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Friday, April 30, 2010

The End of Autism Awareness Month

Today is the end of April. April, as you probably know, is "Autism Awareness Month". While some people may see today as the end of raising awareness until April 2011, I see this day as a day of motivation.

The big organizations donate a lot of money for this month, and that's great, but autism is something that knows no months. Autism doesn't know geography nor does it know social status. Autism could care less if you gave it a special day, or month.

It's great, don't get me wrong, that autism is in the news during April, but what about the other 11 months of the year? I am on the spectrum, but I just don't feel it in April.

Unlike deer or baseball, autism has no season and, unlike a courtroom, it is always in session. Be it 2AM or 3:45PM those with autism have autism.

Why am I giving you these examples? I am motivated. Yesterday I gave two more presentations for a total of five on the week and I feel alive. The gratitude staff and families give me is something that is hard for me to comprehend as it is so positive.

I started this month with an article about how the origins of my passion for autism awareness came about and I end the month with what is next for me. The world may not have autism in the news for another 11 months, but I won't care. My goal is to try and keep it in people's minds. It may not be on a national, or international scale (yet!) but by going from town to town, city to city, and blog entry to book chapter I will be raising awareness one person at a time.

The next days, months, and years of my life will be dedicated to this. The world may recognize April as the month, but that's not enough. I may only be one person with one blog, but I will not quit, I will not waiver, and most of all my job is not done. It may be the end of Autism Awareness Month, but for me it is only the beginning.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Large Impact of a Small Prank

About a month ago I was having a quiet weekend when my phone rang. The caller i.d. read, "unknown number" so I didn't answer it. The ringing stopped and the most frightening noise known to man (well, at least to me sounded): a voicemail.

I tell people to NEVER leave me a voicemail. I have never heard a voicemail that gave good news. If someone wants to deliver good news then they usually want to hear the reaction. A voicemail is reserved for things that aren't good. Therefore, any voicemail is, for me, the end of the world.

I slowly picked up the phone and began to shake. Was one of my parents killed in an accident? I always figure that an "unknown caller or number" is law enforcement. I was fearing that my world, as I knew it, was over.

The number dialed and the most fearsome sentence came on, "You have one new message; first unheard message:. What happened after that left me speechless.

Nobody in my family was dead, but this stern sounding man was on the line informing me that some recording artist's group was coming after me for something in excess of $600,000 for illegal music downloads. I began to shake and I hung up the phone in terror. Pure terror.

I began to ponder how on Earth I would repay that money. I was plotting my escape to an unknown island in the Pacific when it occurred to me that I shouldn't be wanted for illegal downloads because I'm not guilty of any.

I became confused and reflective as I tried to ponder why I was being called. Was I a victim of identity theft? I replayed the voicemail over in my head and it sounded legit so I started doing some research.

Internet research typically comes easy for me, but on this day I was shaking and scared and in tears. Many years ago, and this story is in my book, a person threatened me over the phone and it took several years to not be deathly afraid of the phone. Right now I'm just afraid, back then I was DEATHLY afraid. That may not sound like progress, but any time the word "deathly" can be removed from a sentence that is progress in my book!

It took an hour of repetitive talk on my part to finally make some headway on what was going on. My friends on Xbox said that something like that couldn't possibly be true because "why would they alert you ahead of time?" I didn't have an answer as all I knew was that I was on the hook for 600k.

My big break in my investigation came when I found a website that had the same voicemail I had heard. Beside the recording box it read, "send a funny message, input someone's phone number here for laughs and listen to the recording afterwards!" I was in shock. Someone had taken the time to send me this message, but who?

I don't have many enemies, if any, so I had no idea. I broke it down and came to the conclusion that I have no chance to win the lottery, but when it came time for the random phone number to be placed in the box I won (or would it be "lost" in this case?)

It had been a month since this occurred and I had all but forgotten it. One thing that helped was the lack of reminders and voicemails, but a certain someone today had a slip of the tongue. Yes, I found out who the culprit was and I was in shock.

I wanted to be angry, I really did, but for some reason after having three great presentations in the past two days I simply couldn't get the anger sensation. I was in shock and disappointed, but I wasn't angry (maybe at a later time).

The reason I post this is that people on the spectrum can make for some easy targets of cruel jokes. Since we take things literally and if told we're on the hook for 600k we may believe it because it makes no sense to be told one thing if it isn't true. I don't believe everything I hear, but if there's no holes in speech and it sounds legit I will believe it.

In the long run this phone prank won't be a big deal. Had I not found the site that it was from I'm sure this would've turned out much differently with the end results being to the level of catastrophic for me. Truly catastrophic as I was slipping into a place that I did not care about life or anything else except the concept of six-hundred thousand dollars (the amount was typed out for dramatic effect).

Perhaps this post relates to my complete lack of understanding of April Fools Day. I truly despise that day if you missed that post, but perhaps it is so because a prank like this is truly believed by me. Thinking back on how I felt when I first heard that man on the phone with that message saddens me because I know I will be there again. I know I will fall for something like that and will have a hard time deciphering if it is the truth or not.

As I said, I am not angry at this person. I am disappointed beyond words though. They owe me big! You know who you are! Maybe they already have paid because in this article they've been made a villain. I've only had one other villain and that was the "usher" from my NHL experience.

I hope in the future this person, and all others, use better judgement on pranks of this nature. This is autism awareness month and awareness is more than awareness that autism IS. Awareness, in my mind, is about raising the level of knowledge of people that don't have it, and from this villainous act I hope awareness was raised.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Red Bull and the power of taste

In one of my earliest entries on here I talked about the possible "Inappropriate Attachment to Objects" that may come along with an autism spectrum disorder. I've been thinking about this for the past month and this phenomenon is not just isolated to physical objects, but rather senses as well.

For those of you that are friends with me on Facebook you might remember the story of me trying to find Red Bull Cola last November on my way to and from Washington D.C. What was so relevant about this cola? My story with Red Bull dates back even before I discovered the cola version.

I have account of this in my book, Finding Kansas, but want to share it again. The first time I ever had Red Bull was on my way to Las Vegas when I was to be an instructor for a month. I drove out on I-70 and stopped in Denver for the night. I awoke at 2AM and could not go back to sleep due to excess excitement and left the hotel and got a full tank of gas and then a Red Bull.

I don't know if anyone likes the taste of Red Bull the first time they drink it. I, honestly, thought it was nothing short of repulsive. Something funny happened as I drove through the tunnels with Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird playing in the background; the taste wasn't that bad. Call it one of my "firsts" but the taste wasn't that bad anymore.

Slowly the ritual became that ANY time I left in the morning I had to have a Red Bull. Each weekend I flagged for the Saint Louis Karting Association I would stop and get a Red Bull as the sun came up.

With each drink I relive that trip through the deserted tunnels of West-central Colorado. With each drink I relive the Sunday's spent at the kart track. It's not about good taste, or about an energy drink, it is about the memories tied to it.

My first taste of Red Bull Cola wasn't the best. I was walking to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2009 for the Indy 500 and a Red Bull car thingy (you know, the cars when the big can on the back. They look weird and deserve the term "thingy") was handing out free drinks. I tasted it, expecting a Red Bullish like taste, and I hated it. I discarded fast enough that no "first" would be established. I made sure no memories would be tied to that drink.

Flash forward 6 months and the 2009 SKUSA Super Nationals in Las Vegas. Red Bull was a sponsor and was the only energy drink on-site so I was thirsty when we had a break and a Red Bull Cola was brought to me. I thought about asking if there was anything else, but thought better of it and gave the Red Bull Cola a second chance.

From that second chance I drank more Red Bull Cola than should be legally allowed. I couldn't get enough of the stuff, but again it had nothing to do with taste. Just as Red Bull had been associated with the freedom of heading out into the unknown, alone, Red Bull Cola was about leadership and the hardest flagging job in the world that is the best five days of the year for me.

Red Bull Cola isn't the most readily available drink on the market so when I find it I make sure I stock up on it. As I think I mentioned in my Jefferson City article, I stop every time I pass the Kingdom City exit West of Saint Louis because the Petro station there has some. With each drink I feel connected to my memories. My memory is already videographic, but think of it this way, through the taste I experience it again with fuller detail. Not only can I see it, but I can taste it.

Those are the positives about sense of taste. For the good there are also bad. These aren't a sensory issue, but rather they invoke unwanted memories of times I don't want to live again.

I know for a fact I will never, NEVER, try gazpacho soup as it will be associated with Linda and the experience I had in Minneapolis in 1999 (read my book on this issue). Also, I have a hard time with Black Cherry soda for the same reason. I still drink it, but I occasionally will have a hard time handling my emotions during those times.

Tastes are powerful, almost as powerful as the sense of smell, and I have never shared this associative memory system in terms of taste. I'm sure we all have this to some degree which is why places claim to have food, "just as grandma used to make it" because taste can take us back to a better time. Like many other issues I believe this is taken to the extreme for me. Certain foods or drink will take me back to the highest point in my life, or other tastes will bring me to the realization of what was and no longer is. If I refuse a food or drink it may be because I simply don't like it. Then again, I may not want to relive the memories that are associated with it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thinking Outside the Bun: My Trip to Taco Bell

Blogger's Note: I wrote this for my third book, but I couldn't sit on this chapter for that long and must share this with the world!

This entry is about all the thoughts that went through my head as I walked over to Taco Bell from my office today. I don't know what anyone else's experience is like when they go somewhere, but here is mine.

As I started to get hungry I watched the clock. I began to ponder if then was the right time to go, or if I should wait. I listened to the foot traffic in the halls and also for voices as I want to make sure I have the least bit chance of meeting someone in the halls. To walk by someone is a stressful situation. Will they say hello? Will they be in my way? If so, will I stand there awkwardly hoping I don't have to muster the ability to say, "Excuse me."?

I have turned my life into a never ending defense plan. If the hall has two people in it as I make my turn around the corner that leads to the exit I will return to my office. There is an exit to the rear that is closer and less crowded, but that's not the exit I use. The only time that exit comes into play is for a fire drill. I hate this rule that I have, but that's the rule. I know you are probably screaming at the monitor right now calling me stubborn, but I use the front exit and that's the way it has been since day one and, sadly, I'm rigid on this.

Today, the coast was clear and I made my break. In my mind I feel as if I am escaping a prison as I must be unseen and unheard (don't get me wrong, this analogy only represents my stealth-like ways leaving the building and does not mean my office is a prison). Any unforeseen conversation will cause duress for several minutes; even after the conversation is over. This is because afterwards I will be thinking about what I said compared to what I should have said. This game of reviewing conversational transcripts never ends.

I made it to the ground floor without being seen and nobody was in the lobby so I made the much coveted "clean break". Freedom only lasts so long as I must prepare for the parking lot.

The parking lot is a potential minefield. If someone pulls in an waives at me I am confused as to what to do. Are they waiving because they want to ask me something? Or is it just a common waive to say "hello"? If I don't acknowledge it I can say I didn't see them, but if I do acknowledge it and have no way to say that I didn't see them and I continue to walk I risk them getting angry with me that I didn't talk to them.

Today, thankfully, the parking lot minefield was navigated without incident. Now I had to cross the street which isn't a hazard because cars on the road don't care about pedestrians and the risk for a conversation is about as low as it gets. Or so I thought.

Today, a big Cadillac Escalade with huge chrome wheels and other costly upgrades started to slow as the driver looked my way. The panic buttons were going off in my mind as I was planning my escape should the driver have a gun. Could I escape? Was I about to be kidnapped? If so, what would I do and how would I cope. I held my breath.

Tenths of a second ticked by at a painfully slow pace as the driver stopped and the window came down. All the bones in my body were telling me to run away at a speed that an Olympian would be proud of. My mind wasn't listening as I was frozen much like a horse, ahem, I meant a deer in headlights. The driver then spoke and asked, "Do you know which way the probation office is?" I was unable to verbally respond as I was so frozen at this unexpected event that I was only able to make a face that resembled cluelessness and shrugged my shoulders in a way that sold the cluelessness. The driver said nothing and drove off. The unexpected crisis was averted.

It was now time to cross the resale shop parking lot and this too is minimal risk territory as no one that parks there and walks into that store will think anything of me. Thankfully, today held true to that unlike crossing the street.

After crossing that parking lot I am at the Taco Bell. At this point in time I start to rehearse my order. If I don't do this my order won't be smooth and I may freeze. If I freeze I will get some odd looks and if I get odd looks I will panic and be pondering those looks for hours and then be afraid to go out for several days for fear of re-experiencing those looks.

I walked into the Taco Bell and was glad that no one was in line. Even though I could walk straight to the counter I must take the long way around the soda fountain and eating area to enter the ordering line properly. This has cost me many minutes as other people entering from the other side will beat me to the counter. Again, I enter the right way and can't compromise this.

Nobody got in front of me today and I approached the counter much like a hesitant boxer would enter the ring. This is the only socializing I can't avoid when I make my trek out of the office and I fear this moment for the entire day leading up to lunch.

"Yes, I would like a #7, steak, make the taco a volcano, and a caramel apple empanada." is what I said and always say. If I do this right I won't have to say a word more, but I spoke too fast today and the lady asked what number I wanted, and if I wanted chicken instead of steak, and then asked what sauce I wanted on the taco. A least I didn't need to repeat the empanada!

I took my cup to the soda fountain and began the awkward wait. There is no defined wait spot for one's order so I am never 100% sure where to stand. Today wasn't an issue because nobody else was there (thank goodness!). My number was called and I looked at my receipt to confirm and I grabbed my order and headed to the exit.

"Sir" I thought I heard someone say so I waited a brief second and the panic buttons were going off. Did I take someone else's order? How will I explain this? Will the police get involved? Is it even a crime to take the wrong order? I didn't hear any other words so I started walking again. "Sir!" I heard and I knew I didn't hear anything that wasn't there. I turned around and saw the food dispenser lady holding something. They had simply forgotten to put the empanada in the bag so again crisis had been averted. I was relieved as I now knew I would not be receiving a lengthy prison term for Grand Theft Taco.

The walk back is just as hazardous as now I am carrying food and people like to comment on other people's food choice. hey may ask what I ordered, or that they haven't ate at Taco Bell for years. Honestly, five times I've had people walking into the store between the office and Taco Bell comment that they haven't had Taco Bell in years.

Nobody harassed me today and I made it into the parking lot of the office and thankfully no one saw me so I got into the building without being seen. This is a hazardous time as well because now I am holding food which seems to be a conversational magnet, but having food is also a shield because I can walk with conviction to the break room.

Once in the break room I am fine if people talk to me because I am stationary and conversations in a break room are to be expected.

With lunch over I wait until I hear empty halls again and I make my stealthy trip back to my office.

It may be lunch for most people, but for me a trip to Taco Bell is as intense as a Hollywood thriller. Today I experienced the fear of kidnapping and the fear of being put away for Grand Theft Taco. What you read today was just 10 minutes of my life so imagine what the entire day is like for me! Why do I need to watch movies when Hollywood thriller's have trouble packing so much excitement in just a routine trek to a Taco Bell?


Monday, April 26, 2010

Wanting to Play the Game

While suffering through the excessively long pre-race show yesterday, anxiously awaiting the start of the NASCAR race at Talladega, I ventured on to YouTube and noticed a big bar at the top that read, "Watch the Indian Premiere League Cricket Finals Live!". How could I pass up a chance like that?

I am an avid sports fan, but cricket is something I don't understand. I think I have a running gag in my book writings asking what the sport is, but no matter how much I read the rules I still don't get it One of the people I race with on Xbox, from Europe, stated, "heck, we don't even know what it is or how to play. All we know is that it is a great afternoon spent in the sun kicking back and enjoying drinks."

Somebody must understand it because there are playing and refs and the audience cheered on this live feed when somebody hit the ball. Drinks or not, the audience was cheering so they knew what was going on. I, however, had no idea what just happened or if one team scored. The announcers were saying that this was a record X (I don't know if there are ends, or innings, or what they are called) for an IPL final. They also said the other team needed an 11.2 rpo to have a chance. Um, okay?

In cricket they don't pitch the ball, they bowl the ball. This confuses me as I used to bowl in a league every Monday night and I can tell you what they do is not bowling. In bowling the object is to knock down pins, but in cricket the pins are called wickets. I'm so confused!

This blog entry is not about my gripping tale of not understanding cricket. I do have an example to use out of the sport:

For me, my misunderstanding of cricket is very much like my misunderstanding of social situations. I've read about cricket, and have now watched cricket, and I'm still clueless as to the object of the sport. How do they win? What's the object? What's a good position? Think of it this way. I'm sure most of my American readers are in the same boat as me on cricket (for you international readers think of American Football or baseball) and don't comprehend the game.

Okay, you don't understand the game, but let's say you get called upon to play the game in a must win situation (I would say the situation precisely if I understood what one of those would be). There's a lot of pressure riding on you as your team mates are expecting you to come through. You though, you don't even understand the game (and if you do, for metaphor's sake you don't). How can you possibly do something good when you don't even understand the game?

To not understand the game is my entire world. I don't understand the social aspect of this world, but many times I am called upon and am put into the middle of the action. I don't know the rules, I don't even know how one goes about winning, and I certainly am unaware of who's on my team and who the opposition is, if any.

Here's a major sentence; it's not that I don't want to play, it's that I don't understand the game. Because of this I try to avoid anything that could be an open-ended social situation. If you were put into a sports event, and failed each time, how inclined would you be to willingly be in the game?

I do want to understand the sport of cricket, just as I yearn for the ability to be in a open-ended conversation with a group of people. Wanting to understand and being able to understand are two different things though.

The inspiration of this article was the line in a lot of presentations that say, "people with an autism spectrum disorder prefer to be alone." I do prefer to be alone, but I don't want to be alone. Much like a person who is called upon to win the sporting event when they don't even understand the game, I don't understand the game of life. Therefore, to avoid failure and those horribly awkward moments, I prefer to be alone. I may lie at some points in time and say that I'm fine with this, but deep down I truly wish I knew how to play the game.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Into the Wild

My sister got me the book Into the Wild for Chirstmas last year. She knew of my "Relocation Theory" project and felt as if I needed to read this book. Before receiving this book I had no idea who Christopher McCandless was or his story. After reading the book though his story will haunt me forever.

The book opens with McCandless making it to Alaska and then with his remains being found in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail. This alone doesn't sound like a good read, but who was he and why was he all alone in the middle of nowhere with limited supplies? I thought nothing of this, at first, but as the book progressed I began to understand and feel fearful.

According to the book, Chris' dad was a NASA engineer turned owner of an aerospace consultant firm. The relationship between father and son was not the greatest as his dad was used to being in control and in charge. Chris did take kindly to this.

The account of Chris' childhood said that he had friends, but was perfectly content playing alone. He was able to socialize, yet he didn't make connections with people.

Chris was born into a well-to-do family, but he also became an intense fan of the concepts put forth by writers such as Tolstoy and London. After graduating from college he donated his $25,000 in savings to a charity that fights worldwide poverty and injustice and disappeared from his family and all that he knew.

From Emory college he drove West in his personally bought 1982 Datsun B210. He had, after high school, spent three months on the road in this car and his family wanted to buy him a new car, but he refused. "It's a good car and has treated me well, why would I want something new?" he had said.

The relationship between the car and Chris came to an end when Chris was caught in a flash flood in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Chris could not get the car to start so he simply abandoned it. Months later some park rangers found the car and did a little work and it started fine. Nobody claimed it so the local law enforcement used it for undercover drug jobs and have gotten a lot of miles out of it.

Chris was undeterred from this and eventually he would canoe down the Colorado River and then have a job at McDonald's in Bullhead City. The work environment wasn't the best of places for Chris as he was unable to realize why he would need to work any faster when it was busy. He worked at one speed and one speed alone. On top of that he was always forced to comply with the dress code of wearing socks (something that the McDonald's manager accounted because Chris, according to the manager, hated the feeling of socks) and also he never socialized with his coworkers.

The job only lasted for so long and then he was back on the road. A couple times in his trip he ended up in South Dakota working for a grain elevator owner. The owner claims that Chris was the hardest worker and did the jobs no one else wanted to do. As time went on Chris mentioned his desire for one last adventure, a trip to the Alaska wild.

After nearly two years on the road Chris made it to Alaska. Once there he made it to Fairbanks where he got a gun and 10 pounds of rice. He hitchhiked to the opening of the Stampede Trail and went into the unknown.

Along the way he found a bus that had long since been abandoned. This would become his home and his journal accounts that over the next few weeks he became very proficient on shooting game. Eventually he would struggle with the justification of shooting game for food, but would come to the finding that to live one must do so.

When Chris first got there in April he had crossed a small stream. As the days progressed he tried to venture back to the George Parks highway, but the stream was now a raging river due to the glacier melt. He went back to the bus and continued to live off the land.

Before I continue on let me now state why all this was so haunting for me. Early on in the read I had no doubt in my mind that Chris would have certainly been a candidate for having Asperger's. He had sensory issues with socks, he didn't like to be told what to do, and in all reality he didn't care about the jeopardy a trip like his could have. His story and my story are clearly different, but the way people described him is almost how people describe me.

Chris' health started to turn, but two days before he gave his first hint of peril in his journal, he said that, "Happiness is only real when shared". This line froze me. I read it, and reread it. I have understood this for so long. Knowing it, and being able to do it is two different things though.

Over the next 2-3 weeks Chris became weaker and weaker and the exact cause of death was and is unknown. Was it poison from a certain type of potato, or mold? Or was it rabbit starvation (starvation caused by eating to lean of meat)? The real reason is irrelevant as it happened and that's how it is.

That's the story, but why did my sister get me this book? In all reality, what Chris was doing was a "Relocation Theory" of his own. His though wasn't about other people, his was about surviving without other people. Along the way in his journey he developed people that considered him a friend, but to Chris it was just someone along the way. He did send postcards to these people, but he didn't heed their advice and stayed emotionally detached.

What I wanted to prove in "Relocation Theory" was that I would be able to make a connection with other people. I feel as if I must go far away to get away from my routines and people I know to do this. I have so many internal programs that are related to where I am and who I am with that for another person to get through them all is almost impossible.

In 2000, when I was 17, I was within minutes of deciding to just leave. I had no destination planned, but I wondered what was out west on I-70. I was so ravaged and full of rage because of the relationship with Linda that is chronicled in my book, Finding Kansas. I decided not to as I only had enough gas money to get to Denver and then the whole aftermath was something I didn't want to deal with so I opted to stay.

I've mentioned many times that I love to travel. One of these reasons is that I am always hoping to experience a connection with a person or place. One of big downsides to Asperger's is that feeling that connection and having a proverbial hunger for that connection can never be quenched. Yes, being in a Kansas like state is good, but a prolonged Kansas experience is hard to sustain. There's always an end, and feeling a connection afterwards is rare.

There's no doubt in my mind that Chris probably had Asperger's. He realized what he was searching for too late though. His line, "Happiness is only real when shared" took nearly 100 days in the wild to come to.

If you do a search on the internet for Chris there's a strong debate whether or not Chris is a hero that stood steadfast in his belief of nature and all that stand for, or if he was an idiot that when into the wild ill-prepared without a map (a map probably would have saved his life). I don't think he was either of those things. He was simply a person trying to find that elusive connection and at the end of the book I began to wonder, what would people have said about me if my relocation turned into a tragic end?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Relocation Theory: What Could have been (and still may be someday)

April 14th could have been a life changing day for me. Five months ago I was going to be doing a research project entitled, "Relocation Theory" and April 14th was the day I planned on coming home.

This relocation theory was going to be big. My goal in it was to see if I could make it in another country way from everyone I know and everything that is safe.

What was the inspiration behind this? In 2006 while flying over Ireland headed to Madagascar I awoke from a nap and looked down on the darkened Earth. My eyes were drawn to every town and village and I thought, "I wonder what life is like down there, and I wonder if I could survive in a town like that?"

From that one moment of wonder came several years of that question pounding about in my mind. Could I socialize? Would it be easier or harder? What about the culture? Question after question came into my mind and after years of thinking about it we started to piece together the actual project.

The plan was to go to Wittenberg, Germany for 90 days starting on January 1. I was in the process of learning German and I was to find a job that didn't pay, but something that would put into social situations.

I theorized that, because I was away from all things routine and all that was comfortable would new things come into my life? If so, what would happen when I came home? This was going to be an extreme experiment, but I wasn't fearful of it in the least despite most everyone telling me I was crazy.

This didn't seem crazy to me at all. I was excited beyond anything else I have experienced because I was truly thinking I would understand the autism spectrum more and I was hoping that I would be able to make connections with people. I don't fully understand the basis of that hope of connecting, but I felt it nonetheless.

Relocation theory did not get off the ground and and at this point in time it was probably a good thing. Events that would not have happened had I have gone were this blog, speaking to officers, and my job at Touch Point. Is it still something I would like to do? Most certainly, as I want to better understand my concepts I put forth in my book.

Now you may be wondering what the relevancy of this post is, and I have an answer to that question. My sister got me a book last Christmas and she said the person the book was about shared this same sense of adventure. I just read it (in a little under three days!) and was shaken many times during the book. So tomorrow, I will talk about Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild which is an account of Christopher McCandless' tragic trip into the Alaska bush.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm sorry...

I'm sorry that I ask too many questions. I must ask questions when beginning a task or something new because if I know now I won't need to ask later. I don't understand why people get mad when I am just trying to confirm how something will proceed. Knowing ahead of time prevents confusion later, isn't this a good thing?

I'm sorry I don't know the right thing to say at the right time. I wish I knew, but my mind is flooded with information all the time and when a common greeting is made, or something is asked of me, it takes a while for me to fully understand what is going on. Many times it will take an hour before I know what I should have said. Sometimes I'll say something unrelated, or out of context, and I don't mean to and I don't want to make anyone mad, but it seems that happens a lot.

I'm sorry that I can't put myself in your shoes. I know my mom experienced this in 2008. We were at my sister's house in northern Indianapolis getting ready to go to a race in Fort Wayne when she tripped over a toy and fell backwards into a table with her head. I was the only one home and was quite nervous. My mom may have been partially knocked out, but she was certainly dazed, and when she finally looked at me I asked a very important question, "Um, mom, are we still going to the race?" Hours later I knew what I should have said, but at the time I was flooded with fear on the schedule change and I asked what I was thinking. I also proceeded not to help her up because she didn't ask.

I'm sorry I don't share the same concept of friendship as the rest of the world. I don't know if I'm sorry for you, or for me on this one. I see friends as someone to compete against at games. I don't know how to make that personal connection with someone. How does one do this? What is the art of making a true friend? This answer seems to be very elusive. For those that I consider friends I am always sure, every time I see or talk to them, that they hate me and I have to try and get on their good side again. This is a tough task and proves to provide a high level of anxiety.

I'm sorry I get fixated on things or concepts. Once my mind finds something interesting I can't simply turn it off. In 2008 I became obsessed with North Korea. I read and read an read and didn't care about anything else. With my friends on Xbox Live I would just recite stat after stat about it. They tried to steer the conversation elsewhere, but I would have none of it. This is a pattern of my life as in grade school I would always talk about racing with no end. During the Spring I would drone on and on about weather with no stopping of breath.

I'm not sorry for sticking with what I believe in. I'm not sorry for sometimes being a pain when I know I am right. I am me and while there may be some quirks, don't we all? While I know I can be repetitive and seemingly cold at times, this is the way I am. Above this and all else I am not sorry for being on the autism spectrum. It can be hard at times, but life on the other side of the wall isn't all bad. I'm sorry if you can't see that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking my flag show on the road

Friday's entry was about my trip to the track and the awkwardness of being at a track without any duties. On Sunday one person said, regarding that, "Yes, Aaron, you looked like a confused zombie".

The cure for zombieitis came Saturday morning as the smell of kart exhaust and the sound of shifter kart engines filled the crisp California morning. All the awkwardness was tossed aside and it was nearing show time.

The moments before the first session of the weekend are always tension filled for me. Is everyone in position? Is the track ready? These questions always pound about in my head before the first session.

Everything and everybody were in position as the day started and I was in paradise. I may have been north of San Fransisco, but I felt as if I were in Las Vegas because of all the familiar faces that I was working with. Nearly everyone on track is also part of the SKUSA crew that works the SuperNats so I knew everyone and we ran a great race. As a side note I must say that the crew assembled for this SKUSA Pro Tour event, along with the SuperNats, has got to be the finest crew to work with!

The day progressed and I was smiling the entire time. It had been five months since the last race I flagged and I was savoring every moment. I don't know if anyone else at the track be it driver, crew, or official enjoys the time at the track as much as I do. I have what is considered to be a thankless job and a job not too many people desire. For me though it is everything. For me, flagging a race is so freeing. It is so intense and requires so much concentration that it is relaxing. I don't understand this, but it is so that's all that I know.

When it came time for the S4 class main event I had a close call as when I started the race several karts got together and spun in my direction. I know I want no part of being in the vicinity of karts out of control so I jumped over the tire wall and avoided being part of the action. When this occurred I though that this was way too close, looking back this wasn't even close compared to what was to come the next day.

Saturday ended and I went back to the hotel just beaming. I was worn out, but I was full of confidence. It is amazing what being in a Kansas environment does. When I worked at a video game store the physical demands were not all that great. The mental demands were even less as there were no close calls, no running, and certainly no chance of being hit at a high rate of speed. Yet, after just a four hour shift, I was very bitter and empty. I was full of anger that wasn't directed at anyone or anything and I was exhausted to the point of not being able to get out of my chair. To contrast that I had a 10 hour day and I ran over five miles and was nearly clobbered by a kart and even though my muscles ached, and my legs throbbed, I was the happiest person on Earth. Moral of that story; Kansas is important.

Sunday morning came all too early. I still may have been the happiest person alive, but my muscles were no sharing the glory of happiness. The stiffness went away as we got to the track on the prospect of another 10 hours of racing bliss.

Even though I call this bliss I am aware of the dangers. To stand next to a racing surface with karts traveling in close proximity to each other at a high rate of speed isn't exactly the safest place to be. I have never been hit except by a kid kart doing 2mph (he was going SO slow that he was able to change his direction with every avoiding move I made. He had target fixation and a laser guided missile would've been proud of his perfect execution of homing in and hitting the flagman).

I laughed about the kid kart incident, but in the back of my mind I've always wondered what would happen if a kart got me at speed. It's this wondering that keeps me on my toes. I would be put to the test in the heat 1 of the Cadet class.

On all rolling starts I am just off center of the track so all the drivers can see me. As the field nears and the race director says "Green" or "no good" I start side-stepping off the track. The faster the field is coming at me the faster I get off the racing surface. This cadet class got on the gas early just as the call was made for the green flag so I started waiving the green while getting off the track at a fast pace. My eyes followed the first three rows by me and then I did something I hadn't done all weekend and that was to look at the back of the field.

My eyes caught one of the karts on the outside column make a bold move to driver's left. This would have been a fantastic move had he not of had a kart to left. He made sudden contact at an acute angle which sent both karts almost straight left. I was almost straight left of them.

The contact came so suddenly and the karts headed my direction so fast that I know I didn't have a chance to think out what to do. The day prior I had enough time to think, "I want to part of this" and I vaulted the barrier. This incident though was sudden and without warning; a flagman's worst nightmare.

I gave a mortal scream much like the time I hit a horse with my car (that story will be in my 2nd book) right as I jumped and dove at the same time. I can't recall anything except that I looked down and saw part of a kart go beneath me. While I was in the air I heard the sickening sound of a kart slamming into the tire wall.

Without planning my jump my landing was not thought out and I landed hard. My right knee slammed into the ground somehow, my left leg twisted under myself, and my back hit flat. I was staring at the sky, in shock and wondering, "Why am I laying in the grass?" Truly that was what I was thinking. It happened so fast that I was perplexed as to what had happened. Then I tried to breathe.

Losing one's breath is not a pleasant experience and about this time I heard over the radio, "One of our guy's is down!" I was wondering who this was and it took a couple ore thoughts to realize that this was me. I turned my head and saw the kart that I had cleared in the air and the nose of his kart was about a foot from my head. I could tell the kid was in some pain by the way he was moving his neck so I tried to get up to make my way back to the finish line (the starting line was about a tenth of a mile from the finish line. This is to put the start line right next to turn one so the speeds are slower on the 1st lap).

My first attempt at getting up resulted in failure as I was still searching for my breath. At this point in time I knew I had to get up or the race would be stopped for me and I did not want that. I'm supposed to flag the action, not be part of it or influence it in any way.

I got up and as the race director got to me and he asked, "are you okay?" I responded with a "yes" not really knowing if I was. I was sore, but I knew I would have been much worse off had I been hit.

I began to limp as the pain of landing wrong began to trickle through my system. At this point in time I heard over the radio that one of the karts needed a rolled black flag (this is a warning for rough driving) so I began to run back to my post not realizing that someone had already manned it.

Once back at my post the adrenaline started to wear off and then my leg let me know it didn't appreciate the landing. The pain wasn't awful, but I had lost some of the strength in it so I no longer made the trek down to the starting line.

I toughed it out and refused to take a rest and the end of the day came not a moment too soon. The thrilling racing seen throughout the day certainly kept me motivated. Each race got better and better and I saw three of the best races races I had ever witnessed so it was all worth it.

I'm sore today and my leg is back to almost normal, but I wish my back would stop spasming. The pain is sharp, but I still have a smile on my face. I wouldn't trade it as that would have meant I wasn't at the track. Being at the track with the flags is everything. There are risks, and close calls, but the rewards are worth it.

Coming home yesterday was rough. I enjoyed the travel aspect of it as I normally do and I once again wished I experience airports more often. With each step I took, and each mile the plane flew, I knew I was leaving that great experience of being on the track.

Each mile though was another mile closer to home. I have two Kansas' now and I'm back in the office writing and I will be at the police academy doing my autism presentation in about two hours. A year ago I would've been depressed for a month after getting home because, in my mind, I would be coming home to nothing.

When I experience total bliss anything short of total bliss is considered nothing. It's bad my mind is this way, but that's the joy of on/off thinking with no middle ground.

Today though there is no depression. In two hours it's show time again. This time it won't be with flags, but rather words and a simple Power Point presentation. Life is great!

__________________________________________________________

If you'd like to listen to the live call of my near miss you can listen to it at http://www.livestream.com/ekartingnewscomtracksidelive/video?clipId=pla_964cbfa6-92f0-4d92-b022-ece35c9fd6e6 and move the audio to the 1 hour 4 minute 30 second mark and listen. I just listened to it and it's amazing how fast everything actually went when, for me, the entire episode seemed to last for an hour.

Also, if you'd like to read the story of how I got into flagging and how I got my position with SKUSA, you can read my dad's account which was an Autism Speaks In Their Own Words article at http://www.autismspeaks.org/community/ownwords/intheirownwords_likens.php

Monday, April 19, 2010

Adapting to something new

Hello from Oakland International Airport! I am a bit battered and bruised from the race weekend and I am thankful it's only that after vaulting a kart yesterday. That story and more tomorrow, but I don't want to write that because I don't know how long that will take me and my flight leaves in two hours.

Today's article is about my lack of being able to adapt to other people. What does that mean?Going back to when I was a child, and even now probably, I would want to do whatever I liked over and over and over again without that activity going stale.

What does going stale mean? I remember playing many a game of Monopoly with anyone who would said yes to a game. When the game was over and the question came up, "What do we want to do next?" I would respond, "Well, Monopoly sounds good."

I've noticed other people gegt bored with an activity after a while and I don't understand this. If something is enjoyed then why should it get boring?

I can play whatever I am interested in at that point in time for hours on end. The first time I played Final Fantasy 3 I played it for 10 hous and 58 minutes straight! I didn't get bored or moody; when I get into an activity it becomes the only thing that matters. Why would I want to play outside when we could just play another game of Monopoly?

This adapting, or rather resistance to change is not just chained to games. It takes a long time for me to become bored with foods. I don't try new foods often (except when I travel. In fact, just two nights ago I tried broccoli here in the San Fran bay area) and can eat the same foods in the same order over and over again.

How bad am I on repetitve food? In the late 90's when I discovered Papa John's pizza I ate it so much that the regional manager came to our house with balloons and coupons. I guess that's the least he could do for me single handily putting his kids through college.

This lack of being able to adjust to new activites has always been just as hard on me as it has been for those that I have known. The same way you can't understand how I like to do the same thing over and over I don't understand how you wouldn't want to play 4 games of Monopoly in a row. Misunderstanding, in this case, is a two-way street.

I hope to expand this concept a little bit more in the future, but from the Chili's I'm in I am hearing that it is time to board so I will be in the office tomorrow to give you the details of my interesting weekend.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Q and A Friday delayed as other stuff happened

I was hoping to have a post much earlier than this, but my day didn't unfold like I had hoped for. I was really hoping that my plane would have Wi-Fi, but was out of luck. That was okay as I figured Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix would, but after US Airways forced us to sit on the tarmac for 75 minutes I did not have the time to sit and write as I had to run full blast from terminal B to A in under 10 minutes.

I was planning on doing an article on a question I get asked a lot, "What got you into flagging?" as this would be apt as I am currently in San Rafeal, California for the SKUSA Pro Tour race at the Jim Russell Kart Center track at Infinion Raceway at Sears Point. This though would be a long article and it's late, and a lot happened today so I wanted to cover that instead.

I also received a question today in the comments and will cover that at a later time as I have wondered that myself and think that I can work it out through writing.

My day though started at 4AM Central and as I look at my computer clock I see I've been up over 20 hours. Most times I would be a zombie, but I am too relaxed to sleep. Yes, my day started at 4 and I ate breakfast at the Courtesy Diner. This event to most anyone else would be a non-event; just a breakfast, but for me it is a major event because as I sat there and ate I was filled with pride. I was going to California!

Traveling is the best medicine for me. Not that I was down, but traveling elicits emotions and feelings from me not otherwise experienced.

I am plagued by routines and now, each time I leave on an airplane for a race early in the morning, I am going to have to stop at that same diner. I'm fine with that though. After breakfast, though, I am free. Totally free! I'm not free from people I know, or the wacky weather of Missouri, I am free of myself and the routines.

I wish I had a routine for the 75 minutes in Phoenix though. It takes a lot to get me mad, but I was furious. With each passing minute I knew I was going to be late. If I was late I would have to figure out how to get from Oakland to Sonoma. A task I did not want to even think about let alone have to carry out.

I surely would've medaled in my terminal dash had it been an Olympic event. I made it and was out of breath and then was harassed by the ticket lady for having three carry on items. I had my suitcase, my computer bag, and the most important item of all, the bag of flags. I got furious again as this ad not been a problem in Saint Louis, so thinking quickly I put the computer bag in the suitcase, only to break one of the zippers in my frustration.

Instead of breaking the other zipper I carried the suitcase down the ramp and when I got to my seat I took it out and was back to three items. That will show them to make me wait 75 minutes!

I arrived in Oakland without any other issues and found the rent a car place and rode with my ride to the track.

My day at the track was uneventful as I am only flagging the two race days so I just walked the paddock and soaked in the awesome scenery of the track. From the finish line one can see all the way to the San Rafeal bridge and sort of make out what looks to be the Eastern extreme edge of San Fransisco. Truly breathtaking.

I recognized a lot of faces of the Supernats (the race I flag each November held at the Rio in Las Vegas) but was unable to really have a conversation. Alias mode was not in effect and I could tell it. Words came labored and slow as I had to think out my words. Confidence? There was none.

On racedays I stand with confidence and always know what to do with my body in the space that I am in. I noticed today that I was constantly trying to figure out what to do with my arms and hands. Do I fold them? Do I hold my hands, perhaps behind my back? I couldn't figure out what to do and it was turning painful.

Thankfully the day ended and SKUSA held a big barbecue for the drivers. During this time the Jim Russell Audi Driving Experience was holding a free ride along for anyone over 21. I got in line and signed the waiver and waited.

It wasn't that long of a wait, and when I was next the man who was going to put me in the car tried to have a conversation with me and I could see the confusion in his face. Why confusion? I made no eye contact and had trouble answering his questions. Of course he started with the feared, "How are you?" so several seconds passed and I answered that I woke up in Saint Louis and USA Airways held me captive in a hot plane in Phoenix for far too long then I had to sprint across the airport. Yes, I am a master of conversation.

The ride in the Audi R8 was spectacular. The car can stop on a hair (I would say dime, but that would be selling is short) and the acceleration slams the occupants into the seat. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't freeing like the lake story I shared as this was almost scary. This was the epitome of "scary fast". I want one now.

My day ended with riding back to the hotel with the ride I had from the airport. We ate and in the course of the evening I opened up like I typically do in a one-on-one situation. I think back to the awkwardness of the guy who worked for the Audi experience and the confusion I saw out of the corner of my eye, and then to see how I am able to function one-on-one.

If there's one thing I will take from today it is that the contrast of Asperger's is downright frustrating. To go from soaking in the sights to being unable to answer a simple "how are you" correctly to having a two hour conversation about racing with a person over twice my age is hard.

My life is either full win or full loss. Think about that. Think about what it would be like to be fully functional to the point of being exceptional, and then to be uncomfortable in any position down to the details of what to do with one's hands while standing. If you haven't felt this I don't think you can appreciate the agony that this causes, and the anxiety of thinking about when it could happen again.

Now though there is no anxiety; just anticipation. It's late and I've been up 21 hours, but I can't sleep as tomorrow is race day. No anxiety at all. It's race day and it's time to shine.

_______________________________________________________

I may have an update tomorrow. It will depend on when I get back to the hotel as it is $9.99 a day for internet. That being so I hope you enjoyed today's post. It better have been worth it :)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sensory Bliss

In my article on Monday I talked about one of my sensory issues. I have several, but in this article I wanted to have a more positive slant so I will talk about the one time I was in pure sensory bliss.

On Labor Day 2006 the Saint Louis Karting Association president invited the board to his house that was near a lake. He had a Jet Ski and a big inner tube like thing that could be towed behind it. I had never ridden on a Jet Ski, or been towed by one so I nervously said yes.

The club president was on the lake joy riding as I was getting ready and I was amazed at how fast those things fly across the water. As much as I was amazed I was starting to get equally as nervous. I hate things that go fast (unless I am driving it!) and I hate movement (unless I am in control). This thing went very fast and with the waves there was a lot of movement. I got weak in the legs much like when I see a roller coaster (I have never been on one, and don't plan on it any time soon).

I had committed and I was going to follow through though. I got in the flat bottomed inner tube (perhaps it was more raft like) and away we went. The acceleration rivaled the formula car I drove in Las Vegas! I did everything I could to stay in my raft as I had to keep my balance or it would tip over, and I had to keep my legs up or they would hit the water in front of me and the couple times I did do that I nearly fell out and it hurt like heck.

Within seconds I was giggling like I never had before. Skimming across the water a fast clip was the most freeing feeling I had ever felt. Even though I was going much faster than I ever imagined on water, I was fully relaxed. I was doing everything I could to prevent a meeting with the fishes, but I was calm as could be. Every nerve in my body was on alert, but I was just laughing away.

This event was rare as I had no control, but didn't care. I kept getting water in my eyes (my eyes are very sensitive. Truly, you should see me try and put eye drops in. It's so funny it may become a pay-per-view event!) but didn't care. It was noisy, but that was irrelevant. This was so counter the norm that I can't explain why it was the most freeing experience I ever had.

I kept yelling, "faster" so the club president took that as a challenge and he began doing tighter turns at faster speeds. My skill as a rafting novice came to light and I did have a meeting with the fishes as I was thrown out of the raft. I skipped across the water and had more water up my nose than I ever had before (yes, my nose is sensitive too). I didn't mind this though as I was still just laughing away. My entire body hurt from the impact with the water, but I just had the biggest smile on my face. It wasn't just me who noticed my smile. All the people that knew me said they had never seen me smile, let alone smiling from ear to ear non-stop.

I will surely remember that day for as long as I live because it was so atypical. It was against everything I do as I try to avoid all those sensations, but in that event on that lake I was free. Before this or after this I have yet to experience anything close to that sense of pure jubilation. Maybe this was my version of a squeeze machine. Whatever it was it was special and thinking about it now I have that same smile ear-to-ear.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Game From the Past

A while ago I talked about playing PGR2 (Project Gotham Racing 2 released in 2003) and the impact that hearing a song had. From this I thought about games themselves; what would happen if I were to play a game that I hadn't played in years? How about a game that hasn't been played in nearly two decades?

I tried to think of a game that would be fitting, and then I found it. The last time I played this game was when I rented it from G & M Video in Indianapolis back in 1991! 19 years it had been since I last played NES Play Action Football for the original Nintendo. I rented this game once and never played it again, but I acquired it when I bought a lot of games on Ebay.

My first thoughts that came to mind was, "WOW! This sure isn't the newest Madden for the Xbox 360!". This game was ahead of its time, in a way, as the game featured vocals. Not much mind you, but hearing "first down" or "touchdown" back then was a big deal.

As much as I would like to go on about video games I am sure that the majority of you readers would get a little bored, so onward with the actual story.

Like I said, it was 1991 when I rented this game. I remember this fact vividly, but when I started playing it I remembered more. As a side note I think I should mention that my memory is abnormally good so when I remember even more, well, it's crazy good. Anywho, (that word was for you mom! Sorry, inside joke. See if she ever talks about my word usage again! :) while playing the game, I was flooded with memories. I remembered that my mom wasn't home and I also had rented the game, Klax, which was unusual because I was typically allowed one rental. With my mom being gone though I guess my dad let me have two.

Where was my mom though? The murky waters of the metaphorical flood began to clear, quickly I might add, and I remembered that she was gone to the LWML convention held in Cleveland that year. I just checked to make sure my memory was correct on Google, and everything matched up.

As the 2nd quarter ended as I played I had another flashback and I was in my room on 13th street in Indianapolis. It was night time and then there was a strange glow outside my window. A fire! This fire was across I-465 and my dad and I went looking for it. Back in the day if there were sirens headed in a direction my dad and I were a bit nosy so we got in the car and looked for this fire. We got over there and saw nothing. The next day we looked for some sign of where the fire was and we found nothing. That fire was a big mystery that never was solved.

My time with the retro game came to a close and I can't believe the progress that the developers have made. What I also can't believe is how many memories were revisited by simply playing a video game that I hadn't played in 19 years.

What can be learned from this? I didn't simply share a story about an irrelevant game from the 8 bit days for filler. I think this further illustrates my associative memory system. Much like the soda can I talked about in "Inappropriate Attachment to Objects" this game is the anchor to the memories of that night of the fire and the week my mom was gone.

I think this is something that all of us can share. How many times has a song brought about a memory that you hadn't thought of in some time? Or a movie? I'm sure you can relate to this, but I'm not fully sure if it would be to the level of detail I have. Honestly, I can remember the walk down the halls trying to look out a different window to the fire, I can remember playing Klax once and deciding that it was one of the worst games ever made, and I can even remember the lighting that was on in the house.

My final thought on this is that these memories that are remembered through items, or now games, is very powerful and can be overwhelming. I know I've used the word "overwhelming: a lot in my posts, but there's no better word for it. To be flooded with information at a rate of speed that would be a kin to a dam bursting is hard to process. To remember the sounds, the smells, and even the thoughts I had in a different era is confusing. To put it simply; when a memory is experienced like this it is truly like reliving it. I guess if I want to relive my childhood, my true young childhood, all I will need to do is find myself an Atari and have some fun on Bowling or Pole Position. I wonder what type of memories that would conjure up!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Usher vs. Aaron

Last Friday I went to my very first NHL game and for the most part it was great. The sounds of the game in person is something that one can't appreciate at home. The sounds of the blades on the ice are so sharp and crisp, the sound of the bodies slamming against the boards is enough that you can feel the pain, and the sound of the pucks hitting the sticks is nothing short of awesome. However great that experience was was I had a moment of my own in the 1st intermission that over shadowed the night.

What happened between the 1st and 2nd periods is a classic example of something that would, for most people, be minor and a non-event. For me though the anxiety is still with me like it just happened.

Yes, I can see how this event wouldn't be remembered by most people. I'm not like most people though. What happened was this: Between periods I was craving nachos and a soda. I waited for the lines to thin out somewhat and went with 6 minutes to go in the intermission. The price for nachos and a soda came out to $13.25! For what it is worth though there were free refills on the soda. With soda and nachos in my hands I proceeded back to my seat. This is where the usher enters our story

As I walked from the concourse through the small tunnel like chute to the inner arena I had my eyes locked on my seats. Walking amid a group of people that are coming and going is always a stressful experience for me so I have to keep my eye on the final destination. If I look at my immediate surroundings I may make eye contact or look at someone in a wrong way (don't ask what a wrong way is as I'm not sure what it is, which is why I try to avoid it). That being said I keep my eye on the finish line.

I passed the usher and was just about to go down the stairs towards my seat when all the sensory alarms went off in my body. It wasn't much as it was just a tap on the shoulder, but the sensation of touch on my shoulders is considerably higher than anywhere else on my body. To put lightly, unless I know the person and it is expected, any touch on my shoulders is something I would avoid at any cost. A tap on the shoulder is like being tapped everywhere on my body all at once and that is a lot of information to process.

I was set on my destination and this tap threw me off. So much so that I nearly took a tumble down the stairs. I was startled, and processing what just happened and thankfully I was stopped by the railing that goes down the middle. What was the meaning of the tap on the shoulder? She needed to see my ticket.

My senses were violated because she needed to check my ticket even though she had checked it before the game. Okay, so maybe she didn't have a good memory, but I'm still a little irked of the end result that happened. Sadly, the bout wasn't over.

She needed to see my ticket, but my ticket was in my pocket and I had both hands holding the drink and the nachos. I was in a startled state, and I realize now I didn't vocalize anything after being startled. Truly I didn't say a word as I was processing so much information that the actual world took a back seat to the anxiety of my body.

I was unable to say "my hands are full" and I started a small dance to try and illustrate this. I looked at my left hand, then my right, then my left, then down towards my left pocket, and then she said, "I'm sorry sir, I can't hold your drink". I was now lost. I had no idea what to do. What I wanted to do was teleport back to home and go to bed and never leave my bed. Being flooded with so many issues is a short amount of time that I couldn't foresee was just awful.

I started to have this odd jerky motion and I was filled with nothing but rage. Pure rage. The rage had no direction and wasn't towards anyone as I was just confused and scared. I didn't know what to do nor could I fully comprehend what was expected of me.

Finally, someone walking by asked me if I would like them to hold my drink, so I handed it to them and showed the usher my ticket. With drink in hand I made my way towards the stairs with the goal of sitting in my seat and slowly venting this anxiety and anger out of my system.

It happened again. A tap on the shoulders and again I nearly took a spill. "Sir" she said, "You can't go down the stairs and you must remain behind the blue line until play stops. Just as I began my trek towards my seat the 2nd period began. I heard her words but nothing made sense. Being tapped on the shoulder once is bad, but a 2nd time, after a tense two minutes was too much.

I just stared at her in befuddlement. She repeated her line and I slowly comprehended that if she had not put me through two minutes of torture, I would not have been in violation of crossing the line while the puck was in play. I was angry and confused.

While standing behind the magical no cross blue line I began to twitch. My rage was at my personal limit. The sensation of the tap to the shoulder would not go away and I could not comprehend why the usher was doing her job.

As my luck would have it, several minutes went by without a stoppage in play and I stood there shaking. All I wanted was nachos, a drink, and to return to my seat in peace. Something simple that most people could do without an event. My event I endured was worse than any fight that happens on the ice (I don't understand why they fight in hockey by the way. Hockey is a great sport, but the fighting just is so out of place).

With a stoppage, finally, I returned to my seat and slowly got my bearings. It's an event like this that I fear each and every day. If you aren't on the spectrum I don't know how you will understand this story. Perhaps if I tell you that I am teary eyed right now talking about this because it strikes fear in my heart. Pure fear. I don't know when an event like this will happen nor will the person that creates it know what happened. I can't blame the usher (I want to, trust me) for doing her job. How can one expect that a tap on the shoulder could have such an impact on a person?

Trying to operate in a world that can't foresee such impacts is difficult. I don't have a big "Don't touch me here" sign. I don't have a sign that says, "Don't interrupt while walking".

It's hard. It's a challenge. Life is nothing short of a fight and most times people don't know they started one. I don't fight with them though, it's a fight with my own mind and senses. It's because of this I hesitate each time when leaving the house.

The world is a dangerous place and is filled with many events that will prove to be hazardous. The problem is this; what is hazardous to me is a non-event for most people. People will put me in these positions and not even know it. The usher couldn't have known out much pain this would've caused me, and I don't think she ever knew. I kept it internal except for the shaking.

This event evoked a sense of fear I haven't felt in a while. This "usher vs. Aaron" event was something far more dramatic than two goons on the ice trying to punch the other guy's face in. My fight, that I think about each day, is about the battle of overcoming the fear of every day life. When will the next battle be? How bad will it be? Will I endure it? These questions I ponder each day, and this bout with the usher has me second guessing myself.

I'm here in the office though, I got out of bed this morning and life continues on. I'm fearful, but I won the fight. I fear the next one and wonder if I will overcome it, but how will I know if I will or won't overcome it unless I try? For this I play on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Q and A Friday on a Sunday afternoon

Due to the pressing matters on Friday and Saturday "Q and A Friday" is today. Today's question comes from Ryan in Tyngsboro, MA:

When someone asks why you like something or like doing something, do you know why or do you just like it because that's what you like?

I often wonder what makes something liked and something disliked. Take racing for example. I have liked auto racing since before preschool! Why though? What is it? As I think about it now I know I enjoy the competition of it, and the closeness.

When it comes to racing I will answer, "because it is all I know" but racing isn't the only thing I like. When asked if I like/dislike something I will typically give an "I don't know" because letting someone know what I like/dislike exposes a lot about me.

Beyond the ultimate like of racing I have room for other interests. Last year I became obsessed with this one track in Germany, and then after that the music from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I can't tell you what causes those interests. I can't even tell you if I enjoy those things. Read that again. I don't even know if I enjoy those second areas of defined interest. I don't know what starts them, I don't know what keeps them going, and I don't know what ends them.

An interest will begin and then I will read everything about it. In 2008 I became obsessed with North Korea. I did research every night and looked at pictures from Google Earth, but I don't know if I enjoyed it. I researched it because I had to because that's all I knew at the time.

So to answer the question, I will be very private on what I like or dislike because it will expose a lot about me, but also, I may not be able to answer the question at all because I don't know if I do like it. I may do it because, at that point in time, much like racing, it's the only thing I know.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mr. Likens goes to Washington (or at least Missouri's equivilant). And a movie review,

What a day! I have been fearing that my blog would run its course too fast and that I would have nothing to write about. Those fears got put off as today was an incredible day filled with unexpected twists and politics.

The day began late. I haven't been asleep past 8AM since I started my job March 2nd, but 9AM was a welcome site as my eyes opened. The extra sleep was much needed and came in handy for the unexpected physical challenge that would be introduced later in the day.

Ron and I ate breakfast at the hotel that the banquet was the previous night, and as we were leaving a very important, and seemingly irrelevant question, was asked, "Have you ever been to the capitol?" I responded "no" so we went.

I know nothing about politics except that it is polarized and seems to be nothing short of dysfunctional chaos. We entered the capitol building from an unmarked side door and my taste of politics began.

I was amazed at the size of the building for one thing. I love buildings so this was amazing. If you ever have the chance to go there you should most certainly do so.

If you haven't been paying attention, or live outside Missouri, the state government is in the process of trying to pass into law a mandate that says autism must be in group policies. I am not an expert in legal matters, or the ways of politics so my comments on that issue are irrelevant except that every resource for early intervention should be implemented. Anyways, Ron has been following the matters in Jefferson City closely so we toured the building looking for the offices of those who originally sponsored the bill. The Senate had adjourned early, but the House was in session so we wandered over to the gallery.

It's amazing how stark of a contrast politics are when you're actually witnessing it in person. Cable news channels chop and cut the conversations that go on, but being able to see the entire room is astounding. What caught my attention at first was the big board. This big board was right out of a sports arena or game show and has a list of names of each representative. Above the names is the current bill being talked about and when it comes time to vote the bell goes off and the names go from orange to either green if they are for, or red if they against.

Watching the debates confused me. Mr. Speaker (it wasn't the actual speaker, someone else was doing it) would toss the floor about and there were yields, concessions, and other words that flew around at 1,000 miles per hour.

The speaker's eyes darted around the room picking up on who would speak next. I wondered why people spoke at all because no one else listened to whoever was doing the talking. During one gentleman's talk the speaker interrupted him, slammed his gavel down, and yelled, "The gentleman from X county is in violation of the rules. Food is not permitted on the House floor".
No longer than a minute later the gavel crashed down again and a lady was told she was in violation for the same thing.

I was confused as to why anyone would break the rules to bring food onto the floor, and as I was wondering this, Representative Dwight Scharnhorst saw Ron from the floor and waived. A minute later he came up and Ron and he discussed where the autism bill sat. I was introduced to him and he realized he had my book.

The speaker who had been doing it yielded the post for a couple minutes and a lady took over. She looked to be a rookie at leading the House and the comments were not as smooth. During a vote Rep. Scharnhorst stood up and I noticed he was holding my book. He got the floor and said, "I would like the House to recognize the two special guests in the gallery. Ron Ekstrand, CEO of Touch Point and Aaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas." I don't know about you, nor care if you debate what I say about this, but I considered this the dawning of my political career. I don't know what that will entail, but I was mentioned in a political place and I can't wait until someday when I'm the one speaking for myself, or for all on the autism spectrum.

Once the thought of political grandeur wore down I watched the disorganized chaos continue. On man was standing up during a vote and was juggling. Yes, juggling. He was clearly in violation of the rules as he was juggling apples. He went on in an almost antagonizing fashion just trying to get Mrs. Speaker to say something. She did, eventually, and she said, "The gentleman from X is against the the rules". So polite!

The affirmation of 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution entered the floor and it got heated so we left. A quick stop to another sponsor of the bill was made and he was busy, but we didn't leave empty handed as we got the secret key. What types of secrets does this key unlock? Is it something out of the movie National Treasure? Not really as all it does is grant access to the top floor which I must say is amazing.

We exited the elevator and got lost. We kept trying to use the key card to get into this room we thought was the way to the top, but the door was stuck. As we peered through the crack we learned it was just a closet.

After some intense investigating we found the way and began the ascent to the top. The stairs were steep and the confines were close. This is not for a person who has a fear of heights, or wasps as signs warned that there were wasps at the top of the dome and that entry was at one's own risk. And you thought politics on the floor were dangerous!

It must not have been wasp season because none were found, but the heights were still plenty high. I didn't have a fear of heights until I was in Riga, Latvia in 2008 and was high up in an old church. This trek up the stairs wasn't helping.

As we neared the final flight of stairs I was in awe of the builders who made this. The outer walls had a steep curve inward and there was no floor below it. And fall would be a sure death and the amount of work that had to be done is beyond my comprehension.

We finally made it to the top and I was surprised when we exited a door and was standing outside. The view was breath taking. What made it so memorable was that we could walk around the top in a 360 degree fashion and see all around. Truly amazing!

After standing in the wind for 5 minutes we started the decent. This decent proved to be tricky as I banged my head on a crossbar and was a bit woozy.

We returned the secret key and headed to the van. All the sights and sounds we saw, as well as being recognized on the House floor, all stemmed from a simple question of, "Have you ever seen the capitol?" I have now and I can't wait for more!
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The story doesn't end there though. We drove back to Saint Louis and that night we sat in on KETC Channel 9's public viewing of "The Horse Boy" which is a documentary movie about a boy with autism who loves horses. The dad takes him to Mongolia, with his mom, to meet with the Shamans for special healing.

I had pre-screened this pre-screening of the movie and I have mixed feelings about it. First off this can't be a 100% official review as this viewing was 57 minutes and the actual movie is 95 minutes. Also, a book was made and it has much more detail. Whatever the detail may be is irrelevant and I only can go off of this 57 minute version.

Anyways, I have mixed feelings. In the end the dad says that their son wasn't cured of autism, but is much better now than what he was. Don't get me wrong as this is great, but one doesn't have to go to Mongolia to do this. While over there the mom and dad were whipped, and other cleansing rituals were performed.

Over the course of the next week they road in car and on horseback to find the elite of healers. They found him and, while the behaviors were already getting better, the parents said this was an amazing experience.

I am happy that progress was made, but a movie like this may give parents the wrong idea of what they need to do. The child's "Kansas" was horses so spending a week with them certainly led to an environment where the gains could ripple out.

One thing that can be learned from this was the dedication of the parents. If parents are unwilling to learn about their child then progress will be hard. I think it's bad that this is shown as flying to Mongolia as most families aren't in a position to take such a drastic measure.

I don't want to say this was an example as a "false hope" or fake treatment plan as being in an Kansas environment can be very beneficial. A parent may watch this and think that progress can be made instantly. Seeing progress in 57 minutes compared to the actual time it took needs to be remembered. A parent may view this and expect the same results and become discouraged.

Discouragement is my biggest fear about this story. A family doesn't need to fly around the world as Touch Point's parent training class may be in their backyard. A trip around the world will teach the parents nothing about why their child behaves the way they do, and won't allow them to understand the way their child views the world.

Was it a great story? Yes, but I just hope it doesn't bring about a false hope. Hope is needed, but hope without a sound ground can lead to something horrible, despair.
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Coming up this weekend, on Saturday, I will have a special weekend edition entry, that relates to the Horse Boy movie in a way as I talk about my connection to animals on what will be the one-year mark of having no personal pets.

On Sunday we will have the Q and A article so if you have a question please leave a comment on this article, or use the e-mail I have in my text to the left to ask it. Also, listen to 106.5 the Arch at 7:30 AM to listen to the radio interview.

'

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An overwhelming moment, 30 minutes of bliss, and 30 minutes of panic

April 7th, 2010 will be remembered for a long time in my mind. It all started in the morning as, when I got to the office, I had four comments on my blog. As I mentioned in a special edition entry yesterday, I found that Autism Speaks had featured my blog on their Facebook page. This was a special moment.

I went to Facebook and didn't believe my eyes. On top of that the post had thirtysomething comments, so I eagerly clicked on "see all comments" with a sense of terror. Would these people say I knew nothing? I was hoping for the best and knowing I'd see the worse.

Again, as usual regarding these things, I was wrong. The comments ranged from "awesome" to "hope" to "moving" to even, "there needs to be more people like you". Like me? I was in shock as I read each comment and it was too much. I shook and could not stand so I plopped onto my office floor. This moment was far and beyond the magnitude of when I held my book for the first time. You see, anyone, in theory, could write a book. It's not so much to hold it, but rather what the effect it will have on people. Seeing these comments of those who read my story from April 2nd I finally knew, without a doubt, that I had the power to instill hope through my words.

I've had people occasionally say that it is powerful, but wouldn't anyone tell a writer this? One person could always be bias, but having 30 people all say something along the same lines must mean something, right? I finally allowed myself to believe this as I pulled myself up off the floor and sat myself back down and move on as I continued to write my article on the lack of team play.

My day was not over with that revelation that brought about a momentary jubilation. I had found out that I was going to be joining Touch Point's CEO, Ron Ekstrand, at a radio interview that will air on 106.5 the Arch and 101.1 (you may want to check if that's the right frequency) which is the ESPN radio affiliate at 7:30 Sunday morning (April 11th). You should be able to listen live at http://www.1065thearch.com/.

This interview would not have the theatrics that the Paul Pepper show had as this would be 30 minutes instead of 8. The 30 minutes flew by, but I was so at ease. Truly, I was yawning most the time I wasn't talking. When I am relaxed and content, I get in a state where I yawn and become painfully slow in my movements. It's a rare state, but I was there and through the yawns I think I did a decent job. Ron and I covered all the points we wanted and it felt like a natural conversation. You'll have to listen to find out if I'm telling the truth though.

Even after this my day was not over. It was just 12:30 and Ron and I had to get to Jefferson City to attend the Mental Health Champions banquet. I was nominated for one of the prizes, but going into the night I already knew that I didn't win (I would've been disappointed, but I didn't really know I was nominated. They said it was an honor to be nominated so I guess I am honored).

The drive to Jefferson City was nothing short of bliss as I love car trips. I am much more vocal in the enclosed environment of a car and the 100 miles or so flew by. Before I knew it we were at the Kingdom City exit and I requested that we stop at the Petro station because that's the only place I know that sells Red Bull Cola. I actually stopped there on my way to South Dakota in 2008 and because I like routines I must stop there. Whoa, come to think about it, the race weekend that inspired the "Finding Kansas" concept involved a stop there as Greg's trailer needed a new tire and we stopped there coming home.

Sorry, got sidetracked. With the Red Bull acquired it was the final 35 miles to Jefferson City. We made it to the hotel and I was in a bit of a panic. Supposedly my room was reserved, but what if it wasn't? What would happen if I had to call the phone number my dad had given me as my contact? Tense moments ensued as I walked to the counter and asked as softly, and unobtrusively, as possible that I, "think I have a room". I gave my name and it was all set and nothing traumatic or life altering occurred, but a simple task like this created so much stress.

It's not hard for me to go to a hotel and get a room that I don't have a reservation at. The conversation is easy, but what happens when I think I have a reservation is much more difficult. I have to think of all the possibilities that could ensue. If there's no reservation it's either that they have a room, or not. If I go up saying that I have a reservation and I don't the amount of ways to play that scenario is enough that expert strategists could take a week coming up with a plan. I have just myself and a couple minutes to think about it, and it's super intense and very painful.

We had just under an hour before the start of the banquet so I went to my room and got on the computer and did something I hope I do the rest of my life; send thank you notes. To most of the people that commented on Autism Speaks Facebook page I sent a message letting them know how thankful I was that they thanked me. I write without knowing if it is good. I write not knowing if it has value. They let me know that it was good and had value so I thanked them.

The banquet time was near so Ron and I headed to the atrium and to registration. He would be sitting at another table, but I didn't think much of this. I found my table and sat. Then it dawned on me, who would I talk to? Would I talk?

Slowly, the table filled. Common greetings were exchanged and I was silent. I was in "answer of least resistance" mode as I was as uncomfortable as could be. As comforting, and confident, I was during the 30 minute interview I was now in the polar opposite. I was back behind the wall.

I watched in envy as other people smiled as they greeted each other and talked with no effort. I remained in my seat, a silent observer, wondering what it must be like to be like that. I often wonder if people wonder these same things when they see me in a presentation, or hear me on the radio. I began to ponder such things to try and quell the storm of thoughts that was raging regarding the conversations that were going on around me.

The storm lasted 30 minutes, and then one lady at the table asked me who I was and why I was there. I mentioned that I was the Community Education Specialist for Touch Point Autism Services and that was it. She seemed happy with the answer, but I knew now was my time to act. If that was all I said then the rest of the night would be nothing but me in my own thoughts watching the world go by. That being so I uttered, "and I wrote a book".

"And I wrote a book" seems to have a profound impact. I impact is mutual as once I establish I am an author I am able to go into "Alias" mode. An 'alias' only works if the other person knows what alias I am. Once I am established as the "author guy who sure knows a heck of a lot of stuff on autism" is established I am able to slowly morph into the state of Kansas and am no longer paralyzed.

The banquet concluded and a long day came to an end. I don't think I've ever had quite the roller coaster day as this. From being frozen in emotions of overwhelming proportions, to being eerily relaxed at a radio interview, and to once again experiencing the normality of Asperger's. I'm glad though to have experienced those 30 minutes of torture as it keeps me honest. I won't forget who I am, or why I do this. While my stories may be about me, the education learned from it can help all. I must feel those moments of panic, as for me, now, it's all in a day's work.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thank You!

Yesterday I gained nearly 20 blog followers. I had no idea why and thought it was because of the Facebook group I started, "I won't quit until I have 102,541 log followers". As I came into work this morning and started my blog entry about my lack of team play I checked my e-mail and had 4 comments on my April 2nd entry. "Weird" I thought, so I did a search and after about 2 minutes I found that Autism Speaks had posted that story's link on their Facebook page.

While I want to thank them for doing that I would also like to thank everyone who took the time to read it. The more each person knows the better advocate they can be. I feel that the generally public isn't mean or discriminative towards people on the spectrum because they want to be, but rather because they quite simply don't understand. Together, through everyone's effort, we can make a HUGE difference and it starts with awareness and from that will come understanding.

Let's go me! Oops, I mean, let's go team!

I hate to have two posts in a row related to video games, but this trait applies to more than just games.

There's a game on the Xbox 360 called Halo 3. It is a futuristic space shooter game and is one of the most popular multiplayer games on any system. There's many modes that are in multiplayer and I have achieved the highest rank possible in the mode where it's all for one. I'm great at it as I only need to worry about what I am doing. I have friends that play the game and we will be on the same team and hilarity are frustration are the end results.

In one of the modes it's 2 vs. 2. Teamwork is essential for victory. Many times, well, most of the times in a match if I see my team mate being shot at and I was in the process of going to a tactical spot I won't help them out. I could easily prevent a point being scored by swooping in and saving the day, but why would I? I was in the process of getting to the high ground.

There will be other times where my team mate will be following me and I charge into a room and find that they were no longer following me. I may become furious because he didn't follow me. They may say, "I didn't know you were going into the room!" and this makes me angrier as how wouldn't he know I was doing that?

There's a problem here and as much as I complain (others, like Rob, may say whine) the problem is most likely on my end. It's much like this; I think therefore you should know. If I'm leading a charge into a room, because I am doing this I think that my team will be thinking the same thing. Sadly, this isn't the case and my team play is just funny to watch.

The past 6 months have seen a shift from the shooting of each other in space to the shooting of a puck into the net. EA Sports 2009 hockey entry, NHL10, became my game of choice and again my ability to play as a team was put to the test. I failed miserably over and over again as I can't judge what my human team mates will do. It's no issue with the AI as they are programmed and I learn their program and can predict what they are going to do. Humans though can be random and may do two different things if the same situation comes up twice.

While all this may be a downer in regards to my ability to learn to play as a team, set plays are learned. On Halo and NHL there would be situations where we will have a play we will run out the same way every time. I can do this easily as I don't have to judge what my team will do as it's the same thing every time.

To be clinical, I think this is another example of the "theory of mind" and it's played out every time I play a team based game. To all I warn you as if you are ever on my team, you too may fall victim as you may need just a little bit of help to survive, but I won't care about that as I've got to get to that tactical spot I was on my way to. Good luck fighting two of them, you'll need it!