EASTER SEALS MIDWEST

Monday, December 5, 2016

To Advocate


            Advocating… Before I started with Easter Seals Midwest I had no idea what it meant and when I began, well, I still didn’t have a full grasp of what it meant. I heard all the time of, “self-advocating” but what does this mean? What would it accomplish? The years have gone on and it still didn’t make sense until a presentation I had a few months ago.

            I finished my presentation on the campus of the University of Missouri and in the questions segment a parent asked me, “My daughter is being picked on and bullied in school and what would you say she could do?” The daughter was sitting right beside the parent so I turned my vision towards her and took a breath and all of a sudden the concept of advocating made sense. I’ll try and give you what I said in quotations…

            “School was rough for me, but I never was truly bullied that I know of but I have had situations where I felt belittled and mocked. This isn’t to diminish your challenge now but you’re seeing me up here on this stage today advocating. I may have spoken to tens of thousands but that isn’t the goal here. I’ve had instances where a one-on-one conversation made a drastic change and that’s the goal. My job title may be Autism Ambassador but really anyone and everyone can be one. Your story isn’t my story and my story isn’t yours and that’s what the world needs to know about the autism spectrum.”

            “To those that bully you all I can say is try and advocate for yourself. Make the attempt to explain to them who you are and why you are. Will it work every time? I’d be telling a lie if I told you it would, but here’s the thing; if you reach one person. Yes, if you reach just one person then maybe that one person reaches another that reaches another and what all this means is that you changed the world! Again, some people aren’t going to listen, some won’t care, and should this happen you’ll have to try again down the line but don’t lose hope. I believe that most people are good and want to learn and you have the power to do exactly what I’m doing today.”

            My voice was quivering when I finished that answer because I realized that what I said wasn’t just a filler answer but the honest truth. Anyone and everyone has the ability to change the world and it doesn’t matter if it’s to an entire student body or to one fellow student. How did the story end up with the daughter I spoke to? Her mom found my Facebook page and mentioned that the bully in question apologized to her and was now sticking up for her! This is the mission, this is the goal, and whether you’re a public speaker, a blogger, a parent, a student, or anyone that has any slight affiliation to the autism spectrum you have the ability to change the world. Truly, you do and if we want to get to the world where there is full awareness and more importantly understanding of the autism spectrum it’s going to take us all to advocate, to educate, and to generate the thoughts in others that will make more stories like that of the daughter that was in my audience. We’re in this together and as I told that girl in my audience we won’t always have someone that will listen, but it only takes one for us to change the world.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

To Socialize


There is such a contradictory nature to having Asperger’s. I’ve blogged about that before but in no other setting does this become apparent than the world of socializing. However, if you were to go back nearly 30 years and see me then you might not think there was a problem and therein lies the contradictory nature.

            The art of socializing with anyone my own age was lost upon me in school. Don’t get me wrong as I tried but I didn’t understand that a conversation, a true conversation, is one like a chess game instead of a tsunami. A true conversation one moves, the other reacts, and thoughts and ideas are shared. My conversations were a tidal wave of info that the person that I was speaking to may or more than likely not have cared about. I didn’t understand why those I talked to wandered off. This left me with little options and at recess in school I could often be found by the teacher as either she did understand what I was trying to say or maybe I had a captive audience.

            The years progressed and the social dynamic became more complex and I was still as oblivious. I still had this yearning for communicating but each time I tried it ended in an abject failure. It got so bad I did everything I could to convince my parents that home schooling was the answer because I just couldn’t understand the social world of school. My peers were talking about music, movies, and other 6th grader stuff when I wanted to talk about racing safety, weather extremes, and the history of The Manhattan Project. There wasn’t much common ground between the two and there were times my classmates did enter my world but quickly the influx of data overload pushed them out. I never made an attempt to enter their world.

            In 1999 I got my first job and thankfully, and this story is in Finding Kansas, and there was one person that got me. I felt comfortable having a conversation. It was odd, to be honest, to be talking more about bowling styles (the job was at a bowling alley) and critiquing the jerks of bowling instead of talking about my areas of typical interest. Shortly thereafter I started bowling in the adult leagues with my then girlfriend and I was thrust upon a team that didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but this was a bit easier to deal with then the open world because we did have a shared interest and that was bowling. While it was easier the mainstay of my social life remained with me

            Mainstay? A conversation requires processing and in all my social woes growing up and the times I said the wrong thing I learned to simply not talk. Isn’t that logical, though? If you were to try something and fail, and try again, and again, and several more tries and failure kept happening wouldn’t you do what you could to avoid the social scene? To socialize is to put myself on the line because when it goes bad, or at least back then before I understood what I do now, I would hate myself. Why did people just leave? Why wasn’t I interesting? Why wasn’t I good enough? With these thoughts of self-doubt the only outcome of a social situation was, indeed, failure. When there was a conversation happening at bowling that I was involved with and there was a witty remark I came up with I’d sit on it and weigh the options on if I should use it or not. By the time I decided it was the best thing in the world for me to say the conversation had long passed and I would sulk back into the world of listening instead of actively participating.

            Each person with Asperger’s could write a chapter “To Socialize” and I can almost assure you it would be different. Put forth in this post is my story. Others, if they had a similar school experience as I did, may be convinced that socializing is something that just isn’t worth it. Others, with early intervention and therapies, may have learned the reciprocal nature of a conversation much earlier than I and the length of difficulties may not be as long as mine. That’s the thing to remember, if you’ve met one person on the spectrum you’ve only met one person on the spectrum and the world of socializing is one that this will show through the most. However, I believe that to socialize is to be human and even in my darkest nights when I told everyone I was convinced it wasn’t worth the effort and that I didn’t care deep down beneath all the layers of defense and all the layers of telling the world I didn’t care was my true self that looked at the social world in awe and wanted for, just for one moment, to be a part of that world.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

To Translate Silence


Each and every day, for anyone who views or listens to any form of mass media, we are bombarded by sounds, songs, and imagery of what normal is. This plays into the previous chapter, but let’s look at what this can do to a person and perhaps even more so to a person on the autism spectrum.

            Essentially, from my observations, this unobtainable status of normal rains down upon us every day and it is exactly that; unobtainable. What does this do? This makes a person question their clothes, their ways, their car, their status, their friends. For a person on the autism spectrum however this may also put into question the emotional aspect of everything. What does this mean? Take a look at television shows, friendship and love is often talked about in excess and along with it the emotions of these are overtly visible and obvious.

            Going back to “Film Theory” in “Finding Kansas” I put forth the concept that, “whatever happens first always has to happen” which means that mass mediums have a lot of potential power to a person on the autism spectrum because, whereas a movie may just be a story, for a mind on the autism spectrum it could become the benchmark for an emotion.

            There’s a hazard to television show or movie in that, and this may come as a shock to you, it isn’t real life. However, often times, emotions are played out in a way that is logical. Person A likes person B, person B isn’t all that into person A, but person A tries all sorts of things to when the approval of person B, person B is flattered, a date happens and eventually it’s happily ever after. Or, person C does something mean to person D, person D is upset and angry and wants to get revenge, but through a mutual friend things are talked about and by the end of the episode all is well and in all subsequent episode the mean event is never mentioned of referenced again. A cozy ending, right? Only if it worked that way.

            Right now I want you to go back and look at this chapter title and try to do it, please try and translate silence. Why am I asking this? In the same futile method that you probably tried to come up with a way to truly translate the essence of silence so to have I with emotions. From so many television shows and movies I was shown, in a visual sense, what emotions are. However, the internal feeling was much different than the external ways I was shown. So often when I thought something should be there it isn’t because I’ve been trying to translate the untranslatable.

            There is a major trap here! Actually many; the first is the confusion of emotions. Sure, emotions are hard enough to feel as is, and when I was younger and I was asked, “How do you feel?” I think a lot of times my answer of, “I don’t know” was truly valid one however, I wonder if this were amplified by this attempt to translate silence. Secondly, relationships and friendships could be thrown away because the silence couldn’t be translated. Movies and television are often a major Kansas for those on the autism spectrum and some who may not be able to pick up on social cues in person may be able to see them on screen which means that a friendship depicted on screen in the framework for all relationships/friendships in person and if it isn’t the same way then it, obviously, is not an actual friendship at all.

            The final and perhaps largest trap a person can fall into when attempting to translate silence is the depiction of happiness. If life is viewed as a game what is the criteria of winning? It would depend on what the last song, show, play, or movie watched. Is it falling in love? Making lots of money? Wearing designer clothing? Global domination? Being the best? There are so many grandiose messages we are bombarded with which, again going back to “Film Theory” the basis of happiness could be placed on one of these things. If it is achieved there may still be emptiness because all along, on the inside, where a person thinks something should be felt because that’s what they’ve been told and believed for so long, there’s nothing but silence.

            One of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with said that, “The only thing autism is, is human behavior to the extreme.” This applies here because this chapter I’ve just written could apply to anyone, autism spectrum or not. However, for those on the autism spectrum, this could be played out to a greater degree. We are bombarded with images of “normal” and so many would give just about anything to experience this thing called normal. I ended the last chapter stating I’m perfectly happy being myself, but there are far too many that aren’t at that place and even if they get to a place that they feel is normal, in the end they could be left trying to translate silence.

            In my life I envied those with a job when I had none. I thought, “If I only had a job everything would be better.” I thought this because that’s what I’d see on various forms of media and when I had a job there was sense of emptiness. I went from “If I only had…” to “If I only had” time and time again and each time there was only silence within me. Don’t get me wrong, there was some sense of emotion within me each time I, say, got a job when I didn’t have one but there wasn’t this extended sense of jubilation or fulfillment like I had seen played out on television shows. When an issue would pop up on the job that was emotionally stressful it stayed around; the emotions simply didn’t disappear at the end of the day and, unlike a sitcom, was talked about and referenced in the future.

            Again, obtaining goals, jobs, friends, and relationships are important, absolutely, but at the same time the feelings within a person may not be the same as what someone may have seen played out on the big screen for decades. It wasn’t until I accepted that there’s no such thing as normal that I could finally progress onward and not try to translate this deafening silence. Ha! Deafening silence; perhaps there is no more greater oxymoron if taken literally but it’s the best way I can describe this because, when one is trying to feel something that they’ve been told the way it’s going to feel, or if any of the examples I’ve given this chapter come true, and there’s nothing then everything else is going to be drowned out at this feeble attempt to make some sense out of the silence of emotions that are there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

To See Normality


One of the things that filled my mind for many years, and still does from time to time, is when I see normal. How can one see normal? First let’s define normal. Think about it right now. What is normal? Is it you? Myself? A neighbor? A group? Celebrities? (Ha!) The definition of normal is cloudy, at best, and therein lies the problem.

After my diagnosis I saw normal everywhere. It was the postman, the person driving by, the couple holding hands in the park, the clerk at Walgreens, bowlers at the bowling alley. In my eyes everyone was this seemingly unobtainable state known as normal and normal equaled happiness.

Yes, in my eyes every person whom I came across had it better than me. When I’d see two strangers meet and talk I’d have an almost unhealthy level of envy because that was something I’d never be able to do. When I’d see anyone at a job I’d be hideously envious because a job was something I’d never be able to do. And anytime I saw anyone in a relationship I’d die a little on the inside because that, above all else, would be something I’d truly never be able to do.

From my vantage point everyone was happy in this state of normal. From my vantage point everyone was living it up in Normalville having the time of their lives while I was chained to Asperger’s. This view of normal was about the worst thing for me because I counted myself out of any situation because of this mindset.

It’s a dangerous thing to perceive normal and chase it. Again, what is normal? I was blinded by the concept of normal that it took on a state that isn’t possible. Is everyone happy 100% of the time? No, but from the point of view I had they were because they were normal and I was not. This created a wedge that grew and grew week after week and month after month.

What was lost on me at the time is what I know now. It took a long time, but now I believe there is no such thing as normal and everyone, at some point in time, will see someone else and be a bit envious of who or what that person is. Most people don’t let that define them as I allowed my views of normal do to me and they will also not forget who they are when this happens. I would forget who I was as who I was seemed irrelevant to this fantasy known as normal.

It wasn’t until I realized that the normal I thought existed was a myth that I began to accept who I was. Everyone has his or her own challenges and normal is nothing more than the entity my mind created to show myself everything I’m not. And with that came expectations I could never live up to which guaranteed failure which, since I knew I would fail, made for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

            That was then and this is now. So what now is my definition of normal? It’s changed drastically as now I firmly believe there is no such thing as normal. Normal is simply a boring myth that no one can live up to. But you know what? If we do find that one normal person that exists in this world all I can say is, “congratulations, we’ve found the most boring individual on the face of this great planet.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

To Think


This chapter is something everyone does, right? I mean, right this second, you are contemplating the concept of think which that within itself is thinking. I don’t mean to get all philosophical on you (at this point in time) but this is something everyone can relate to. Myself, I love to think and perhaps this is why I love long car or plane trips because the only thing one can do is think. My thinking, though, is very intense and I work out many of the day’s problem while thinking. While it may be intense there is one massive downside to this and that is the fact that there is no off switch. The other downside is that I’m often thinking about many things at once.

One of the most difficult questions you can ask me is, “Aaron, what are you thinking?” I’ve been in a few relationships and so often this question would be asked and I would either lock up trying to discern what all I was thinking about or I’ll be honest and give a long answer of what I was thinking about and how those thoughts led to these thoughts which came full circle and in the end I was oblivious that the right answer should’ve been, “you.”

It’s true, though, that I will be thinking of all those things almost at once. And not only that but these thoughts are on a visual level and I can play out scenarios in my brain of how things would proceed if X, Y, or Z were to occur. As mentioned, there is no off switch and this can also be triggered in my environment which is how this chapter connects with the previous one.

If you want to know the most exhausting place I’ve ever been in it was school. I say exhausting because thinking is tiresome and if there is a constant barrage of thoughts to think about, and other things to process, it leads to mental and even physical fatigue. And also remember that I am overly in tune with my environment which wants me to tell you this story of kindergarten. It was a fire drill of all things which I had had several beforehand throughout the school year but this fire drill wasn’t on the normal Thursday and was in the morning hours instead of the usual afternoon. This raised alarms in my mind that something was different. These alarms grew louder as I saw over in the distance that the principal and office staff were also outside. In the prior events they stayed inside so I quickly knew something was different and that this wasn’t a drill but perhaps something serious like, say, an invasion of snakes of black widow spiders in the school. Remember, I was in kindergarten and my mind would play scenarios out and I wondered what would happen if those two situations happened and I was pretty sure, as serious as those two creatures are, that the building would immediately be evacuated. As it turned out there were no spiders or snakes involved, but rather a bomb threat coupled with a suspicious backpack that was laid by the front door.

Most kindergarteners probably wouldn’t have picked up that this wasn’t a drill and since I knew something was different I kept asking my teacher what was going on. I asked over and over again and she kept saying, “Everything is fine” which after 10 minutes of that I knew was wrong. This led my mind to come up with wilder and more serious situations and I became afraid for my life.

I used to always ask questions over and over and over. One common question I’d ask my dad was/is, “Is everything going to be okay?” This is about as open-ended as a question can get and I’ve heard from other parents that this type of question is actually commonly asked. This question could be anything, such as when I was in kindergarten asking about if it was a drill or not, or if dinner will be at 5:45, or if the plans we have are going to happen. Why is there this constant asking of questions and perhaps even asking the same question again and again? It all lies within this issues of thinking.

I don’t know what time of day you are reading this. I think most people read at night which if that’s the case have you thought about what you are doing tomorrow? And if so, how deep have you thought about it? Wouldn’t it be great if everything you’re thinking now goes exactly how you planned it? But, what if one event doesn’t go according to the schedule you have envisioned now? What would you do then, what’s the backup plan? And if that doesn’t go according to plan? Now, imagine having these thoughts, instead of me prompting you to right now, to having them of every second of every day. Remember the chapters you read earlier about worry and feeling an emotion and combine them to thought? Those two play mightily into the reason why we ask the same thing again and again.

For those couple of moments we are reassured when we ask a question we can think about something far more productive and far less anxiety producing than when we are worrying about what we are thinking about. A little reassurance can go a long way.

 

When the thoughts I’m having aren’t environment based, or worried about a schedule, my thoughts can actually be highly productive and I love getting into a state where it’s just my mind and thought. This could be if I’m watching a race analyzing everything I’m seeing, or playing a game of some sort, or just sitting by myself and appearing to be just staring into a world of nothingness. When I am in this state and someone comes up to say my name, and I respond, it often times sounds as if I am highly angry. At this moment, most of the time, you can’t take my tone as a sign of anger towards you. Instead, this tone you may be hearing has to do with the fact that I’m angry the way my body is reacting to the situation as well as the fact that my thoughts I were having are no longer there. Think of it as being awoken in the midst of a dream; when this happens, when someone gets waken up in the midst of a deep sleep, I don’t think someone just happily says, “Well hi there! What’s up?” It’s very much like this.

When my brain wants to think about something it can be very hard to distract it which is another reason why school was difficult for me. If I found one subject or concept taught earlier in the day I would only want to think about that and nothing else. Why would I want to learn about integers when just a few hours earlier we were talking about Mount St. Helens and volcanoes? Why would I care about a spelling test when earlier we were talking about the differences in clouds? When something caught my attention and became a Kansas it because ever so difficult to focus on the now because all I wanted to do was keep thinking about what I had found interesting. This was one of the root causes of the exhaustion because I tried to fight it and in the mornings I could but in the afternoons I no longer had the energy to do so which meant my mornings were always productive but as the hours progressed my ability to produce and focus diminished by the minute.

The other thing about thought is that it may take a bit longer. While, from talking to “normal” people I think I have more TPM (thoughts per minute) it takes a while to come to a consensus on what it all means which is why we may retreat from something to allow us to have a more quiet place to process. Thoughts can be very loud in our minds and if there’s a lot going on around us we may be unable to get to the end of the thought process so we will be stuck there processing, processing, and processing some more. And, to put this all together, we may not be able to respond to a situation until we’ve had ample time to think about it because we may have to play out all the scenarios which means you may have to give us our space to be able to think about it. And you may also have to give us time. I understand we live in a, “now, now, now” culture but my brain doesn’t work like that and the more you rush me the more uncomfortable I’ll become and I will quite simply be unable to respond. Pushing, sometimes, isn’t the best course of action and in this area I know it isn’t for sure.

Monday, November 21, 2016

To Be in School


I’ve spoken a lot about school so I thought it best to dedicate an entire chapter to it. I also wrote a similar chapter to this in Finding Kansas but from when I wrote the chapter “School” to writing this now my knowledge about myself, and the autism spectrum, has grown immensely.

I’ll start by saying that school was not easy for me. You’ve probably gathered that by the numerous examples I’ve given so far be it the fire drills or my love of arguing with those in authority. Anyway, preschool was difficult to begin with as my language skills weren’t that developed at the time, and I should mention I’ve been told most people don’t have memories to the details I have, but I always got so frustrated when I would talk and no one would listen or understand what I was saying. On top of that, when any sort of pretend play would happen I’d try to state what was wrong, or how to do it, but my words were never understandable.

By the time kindergarten came along I was better at speaking but I didn’t have much interest in communicating with those my own age. I did have one friend my own age, my neighbor, but he was in another class. Also, those my own age didn’t interest me as I’d much rather talk to the teacher because, either she understood me better, had interest in what I was saying, or was good at pretending on knowing what I was saying. This isn’t to say that I didn’t make the attempt to socialize. Yes, I tried, but not in the most appropriate of ways as I’d talk about my Kansas’ be it auto racing, the flags of racing, the drivers of racing, the cars of racing, the tracks of racing, car numbers, or the weather. In extreme events, when I was worried about the Soviet Union, I’d speak about my fears of intercontinental nuclear war which always got the same response with me being looked at oddly and then being left alone.

When others would try and join me in the fun of pattern blocks (okay, pattern blocks were and are the most awesome thing ever made. Sensory wise, there was nothing better than putting them together and creating all sort of neat designs one hexagon at a time) I would always disagree with the way they had their design so I had no qualms in letting them know. If they didn’t adhere to my advice I’d coldly go over and destroy what they were doing because it wasn’t right. This was a theme in all my time at school. I may have been labeled the “teacher’s pet” but I could have a streak of seemingly mean or cold behavior. This would go towards anyone, as mentioned in the previous chapter because teachers were no excluded from this.

After kindergarten and first grade came around I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t understand how, when I was in kindergarten, the amount of hours were doubling. After lunch on my first day the nerves got so great that I vomited right there at my desk. This was a one-way ticket home and using my “Film Theory” from Finding Kansas this started a precedent of how to avoid school albeit this first example was fully involuntary.

I may have difficult towards my classmates, but I was also a terror to substitutes. To my primary teachers I’d almost be a timekeeper and if the top of the hour was near and we weren’t in transition to the next subject I’d adamantly protest. Rules are rules and schedules are schedules and any deviance is not accepted. My 1st and 2nd grade teachers were amazing in that they tolerated this behavior and were always understanding and they’d explain it logically to me if we went over the allotted time. However, when it came to subs, well, that’s a different story.

As I state in my presentations my most famous, or infamous, run in with a sub was in 2nd grade. She came in and straight away put a wheel on the board. Now, I loved wheels and any game that loved a wheel automatically got three bonus points in my mind, but this wheel, wherever it came from whether it was from the depths of hell, or a teacher’s supply store, it needed to go back. You see, it was segmented into different subjects and she called it a topsy-turvy day and she would spin the wheel and whatever subject came up next would be the next subject we would do. Um… NO! I don’t do random all that well and in this subs defense every kid in the class thought this was the best thing ever, but I was the poster child for preparedness and this random element was not sitting well so I complained and she politely said, “Yes, Aaron, I know” and spun the wheel.

So often subs will use this logic when explaining something, “We’re going to do it this way because I said so.” If you want to lose a person on the spectrum use this language because it won’t make sense. It quite simply won’t because if everyone in the world used this language the question has to be asked, “Whose say so would have more say so than the next say so?” This is why we have rules, routines, and schedules and to come along and change it without any explanation other than, “because I said so” is only going to illicit a response of fear and anger. Why fear? Here’s the thing; if you’re making this change now what’s preventing you from using the same logic 15 minutes from now on another topic. This is something most people won’t think of as most people are a “now” thinker meaning they are only seeing the here and now, but for us on the spectrum we may be constantly thinking ahead and if you change something now everything I foresee happening is questionable because the only guarantee is that random could happen at any moment.

So the teacher spun the wheel and the next hour I complained again and got the same polite response but then in the third hour I finally had a logical argument because we did have a printed schedule on the wall. I rose my hand with extra oomph as she went to spin the wheel and I pointed towards the schedule and stated my protest and she looked over, saw it, and walked over and proceeded to rip it off the wall, threw it on the floor, and then spun the wheel. The worst part was my 2nd grade teacher was gone for the entire week so I really hope her week in Florida was worth it!

3rd grade was not a pleasant experience. I changed schools and had a very inconsistent teacher. One day she’d be firm the next would be random. It was hard for me to feel any level of comfort and she also had the, “look at me when I’m talking to you” mentality so that year was not one I enjoyed.

4th grade was great as my teacher really challenged me and got me thinking outside the box. It’s amazing what a teacher can do without doing much, but Mrs. Colvin was a great example of that as she didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but she used many of my existing interests to spawn new interests. Going to school was never fun for me, and I would protest or be “sick” in the morning to avoid going but when the last day of school came I cried for the first time at the prospect that I’d never be in her classroom again.

5th grade was a turning point for me as halfway through the year my family moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis and on my last day in Indy two major things happened. The first was I learned I landed the lead role in the school play which I wouldn’t be able to play and secondly, and more importantly, my class that I was leaving behind bought me a College Park Elementary school pencil. While it may have not been much, and it may have only cost a nickel from the school store, it quickly because the world to me.

In Saint Louis it took a couple weeks before I felt comfortable going to school but eventually my parents no longer asked if I were ready so off I went and, sadly, the class I went to had a habit of pranking the new kid. What did they do? I’m sure pranking has come a long way from this seemingly innocent prank pulled against me, but during the lunch/recess hour a fellow student got into my classroom and hid all my pens and pencils. This was almost fine because I wouldn’t have cared if my new pencils and pens were gone. However, that College Park Elementary school pencil was gone as well and since I don’t remember people visually without a physical item it was very much like deleting the memories of those in Indy. Because of this my reaction was not a mild one but was rather severe. And because of that whoever pulled the prank did not come forward and if anyone had knowledge they kept it to themselves because no one wanted to have any part of the trouble that one might have gotten into considering my reaction.

A few months later when the teacher’s podium was moved for the floor to be cleaned my supplies were found, but it was too late by then. No one could understand, including myself, why inanimate objects had such an effect on me and since first impressions are important I never really fit in at that school. This trend would continue and eventually I’d be homeschooled which is where I’d finish up my schooling career.

There are several more points I’d like to make about school. The first is that I struggled in anything that required a group. There were many reasons why from not wanting to socialize to not trusting other’s work and if there were any debates on anything I’d be about as close-minded as possible because I knew I was right and it was my way or no way. Group work often has results much like mine and there was one project in 7th grade that I actually submitted my own personal submission outside of the group I was in. It wasn’t that I misunderstood the idea of a group but rather it was that I didn’t trust their work, they didn’t listen, and I knew I was right.

Secondly, I could be cruel when it came to others around me if they didn’t pick something up as easily as I did. Things did either come easy (math, geography) or things were impossible for me (anything fine motor, English, spelling) but during the part of class where the teacher would call upon students to answer a question, and I knew it, I’d let our verbal, “Ugh’s” and “Grrr’s” when someone got it wrong because this meant two things; the first was that they didn’t know which was beyond me because I had the mindset of, “if I can do it everyone can do it” and secondly was that a wrong answer meant we’d talk about this longer which, since I already knew it, meant more minutes of endless boredom.

Finally, and on a positive, as I mentioned my 4th grade teacher was phenomenal as was my 2nd grade teacher. They both did something which I swear let me become the person I am today. In school the only thing I enjoyed were academic games as long as it wasn’t a spelling bee although in 2nd grade I tied for the win for the class but I just got lucky as everything I got was geography based so I let the other person go to the school spelling bee. Anyway, when it came to flashcards or states and capitols I lived for those games and the game played was a one question, sudden death winner takes all and proceeds to the next desk duel to end all duels. It was simple; get it right and proceed. Get it wrong and wait and sadly, for my classmates, both of these subjects fell within my Kansas so rarely did anyone else get to play. In 1st and 3rd grades I was declared the “retired champion” and was exiled to the corner to do busy work. This work wasn’t graded but I had to do anyway. Talk about a logic fail! Instead of banishment in 2nd and 4th grades my teachers did something else as I got a promotion and became the host of the game. I either held the flashcard or named the state or the capitol but all in all this was practice for public speaking.

For the teachers reading this I first salute you and secondly I have to say that you can do amazing things for us and you may never know the outcome. Society can get so caught up in trying to fix everything right this second, but sometimes it is like planting seeds and the seeds planted for myself took two decades to sprout, but here I am. It may not take much sometimes and outside the subs I had my teachers never got angry with me which, had they, I may have become afraid of them. Also, several of my teachers were able to engage me in my interests which built up a trust with them. My 2nd grade teacher began to follow auto racing and she would quiz me as to where the world traveling Formula One series would be racing and she once asked me, “Aaron, where is Silverstone?” which I knew the track but had just a faint idea about where it was and that it might be in someplace called England and from that moment on my love of travel and learning about new places were born. So yes, while I did write a lot about my negative experiences there positive ones as well and I never got the chance to say thank you the wonderful teachers I had so I must dedicate this chapter to them to express my gratitude because without them I would not have achieved what I have.

Friday, November 18, 2016

To Argue


Of all the social rules there are the one that I hear most of that we break is our endless ability to argue. My parents often thought that I’d become a lawyer because my ability to argue any point, whether I was right or wrong, was superb. Okay, the word “superb” is my word, not theirs, but when it came to anything whether it was wanting a pack of gum at a gas station or wanting to stay up an extra 15 minutes I could always argue the point. However, it is one thing to argue with one’s parents which I think all children will do, Asperger’s or not, but we may carry this trait with us outside of the home.

            One of my favorite sayings I’ve said at my presentations have been, “I feel there is nothing more tenacious than a person on the autism spectrum that knows they’re right when they are being told that they are wrong.” This played out in 4th grade to an extreme that my 4th grade teacher, wherever she may be, surely remembers.

            My 4th grade teacher was amazing, she really was, but she had a habit of not using the test keys. And most of the time she didn’t need them. However, there was one test she gave us which was a common sense test regarding estimating weights, speeds, and temperatures that created a situation of hot water (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that joke.)

            It was a basic 20 question worksheet and near the end there was this question:

            How hot is the normal bath? Is it

A.      32 degrees

B.      72 degrees

C.      100 degrees

D.     212 degrees.

This was an easy one for me because I didn’t need to estimate as I went through a spree from 1st through the start of 4th grade of measuring the temperature of my bath water. I knew unequivocally that the answer was C. I may have been sure in my answer but so too were everyone else including my teacher who said it was B.

The next day, when I received the paper, I noticed that I got marked wrong on the bath water question I immediately went to the teacher’s desk to protest. I didn’t get far when she told me that everyone else said it was B but I became relentless in my protests. She kept saying that she was, “right” and I kept saying, “No, you’re not.” This lasted for a couple minutes and because I was always perfectly behaved I think she let me have this time and eventually I said, “I know I’m right because I spent a couple years measuring every bath I took.” This seemed so far-fetched in her eyes that she said, “No, you didn’t” and I responded with, “Yes, I did” and you can quickly see that this argument was getting nowhere. She eventually said, “Aaron, you’re going to have to drop this or I’m going to have to put your name on the board.” This was in the end of the world in my eyes so I went back to my desk but I already knew my next move.

When I know I am right there is no such thing as a wasted breath when it comes to proving I am right. I simply won’t accept the fact that a person is telling me that I am wrong and will go on and on and on in my debate. For my fourth grade teacher this meant that I’d have to talk to her outside the classroom where the jurisdiction of the chalkboard did not exist and it just so happened that I lived in the same neighborhood as my teacher and she was also a marathon runner and I just so happened to know her training route.

After school, when I got home, I waited an hour or so and then hopped on my bicycle. My teacher always ran the outer look of the neighborhood in a clockwise fashion which meant, if I rode counterclockwise I’d increase the chances I’d come across her. This strategy worked and as I passed her I did a U-turn and began riding next to her. I didn’t want to make it too obvious about my intentions so I waited a good, oh, five seconds and I said, “About that test?” She quickly responded with, “Aaron, we’re not going to talk about that test!” to which I became relentless in explaining my logic on why the average bath water could not be 72 degrees. I explained that the neighborhood pool closed if the water dropped below 75 therefore if everyone took baths at 72 then most of America would be freezing each and every time they took a bath.

For a marathon runner there is a certain mental zone they have to ascertain and when you’ve got a pesky 4th grader talking about a test and naming off facts and figures the way I was it made for that zone to not be obtainable. She eventually realized that I wasn’t going anywhere without her concession so she conceded and said, “Okay, Aaron, if I look at the test key tomorrow will you leave me alone?” I said “Yup” and rode off happily into the sunset.

The next morning I walked into my classroom, a bit arrogantly I must say, and I looked at my test I was holding and I proudly placed it in front of her. Not to my surprise, the red pen came out and my score was adjusted and the grade book came out and all was right with the world. Or was it? She only changed my grade when there were twenty or so other students who got it wrong and yet she kept their credit. I said, “Are you going to change everyone else’s scores now?” She just leered at me and said nary a word so I took it upon myself to talk to each student that day and I implored them to go to Mrs. Colvin and demand that she take 5 points off their test. No one did and I quickly lost any bit of popularity I had but it didn’t make sense; why would anyone take credit for something that was wrong? It was a fun week of arguing, but I quickly wore out the ears of all my classmates.

I got lucky that Mrs. Colvin was such an amazing, and patient teacher because my level or arguing might not have been accepted in another classroom because I would have been seen as trying to undermine authority or trying to disturb the classroom but I didn’t see it that way; the only thing I saw was that a right was deemed a wrong therefore it had to be fixed. Everything else didn’t matter. This goes back to the “To Feel and Emotion” chapter as, when I feel I’m right and being told I’m wrong, I must fight it to the ends of the Earth to prove that I am right and many teachers will not put up with this at all simply because of the same misunderstanding that happened in the last chapter with the police officer.

If you aren’t prepared for it our arguing may appear as if we are either control freaks or that we are trying to argue for the sake of being annoying. While we might actually be a bit on the controlling side there’s a reason for this; if everything that is stated is truth and if all the rules are followed my world becomes much, much safer. I don’t have to process if any given person is telling the truth or not. If everyone follows the rules I don’t have to worry about contingency plans. If the schedule is followed I don’t have to worry about something starting three minutes late. What may seem like an irrelevant argument to you might be the most important of things to me because it’s more than just this one thing. If people accept one rule to be broken despite protests then what’s stopping the same situation from happening again, and again, and again? And if this is the case when does the madness end? My understanding of social rules is more vague than those who are normal but what I do understand I expect to be followed and I can assure you that I will argue when anything isn’t according to plan because, often times, the only thing I have going for me is knowing facts and schedules and if you say I’m wrong on something I hold dear then look out because the arguing will commence. And did I mention, I’m superb at it?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

To Break a Social Rule


One of the things that may lead us to be a target of bullying is our tendency to say the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time and have no idea. This can also create issues besides bullying as we may say the wrong thing in the workplace or not understand the hierarchy system and complain to someone way above who we should be talking to. In most cases, in my opinion, our breakage of a social rule isn’t by will but by simply not understanding the rules of that moment.

            I have many examples of this, well, too many actually to be perfectly honest. Of course the biggest one I have is that, to see if my then girlfriend liked me, I broke up with her on Christmas via text message. In my mind she’d simply call and protest and all would be fine. The end result was anything but and the error I made was that I could not see the emotional impact of my social move. In presentations I call this, “being logical an emotional world” and often times that leads us straight into a tense situation without our knowing it.

            A major portion of the presentations I have given have been to law enforcement and I’ve heard many, again too many, stories of the interactions between law enforcement and those on the autism spectrum. The best, if best is the right word, example of this happened to an 18 year old with Asperger’s when he was pulled over by an officer. Thankfully his parents let him know what lights and sirens behind him meant but unfortunately that was the only thing he really understood of the traffic stop.

            The officer came and tapped on the window. This, to most people, would mean to roll your window down and when an officer wants something “later” isn’t an acceptable answer. However, if you are, “logical in an emotional world” and you takes things at an absolute literal value this would then mean a person tapping on a window is doing so to simply tap on glass for some unbeknownst reason. This, of course, didn’t sit too well with the officer and he knocked on the glass with an anger vigor and said, “Sir, roll down your window… NOW!”

            The driver was now a little confused at the officer’s anger and he responded with, “Oh, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Before I continue on I want you to try and put yourself in each party’s shoes in this story. It might be hard if you are on the spectrum, or if you are not, but try. Imagine being the driver fully perplexed at the seemingly absurd behavior by the officer. I mean, first he taps on the window and now he is yelling. “What’s wrong with him?” was probably a thought that crossed the driver’s mind. Now go to the officer who has to deal with stressful and potentially life threatening encounters each and every day. Also, some people like to be rude to the police so at that moment the officer isn’t thinking that this person has any form of autism or the like and is simply being obstinate for the sake of making the officer’s life miserable. This is what makes encounters with law enforcement tricky when it comes to Asperger’s because our naivety to what is expected of us may come across as that we are simply trying to be a jerk or to play a, “gotcha” game which is exactly where this story heads.

            The officer, now irate, asks the driver, “Sir, can I see your license?” A few seconds passed as the driver processed this odd question and the driver responded, a bit sheepishly, “No.” The officer was at the end of his patience and he said, in the sternest voice humanly possible, “Sir, can I see your license… NOW!” This tone was almost humorous to the driver but the driver took a bit longer on answering as he tried to figure out if it were a trick question or not and when he knew it wasn’t he chuckled and said, “No, you still can’t see my license” and with that a few more things were said and the driver was arrested for disobeying an officers and obstructing an officer’s duty and taken to the station where, thankfully, the officers there had autism training and were able to read between the lines that this person wasn’t trying to one up the officer and was honestly confused by the commands given. No charges were filed, but his mom did have to pick him up at the station and when she got there she asked, with tears in her eyes, “Why didn’t you help the officer?” to which her son dryly replied, “But mom, I was trying to help the officer! He kept asking me if he could ‘see my license’ which how could he? It was in my wallet.”

            These social encounters can leave a target on us or may lead us to be mocked by our peer group if they witness it and most of the time we’re left wondering, “What just happened?” Honestly, we can say the wrong thing and have no idea we just broke a rule.

            Here’s the thing about social rules; they are always changing. One minute a joke is acceptable the next minute it isn’t. I’ve seen several university studies as of late boldly proclaiming that, “people on the autism spectrum may be drawn or become obsessed with games” which, for me, this is the most obvious study next to, “people need oxygen to breathe.” At a young age I said, “Within rules everything is known” and when it comes to social rules we are often left wondering where the actual rulebook is that everyone adheres to because it’s just so darn confusing.

            Here’s a good way to envision what trying to navigate these social rules are for us on the autism spectrum; imagine you’re playing the game Monopoly and you just rolled a 7. You’ve landed on Boardwalk where there currently sets 11 houses and 27 hotels which is way against the rules but nevermind that because there is also a king on Boardwalk being checked by the knight that just landed on Community Chest and also you just landed on a Triple Word Space so I hope you have some good letters on your rack to play off the word currently on Luxury Tax. Say what? What is going on in the example I just gave? Is it Scrabble? Is it Chess? Or is it Monopoly with one of the weirdest house rules set known to man? When it comes to socializing this is what it can be like and trying to discern what is actually going on can lead us to be severely frustrated because, each time we try, the rules are constantly changing and by the time we adapt they’ve changed again. Can you see why we can get so frustrated? Most of us crave sameness and order and when it comes to the social rulebook, well, there doesn’t seem to be one so if a social rule is broken the root cause may be a simple misunderstanding.