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Sunday, May 30, 2010

The 500

Today is the day I wait all year for. I think about this day all year and when it is over I will have to ponder anew for 365 days what this day is like. Today though I will know and in just under an hour I will be on my way. On my way where? The Indianapolis 500!

Today will be my 14th straight 500 attended. While each race has been different, the experience before the race is not and it is the experience that moves me.

The air at the Speedway on race day is electric. People, by the hundreds of thousands, are everywhere. The young, the old, and young at heart will share something special as 33 drivers prepare to race at speeds over 220mph for 200 laps.

If you have never been to the 500 I don't know if you can understand just how moving of an experience this race is. It's more than a race as tradition abounds with the pre-race traditions being timed to the minute. With each minute, and each traditional event, whether it be the national anthem, or the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana, each one is a step towards the words each and every person in the audience wants to hear, "Ladies and gentlemen start your engines!"

I am 45 minutes from heading to the track and getting there itself if part of the tradition as one can't exactly get there fast. Traffic is slow, but I enjoy it (the only time I truly don't mind). 300,000 people will be headed to the same place so traffic is of course going to be at a pace that a snail would find to be too slow.

Once we park it's a good mile to the track and with each step I am closer. With each step I will think about 500's of old and my experiences as a young child watching in awe of the cars going by at what seemed to be impossible speeds.

Once the traditional festivities begin I get emotional. Heck, writing this right now I am getting misty eyed. This race was my initial Kansas and has been since then. This race means everything to me and when I have thought of why this is I have never been able to come up with any answer besides "it simply is".

As the race nears halfway I will be watching the leader board and will wish time to freeze. Each lap is one lap closer to the end. When it does end, and one driver has achieved the pinnacle of their sport and the mass of humanity begins their return to their cars and homes, I will walk in a daze. It will be another year before this happens again. It will be a year before I once again experience the electricity, the tradition, and the wonderful colors and of 33 Indycars embarking on a 500 mile journey.

I may be sad when it's over, but right now I began the trek to the track as the 94th running of the greatest spectacle in racing is just hours away.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Best Experience Ever

In days past I have stated that I was going to start training with USAC. Thursday night I was at the Tony Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Indiana and was assigned the position of assistant starter.

I liked the sound of the position, but the flagstand there is only big enough for one person so I watched the event from the infield.

After 15 years of flagging karts it was like starting over. People in karting know who I am, but here I am an unknown and need to build up that level of respect. Because of this, and my inability to really know what to do when given an open area, I am sure I looked like a lost puppy while watching the race from the infield.

My mind was able to focus just fine, but I was unsure how to hold myself in space. This may be hard to understand unless you have just been in an awkward situation that you know what you are watching, but unsure how to stand, how to place your hands, where to walk, should I walk, and what emotions to express via my face.

Once the racing started I had one of the best views I've ever had as standing on the inside of turn one. Television gives no justice as to how sideways sprint cars are. In fact, standing in the grandstands doesn't give it justice.

The night was long and at the end it was a long drive back to my sister's house. On the drive back I was envisioning what it must be like to be the flagman. I wasn't prepared and it came sudden, but I would experience it the next night.

Last night I was at the Hoosier Hundred, a USAC Silver Crown race. Again I was the assistant flagman and was told to hand around the USAC trailer. During practice, as I had the previous night, I watched Tom Hansing, the USAC Chief Starter and one of three flagman for the IZOD Indy Car Series, man his post with authority.

As qualifying ended Tom came back over to the infield and as he walked past me he asked if I was the assistant. I replied with a one word answer, I think, as I was rather nervous. I didn't know what to say and was having the same issues as the previous night. I knew that given a position and given a post I can do it well, but developing a role like that (or as I call it, "Alias") takes time.

Time is something a majority of people don't have and certainly don't give. The hardest part, and perhaps the saddest part of being on the spectrum is developing relationships. I can't simply talk to a person as I'm dealing with the positional battle I had at Terre Haute and I'm just over calculating everything.

Tom though continued to talk with me and he told me of a race he had to flag from the inside last year and the photo someone took of Dave Darland driving out of the final corner in an amazing drift that makes it look like Dave is looking directly at Tom.

The conversation ended with Tom getting some much needed water and again I was lost. He was with a group of people then and I know that over time I will be able to do that, but being the unknown from Missouri was the only role I was able to play.

As the modifides took the track I heard a voice call from the race director who was standing right beside me. He didn't have his radio on so I let him know that he was being called. I didn't know who was calling, but right away I heard a voice say, "Is it okay if the new assistant comes over to the flag stand" Say what?

I was in shock. Pure shock. I didn't hear the director's answer because someone else started talking over the radio, but I didn't know what to do. I looked over to Tom who simply used his index finger and pointed for me to come over there.

Without that alias developed I didn't really know what to do. Even though I have so many years of experience, I was still timid. Modifides were starting to roll and I looked down the main straight and back to Tom who again motioned for me to get over there. After some intense thought I decided to take him up on his offer.

I had to use some climbing skills to get there, but once there all was right with the world. There was racing, and there were flags. I stood behind Tom and just watched as the cars came by at a thundering speed.

I quickly learned that I need to invest in some sunglasses because, as the photo shows, I was having a hard time seeing.

During the couple caution periods Tom and I chatted and I could feel my confidence level going up. I don't know how apparent it was of how nervous I was as no one wants to mess up on their first day, but as time went on I began to feel no sense of nerves. It takes time, and time is what I had.

As the 20 lap modified race was on its final lap, and Ken Schrader was lapping the field, Tom looked at me and handed me the white and simply said, "finish it!" as he reached for his two checkered flags. I knew what to do and started waiving the white flag.



I think it is hard to re-experience a first like this, but this was just like the first time I flagged a kart race. The pure elation and pride in me was something that can't be rivaled. If anything, this was bigger than the feeling I had in my first kart race I flagged because this was a big event and I had thousands of people looking on behind me. Also, I grew up watching these cars in person and on ESPN.


As fast as it all happened it ended when I saw Schrader come off of four. As the remaining two cars in front of Schrader took my white I whipped back and Tom gave the twin checkereds.

After the modified race it was time for the big event, the Hoosier Hundred. I started feeling quite comfortable behind Tom and began handing him the green on the restarts and then taking the green back and putting it in the flag holder. This may not sound like much, but it is hard for me to do ANYTHING unless I am 100% sure my action won't cause any problems. This simple act of handing flags is something that was unspoken. I didn't ask if he wanted or needed this, but I just did it.

As the race proceeded on I realized why Tom had so much water. The dirt that is almost sandblasting us is very dehydrating. At the end of the night I had a couple layers of dirt on me, and I was elated about this. I hate being dirty and feeling that grit that it brings, but this dirt was racing dirt, dirt from the ultimate Kansas and it was almost holy in nature.

The race reached it's end point and I displayed ten fingers to show the field that there was 10 laps to go, and again I got the chance to "finish it" on the white flag. Again, I felt that same feeling, only larger, than the first time I flagged.

The end was sad for me. That race was amazing and I will always be wanting to tell Tom "thank you" a million times, but I'm sure he'd get tired of it after a while. I know I got in that position because of my experience and the size of the events I have ran and flagged, but he got me in that stand that night. I'm sure I had an expression of flagstand envy and, well, whatever the case may be he got me over there and it was the most amazing experience I have ever had. And, do you want to know the best thing about this all? I get to do it all again tonight at the Night Before the 500 Midget Race tonight at O'reilly Raceway Park!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The journey continues, Springfield to Indy

Sorry for the delay in posting today, but we got in really late last night and I had sleep issues and had just a couple hours of sleep before the tee time at the golf course.

Yesterday morning I gave a presentation at the Touch Point office in Springfield. Staff presentations are always more intense for me because our staff are already the leading experts on autism, so I'm always nervous I will say something wrong. I have yet to do so and I didn't yesterday and the staff asked some really great questions.

From there I drove back to Saint Louis and then my dad and I left there to come up to Indianapolis. The rain in Saint Louis was intense, to say the least. It was rather isolated though. On one side of the block it was dry, the other side had rain so heavy that we couldn't see through it.

Today I met Navalhawkeye (real name Ryan) whom I have raced against on Xbox Live for many years. The fact that I am friends with him on Xbox Live is somewhat of a minor miracle as the first time I raced with him he had no idea that Hidden Valley raceway on ToCa Race Driver 2 had a hairpin in turn one and he plowed into my car destroying it. I kicked him out of every room I hosted thereafter until a race league I joined had him in it. That was five years ago and now I can't count the amount of laps and hours we have spent racing and talking.

We played golf today and it was just another day at the beach, which means it didn't go all that well. Meeting him and his dad though was awkward for me to begin with, just like it was when I went to Vancouver to meet Dr Payne (real name Rob). It takes a while for me to feel comfortable even though I have known him for years. For years though he was just a voice, and now here he was teeing off from the tee box right in front of me. It truly is a weird feeling to say the least, but as the holes went by and we ate lunch at Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria I began to talk more.

That's my story so far on this multi-week journey. If you will notice on the right side of my blog I have added speaking dates that I am booked at in the South West part of Missouri. If you want to attend or know someone that should, please call the TouchPoint number listed because we do need a RSVP so we know how many are coming. Also, there are a limited number of respite spots available so please notify the staff when you RSVP if this is needed.

I am now off to Terre Haute, Indiana to go to the USAC Sprint Car race there and this will be my first race in training with USAC. It must be official because I am on the crew list and I must sign in. I can't wait!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A short entry

I am about to walk out of my hotel and head to the Springfield Touch Point office to give my presentation to the staff so I don't have a lot of time today.

Last night went amazing! The room I had my presentation in was packed and there were about 50 people there. As usual the response was warm and the question and answer segment had a lot of interesting conversation. The total presentation was just a hair under two hours and I think the audience wanted more.

After my presentation today I will be driving from Springfield to Indianapolis and I can't wait for the 500!

Finally, I have a few more speaking dates to add to my upcoming speaking list. I will try and do that tonight from Indy as well as the phone number to call and RSVP.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Journey's First Day

Driving down the interstate yesterday I thought of yesterday's entry. In fact, it was about the only thing I thought about. My mom commented on how great my memory is, and that was partially what I thought about while driving to Fort Leonard Wood.

For me, that phone call I talked about yesterday feels like it was just five minutes ago. I'm not sure if other people on the spectrum share this trait of an excessively great memory, but I do and because of this I constantly have to work through the same things over and over again.

Because I work through the same things I may come to the same conclusion twice while working through the same problem. Trust me when I say this is tiring! I've had about three entries on here that end with me finding my place, or living the dream, and of course the article that stated how I found my calling, but each time I've posted it was like I found it the first time.

What causes that? I am in a constant struggle to convince myself it was all worth it. The two relationships I talk about in my book still sting like it just happened. Having the deluxe version, in terms of memory, makes it hard for time to pass therefore "moving on" is something that I don't understand.

The good thing about this problem is that it is a constant resource for me to tap into. If I was 100% happy I don't know if I would write. Don't get me wrong as I am not depressed, but my memories are still there and if anything it is like always lugging around a 15lb bowling ball. Yes, I'm strong enough to carry the ball, but after several hours it just gets to be a burden.

I thought upon all this and as I neared the Fort I wondered if people will ever get tired of me rediscovering my calling? I hope they don't because I need it. I need that motivation because I hope that whatever I have to say may prevent the sequence of events that happened to me. Understanding the way the mind on the spectrum thinks is surely difficult, but I hope to give just a glimmer (or more) into how my mind looks at the world.

Yesterday's presentation went great. The audience, I think, took a lot out of it and I was thanked many times. I am so grateful TouchPoint has given me this chance to tell my story and educate and raise awareness because again, as usual, I rediscovered my passion. Driving from the Fort to Springfield last night I, once again, believe that all the pain and all the sleepless nights were worth it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Journey Begins

Last night the television show Lost ended. I covered this somewhat on Friday on how I was sad about it and now it is over.

Today I embark on a 20 day journey. I will be headed to Fort Leonard Wood to do a presentation followed by two presentations in Springfield over the next two days. With each day I feel more vigor, more passion, and more dedication to share my experience of being on the autism spectrum and to raise awareness any way I can.

As I said on Friday, my first experience with Lost was a commercial during the 2004 Indy 500. What I left out was what happened during that 2004 Indy 500. The record books will show that Buddy Rice won in a rain shortened event. What I will remember most is that I survived it. The rains that came in the end weren't a drizzle, but a severe storm that was producing tornadoes. Over the loud speaker, Dave Calabro, the track PA announcer shouted, "Get to cover NOW! There is a tornado on the ground!" The skies were ominous and while the majority of people in attendance were rushing to their cars, my dad and I headed to the basement of the museum. Before that, I made a phone call.

My goal in my presentations is to raise awareness. I want people to know what people on the spectrum feel and sometimes we just don't know how to express it. I gave two presentations last Friday and with each presentation I feel stronger and more sure of myself.

After my presentations in Springfield I will be headed to Indianapolis to attend my 14th straight Indy 500. Each time I return to the Speedway since 2004 I look at the exact spot I made that phone call during the incoming storm. I honestly thought I was about to die, so I called Emily. If you saw the clouds you too would think that the worst was about to hit. The clouds were moving in and swirling downward and the intense lightning storm coming in from the West was something that I had never seen and haven't seen since.

My trip to Indy this time is my first since I wrote the last chapter of my 2nd book. Last year I went to the 500 alone for the first time. I then drove to Washington D.C., to Dover for the Autism Speaks 400, and then to Autism Speaks' home office in New York City. It was there that my life clicked. It was there that this passion exploded, to tell my story and my concepts to let families possibly understand why we do what we do.

I had tried to call Emily several times that month and got no answer. It had been five months since I broke up with her on Christmas via text message, but we still ate at Fortel's every Monday and bowled in the same league. To be honest, not much changed. After bowling concluded the first week in May the change occurred. No more did we eat each Monday and no more would we bowl together. On this Sunday, with the seemingly doomsday like storm moving in, she answered the phone.

This year a friend I have raced with over Xbox Live is joining me in Indy. We plan on playing golf on Thursday, going to Terre Haute for a Sprintcar race that night, going to Carb Day at the Speedway on Friday as well as the Silver Crown race at the fairgrounds that night, then the Night Before the 500 midget race at ORP, then the 500 on Sunday. On top of that, I start training with USAC and will be listening in on the radio at the sprintcar, silver crown, and midget race to start my way towards flagging for USAC. It's going to be a memorable weekend!

My seats this year for the 500 will be almost right across from where I was when Emily answered the phone and very inquisitively answered, "hello?" Her voice was different, and I wasted no time in asking if she had watched the race, which she hadn't, and then I said there was a nasty storm coming in and it did not look good. She seemed somewhat concerned, although I don't know if she was or if she was just humoring me, but regardless I said "I love you" to her for what would be the last time.

Once this upcoming weekend is over I head right back down to the Southwest part of the state to continue giving presentations. I will have about 10 hours at home on Memorial Day, but Tuesday morning it's right back down I-44 and my elation on my schedule can't be stated enough.

My relationship started with Emily reached a point of no return once I had my diagnosis and it was partly due to me. I didn't know how to handle it, and further more I thought I was alone. I thought there was no hope and I wish I knew what I knew now. What I know now is what drives me and what fuels my ability to give my presentations with such a clarity.

It is fitting that Lost ended last night because my first encounter with it was the same day that Emily was lost for good. She didn't return the "I love you" and I knew it was over. The depression that was already setting in was in at full force. Then, halfway through Lost's first season, I started to write.

I feel as if this multi-city tour and this Indy 500 is a turning point in my life. I want to be out there; I want to spread my experiences. For those who have young ones I can say early intervention is beyond valuable, and for those who possibly know older ones, it is much easier to deal with life when the hardships of life have a name and isn't due to lack of skill or lack of being able to be liked.

That fateful day in 2004 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been something I have not thought of in a long while. It still hurt up until Lost concluded. I still felt the pain in the lack of a return to "I love you," and I hated that, but today I embrace it. I realized that all the events in my life were set in motion by radical events, and today I go out more dedicated than ever to do anything and everything I can to tell the world what it is like. Lost was an amazing television series in terms of telling a story, but now it is over. For me though, my story is just beginning, and the next chapter begins today.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The End

Sunday is going to be a rough day. Sunday represents an end of a era. In a way this is a great representation of my life moving on, but I still will be sad and won't know what to do. What has me in this state? ABC's Lost is over for good.

My first exposure to Lost was when I was watching the 2004 Indy 500 on tape. I was curious as to what the announcers said regarding the nasty storm that rolled through, and during one of the many rain delays that day they showed the initial advertisement of the show and the line that all the viewers of the show would be asking, "Where are we?"

I am a very picky television viewer and will usually have no more than three scripted shows I watch at a time. One of my three ended earlier this year as USA's Monk solved his final case, and with Lost going off the air I will be down to just one show.

I'm sure I share this trait with others in that I don't want to become invested in something that is going to be cancelled. Because of this I won't watch a show until is established, but yet at the same time I won't get into a show in the middle.

It truly has to be a perfect storm for me to watch a new show. There was one with Lost, and in two days the mysteries (hopefully!) will be solved. I have been fearing this for several years! I hate ends. I hate when something is over because it means there is change and I hate change.

I don't have any other shows in the wings to replace Lost, just as there was no show to replace Star Trek The Next Generation. Once they are gone, they are gone. I don't know if one can realize what they have, in life or on the television screen, until it is gone. On Sunday Lost is over, and I will move on, but it may take a while. It will be like losing that friend you only see in the Spring time once a week. Okay, perhaps people don't have seasonal friends that are met at the same time each week, but it sounded good, right? Regardless, the mysteries will be over (hopefully!) and Lost will eventually become just another show in the history of television.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

L.A.D. (Life After Diagnosis)

My diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome came at the age of 20. I had lived all those years knowing, or at least assuming, something was a little different in me, but I never knew why. Beginning in pre-school, my dad was always told that, "Aaron doesn't socialize too well with the other kids, but that's just because he's smarter than the other kids."

The teachers told me that as well so I never thought anything about why I didn't have friends in the truest of sense. "If I am smarter, why would I want them as friends?" is what my school aged mind thought.

As years went on I began to wonder why I was different. My social issues, and life long struggle with time (eight hours in school was too much for my mind) led me to be home schooled and I wound up not going to high school. I often wonder how big of a train wreck high school and I would have been, or would I have found my place? That question will never be answered.

With each year I became a bit more withdrawn. I had a girl friend (yesterday marked six years since I last saw her) but the relationship was getting frayed. I wanted a connection with other people, but knew I didn't have any. I was very confused because I heard people talk about that bond with others, but I had never experienced it and I knew that it wasn't just because I was smarter. If anything, I was feeling as if I had no intelligence because the only thing I wanted, the only thing was to feel that “something” that I saw other people feeling.

Slowly I drifted further from the world around me, and a line of events happened that alerted my dad to the possibility of Asperger’s syndrome. At the time I was immune to the name of autism because I was so withdrawn. On a cloudy, cold, and windy December day I was assessed.

Going into the assessment I wrote a long document that was essentially my life story in ten pages. I was hoping to avoid conversation with the assessor, but my efforts were in vain.

After the assessment and evaluation it was clear and I had a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. Autism? Spectrum? Being new to the world of the autism spectrum I had no idea what the word spectrum meant, and after I was told I had Asperger’s syndrome I went to the internet to see what, exactly, it was.

There were answers for sure, but I also had fears. All those years of not connecting now had a name. I wasn't 100% at fault, so in a way a burden was lifted from me. I had thought that I was simply unlikable. I had thought that I was either hideously ugly, rude, or mean and didn't know why.

Having the diagnosis though also led to a depression. Reading the prognosis and the difficulties of being on the spectrum made me believe that there was no hope. I got into the trap of thinking that, "Since I've had problems connecting with others, and because I have this label, why should I even try?"

That trap led to 15 months of pure unabated depression and self-loathing. My life after diagnosis was… My life? I didn't have a life. I was merely coasting wondering why this had to happen to me.

Eventually all that hatred manifested itself in my ability to write, and I was reminded of that yesterday when I realized that yesterday was the six year mark of the last time I saw my girl friend. After my diagnosis I tried to feel that bond. In my desperation I wanted to see if she cared about me, so my solution was to break up with her, on Christmas, via text message. In my mind she would simply call me and protest this and all would be fine. I was wrong.

After those 15 months and after I started to write I realized that I am unique, as we ALL are. Just because there are pages on the Internet that stated that I will never form those bonds doesn't mean I can't. I may feel them in a different way, but there is always hope!

The trap I fell into is a common one for parents of young children who are newly diagnosed. I went into a denial of sorts in my 15 months of agony, but for a parent, denial is a dangerous world. If Asperger’s syndrome would have been a diagnosis when I was in school (Asperger’s Syndrome entered the DSM in 1994) and I received therapy there is no telling how much progress I could have made. The earlier a child gets therapy the greater the possibility of them being freed from the chains of isolation. This isn't to say that it is ever too late, but the clock is ticking on making the monumental gains.

What I want everyone to know is that my L.A.D. (see title for this blog) was not a good one. Denial, depression, and self-hatred won't get a person far.

Remember though that my diagnosis was personal and I am not a parent and do not fully understand what it is like to hear that your child is on the spectrum. I can only imagine what it would be like. If I had been diagnosis earlier, I would have wanted my dad to do what he could, and not to panic (I don't like panic that much). Knowing what I know now, the autism spectrum is not the end of the world. The generalizations I read on the Internet shortly after my diagnosis scared me to no end. To think that I would never amount to anything and to never have friends was very painful.

Sure, I may have struggles, but I also have extreme joys. These may or may not be on the same page as the rest of the world, but I just wish it wouldn’t have taken 15 months to realize that my life was not over. Time is valuable and can never be returned, be it the agony of being on the spectrum, or the time of early intervention, time is valuable and the trap I fell into robbed me of it. There is hope, there can be happiness, but for that to happen those impacted by Autism, individuals and families, must get past the symptoms found on the Internet and see and experience the outcomes of treatment. Time is everything. Don't fall into this trap like I did.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who Is Aaron Likens?

This week has been an amazing week! On Sunday I watched the Celebrity Apprentice knowing that I would write an article for Autism Speaks. This was my first experience writing an article on a television event, and it was an unique challenge, but it turned out great.

Yesterday I gave my four hour presentation to police officers on "what is autism/asperger" and tips on how to communicate more effectively.

I love doing events or having assignments such as the one on Sunday because it gives me a role. In my book I talk about the "Alias" factor and its importance in my life. Sunday was a breeze because that day I was a reviewer, and yesterday was easy because I was the "author guy who knows what Asperger syndrome is." Then came last night.

Yesterday evening I was exhausted. But more than being exhausted, I was out of "alias" mode. I was myself and being myself is so open-ended.

For you to understand what I am talking about, let me say what exactly this "Alias" mode is. An "Alias" is a role I play. When I flag I am simply the flagman and there really isn't anything personal about it. When I do a presentation I may be talking about myself, but I am doing so from playing a role.

I had trouble at recess in school because of how open ended and chaotic it was. I didn't realize what I was doing at the time, but I knew I had to have some order in my life so I became the kickball referee. Having that position gave me rules to enforce, and rules to live by. It limited the amount open ended events that could happen.

Yesterday evening I was back to being myself. There was no role to play and no set rules in the social structure. I feel powerless in these times because I don't know what to do. I can go from being a powerful talker, to being barely able to muster a sentence by just one change in roles.

These changes are getting easier as my aliases are becoming stronger and lasting a bit after the presentation. Is this what practice does? Am I just learning how to talk, or perhaps becoming a bit more comfortable in a social setting?

I don't know those answers, but I am back to being myself. I look forward to Friday since I have two presentations that day and a nice two-hour drive each way.

Friday night will come and I may go back to being myself without an alias. Who am I, exactly? I'm not really sure. That's why I write.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Living the Dream

Starting today I begin four weeks of off and on travel. When I started writing in 2005 I imagined what a tour like this would be like, but today I will learn what it is like.

Today I am traveling to Osage Beach, Missouri to present at the Missouri Juvenile Police Officer Association to give a four-hour presentation. Trust me when I say I am nervous because I can easily give a 30-90 minute presentation, but this is well over double my longest presentation. Is it a challenge? Oh boy is it ever! but it's one that I used to simply imagine about.

To be able to have the chance, let alone the skill, to talk in front of a group of people and let people to understand, and more importantly, feel what the autism spectrum is like is something I never thought would come true.

I spent many lonely nights at my computer writing, hoping, and dreaming that, someone would read it; that somebody may be touched by it. My drive was on that hope because the pain had to be justified.

Today, my journey continues. It doesn't end here though as I will be in Ste. Genevieve on Friday to give a presentation to police officers and then another presentation to parents and teachers. This is my first double header and I am so excited for it.

The tour continues next week as I go to Ft. Leonard Wood, and then Springfield. From there I continue my streak of Indy 500's attended (each one since 1997!) and when I get back I have a presentation in Branson. The following week I have three more presentations in the Southwest part of the state (two in Joplin, one in Clinton).

It's been a battle to get to here. I think back to those sleepless nights of fretting and fearing of what the future held, and there was no way for me to even think I'd be 10% of where I am now. That was five years ago and I'm somewhat afraid to think of what the next five years hold. Regardless of what it does, right now, I am living the dream that I had five years ago. It's no longer a dream though, it is reality. I never could have imagined!

Friday, May 14, 2010

I don't like it! What? Have I tried it? No, but I KNOW I Won't Like It!

I can not tell you how many times I have used the title of this entry in my life. A friend on Xbox pointed this out and it got me thinking as to why I put up such a block to try something new.

The primary usage of the "I know I don't like it because I know I won't like it" is usually found in my resistance to new foods. I have used it in other aspect of life, such as new routines, or daily activities so the way I will explain this should apply to those, but I will focus on food.

Food is a routine for me and I will order the same thing every time from each restaurant I go to. I have been eating at the Olive Garden since I was six years old, and I still order the same food I did then. Someone, of course, asked me if I would get a certain menu item they liked and I said, "No, I don't like it!" Then they logically asked me if I had tried it and then the normal debate ensued of how I could know I don't like something ahead of time.

So, how do I know I don't like something ahead of time? How could I know I would not like a dish with the name of Pasta Alfredo? I never thought it through before today, but I now realize I love the routine so I will not like anything that replaces what I already know. If I get the manicotti, and always have, why would I want anything else?

If something is new it is unknown. The unknown is scary and can't be predicted therefore I don't like it. If I already have something then I am happy with that one thing, so why would I want to change?

This is a classic example of spectrum like behavior. I'm sure parents the world over have had this argument with their children regardless if they are on the spectrum or not. For me, I feel it is a little different as I like what I already order so why would I want to change?

There are times that I have ventured out and tried something new. These events have all occurred when I was in a new environment and outside my region of routine. Take, for example, the SKUSA SuperNats you read about over the past three days, the first one I went to, on the 3rd day, burritos were served for lunch. I can not tell you how many times I have said, "I hate Mexican food." and "I can't stand the taste of burritos!" To be honest, I had, up to that point in my life, a total of one taco eaten in my life.

I was in a pickle, well, I was actually craving a pickle on a hamburger because I knew I hated burritos. The burrito sat that on the wall slowly cooling away. There was no other option for food. It was the burrito or no food for five more hours. I didn't want to cave in, I really didn't because I knew I would loathe the taste, but, I had to keep my energy up. That being so, I took a bite.

"HOT!" was what I shouted. I looked back to the score keepers and had a look of, "OH MY OH MY OH MY!" They laughed as I endured the "spicy" burrito, but as the shock of the spiciness ebbed, I was in shock; the horrible taste I predicted for myself turned out to be wrong as the beef and cheese and pepper burrito wasn't that bad. And on top of that I enjoyed the sensory part of crying because it was so hot.

Since then I get the volcano taco from Taco Bell each day I am at the office. What? Try something else there? Why would I want to do that? The only taco I like is the volcano. Everything else is stuff I don't like. What? Have I tried it? You already know the answer to that question and the cycle continues.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Signs of Life

Let's say you are driving down the road and you see this sign



For me, when I see this sign, I can't get into the left lane fast enough. On one hand it is comforting to know what lies ahead, but on the other hand I MUST comply with the sign immediately.

This sign doesn't say the distance, but let's say it's a sign that says in 1 mile the lane is closed. I will still change lanes that instant for fear of what lies ahead.

Now this article isn't a license review test of safe driving tactics in work zones, but there's a concept in this needing to be in the right lane before the fact that I want to try to illustrate.

While the need to change lanes does need to happen, the extreme level I take it to is the part I want to examine. Everyone will get over, but my anxiety and fear of being in the wrong lane is probably greater than most others.

In life outside the open road there are few signs that state what is going to happen ahead, so we have to make our own. While I do feel anxious on the road when I need to get over, the anxiety is nothing compared to lack of signs of the road.

Let's use this example; let's say you are driving up a hill on a three lane interstate doing 75. You have an 18-wheeler tailgating you and you approach the crest of the hill. Right at the crest you see this confusing sign:


So, are there one lane or two lanes closed? What lane or lanes are closed? If you slow down Mr. tailgater is probably going to meet your rear bumper so you have a pickle. As you reach that crest you have no idea what to expect. This is what my world is like. There are signs, but I can't understand them. When I do and they are perfectly laid out I go to the extreme with them because it is so nice to have that prediction of what lies ahead.

There's a major hazard that comes with taking what I do know to the extreme. I had a hard time in school when the metaphorical road sign said, "Paper due in 1 week" at the same time three other signs said similar lines. It would be like seeing a road sign that laid out every construction zone for the next 500 miles. Imagine that, "Left Lane closed ahead, followed by right, left, center, left, right, left, center, shoulder, bridge work..." How could one prepare for that? I know I was unable to.

There's a fine balance to these signs. If I know something is going to need to be done or changed I will do it right away and to the extreme. So long as a proverbial lane needs to be changed it will be the only thing my mind thinks about. If there are too many signs I will be overwhelmed.

I don't know if this visual metaphor has relayed what I was trying to say, but I do know, with road and life signs, there is one thing to be avoided. The Onion, a satire newspaper, once ran a one picture story that read, "US Department of Transportation ends the "Bridge Out Five Feet Ahead" sign. I don't care if that was a fake story, that story and concept fits into this concept perfectly. I need to know when something lies ahead, but if something is sprung upon me without warning then, well, I wouldn't want to be the one to find out the dangers of having a bridge out five feet ahead, and I'm sure you wouldn't either.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Fear Before The Storm

I never understood the phrase, "The calm before the storm" because being calm before an event is something that I am 100% incapable of.

I am going to use my past fear of storms to illustrate just how powerful this "fear before..." is.

A decade ago, storms ruled my life. Twenty years ago I was so paralyzed by the threat of severe weather that I would do everything in my power not to go to school At school I would be unable to watch the Weather Channel.

Each morning my day would start with the Weather Channel. I could care less about all the maps, except this one:




I live in Saint Louis and today would have been a good day. The orange area didn't scare me, but if I happened to be in the red zone then I was stressed to the core.


There is another map I would look at when it came on. Thankfully I was growing up when the internet was not and I could not have instant access to this map:


That map is a map of all current weather watches and warnings. If there were any boxes of yellow (Severe Thunderstorm) or red (tornado) in my vicinity I would be a nervous wreck. I would have to stay home to watch the impending weather as it moved into the area.

If I were at school I would not know what was coming. I had to know because my ability to predict in my mind what could happen was always to the extreme so I had to watch each and every movement of the radar.

This article is not about weather, exactly, but rather the power of the anticipation of the event. I covered this somewhat in "Fright of the Bumblebee" and felt it needed further explanation because the anxiety that this used to provoke in me was downright overpowering.

The concept of this fear before the storm can apply to other events outside a spring time thunderstorm. During those times of fright, due to the storms, I would be preparing for the devastating mile-wide tornado and ways I could survive. I would prepare for loss of power, death of people I know, and where to look for my belongings should my house be blown away. That being so, it wasn't the storm that caused the most fear, but the anticpation of the storm and all the thoughts that came with it.

My thought process was to the extreme when it came to storms, but it is extreme in all aspects of what is to come. Before any event, be it nature or social, I play out as many situations I can to prepare. I MUST know what is going to happen beforehand so I can prepare my possible responses.

Open-ended social situations, today, cause as much anxiety as the storms of my childhood. Much like an approaching storm on the horizon, I can see when someone has that look of wanting to talk to me in public. You could say at this point in time I issue a severe "conversation watch." As they get nearer the watch turns into a warning and I prepare for a nasty shock to my system.

What will they say? Are they angry? Did I somehow offend this person that is approaching me? I think of every possible possibility because I must know. I must know because, well, if I don't know then I can drown myself in wondering what it could be. It's silly, I know, because what the need to know causes is the most anxiety and further reinforces the fact that I must know what the storm will be ahead of time.

That last paragraph might not make sense unless you have experienced it. It's truly tiresome though. The silly thing is that there hasn't been a storm that has destroyed my place of residence and each social situation that I fear ahead of the fact has never ended in me being punched in the face. Regardless of this, with each new event I am thrown into, there is a fear before the event and while this fear is always bigger, and most of the time unrealistically large, I will never be calm before a storm, be it social or natural.

So, for anyone who can experience a "Calm" before the storm I am envious of you. I don't know how or what that is. All I know is that I am fearful of the event ahead of time. I know I have used the word fear a lot and I just checked on thesaurus.com for the word fear and they have some interesting synonyms. If you don't want to call it the fear before the storm it could be dismay, cowardice, trepidation, or the best one, chickenheartedness. Call it what you want, but I don't care what it is called because all I know is that I have a battle each and everyday to not give into the fear.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The 50th Blog Post: How Did I Get Here?

At the start of April I had a post on how I became passionate about autism awareness, but how did I get to that point? I often get asked, "Aaron, how did you start writing?" I've been asked this enough that I felt that it would be right to have this be my 50th post.

First, this is a big deal as the number 50 is halfway to 100 and I love milestones. I was always pressured to do a blog and didn't know anything about the blogosphere or any of the protocol on what to and what not to write. After enough motivation I started and hopefully you have enjoyed the first 49 posts as much as I have enjoyed writing the stories. The way I started blogging though was much like I started to write, on that first night.

Back in February, 2005 I had been diagnosed for just over a year and was in the biggest pit of depression I have ever experienced. For those of you that have read my book (if you haven't, click on the book cover on the upper right!) you know that I started writing by writing a chapter about a relationship that fizzled after my diagnosis.

On that first night I didn't care about the grammatical protocol and didn't care about spelling. The only thing I wanted was a conduit to say what I wanted to say. At the time, speaking was difficult for me and expressing any emotion of any kind was avoided at all costs. Writing though, writing allowed me to state things without an immediate response.

I first learned this tactic when I got my diagnosis. I knew that questions would be asked and they would probably deal with emotions, so the night before my assessment I wrote a multi-page story of my life hoping that on any question asked I could simply say, "I covered it, read page 2".

Sadly, the assessor did not once read anything of it during the assessment so my grand plan failed. What didn't was that I knew that I could write. Was it good? I had no idea, but writing came easy to me and while it took a while and it took me going into the pit of not caring about life to unlock it, it eventually became unlocked.

That first night I wrote the chapter about my relationship, printed it off, and placed in on the stove so my dad could read it in the morning. I was petrified that night in fright because I didn't know the response I would receive. I had to say it though as I was so bottled up in emotion that had no way to diffuse.

The response from my dad wasn't of hate or anger, but rather of encouragement so I wrote again the next night, and then the following night.

I began to slow down, but when I was in Kenya and we were held against out will by a mob of homeless kids in Kissumu, I found a new found cylinder to fire on.

I slowed down again, and then in May I had a very nasty bout with MRSA. If you don't know what that is I am envious of you because MRSA is a very nasty strain of staph that wreaks havoc wherever it goes. I was in the hospital for almost a week and it was the loneliest time of my life. I sent a text, with my phone, to the person that I wrote about first and dedicated my book to, but she didn't respond. My dad was out of town and I don't recall any visitors after the first night.

The pain was immense and the fever was high. ABC's television series Lost was in its first year and I remember being engrossed in the episode that was on, but the pain was so great I had to take my medicine and fall asleep.

Eventually I had surgery on the back of my neck and I really wanted to post the pictures of what my neck looked like after the surgery, but have decided it would be to graphic to show. I know my step-mom nearly fainted when they showed her how to pack my "hole in my neck".

I mention in my book that this was a major event, but it has taken five years to realize just how major it was. Up until those painful, lonely nights I didn't really know what isolation meant. Then everything hit me and I was able to think upon how lucky we were to get out of Kenya alive ("a couple years later that same mob killed a German couple, according to news reports I read).

Being alone is something my mind has always wanted, but it was laying in that hospital bed with a 104+ degree fever that allowed me to know what being on the spectrum meant. With my first chapter I wrote I began the process of acceptance, but it took a bulging mass of MRSA to kick it into my mind that all of my social faults were not 100% my fault.

The biggest thing that happened on the final night before the surgery was that I allowed myself to forgive myself. For that my writing became even stronger and more unafraid.

The final major event of 2005 took place on December 8th. Once again my writing had slowed down, but what I was writing was writings that were unafraid and pure.

I have watched every episode of NBC's The Apprentice with Donald Trump since the beginning. During the fourth season the final task for Randal, who would eventually win and becom the Apprentice, was to run a charity event sponsored by Outback Steakhouse to benefit the upstart charity, Autism Speaks.

Randal met with Suzanne Wright in the episode and she mentioned that her goal was to, "Give those who can't speak a voice" and that quote has stuck with me. I become fixated on that line because some of the people up to that point in time described my works in almost the same way.

A writing explosion occurred (that's what I call a time period where I write a bunch of stuff that is usually my best pieces of works. I had one last Thursday!) and I fired off some of my best concepts after that.

Mrs. Wright's comment on that episode of the Apprentice turned the tide in my writing. Up until that point I never truly thought of my potential impact. Yes, I know I mention in my book that it was my first trip to Kenya that I thought my stuff could be a book, but thinking it could be a book and thinking that people might get something out of it, truly understand and learn from it, are two different things.

So here I am now. If you are new to my blog I would hope you would take the time to read my "Autism Awareness Month" entry from early April to read even more about this topic. But, for now I know that I may not be the voice for all those that can't speak as each case of autism is going to be different, but if I can, through my writings, give parents and care givers just a glimmer of insight into how our minds work then all those nights of anguish and pain will have been worth it.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to the next 50, 150, 500, and even 1000 blog posts in the future!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Return of Q and A Friday

In a comment late last month someone asked me, "Are you sad?" and while I've wanted to have a Q and A Friday there was always something that was going on that had to be wrote upon. This week is the first week in a while that I have the open day so I will answer that question.

The context of the question was regarding to my, "Wanting to play the game" article about wanting to socialize, but not really knowing the rules of the social game, therefore I to do tend to prefer to be alone.

Being sad does happen, but it's almost on a pendulum system in that there will be times that I want nothing more than to have a group of friends that goes out on the weekend. Then, as the pendulum swings, I know I hate going out on the weekend, I don't drink, and most places have loud music on the weekends and I despise loud places.

It's confusing for me because I will want it so bad and every cell in my body will be letting me know that I would be the happiest person alive if I weren't alone, but the times that I were in those situations I was counting down the minutes until I was at home, in my chair, coloring magazine covers (it's a sensory thing. I'll write about it sometime, but what I do is color the covers of magazines with Sharpies, such as Newsweek or Sports Illustrated and then keep the cover after I color the ads of the magazines. To date I have done over 900 covers in just five years of doing it) and playing Xbox.

When I was first diagnosed I was sad. I was so sad that the word sad was the only word that could describe me. I was alone and isolated and in a downward spiral. Relationships were lost (trust me when I say breaking up with someone on Christmas via text message is not conducive to being friends after the fact!) and I pushed all away. I was truly a sad case.

The event that pulled me out of my sadness was my writings. Am I sad today? I will say no even though I do, at times, yearn for those social moments. I have grown to accept who I am and that my vision of a perfect weekend is not coming within 10 feet of the front door.

Don't get me wrong, I do wonder, I do I do I do! but my sadness now is just a curios wonderment.

I deal with my sadness through my writings. I think all that I have written has come from that inner place in all of our minds that handles those deep emotions. I am at ease with that place and am unafraid of it. I know my limitations, but they do not define me. I know that I won't be a social butterfly, but I can express myself through other forms.

So, am I sad? I used to be and while I may get down on myself when I get upset with my limitations I realize that we all have limitations.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fright of the Bumblebee

Last week at a speaking presentation in Perryville a parent came up to me afterwards and had a very interesting question. "Are you afraid of bees?" She asked this because her son is terrified of those stinging insects and will flee any situation where a bee can be seen. I can say that this question stung me to the core.

I have never been stung and am still just as afraid of being stung as I was when I was young. A child is often told "Don't antagonize a bee, don't try and touch a bee, and don't make direct eye contact with a bee because they can sense the fear". Okay, so maybe parents don't tell their kids that bees can sense the fear, but I learned that one myself.

During recess in elementary school in northern Indianapolis I had a bee problem. There must have been a hive of some sort near by because it was a daily occurrence to have a severe fright and flight of a bumblebee (could bee a honey bee, but doesn't bumblebee just sound better?).

I have always disliked the classical tune "Flight of the Bumblebee" for reasons I could not put my finger on, until that stinging question was asked. That song is so apt because it paints a picture of a bee flying, but more importantly I can feel my fright in the song.

I have never been stung, as I said, but the anticipation of the pain that must go along with it is something that, if I dwell upon it, it scares me to the point that I don't even want to be in the same state as a bee.

During recesses I would usually have at least one fright moment and these fright moments kept me in shape. If I saw a bee flying my way I would run. I would run as fast as I could away from the bee. Sadly, I believe bees are attracted to objects that are moving, or maybe it was the increased carbon dioxide coming from my lungs, but those bees knew I was fearful because they would begin the chase.

I did not like these chases one bit because the bees stamina was far greater than my own, but my fear was so great that some recesses would see me run around for the entire 30 minutes being chased by those almost demonic creatures.

I make light of it now, but the fear I experienced back then was to a level that no child should experience during recess, much less any other time. I usually would scream a couple of times while looking back at the bee catching up to me. Another time I screamed because I closed-lined myself on the support for the swing-set.

When I would run from the bees I would always run looking back at the bee to make sure I had a safe distance. This led to some collisions with objects and people and I wonder if the teachers ever thought something was wrong with me from afar because I would just run and run and run without really looking where I was going.


Bees have a guidance system that a jet fighter would be envious of. The bees can turn on a dime and even when I ran through a group of people the bee would remain behind unaffected and not confused over who it's target was. My runs were something haunting enough that Rod Serling would have been proud of the way these events played out. I simply, no matter where I went or moves I made, could not get away. I think these bees may have had a sense of humor because, when I was running, they would always stay the same distance from me. If I slowed down they did too. If I sped up they sped up. Yes, maybe was in a "Twilight Zone" script and didn't know it.

The most stressful time was when the whistle blew and it was time to go in. I would run to the line and once in line I was a prisoner. The rules were that, once in line, one could not talk or walk away. This was horrible for me as many times my pursuer would come up to me and land on me.

The feeling of the bees legs crawling up my arm, or neck, was spine-tingling and was a mass adrenaline producing event. I was waiting... waiting... waiting for the most severe and agonizing pain I knew I would ever experience. The seconds that the bee walked on my skin were much like years and I was trapped and couldn't do anything about it.

I never attacked a bee on me because that would have drawn attention to me from the teacher and the rules were that I needed to stand still so this was a true worst-case situation for me. I knew I could instantly kill those evil creatures with just one slap, but the noise the slap would produce would draw attention to me. Also, if I didn't score an instant kill on the bee, I would be subject to a stinging.

So much anxiety was produced by those squadrons of bees and I was amazed that someone else has done the same things I did. The fear of the unknown is so great that I'm sure my fear is much worse than the actual event of being stung. That may be so, but I don't know the unknown and the anticipation of the event is a fear I can not quell. Much like when I was afraid of thunderstorms in that the fear of the approaching storm was always more traumatic then the storm itself.

When I see a stinging insect today I still tense up and my pulse will increase. I've had enough landings on me to know that I need to just hold still and nothing bad will happen. I'm still afraid of that first sting because I've had twenty-something years to think about how bad it is. Hopefully I can someday say that I've had fifty-something years to think about how bad it is because I don't want to experience it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Speeding and Tornadoes

There came a time in my life that I had a huge dilemma. Perhaps you would call this an ethical dilemma without common sense. Whatever it was, I can tell you I was a very confused five year old.

When I was five I was a stickler on rules. If my dad floated a stop sign I would let him know. If he changed lanes without using a turn signal I would let him know (I still do!). As minor as those were I was very concrete on speed limits. I was almost obsessed with speed limits, why they were in use, and why the limit on I-465 in Indianapolis was 55 and the speed in our neighborhood was 15.

As I learned about the safety aspect I began to believe 55 meant 55 no matter what. Then I had a thought that would plague me for months, "What would happen if a tornado was chasing us?"

With that question I combined my greatest fear with my greatest belief in rules. Severe weather used to terrorize me and if there was a "watch" of any sort, be it thunderstorm or tornado, I was sure to do everything I could not to leave the house so I could have quick access to the basement.

But there are times when I would be out and there would be a watch. What would happen if the watch turned into the warning and a tornado developed behind us? Our safety is important, but the speed limit is 55. What if the tornado was a fast mover? Let's say it was doing 70, 55 would not be enough to out run it.

Provisions to rules are difficult to teach. Being a five year old deathly afraid of breaking any rules I thought that a person had to always follow the speed limit. If the tornado got you then so be it, but at least the rules weren't being broken.

As the weeks went on I kept asking my dad about this scenario because I wanted to believe one could speed if their life was in danger. I wanted to believe, but if this rule, or rather law, could be broken then what about all the others? If one rule can be bent then I had to know what all the provisions were.

This was not an easy process, but I had to know. Slowly I came to the conclusion that it was okay to speed if one were to out run a tornado, but it was not okay to speed if there was just hail or a severe thunderstorm. Through my provisions I became confident that I had solved this conundrum. Doing this allowed me to understand that in all of life there are provisions to rules and this was a milestones as, if I had not worked this out, I might have always been 100% concrete in that the rule is the rule and that is final.

In my police presentations I use this example: There was a teenager with autism lost in a large park. The police located the person and asked him what his name was. The person froze and did not comply with or answer any commands or questions. The officers knew this was the right person and had to bring the parents to the person because they were getting no help or compliance on anything they asked of him. When the parents go there they asked, "Why didn't you help the officers? They were trying to help you. The teenager responded, quite flatly, "Why are you mad? You told me that I should 'not talk to strangers' and these people were strangers."

Concrete thinking is common for those on the spectrum and each person has a different degree of this. Some people can be flexible, others can not (I am not flexible when playing games. We either play by the rules or we don't play at all. House rules or you need to go to someone else's house!). I am so thankful my dad continued the discussion about speeding that when being chased by a tornado is okay.

Through the years I always came up with other possible situations, such as if we were driving down the road, and my dad had a health crisis, would I be able to drive him to the hospital? If there were a fire in my house could I break a window to get out? If other people are talking, if I feel very ill, can I say something and interrupt them?

I came up with nothing short of 15,000 possible reason to break the rules, but with each situation I worked through I developed a better sense of, well, common sense. I had to work through these to get to this point and had my "what if" situations had fallen on deaf ears I may be super concrete in all rules. I'm glad I'm not because my goal now is to talk to as many groups of people as possible about the autism spectrum and these groups are typically strangers to me and I was also told that I shouldn't "talk to strangers".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

All good things...

Today is going to be a difficult day. Driving to the office today I was already fearing the need to write this, much less what is to come later today.

Today marks an end of an era. I love eras and hate when things end.

I can't believe it was four months ago today that I started giving my autism presentation to police officers at the Saint Louis County Police Academy. To say that I was nervous on that first day would be an understatement. I had barely reviewed the power point slides (I stress too much when trying to practice so it's easier to just go with what's on it when it counts. I don't usually practice things) and when it came for my 1 PM start time I shook and had trouble getting control of the class.

I was so nervous that first time it felt like my first race. I used to be quite fearful of police officers for unknown reasons, but now I feel totally at ease standing in front of a room full.

When I began my presentations I did not know how much, if any, officers knew about autism. From comments I have received the officers get little to no training on autism so presentation is quite beneficial.

As beneficial as it is for the officers, the 35 sessions I have given have helped me too. I have a new found confidence when speaking too a group and I have found I love being in front of a crowd (so long as I know what I am talking about). Public speaking is difficult to practice, but having 2-4 sessions a week for the past four months has been of great help to me, but today is it. Today is the end.

I hate ends. An end represents change and I despise change. What makes change even harder for me is that I see an end, like today's, and I figure I will never speak again. I know it's rigid, but my mind operates on a forever thinking set. This means that whatever is, will be forever. Therefore, because today's the last speaking thing of this 1st quarter of in-service training, it's the last speaking thing I will ever do.

I hate hate hate this thinking set. I have always had it and it has led to many a sleepless night. What makes it even worse, at least this time, is that I have a presentation to police officers in Saint Charles tomorrow for their CIT course! Even though I have something planned tomorrow, I feel like today's the end.

As silly as you may think this type of thinking is, this is rather common for those on the spectrum. Change is difficult and I believe it to be so because change is forever because whatever is now is forever. If there is nothing planned and nothing imminent then there will be nothing forever. If you have never experienced this yourself I don't know if those words can make any sense for you, but trust me when I say it can lead to a very difficult life.

As I write this sentence I am 5 hours and 9 minutes from the start of my final presentation. As I have done for the past four months I will drive to the academy and walk through the halls and into the classroom. I will speak with conviction and make a joke or two as the minutes fly by. I will bare my soul and explain what having a sensory overload is like, and will watch as the officers look around as I explain the potential hazards of the high pitch hum of electronics and the potential sensory harshness of fluorescent lighting. When my presentation is over I will ask if there are any questions and then will thank the officers for their time, and then I will leave the room. Whereas I knew I would be back the previous 34 times, this time is different. This time I will be walking into the hall, then the lobby, then the front door for the final time and it will be over.

I hope I can get through today's session without breaking down in tears. These four months have been life changing. As I mentioned in my "autism awareness month" blog entry, I know what my passion is. Through these four months of presentations I have learned that I have the skill to carry out that passion because if I can hold a room full of officers attention I must be doing something right.

As I walk through the front door today and head to my car it will be like I will never present again. This is so frustrating for me because I have the thing tomorrow, and then I have two presentations in the Springfield area at the end of the month, and a week of presentations near Springfield at the start of June. I can't see that now as I can only see the now and today is it. Today is the end.

I am so grateful I was able to give so many presentations. Tomorrow will arrive and I will have the CIT presentation, and then the 18th will arrive, then I will get to Springfield, but today will be hard. I have loved the routine, and I know I've probably gone long-winded on this, but that's how hard it is, this is living life on the other side of the wall in its fullest extent.

And then again maybe I keep writing because I don't want it to be over. Perhaps I don't want to end this entry because ending this will be one step closer to 1:50PM. Time is ticking faster than I want it to.

To end I will say today, if you haven't gathered, will be one of the more difficult days of my life. I never understood the relevancy or understood the the line, "All good things must come to an end". I do now.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Pay-Per-View Event: The Phone vs. Aaron

"In the blue corner, with a book and a blog under his belt, is Aaron. In the red corner, with an esteemed history and and many buttons; defending champion and the most feared device in the world; weighing in at a mere two pounds, put your hands together for the telephone!"

Okay, so maybe my lifelong bout with the telephone isn't pay-per-view material, but I hold steadfast that the telephone is the most feared device in the world. It may be small, it may have a lot of numbers on it (it's only saving grace as I love numbers) but it's power is much larger than it's size. Much larger.

The phone wasn't always my enemy. I used it rather frequently to call my neighbor and I actually thought it a privilege to be the one who answered the phone. One time, when dialing my neighbor, I must have hit a wrong button or mis-dialed because I heard, "Congratulations! You are the 20th caller! What's your name?" Being a confused six-year old I asked if my friend was there only to find out that he wasn't, so I hung up.

That 20th caller mishap was the start of my fear of the phone. I wasn't to the point that I am now needing to predict the order of conversation, but I was even rigid back then that I asked what I was going to ask regardless of what or even who was on the other line.

I became fearful of the phone from then on because if that mishap happened once, it could happen again. Granted, now, I would love to be the 20th caller and to win something, but I don't even try to win because it involves using the phone.

So what is it about the phone that has let it beat me and own every proverbial title belt known to man? For one, it's that even though I may call a person's cell phone, and that cell phone may be answered, there is no guarantee that the person who owns the phone may answer. What if they are driving and they have someone else answer? How will I react to that? This used to not be a problem because I could simply hang up, but with the advent of caller i.d. I run the risk of being called back and asked, "Why did you hang up?"

Come to think of it, I had this happen once. In 1998 I called a vintage racing VHS sales store and when they answered I became panicked because the voice on the other end was not how I imagined it, so I hung up. Seconds later my phone rang and I answered, and the person, whose voice had been not what I expected, demanded to talk to my dad who the caller i.d. had shown called. I told the man that he wasn't home so the voice demanded to know why this number had called. Reason after reason came into mind, and there were many moments of awkwardness as I did not know what to do, so I said I had mis-dialed after at least a dozen seconds passed by. Presumably this pleased the angry voice and he hung up.

With each unpleasant experience I became more and more hesitant to use the phone. I may not be able to 100% know if someone in my presence is happy/mad/sad/etc. but I am at least able to have a slight clue. When I call someone on the phone, though, there is 0% to go by. They could be in the middle of a fight, or a traffic jam, or even asleep and if I interrupt them they may become very mad. If a person is pacing pack and forth with tears flying from their eyes I know that I shouldn't go ask the about the weather, or yesterday's race, but on the phone I don't have that luxury.

When I call somebody it may take several minutes to think of what I am going to say and how I am going to say it and how I will react to each possible answer. Idle chit-chat and I don't match well on the phone. Once I come up with my question I am going to ask it may take minutes, or even an hour, to get the nerve to make the call. Ordering a pizza used to be difficult as I would be almost robotic in my delivery of what I wanted. Much like the way I described my scripting of my order at Taco Bell (see blog entry "Crossing the Border, My Trip to Taco Bell") I would script out my pizza order. Thankfully the internet has come along and now I can do all my ordering without any human interaction.

Dialing isn't the only thing I hate as receiving calls sends a tremor down my spine unlike any other event. As I hear my phone ring I look at it with my breath held. "What's the bad news?" I think as I see who it is. Unknown numbers and private numbers scare me to no end because I always assume it is a police entity letting me know that someone I know has been killed. I believe that no good news is spread by the phone even though there is probably evidence to the contrary.

The absolute worst thing about the phone, or at least my cell phone, is the "beep beep... beep beep" of a voice mail. Take my fear of unknown numbers and multiply that by all the numbers on a phone pad (except 0, of course) and you will get close to the amount of fear I experience. Take this as a plea that should you ever call my cell phone, whoever you are, don't leave a voice mail! I can tell if you called with caller i.d. so that, in my mind, is the message. A voice mail though means either that the world is ending or something to that extent has happened.

I can't think of a more anxiety producing device than the phone. Conversations are difficult because there is no physical cues to go by (yes, I know I am almost inept on going by cues, but being 5% proficient is better than the 0% I have to go by on the phone). The anxiety and fear of incoming calls are temporally paralyzing as they occur, and of course the end of the world voice mails strike fear.

With each bad event I started to fear the phone a little bit more. As I said, I used to love the phone, but then I realized the power of it. With each event I became more inclined to not use it, and I would rather drive all the way to the store to find out if they have what I want instead of using the phone and asking.

As motivation for this blog entry I set my phone to the left of my computer. I keep glancing over at it and as I wrote about the voice mails I wanted to make a funny face to it and give it the evil eye, but fear of people walking past my office and me leering at my phone prevented me from doing so. My BlackBerry though has been blinking at me with it's routine green light letting me know I don't have any messages. What a relaxing light, but there will come a time. Maybe today, maybe next week where that light will be red; a voice mail! My internal alarms will go off and I will be stressed and fearful that the world as I knew it is over.

Come to think of it, this bout is not pay-per-view material as the phone would win by KO even before the bout would begin as just the fear of the incoming call would be enough to get me to cower out of the ring. As much as it pains me to say this, the ring announcer would give this call, "Continuing it's undefeated record, the winner, by technical knockout, the undisputed champion of the world, the telephone!"