Effect

I woke up rather ill this morning and it made me think of this post, one of my most read, originally ran on May 13, 2010:

I don't know how to start this entry as this statement may seem odd. For some people these experiences might be very difficult, but for me I look forward to them. These experiences would be the best in the world, if not for the headaches, body aches, and the sore throat. Those side effects aside, a fever is a welcomed event.

Why is something that is so harsh on a body a welcomed event? I think I can say that the only time I relax is during a fever. It's a very bizarre sensation as my mind's habit of overly thinking about everything slows down.

Things seem to make more sense when I have a fever. Perhaps this is because my body's energy is elsewhere and my mental focus isn't dwelling on anything.

When I was in school a fever was like winning the lottery as it meant I would not be going to school. Could this be why I feel better, now, with a fever? Much like a certain aroma may remind you of your grandmother's house, a fever reminds me of the freedom of not dealing with school for a day.

I'm not so sure this is simply based on the memories of avoiding school. There is certainly a change in the way I process information during a fever. I know I smile more often and my rigidness to any and all things decreases. It's a shame that the side effects come along with the fever!

So, I do have a question of you whether you are or aren't on the spectrum; What is a fever like for you? I know I had a friend, not on the spectrum, that got really mean and almost aggressive when he had a fever. I was always confused by this because I associate a fever with relaxation.

Finally, I should say when I say fever I am talking about the 99.5-101 range. Anything above 101 has been truly unpleasant and it speeds up my mind to an unwanted level. When I had my bout with MRSA and my fever was 105 I could not slow my mind down. The unfiltered emotions I felt were to an almost unbearable level and this was weird because my strength in my body was non-existent.

So, again, does a fever change the way your mind processes information, or am I the only one who has this seemingly odd characteristic?

PS, I have known this about myself for a long time, and first talked about it openly in 2005. I never thought anything of it, but after writing this I did a Google search of "fever" and "autism" and many media outlets (webmd, Time, ABC News) all have had stories such as, "Fever may improve behavior in kids with autism".

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Dangerous World of "What if..."

Before I begin I have to state that there are two ways "What if" can go. The first is my favorite, and perhaps my dad's least favorite, as I would ask, "What if X happens during Y..." or many different variations of that question. If you are a parent with a child with Asperger's I'm going to say you've probably heard this question once, twice, or more times than you'd like to recall. That being said the other version of what if is much, much more sinister.

This past weekend I was in New Castle, Delaware flagging the USAC .25 Battle at the Bird and on the ride home Sunday night I had lots of time to reflect on the past 11 years. Somewhere past Wheeling, WV I looked up at the stars and I thought back to months right after I got diagnosed that I would go out on the front porch past 2AM and just stare up not looking at anything or any star at all but wondering "What if?"

Many questions would follow my what if, "What if people understood me?" "What if what I wanted to say and how to say it actually happened?" What if people were nice?" And always at the end I'd get to the most damaging question of all, "What if I were normal and didn't have Asperger's?"

Sure, even to this day I have that what if question, but back then that question hung wide open and I didn't have an answer because, to me, the secret to life was simply not having Asperger's. So I guess I did have an answer actually and that was a life fulfilled, happiness, a job, and everything positive in life laid in a realm that was impossible to reach because I had Asperger's.

As we drove further on into Ohio I stared up at the Big Dipper and this was something I'd often gaze at, most of the time unknowingly, back 10 years ago and my self-talk was nothing short of hate. If you could go back and interview me 10 years ago I'd have been honest and I would have told you I hated who I was and I'd give anything to be someone else. This is the dangers of "what if" because, to me, normal equalled happiness and everyone else in this world had life on a string and there were no such things as hardships, misunderstandings, or challenges. Why? Because my self-talk 10 years ago went like this;

What if I didn't have Aspergers? If this were the case I'd be happy. Pure and simple! If I didn't have Asperger's I'd have a job. Oh! how I wish I could have a job. A job would make me happy, but I'll never have one because of what I have. If I didn't have Asperger's people would like me because people don't understand me and I don't understand them. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be scared of other people the way I am because people are random and unpredictable and this frightens me. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I could be loved.

Those were my thoughts on many a countless night in 2004. Depressing? It was and I hope what you read didn't create a sense of sadness in you as that was not my intent. Actually, far from it because as we made it to Columbus and the downtown skyline could be seen I once again played the "what if" game but it was different this time and it went like this:

What if I didn't have Asperger's? Would this make me normal? What is normal, anyway? If I didn't have Asperger's I wouldn't have the job I have and I wouldn't be able to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think and understand the autism spectrum. If I didn't have Asperger's people might not take note of me because I'd fit in and maybe I'd understand some people more, but then again I might not understand myself. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I probably would be scared of public speaking as it seems most normal people are scared of it. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be me!

Perception and hope go hand in hand and it's amazing what ten years will do. Not everyone has the hopeful outlook I have, but that's my mission as I am adamant that, if the world knows more about us, there's going to be more acceptance and understanding. Back when I stared up at the endless blackness of the Saint Louis night ten years ago this was the only thing I yearned for! This was the motivation to start a project which was one of my most hated things in the world, which was writing, but I had to do something because the what if thoughts were destroying me.

Anyone can play the what if game so I think, and hope, you can relate to this. I'm sure there's an instance in your life that you thought, "What if I took the other road?" or something to that extent. From that point there are an infinite amount of possibilities, but imagine having just one question! Imagine thinking every second of every day about your existence and this thing you have. Of course, I got horrible information when I got my diagnosis so the prognosis was awful, but once the what if road is taken the person who I was didn't matter. I didn't see me for who I was rather I saw myself for who I wasn't. As it turned out I came out the other side, but I know there are others in that place where I was and when I get tired, when the countless miles driven and presentations given add up, I think of this. Hope is important, hope is needed, and awareness and understanding are the seeds to make this happen and as we pulled into the hotel last night I had a new found energy on my mission. It was hard to revisit those thoughts I had from 10 years ago, but I had to share them as there is hope, there is always hope, and it might take some time, but from 10 years ago to today I can guarantee you would not recognize the person from then to now.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The People We Meet (Once Again)

Several times I have blogged about the people we meet, such as this June 2011 entry. I have found that, if we pay attention, everyone has a story and an energy about them and their are times that these chance meetings can make an impression.

Last week working the USAC .25 race in Kalamazoo the USAC crew went to eat at an Italian place and the waiter, who obviously loved his job and food, provided much opinion and talk on the ordering process. One person asked what was good and he responded, "the ribs!" to which everyone thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He then went on about how he has worked all over Europe, and Utah, and only two other places had better ribs than that place. Later on he talked about his love of mountains and how he went from being a skier to a snowboarder and maybe others got a little irked at how much he talked their was an obvious energy there that I appreciated. As he walked off after talking about the difference between skiers and snowboarders he said, "Well, I look at it this way, if everyone were the same and everyone enjoyed the same things life would be pretty boring, wouldn't it?" Such awesome words!

Then, last week working another USAC .25 race in Hagerstown, we once again had a waiter that had more enthusiasm than should be allowed by law. Perhaps it's because, when I present, I have an energy like that that I appreciate it but I could see others were a little annoyed with just how peppy he was doing his job.

And finally, on Wednesday, Kyle and I went to the Rays vs Orioles game at Camden Yards (a ballpark I've always wanted to visit since the time I saw, on ESPN, Cal Ripken Jr. break the consecutive game streak) and while the game wasn't all that exciting it was neat walking about the stadium on all the great views they have where it's general seating, ahem, standing. Anyway, baseball is a difficult game to watch when one doesn't have a vested interest in the game and the tickets were beyond cheap so Kyle and I left early. We had about a mile and a half walk to the hotel but we saw a cab parked so we took it to the hotel and this cab driver, like the other two people had an aura of energy about him.

Kyle and the driver talked about sports, the players, and the entire five minute drive was filled with conversation. This may sound odd, but I was almost brought to tears simply by this taxi driver's knowledge and dedication to his job. I take a cab each year at the SKUSA Supernats in Vegas and usually the drivers are dull and don't say a word, but this driver, there was just an energy that I appreciate.

I find inspiration in energy because whatever I do I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. If you ever watch me flag I flag with the same intensity whether it is a three car rookie race, the S1 main at the Supernats, or the time I started practice for the Indy 500. The same thing goes for my presentations. 10 months ago my national tour kicked off with a presentation to two people and in my notes on all my presentations I stated, "best presentation I've given to date." It doesn't matter to who, or to what, whatever I do I will do it to the best because that's the way I believe life should be lived and when I see others have that energy I smile on the inside. Most of the time, on the outside, I will seem indifferent because I hate to let my emotions shown, but I'm taking notes and, well, those three people will never know that they made a blog, but the people we meet can be important in our lives whether they know it or not so be mindful of that because everyone is someone that a person will meet and we can feed off that energy which is why I put everything I have into everything that I do.