In my book, Finding Kansas, the events in the chapter, "Las Vegas" took place seven years ago this month. (To read this chapter CLICK HERE.) If you haven't read my book, the events I speak of was the time I spent in Las Vegas as an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy (a formula car driving school).
Of all the "months" I have lived through in my life October of 2003 had to be the best regardless of the relationship issues I was having at the time.
I am not going to rehash the story because you can read it in my book, but what I wasn't aware of when I wrote that chapter was that my experience in Las Vegas was, perhaps, the final major event I experienced before I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.
It all makes sense now, of course, but at the time I was confused as to why all the other instructors made small talk and joked with each other. I tried to fit in, but I was always the silent one in the corner. I tried and tried my first week and was always quiet and I didn't understand why.
My month out in Vegas was my first prolonged time away from home and I must say I adjusted rather well. Although I was in Nevada, I was really in Kansas (to understand "Kansas" CLICK HERE). I was in my element of racing though and this truly gave me the courage to be all the way across the country from home.
As per usual with everything else in my life, then and now, I stayed to myself for the most part. Socializing at the Academy was minimal, and my hours were opposite of the family I was staying with so I didn't have to interact much there. Looking back on that month, I can recall only one open ended conversation with anyone and this was somewhat forced upon me by the Boulder City Public golf course when they paired me up with this older man. I actually enjoyed the conversation and the round of golf, but never would have volunteered for such an occurrence.
All the signs of Asperger's Syndrome were there but I simply did not know it. I still was living under the label of just a "smart, quirky kid" and was loving every minute of my isolation in the desert.
The second week I was there I volunteered to flag the BMW corporate session that would be taking place and out of nowhere I became a star. "Wow, where did you learn to wave a flag like that?" asked the chief instructor. Here I was, very capable behind the wheel and talking one-on-one with a student, but completely mute around everyone else and all of a sudden they [the other instructors] saw me do something I could do without thought. What I mean by this is that all the time, around the instructors, I was as stiff as stiff could be. I was so afraid of any eye contact and every movement I did was heavily calculated, but when I had a flag in hand, well, I became a star.
Again though, as soon as the flagging ended, so did I in a way. The other instructors were really nice and I think they tried to get me to open up, but I kept refusing offers to go out after work. I wanted to say yes, and by saying no I was secretly implying yes, but I never did and they never knew it.
Think about all this for a second. I am at a dream job getting to drive a racecar everyday, and yet the social divide is one of the most memorable things I remember. Remember, at this point in time I had not been diagnosed. I did wonder, "what's wrong with me?" and got really angry at myself for not being able to just be one of the instructors without being that, "one instructor that stuck out as if he didn't belong."
I don't often think about my time out there but rather I remember the drive out there more so. Maybe it is because, for me, my time out there was the final events that led to the "Ah Ha!" moments of getting the diagnosis.
Getting the diagnosis was paramount though! Think about it. I could have blamed myself for years and years for not making the connections that everyone else had. I refused to simply go get dinner with the other instructors because I wanted to get back to the house and continue my Playstation 2 NASCAR game. I could have blamed myself, but getting the diagnosis gave me a reason why.
Knowing why is so key to being able to grow. If one blames them self all the time, the room for growth is minimized by the constant internal struggle and self-hatred. Some people do make a counter statement by saying, "But isn't being labeled 'autistic' bad?"
Bad?! Not in the least! As with everything, it is about perspective. Which is worse; always hating yourself for missing out on social cues and not making those connections, or having a diagnosis that some people may not fully understand? Either way the person is still the person! Label or not the person is still who they were before and after the diagnosis. For me, I am so grateful for it because that month in Las Vegas was the greatest month of my life, but it only became that way after I got past the fact that I am challenged when it comes to socializing. Had I not been the diagnosed I am sure I would blame myself for not making the connections and then I would come to the conclusion that I no longer worked there because of that. Imagine the amount of self hate I would have.
I can't believe it has been 7 years. This story, as it was written in my book, was about me, but now it is more. I understand the need to know and the fact that getting people like myself diagnosed is so vital for our futures. Do I still get down on myself? Yes, but don't we all? At least I know why I have my challenges and that it isn't because I simply failed at it. I have heard too many stories of people that should be diagnosed but the family is worried about the label that comes along with it. Consider this one of my "self-motivation" entries because I feel no one should go through the self blame and hatred that I went through while in Vegas. No one should.