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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meeting Temple

The USAAA conference begins tomorrow and the panel session I am on is only two days away! I still can't believe I am on the same panel as Temple Grandin and I probably won't believe it until I am actually there. How did this all happen though? If someone would have told me a year ago that I would be where I am today I probably would have laughed out loud.

I have a hard time believing this because I never envisioned myself as a speaker. In fact, I hated to speak and communicate to any group that had two or more people in it. I can remember, in school, the only time I gave a presentation in front of the class that was halfway decent was when it was about auto racing and even then it wasn't all that good.

Temple Grandin and myself in 2006
Things are different now. I love the stage, I love being in front of a group, and I really love making a lasting impression of the autism spectrum. If I were to tell you that this just happened without inspiration I would be telling a lie. My inspiration came back in 2006.

I was just finishing up my book and someone had told my dad that Temple Grandin was coming to town to give a presentation in conjunction with the Saint Louis Science Center. At this point in time I knew who she was because the doctor that wrote the endorsement on the back of the book was a really big follower of her. I knew about her books, but was unaware that she gave presentations.

Back in 2006 I still had a narrow view of autism. I believed I was limited and defined by it (see my take of "Defining It" now at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/07/defining-it.html). I believed that since I have an autism spectrum disorder I am unable to give a presentation. Yes, I know that logic was flawed, but I had nothing to prove it otherwise. That is, until I met Temple.

The event was moved from the Science Center to Saint Louis University Highschool due to the amount of people that were going to show up. I was confused to this because, at the time, I didn't realize the size or scope of her message and the fact that so many people are effected by the autism spectrum.

My dad made it a point for me to meet her and this, at the time, annoyed me. "What am I going to learn from meeting her?" I asked him. This question was just a false front because I simply don't like arranged meetings as it is just so awkward. What am I supposed to say? I kept telling my dad, "No!" yet I followed him towards her. As we got close I lowered my voice, but was saying rather quickly, "no no no no no no..." And then we met.

The conversation was somewhat short, but she drove home the message that people on the spectrum must be in a job that is in their area of interest. These words were depressing for me at the time because I just wanted to race cars. It is amazing though just how almost prophetic these words were because I fully understood this importance once I started working at TouchPoint.

As I said, the conversation was brief and then it was time for her presentation to begin. Once again I was amazed at the size of the audience and the fact that, as a collective whole, once she got on stage the whole room became eerily quiet.

Her presentation that night was primarily about animals, but in her Q & A segment at the end she answered a lot of questions about autism. As impactful as her words were the fact that she was up there, on a stage in front of so many people, was highly influential in my life. I didn't know it or understand it at the time, but a seed was planted in my mind that giving presentations are a possibility and that I shouldn't let autism define me.

I think about this and just how much things can change. Four years ago I didn't believe the potential each person has. Four years ago I strongly protested my dad making me meet her. Now I understand the potential and, while I hate to admit my dad was right, meeting her was one of the turning points in my life.

Four years have passed since that and in just 48 hours from when I write this I will be on the same panel as her.

If you aren't attending the conference you still can watch it live! All you have to do is click on the USAAA logo on the upper right to be taken to their ustream page. Times of each panel and keynoter are listed there, but I can tell you the panel I am on is on October 2nd at 10:30AM Central Time.




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Early Morning

Morning came way too soon. It was well past 2AM before I even attempted to sleep. Even now, in my tired state, I am still only thinking about Saturday.

One person asked me, in person, if I still wanted to do this with all the emotions I am currently feeling and I said, "most certainly!". I am used to anxiety when something new is going to happen. Take any new event in my life and the same questions I am asking now apply. How bad will it be? Will I survive? Is it going to be hard? Is it going to hurt? Will people laugh at me? Am I going to be able to do it? May I actually do a halfway decent job at it?

Questions before the fact are pure speculation. Nothing can be gained from them and, well, I know this for a fact and still I speculate. I am used to it, perhaps not on a scale as big as this, but this is a common feeling.

Each new school year I felt this. Each time I was on a new bowling team I felt this. These fears and questions are always here but I don't usually vocalize them. As you can probably tell, by the repetitive type of blog posts, they are quite tiring.

There is only one way to combat this and that's to get my mind active on an activity. This is hard because I am great multi-tasker, but in 40 minutes I will be headed out to go to a doctor's office to talk about TouchPoint and autism.

Who knows what I will blog about tomorrow. I still have a Q & A to answer, "Why are video blogs hard, why is seeing yourself hard, and is looking into the camera hard?" Maybe I'll answer that tomorrow if I don't write a repeat (well, not a repeat. Same concept different words) of today's. Well see. Just four days!

A Sleepless Night

It is late; past midnight. I should be asleep and my body is letting me know this. My mental sharpness is weak as I am coming off the 2nd longest race weekend of my life. I woke up 18 hours ago, 300 miles away so I should be sleeping. I have to be up in six hours to get to the office, create an amazing blog entry, and then go out for a lunch and learn at a doctor's office. So why then, am I not asleep?

Trust me, it isn't by choice. I am so tired it hurts, but my mind, even though it isn't the sharpest right now, is doing a great job and stressing about the upcoming USAAA conference. If there wasn't enough pressure already, the conference is going to be broadcast on ustream (ironically enough the same website that the USAC races are broadcast on). Stay tuned for the exact address and times.

Before it was going to be a presentation in front of 600, but now it is the world! Anyone in the world with a computer and good connection can watch. Chances are if you are reading this you will be able to watch.

Driving home today I thought I had what I was going to say perfected, but not I'm not so sure. I get around five minutes. What can I say to have the biggest impact? My problem isn't that I don't know what to say, but I have SO MUCH to say. Narrowing options down has never been something I have claimed to be good at and I have never been accused of it either.

This week's blog entries will probably be all similar with me saying "I'm so nervous" or, "What am I going to say?" but give me a break as Saturday is such a big day. Everything had to happen just so for this to happen. All the years of pain and solitude I had to endure to get to this point of self-awareness and all the chances people gave me had to happen just so.

Saturday is a big deal and if I ever have a forum this big again I probably won't be nervous. I am willing to bet that as soon as the panel begins I will feel right at home, but until that point sleep won't come easy, and my blog posts will probably become somewhat repetitive, but that's where I am at right now.

I can make a point and use this pre-event anxiety as an example of just how major an event in one's life can be. What I mean by that is this stress and anxiety comes to me at any point there is something new. If I have the same routine each day nothing is new. If nothing is new then there is now anxiety because everything is known. Of course this isn't to say that going to a new place to eat creates this current level of pressure I have, but as I pointed out in my entry, http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/05/fear-before-storm.html the fear beforehand is often much worse than the event itself. I don't remember what is in that entry, exactly, but whatever is feared in the future is the only thing that will be thought of. Think about that for a second because that is a statement to the extreme and I stand by my wordage of "only thing".

I am at that "only thing" stage. All other activities are on auto-pilot. The only thing that is being processed is the event that is not just hour days away. Perhaps, if this panel presentation goes well, and my book becomes a major success, I will look back on these lines of entries and laugh because this very well could be the event that changes my life. I hope it does because if my life changes then that means people will hear my message, read my words, and perhaps acquire hope for the future. Pressure? What pressure? Oh, Saturday, why must you be four days away?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Need For Perfection and Other Random Thoughts

Good morning from Richmond, Indiana. My weekend was so long that I was unable to make the drive back to home last night. I flagged the USAC .25 midget series race from Friday to Sunday for a total of 28 hours on track. It was long, but I am already looking forward to my next race with that series next year along with the SKUSA SuperNats in less than two months.

So, what does my title mean? One could take it as I am saying I need to be perfect, or that I am a perfectionist, but these assumptions would be wrong. Over the course of the weekend I thought back to my first race with the .25 series and I realized that, even though I was quite competent, there were holes in my flagging. Not big, but enough to make it difficult on myself. This weekend though I was automated in a way in that I got to the point of not needing to think.

What this title means is getting to the point of perfecting one's ability in any given thing. If I have to think about something then I am probably not going to do it correctly, or quickly. However, if I get to that point where I have perfected it, it becomes so easy thought is not required.

I know I am not going to be able to perfect every aspect of life as nobody can. This is important to realize! What is also important to realize is that if you know someone that is on the spectrum this trait could be there and if it is please realize that just because a person can do one thing exceptionally well doesn't mean other things, even if they seem to be easy, are.

During one of the breaks I was thinking about this and my skill I had at knowing my states and capitols in school. In first grade I was banned from taking part in the states and capitols game because I could not be beat. As easy as those came I don't think I was able to tie my own shoes until the fourth grade. Once I perfected the art of tying shoes I could do it without thought and doing it without thought is exactly how I recalled the capitols.

In other thoughts over the weekend I began to truly panic about next weekend. It is only five days away now. If  you haven't kept up on my blog I am a panelist at the USAAA World Conference this upcoming weekend and I am on a panel with Temple Grandin. Regardless of what you may say I know that the time on this panel, and my five minutes to speak, could prove to be the most important hour of my life. Most people have no idea who I am and this is a first impression, and don't they say you can't make a 2nd 1st impression?

In my panic I realize I need some new clothes and a new haircut (I compare my current hair style to that of a news anchor in the 80's). But what to get? When it comes to perfecting the art of style I still have at least 30 years of practicing before I even get close to understanding it.

This should prove to be an interesting week as it will have it all. There will be stress, panels, conferences, clothing talk, and more stress. It will be worth it I'm sure. In the mean time though I have a five hour drive in front of me and I'm sure I will practice my speech over and over again. If I can perfect it...

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Presentation to Remember

Prior to yesterday all my presentations had been with a PowerPoint presentation. I have been nervous to change from this because the PowerPoint is as important to me as it is to the audience because it keeps me on track. Yesterday, however, at the Missouri Association for Family and Community Education I would be flying solo.

There was a sizable crowd on hand (86) and I was nervous. Would I remember the points I needed to make? Would I remember anything? I had 45 minutes and I had to make sure I filled the time.

From the start as I stated, "Hello, I am Aaron Likens, Community Education Specialist for TouchPoint Autism Services." it seemed more natural than previous presentations with a PowerPoint. With the PowerPoint the presentation is very much on rails and I can't deviate from what is down the line.

Going into the presentation yesterday the ONLY thing I knew what I was going to say was my starting line. After that I didn't know. Would you say I was ill-prepared? Perhaps, but if I had thought about it I would have stressed to the point of being unable to do it anyway (much like the panel with Temple Grandin next week).

Being able to deviate was amazing. I felt as if my lines were more natural and not as prepared as they sometimes may seem. Being able to feed off of the laughter and compassion of the audience also made it better because I could change what I said and the order.

At certain times I felt like a stand up comedian with my witty lines and there was one instance that I had to wait for the laughter to subside before continuing with the lines that get people to care. Unlike the PowerPoint I had much more freedom to tug at heart strings and to tickle the funny bone and it was an amazing experience.

Afterwards I had many thanks and praises. I typically do, but these were deeper and as sincere as sincere can get. "I never knew what it was like" and, "You know, I think my (insert extended family member here) may be on the spectrum" were lines I heard. On top of that I heard the most important line of all with one woman saying, "What can I do to help?"

Moving forward I may try to do more presentations without the PowerPoint. If you'd have told me that I would be saying that a week ago I would have flat out laughed at you, but here I am. I don't know about you, but I would call that growth.

As for me now, I am headed to Eldora Speedway to flag the USAC .25 series. Starting on Saturday you will be able to watch all the racing action live on the internet at ustream.tv and search for USAC.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Stormy Night in April

After exchanging some texts with Emily yesterday my memory was refreshed and I wanted to share this story that clearly illustrates the, "I do therefore you should too" rule.

In was the middle of the evening in the month of April back in 2002. I was busy working at the video game store preying on unsuspecting customers getting them to buy things they may or many have not needed (I was an amazing sales person. I thank all the years of playing Monopoly). Being in a windowless store in the mall I had no idea of the storm that headed into town.

When it became 9PM we closed and on this night we were out the door at 9:04! This third key manager simply didn't care about accurate close down procedures and I was fine with this because Emily was going to come over and I believe we were either going to watch "From the Earth to the Moon" or play Scrabble.

As I got into my car I could see the lightning to the West and as I got onto the interstate I was truly scared because I have never seen cloud movements so drastic before. The clouds were moving almost straight down ahead of this storm and as I took my exit the bottom fell out of the sky and it rained like I had never seen rain before.

The rain was blinding so my trip was going slow. I had called Emily to let her know when I was leaving work and she said that she would be leaving 10 minutes after I left the store, so I still was going to beat her to my house by 20 minutes.

The rain let up and I started driving at a normal pace, but has I turned onto a road near my house I hit a huge patch of standing water. Instantly I lost all electronics and the engine died. I barely avoided a light pole and managed to stop my car before ruining someone's yard.

This was my first experience with a dead car. You may think that all I had to do was use my cell phone and all would be better, but I didn't have a cell phone at the time.

I was about 3/4ths of a mile so I kept trying to start my car, but my car ignored the fact that I was turning the key. I knew Emily would be getting to my house in 10 minutes so I got out of my car and ran to the road that I first showed her how to get to my house.

As soon as I made it to the intersection where I thought she would be it started to rain just like it did at first. A soaking rain would not give my experience justice as it was a drowning rain. If that wasn't bad enough the sky started having streaks of lightning across it.

Minutes crawled by. "Where is she" I said aloud hoping that my words would be heard by someone, anyone. These roads usually had traffic on them, but with the weather and the time the roads were empty. I walked back into the street to look at my car which was about 1/4th of a mile away and I thought that maybe I should try restarting it.

I ran as fast as I could to my car always looking back to see if I could see her car, but no car was seen so I put the key into the ignition and... nothing.

I ran faster now to the intersection where I expected her and waited... and waited... and waited.

There was no way for me to tell time, but it seemed like I had been playing at the intersection of Wherry and Neosho for longer than should legally be allowed by law. Home was a g=half mile away, but I couldn't bear to leave this spot even though by this time I could not get any wetter from the rain.

Eventually I gave in and figured Emily had a horrific car wreck, or just forgot about getting to my house (she was typically late, but no this late). As I started walking towards home the rain, somehow, became heavier and I was starting to get cold, angry, and irate.

I got close to home and as I neared the crest of Nottingham Ave I saw her black car sitting in front of my house. Emily was at my house, but how? I had a stakeout a police officer would have been proud of.

I climbed the steps and looked into the house to see my mom and Emily having a nice conversation with no worries on their face. I then looked at the clock and saw it was 10:30!

Happiness was not in my vocabulary as I walked into the house and the two of them seemed to not care that I was doing an impression of a dripping sponge. "Does anyone know where I have been the last 70 minutes?" I asked with no response from them.

After explaining my story in detail I found out Emily had decided, because it was raining, to take a different way to my house. "Why?!" I asked, "If you go one way one time one should always go that way!" I was not diagnosed at the time, and I wish I had been and understood this about myself because I could not get over the fact that a different way was taken.

I don't take different routes. If I take a road the first time it will be taken the second, third, and hundredth time. At this point in my life I expected everyone to follow the same rules I did. This led to a heated debate as I could not understand and I became angry vocally towards her because I simply could not understand why she wanted to take the "wrong" way to my house.

An hour later, I was finally dry so Emily drove me to my car. As luck would have it, I put the key into the ignition, turned it, and it started up with no issues. To make matters worse Emily asked me, "Are you sure you were turning the key before?" I didn't respond and probably it was a good thing I didn't.

So that's the story of the storm night in April back in 2002. This story is a great illustration of Asperger syndrome and perhaps I understated the amount of ire I felt that night. Because I didn't have the diagnosis and never thought about it I did think everyone lived by my rules. This story has me thinking on just what my life might look like if I had been diagnosed earlier. Perhaps the negative emotions I felt, or at least the level of them, could have been reduced and maybe my mind would have been more open to the fact that people may take different roads. And then again, why would someone want to take the "wrong" way? Okay, I still don't get it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Toe Drag and Fun With Door Frames

I have never been the best at walking. If there is something on the ground that can be tripped upon I will find it. I never knew why until I thought about it today, and it is a combination of things, but the #1 reason is the toe drag.

To the right is a picture of my shoe. I have had this pair for just a couple weeks and already the top of the toe area is showing signs of my toe drag.

I never knew I did this until I started wearing dressy black shoes. This is my third pair of these type of shoes this year! Within a couple months the tops of my shoes look like they were tossed out of a moving car.

Why is this? Why is it that I destroy my shoes? Obviously it is the toe drag, but what causes it? I can have 100 paces with no sliding of the top of my foot and then WHAM! a toe drag.

I have thought about this answer for a while and it has many different answers. The first one is that walking takes up so much subconscious mental power. Think about it, do you think about each step you are going to take? Do you go, left, right, left, right? Probably not. Come to think of it, and I have not had this thought until writing this sentence, my walking is much like my talking. How so? When I talk in a conversation I often combine words. My mind is going so fast that I will mesh words together. I wonder if that's what happens when I walk; my mind will be thinking about what's next that my steps sort of get meshed together which doesn't allow for a proper step thus dragging my toes.

There's more to this than just the toe drag because walking, in general, is a challenge for me. Small ledges on the ground, door frames, and small animals under my feet are all steep challenges for me to avoid. One time I smashed my shoulder into a door frame and someone said, "Why did you walk straight into it?" And I said that I thought I was clear by a mile. It was as big of shock to me as it was for the person who saw me walk straight into it.

It always angers me when I am out in public and people leave things that could be tripped over in dangerous places. I was at a movie once and the staff left one of those roller cleaners on the stairs. For someone like me that is dangerous at any time, but with the lights off it becomes dangerous for everyone. Because of my toe drag and spacial relations issue I have had to become hyper-vigilant to notice when things are in my way because I will find them, and trip over them, if I don't.

There's only so much thought that we can put to any task. My mind pushes the limit each day as I think about anything and everything. This being the case walking and moving sort of becomes a second tier task. Be it the toe drag, or door frames, all the world is a hurdle for me and while I have avoided falling for a good while I still am in need of a new pair of shoes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

iRacing, a confusing answer, and a black flag

While this subject line may seem to have no relevancy to the autism spectrum I assure you it does and looking back on it I can laugh because it is just a classic example of the, "I think therefore you know" line.

I joined iRacing last year after many years of racing on the Xbox. iRacing is a PC motorsports simulator that is a near exact replica of the sport of racing. It's so realistic that iRacing has a method for a person to protest another driver! Gaming has never been so intense!

So, last year my first several races were in the Legends car which race on ovals. The rules are pretty cut and dry as there are two warm-up laps and then the race starts and you keep going until the finish. There are no yellow flags in that series so there are no confusing areas.

After some races on the oval I decided to try the road racing rookie series which is a Pontiac Solstice. This is where our story gets interesting.

During all my first races I was using Xbox Live to communicate with Ryan who was giving me advice by saying, over and over again, "just don't wreck!". As the start time for the Pontiac Solstice race got within a minute I asked a very important question, "Can I jump the start?"

Never before has a simple question led to so much debate. Ryan told me, "No, you can't jump it". How did I take that answer? In a lot of video games it is impossible to jump the start. As the red lights turn on in some games the driver can go full throttle in gear and the car won't move until the race has started. So, from Ryan's answer, I took this as fact.

In my Solstice race the red lights turned on, I shifted into gear and floored it... and instantly rammed the car in front of me. On top of that the spotter in the game notified me that I had been black flagged for jumping the start.

I was furious. "Ryan, you said I couldn't jump the start!" He responded with something along the lines, "I told you that you shouldn't jump the start.

See the issue here? My question was somewhat vague, but I knew what it meant. Because I knew what it meant everyone knew what it meant. The end result was a crumpled front end of my virtual Solstice and a penalty.

This story has been repeated so many times in my life. I will ask a question that can be taken two ways, but I know what it means and whomever answers it usually gives the wrong answer. In my defense Ryan should have said, "Yes you can jump it, but you will get a penalty." In Ryan's defense I should have just known that jumping was possible because iRacing is made by the same guy who made my favorite game ever, Grand Prix Legends.

So the debate continues on. I still, from time-to-time, will still jokingly blame Ryan for that bad race. What needs to be learned from this is that I should ask more precise questions and others should give more precise answers to me. If left in that middle ground I will usually not ask for clarification and I usually take the wrong meaning leading to hijinks and crumpled up virtual Solsti (What is the plural of Solstice? Solsti sound cool, but is porbably incorrect.)

As with most events in my life I am glad this happened because it sheds just a little more light on this thing called Asperger Syndrome. Have I made the same mistake since? Yes, but at least I was able to identify it and explain it whereas before I had no clue, but now I can simply state this is another example of, "I think therefore you know"

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Amazing Weekend

It may be Monday, but I still have the same grin on my face as I had during the weekend. It was amazing!

Friday afternoon I left Saint Louis to head to Columbus, Ohio to flag the USAC .25 Midget race. The drive to Columbus was long as my upcoming panel I am on with Temple Grandin at the USAAA world conference dominated my thinking. It would not be a lie if I said it was the only thing I thought about.

By the time I got in Indianapolis (about halfway to Columbus) I was exhausted from the internal run-around my mind was doing. I kept trying to decide what I will say, but nothing felt right and traffic was dense so nothing positive came from my continuous debate on what to say.

As the Indiana/Ohio border neared I got hungry so I left the interstate and got off in Richmond. Unbeknownst to me as I neared the Wendy's, I would, as I was eating, realize that this was the exit I had my 2nd ever book signing at back in April 2009. I really wanted to drive the extra mile to visit the Hastings store, but the road was under construction and traffic was snarled up so I didn't go, but it was a fresh reminder of just how far I have come, in regards to confidence, since that book signing.

I got to Columbus and found my way to the track where set up was underway. I breathed two sighs of relief as I made it there because 1. I stopped thinking about what to say on that panel and 2. I was back at a USAC event.

Worrying is something I am good at and ever since that one bobble at Indy during the Battle at the Brickyard (http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-5-seemingly-unavoidable-hurdles.html) I was worried I would never be working at a USAC ever again. I'm glad I was wrong!

It may have only been my 2nd event, but arriving at the track and being with the other staff felt natural to me. I know I have said this a lot, but having confidence is vital and I had it. In any new situation I am going to be quiet, shy, timid, and probably a little frightened. But, should I survive the first situation I will start building confidence up. Sometimes this is fast, sometimes this is slow, perhaps painfully slow, but with each time my movements become more natural and all the small things that set me back will slowly become transparent.

Because this was a race track and the USAC staff and organization are top notch the transition time was just one event. I was at home, or rather Kansas for those that know that meaning, and it may have been Friday night but I was already counting down the minutes until Saturday morning when racing would take place.

Sleep came easy as I was exhausted from all my internal debate and the morning came and I was anxious to go. All the worries I had in July about race procedure and the like were gone. I knew the program, I knew what was expected of me, I knew the lingo and I was ready to go. From the start of practice I was comfortable and confident and having just an amazing time.

Saturday on the .25 track went by quickly and Saturday night started. Columbus Motor Speedway has the .25 track as well at the big track on the grounds. Saturday night the USAC National Midget Series was in action as well as the Midwest Ford Focus Midget series and the Focus Young Guns series. The guy who hired me for the .25 race told me that I might be doing some flagging that night, but he left the .25 track before I had a chance to catch up with him so I was in a fog as to what to do.

5PM and came I rolled my flags up, put them in my bag, and walked to my car. I could see the big USAC semi-truck so I walked in that direction hoping I would see the person who would give me direction. Cars were already practicing on the big track so he was up in the tower talking to the drivers on track via a one-way radio.

I had many options I could do but didn't know what the right one was. I could ask any of the staff around the trailer, I could use a radio, or I could try a text message on my phone. Ten minutes of debate happened as I stood in the trailer with a look that stressed just how lost I was. I did crack a smile when I realized that most people probably don't get into these situations of not knowing what to do. Well, perhaps they do, but they then know how to get out of it. Myself, in this situation, had no confidence because I had never been in this situation at this track.

Did you see what happened here? I went from knowing everything at the .25 track, to an environment where I didn't know the unspoken rules and protocols and was instantly set back. In my presentations I state that "Kansas" is that place that I feel the most comfortable and am not paralyzed. However, if I take one step, just one tiny step, out of Kansas and I do become paralyzed. This was one of those tiny steps.

So I continued to worry about what to do and I had the text already written, but I didn't know if he'd be angry if I sent it.

A car spun and the yellow came out in a practice session so I quickly grabbed my phone and sent the text. Would he read it seeing he was busy? I agonized and within seconds I had a response, "grab a radio and go to the flag stand". If you've seen happiness before you may need to reset your criteria because I was beaming with happiness.

I already had a radio and in no time at all I walked past the grandstands and up to the flag stand where Tom Hansing was presiding over the track.

It was great to be back in the flag stand with Tom as it brought back all the happy emotions that you may have read about on here during the end of the month of May when I first made it to the flag stand. Tonight though I would have one division that I would be the flagman for and as happy as I was I was also nervous. Well, I'll admit I was terrified.

In just minutes my division was on track and Tom said, "It's all yours" and I took the position next to the light switches and held my breath. It was like starting over again. 15 years experience and it was like my first time. I wanted to panic, but didn't and I heard over the radio, "Okay Aaron, wind them up" and with that I changed the track lights from yellow to green and waived the green flag., That moment has to be one of my proudest moments ever.

At the end of the session I waived the checkered and then turned on the yellow lights. All cars passed me and I was so ecstatic that I didn't screw up that I, well, screwed up in a way. The yellow flag is supposed to be displayed so if any of the drivers forgot what was going on they would get the picture, but I was already switching places with Tom and didn't display it. Rookie mistake that I won't make again.

The night progressed and all the timidness and fearfulness I had assisting Tom in Indy were gone. Like clockwork the flags went from my hands to his, then his hands to mine and being part of a team is something I typically am not good at (see April's http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/lets-go-me-oops-i-mean-lets-go-team.html) but this felt natural.

My division's feature came up and it was time for me to go back into the flagging position. The nerves struck once again as I thought about how to use the lights (i.e. is green up? or is yellow up on the switch?) and all the other facets of the job that need to be done perfectly.

As the field entered the backstretch Tom told me, "This is going to be a flying start" and he was right as the field was full throttle way before the point where they are supposed to start. I displayed the green as dull as could be and then went yellow so the start could be done properly. I survived my first waived off start.

After a stern warning the next start was perfect and the race went by quickly as there were no yellow flags and before I knew it the race was over. We got the trophies down to the track and as soon as the cars rolled towards the exit gate Tom and I were done.

Saturday was an amazing day as I was working non-stop from 8:30AM to 9:45PM minus the fifteen minutes I worried about what to do.

As easy as sleep came the night before I was out instantly as I had another full day of racing to work on Sunday as the A-mains of the .25 series had to be run.

I had help on Sunday as Tom stayed in Columbus to help out at the event so I suggested that we simply alternate races and that's what we did. How cool is that though? To other people this probably would be nothing, but racing is everything to me and here I am trading races with one of the IZOD IndyCar series starters.

I knew how awesome this was for me and I had a thought; I told myself that I would write a really long blog post so years from now I can relive it, but secondly I told myself that there's probably many people that would love to do what I was doing and that I need to cherish every second of it. That means every second then, and every future event I do. Not that I won't of course, but I realized just how special that job is.

The racing action was great throughout the day and as mid afternoon came no more cars were lining up in the staging area and the last event finished. It was over. Typically I'd be sad, but the best part of this story? I get to do it all again next weekend at the .25 race at Eldora Speedway! I can't wait!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moments from hitting the road

According to Mapquest my trip will be 6 hours and 44 minutes. Typically a trip like this would elate me, but right now I feel sluggish. Normally I would have had everything packed and ready to go last night, but I didn't have the energy.

What's going on? The same thing that always happens when one thing dominates my thoughts. I am so excited, nervous, and anxious for the panel I will be on with Temple Grandin on October 2nd that my mind is traveling at a speed that makes everything else harder.

What is my mind doing? I have started my eight minute talk in my head at least 1,000 times now with no clear cut winner as to what I will say. I'm sure anyone, if they have an event like the one I will have, will be a bit nervous, but for me my mind has gone into hyper-drive and will not yield to anything else.

Is this normal? 100% yes! Last year when I had my presentation at the Missouri NEA Conference I had the same emotions beforehand. That was just ten months ago, yet with all the presentations I have done it seems like it was at least a decade ago.

What can be learned from this? I had this same problem in school, and actually have had this problem anytime there was something out of the norm in the near future. School projects, such as a diorama, or a big writing project (believe it or not I hated to write when I was in school) would see me get sluggish and snippy. In other words, and this is probably obvious, anytime something new, and possibly important, is on the horizon the chances for this feeling go up.

"But aren't you excited at this chance?" you may ask. Oh, most certainly! It's just that emotions and the processing of them take their toll. You know that feeling on a roller coaster as the cars are going up at a slow pace and the anxiety of the impending drop? It sort of feels like that, but I never get to the drop and I stay on that uphill slope with the emotions staying with me. Over time it just wears on a person.

Does it get better? Once a task is completed, like my first presentation last year, each presentation afterwards becomes easier and easier. I no longer have adrenaline shoot through my system before a presentation. It feels natural now. This upcoming one is different because it is a panel, but also I don't think the panel could be any bigger in terms of who is on it.

There should be a break from the emotions this weekend as I travel to Columbus, Ohio to flag the USAC Quarter-Midget race there. This is the same series you may have read about that took place during my Sunglasses Experiment and I am so thankful to be able to work with them again.

Should anything happen on my drive, or if I have any thoughts that deserve writing I will be updating my blog this weekend so long as the hotel has Wi-Fi. Speaking of hotel, I better find the address of where I am going. See, the old me would have had that printed and programmed into the GPS days ago.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Moment I Knew I Made It

A shocking thing happened to me two days ago. When it happened I was filled with so many emotions that I didn't really know what had just happened. "A dream?" I said to myself, but it was no dream.

Two days ago I was in my new office area and I had an e-mail in the junk folder. It was from the United States Autism and Asperger Association (USAAA). It was a newsletter and the conference I knew I was a panelist on is coming up on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of October. Because of this I opened the e-mail and almost fell out of my chair debating if it was a dream or not.

I knew I was going to be on a panel since March, but didn't really know what that meant. I have been so busy that I never gave it much thought. The only thought I did have was a panel that maybe says one word, two if their lucky. In other words, I was clueless as to what a panel like this was.

Regaining my composure took a couple minutes as I stared at this newsletter that was on my computer screen. I looked around to see if there was anyone to show, but there wasn't. Joy, elation, and fear all bounced around my body like young children on Christmas.

What had me so joyful, elated, and fearful all at the same time? On my computer screen, in that newsletter, was the names of the people on the panel. Stephen Shore, Michael McMannon, and Temple Grandin! What went from just being a panel in the future quickly turned into an event of utmost importance. Not that it wasn't important beforehand, but now, well, all my presentations have been solo and now I am on the same panel as the pioneer and most important figure in the field.

As fast as I was joyful and elated I became fearful because, "Who am I?" Judging my works and what I have done in Missouri is hard, if impossible, for me to do. Two nights ago TouchPoint had a "Night at the Magic House" which was a free event for families with children on the autism spectrum and I was amazed at how many people knew me from seeing me somewhere. Many people thanked me for giving them hope and insight into their child, but even after that I still kept asking, "Who am I?"

Reality still hasn't set in. In just three Saturdays I will be on that panel. I will have eight minutes to state my story. What do I say? There's so much! The panel is the "Self Advocacy, Experiences, Perspectives, and Challenges" so I have a wide range I could talk on. I know my mind is going to be thinking on this all the way to the time I am on that panel.

I never fully allowed myself to think that I would ever get to that level. Something like that is an event that happens to other people, but certainly not to me. Is it a dream? It feels like one because, as fearful as the event may be and the anxiety over what to say is great, I think I can say I have made it. My voice will be heard and perhaps instead of worrying about "Who am I?" I should focus on my presentation and state "Who I am".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Following > Leading

There is a billboard that I saw in a video game that was at the Sebring race track. The billboard stated that "Lead > Follow". In a race I would agree 100%, but everywhere else I argue that this is false.

I moved offices this week and am now in the opposite corner of the building. I no longer have a traditional office and now have someone that works behind me. This led to a revelation that following is, in fact, better than leading.

For all my life I have tried to put myself in positions of following. My favorite place in the classroom was the far corner, when I walk with someone I always follow, and in restaraunts I will always put my back to the rear so I can see the entire place. Why do I do this? I feel there is control in following.

If I am in the front I don't have control. If I have a person behind me I can't see them and my mind has to always process what the person behind me is doing. Because I can't see them my mind is caught in a trap of a never-ending processing game of trying to guess what the person is doing. Are they looking at me? What's their mood? Are things about to change? What was that noise?

I have a high need to know what is going to happen next and by following someone, or being in a position to see the entire room, I have control. If I am walking somewhere I will always follow. Why is this? If I am leading I may have to decide which way to walk should a fork in the road be met. If someone comes up to talk to us I will be the front man. By relinquishing control I have control.

This isn't to say I am a control freak. I have to limit the type of control to keep my anxiety level low. I wonder what my younger school years would have been like if I was always in my optimal spot. I do know in 7th grade when all the desks were arranged in squares of four I had a hard time because I was always looking one person straight on while everyone else was behind me. That was not a good year!

Perhaps we all try to control our environment to a certain degree. We all have comfort zones and situations that make us uncomfortable. Furthermore, I am sure other people on the spectrum would rather lead as to not worry that the other person is there. In other words, whatever the case may be, in may be amplified in a person on the spectrum.

I am adjusting right now as I do have people behind me while I write this. I have had to use all my mental power to write while tuning out the words I can hear. When I was in school I was unable to do that so I have more control than I used to. That may be here, but should we ever be walking somewhere I will not be out front. There is control in following so I will always say, "lead the way".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My return to the alley and attept to stay out of the gutter

Last night I felt whole again. For one complete year something felt missing on Monday nights. No, it wasn't the return of Monday Night Football to the television, but rather my return to bowling on a league.

I started bowling in 1998 because, per my home school curriculum, I needed a physical activity. I always enjoyed bowling beforehand, so before I knew it I was on a league.

Bowling may have been as equal as an obsession as racing when I was really young. I think I wore out several VCR's by watching and rewatching taped PBA tournaments. To me, it was pure sensory bliss watching the spinning ball collide with the pins and watching the pins go flying. It still is!

I bowled on the junior leagues for three years and I feel these years were critical in my life. Being home schooled I had zero chances at socializing. Add on top of the fact that I didn't really want to socialize and the ingredients were there for me to go fully isolated. Bowling, however, forced me into social situations and slowly (painfully slow) I started to talk to me junior teams.

Last week I had the story of how I met Emily and this was from meeting her at bowling. Being at the bowling alley truly was my only outlet for social situations. I enjoyed this and it was easier for me to talk at the bowling alley because of the flow of the game.

In each book I have written I talk about the importance of my "game theory" in that it is easier for me to socialize when an event, like a game, is the centerpiece of the activity. I may still be reserved, or as I do now complete the South County Times crossword puzzle, but I do interact. When I first started I didn't talk at all and for ten week my team and I didn't say one word to each other. It was SO awkward! My mom felt sorry for us.

Over time it became easier and in 2001 Emily and I moved up to the adult leagues. We bowled on the same team on Monday nights and I joined a scratch team on a late league on Wednesday nights. Those late nights at Sunset Lanes are some of my happiest times because, during those years of the early and mid 2000's, I didn't talk to too many people except at bowling. Those nights at bowling made me feel so close to fully normal.

2004 was a rough year for me because Emily and I were no longer together and I was worried that I would lose the team I was on for Monday nights. Thankfully she decided to bowl elsewhere and I kept my team. Because of this my routine didn't feel out of whack and when the season started back up all was right with the world.

I was getting better and better as a bowler and kept flirting with a perfect game. All I wanted was a 300, but I kept getting, what in my mind is the most depressing score in bowling, 279's. In 2005 I broke through and had a chance at a perfect game. I had the first 11 strikes and all I needed was one more to achieve bowling immortality. My shot was good despite the adrenaline and increased heart rate (seriously it felt as if all my veins were going to burst) but the pin that I loathe the most remained after the chaos of the ball hitting the pins. The 10 pin was still standing and I was sure it was laughing at me. I would get a ring for my 299 game, but perfection would have to wait.

That season of 2005-2006 had me get two more 299's, but in the first week of the next season it happened. A 300! I always joked that once I got a 300, and my ring to go along with it, I would retire from bowling, but I thought about this and realized if I did I would never leave the house, so I continued on.



In 2007 I had a racing crash in a kart and went through a steel fence. My right hand took a huge hit and over the next two years my wrist started to hurt greatly. My average went from 215 to 210, to 205, to 180! I used to be really smooth and precise, but now my shots were labored. I used to have a real nice hook, but now I barely had the strength to throw the ball without dropping it. I was miserable, but I kept bowling because I needed the interaction with people.

With one week to go before the 2009-2010 season I made my mind up. I would sit out a year because it simply hurt too much. Writing on the computer was getting hard and I had to start using my left hand to use the mouse (I still do out of habit now). My wrist needed a break and it was one of the hardest decisions I ever did, but I did and Monday nights were a fog.

The first Monday I was home during the bowling season was one of the roughest nights of my life. Perhaps I am luck if I can say something that would seem so minor to you would be bad for me, but because I am so routine based I truly was lost. It felt weird to be ale to hear the commentators on Monday Night Football. It was weird to be home before 9. Most of all, it was weird knowing that bowling was going on without me and that I had no one to talk to in person.

With each passing Monday I became more and more acclimated to my new schedule. I didn't like it and I dreamed of the times that used to be. I realized just how much I took my previous routine for granted. After a decade of bowling the sport became mundane and I didn't cherish the interactions, but by mid December I wanted nothing more than to go back.

I subbed on a team twice in March and I felt like an alien in the bowling alley I had bowled at for so long. I was nervous that the place would have changed and not be the way I remembered it. I was so scared about this, but after one of the three games that night I felt back at home.

Last night was my return to a team. It wasn't the team that I had bowled on for so many years from 2001-2009, but it is a team I had bowled with on Wednesday nights in the early league (for three years I was on three leagues!) so I felt at ease and welcome.

This entry may have been long, but it is, to me, very important as I didn't realize the importance of just one socializing event a week. Last season I didn't have a job and I became extremely depressed, especially on Monday nights, because of the lack of personal interactions. As bad as last year was this year is just as good. Once again I cherish the sport and the interactions. Bowling is once again a sport and not a chore. I may still do the South County Times crossword, but I am still there, part of a team, and loving every minute of it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Aspie's Dream

Last week I wrote about my experience being apologized to for having Asperger Syndrome. This led to a lot of emotions and it got me to thinking about the fact that I am probably not the first to have this happen to them. Furthermore, how many parents have said that their child has autism and then they were apologized to? All week I thought about this and it has inspired this:

I want everyone to know that, for the most part, I am happy. It is my dream that people learn this. I may have some challenges, but I am not defective. I don't deserve or need your pity and am happy being me.

There are times when the world tries to get me to fit in, and sometimes I try, but there are other times when a social situation may be too much for me. I have had situations in the past where I have been called weird or odd for not trying to fit in. It is my dream that the world begins to not only know about us on the autism spectrum, but begins to understand us.

We have a lot to learn from each other. I look at, sometimes completely perplexed, how two random people can have a random conversation. I know others look at me, completely perplexed, when I get excited about a random fact that I recall about auto racing or when I have the ability to learn some new obscure facts. It is my dream that the world comes to realize that socializing can be difficult the same way it would be for you to recall minute details from the 1992 Indianapolis 500. We are the same, but different.

It is my dream that I never get apologized to again. This can only come from understanding. Being on the spectrum isn't something to look down upon! Yes, it has its challenges, but it has its blessings. Each person is unique and let's cherish the uniqueness and not look down upon it. To be apologized is to tell me, or parents of a person on the spectrum, that I am defective and something is really wrong with me. In my mind an apology like this is reserved for something really horrible and I don't see it that way and I hope, and dream that, eventually, all will see this.

I dream what everyone else dreams about. I want to have a full, productive life. I want a family, a career, and the ability to live my life to the fullest. Some people seem to think that an autism label is the end and that to dream such things is a waste of time. No dream and no person is a waste of time. Yes, we may need to work harder at some things, but if we're not given a chance then how can we succeed? There is so much potential in a mind on the spectrum, but if not given the chance how can one dream of the things that I dream about?

Finally, my biggest dream is the day where the word autism doesn't draw a repulsive reaction for those who aren't affected by it. Autism has to be one of the most misunderstood conditions, but understanding is coming. I haven't had to debate someone on what autism is for quite sometime and when I say Asberger people don't think of a food item or Olympic venue (sad, but true!). Everything in this world started as a dream, and my dream was already started by countless thousands of people before me and I hope I can do my part in fulfilling it. I know I am not alone in my dream and all of us can do some part in educating some one, whether it is a school, politicians, or a random person in a grocery store. I feel the world is listening and is open to learning about us. In all reality there isn't that much that separates us; we're all people, we all have dreams, and for us on the spectrum we just have different traits. We have feelings, we can be scared, and most of all we just want to be understood. This is my dream.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Chance Meeting: 10 Years Later

Back in July I wrote about the emotions that were evoked on the anniversary of a chance meeting with someone in Minneapolis. I knew that person for just several months (read the story at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-i-will-never-forget.html) and the lingering emotions are nothing compared to the emotions experienced today.

I am very much a prisoner to dates. What that means is anniversaries are difficult for me because the emotions get felt anew just like the first time. Add on top of the fact that I am also a prisoner to 5's and 10's (i.e. 5 years later and 10 years later are much harder for me) so today is a difficult day.

Okay, I've said a couple times today is difficult, but haven't said why, so here is why. 10 years ago today I met Emily (full story is in my book). The meeting shouldn't have happened because I didn't have a bowling team and didn't really know if I wanted to bowl with some random people, but on the start date on the league I showed up, and I had no idea who I was bowling with as I did not recognize the name, but I did know I was bowling on lane #1.

I was early and sat and waited. Would they pair me with some five year old (I was still in the junior leagues at this time) that had trouble rolling the ball to the pins? Would my team be excessively loud? Oh the questions and being 45 minutes early I had plenty of time to ponder what was about to happen.

Of all the things I pondered I did not account for the fact that someone like Emily would be there. She walked down the stairs and I froze. She then proceeded to my table and sat down and I went three stages past freezing. If I could do a video blog of the way this looked I am sure a dictionary website would use this example as "awkward".

What happened next was of pure panic. I knew I had to say something, but opening statements are not a skill I have. "Um, what to do? what to do, what to do?" was the panic question. The next move would shape the next 35 week bowling season.

Silence persisted and we kicked awkward to a new level. Make that several levels. Fifteen minutes passed and finally, mercifully, I caved in and reached my hand out for a handshake and introduced myself. I have wondered then, as I do now, if that was a weird way to introduce myself.

The awkwardness subsided over the next few weeks and eventually I managed to get her e-mail address. Then, a month after that, I got her phone number and on that first night have having her phone number it took me three hours to dial that last number. I easily dialed the first six numbers, but that last number was ever elusive.

Eventually I did call and over the next three months I had to debate her that there was nothing wrong with us being together (she thought all sorts of horrible things would come to her because she was 19 and I was 17). That right there should have told me something was askew, but I forged on in my debate.

Eventually her fears were quelled and she and I became official. The summer of 2001 saw us go to Six Flags at least twice a week, and we were a staple at the movie theater. While we did many things together that was pretty much all we did. There was minimal conversations outside of what we were doing at that point in time. Emotional conversations were limited to, well, they were limited to existence because there were none.

She and I bowled, went to movies, played an occasional round of mini-golf (I tried to teach her how to swing a full size club to the annoyance of her and proved I should never teach someone how to do something. My response to her, "I can do it, why can't you?" Oh, life before diagnosis!) but never did anything outside of those events.

I said we became official, but I don't think either of us knew, exactly, what we were. She was her and I was out of tune to everything about my emotions (I didn't realize and understand emotions until I started writing). Because of this there was always a disconnect between us and it was eroding away at our friendship.

Today, 9/10/2010 all these emotions and the pain of wanting something emotional are felt just like they were on each day I was at bowling with her, or Fortel's Pizza Den. The pain I felt then grew and grew and eventually I did the only thing that made logical sense to me and that was, on Christmas 2003, I broke up with her, on Christmas, via text message. I use this example in my presentations to show the lack of skill in judging social results, and I do tell it in a somewhat humorous way because I am glad that this happened because I was able to identify this. Today though it isn't humorous. I know I was desperately seeking something emotional, and all I wanted was to her to call me after I sent that text to protest it and to say she fully enjoyed the time we had and that she didn't want to lose it. Instead of a call back all I had was a sleepless night waiting for the phone to ring. It never did.

Since that fateful night I have replayed the three years I was with her. It has gotten much easier over time and I can joke about the disaster that was our relationship. I dedicated my book, Finding Kansas, to her because without that disaster, without that huge emotional train wreck, I would not be who I am.

I have talked to her only twice on the phone since the end of the 2003-2004 bowling season. I have communicated with her many times via text message, and after my run in with the horse in 2008 I talked to her and found out she too had an accident in her car. She though was not lucky and sounded like she has some lingering after effects. Other than that I don't know how she is doing and I do ponder it for a second or so everyday. Today though, well, 10 years ago today I met the person that turned me into what I am today. Without her there would be no blog, no book, and I would probably be a depressed, isolated person angry at the world that he didn't make it in the world of auto racing. How can I thank her? I don't know if I can thank her personally, but it is that train wreck that I had that motivates me to keep going and to keep defining aspects of the autism spectrum. If I was diagnosed ahead of time I would have known and would the result have been different? I don't know, but at least I would have understood what elements were in play, and so would she and perhaps a nuclear catastrophe of that Christmas could have been avoided.

I do think I am unable to thank her. It would be rude for me to send her a text saying, "Hey Emily, I just wanted to let you know that 10 years ago we met. Remember all the times we had? Oh, and remember that Christmas, yeah, those were the days". Okay, so I am not sending that text, but I can say, if she ever reads this or anything that I have done, that I am who I am because of her. Many people have learned something about the autism spectrum because of her. Without her I'd be nothing, and that statement, I think, is the ultimate thank you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The End of the Invasion

As fast as it seemed to begin it is now over. A few hours ago I drove Rob to the airport and it was over. My Canadian friend is on his way back to Canada and I am back at the office. This feels weird.

The fears I had about my routines and space in my house were greater than they actually were. In fact, I grew accustomed to the new schedules and new routines. When I say routines I am talking about nearly everything, all the way down to where people sat at the dinner table. At first it felt weird and I wanted to go eat elsewhere in another room because the order was askew, but in time (a day or so) I grew to accept the new order. It's weird that things will go back now.

I found it amazing how the adaptation to change progressed. I am rigid in my routine and I do the same things over and over again. This is made easy because, for the most part, I am alone, but during these two weeks my personal order had to be changed. I thought this would be impossible, but I once I grew to accept a small part of it more and more small changes occurred without me thinking about it.

Rob and I drove over 1,000 miles through Illinois while he was here and this too was weird because my car is not accustomed to a passenger. Truly there are times where one would be unable to see my passenger seat due to papers and cds on it. And the leg room area? That's where I keep my trash bag, but not for the past two weeks.

Driving all the miles we did made me feel like I was doing something that most people do and that is a college age road trip. Like I said, I do most things by myself and it was a weird, yet amazing feeling to be traveling with company. I think most people probably take others in their presence for granted, but try living like me and you will see just how much one person can create such a different feeling (this, of course, is if I want that person around me!).

It was nice to be able to constantly have conversations even though a lot of them were Rob commenting at just how flat Illinois is (remember, he comes from Vancouver where mountains are the norm). What was difficult though was always having to remember that I wasn't the only one in the car. That sounds like a simple task, but remembering that I would not be the only one hungry and I wouldn't be the only one to feel what the car's AC was set at.

There was one point in time at a gas station that we were both in line and I checked out first and I went to the car, unlocked it, started it, and just about drove off. I'm sure Rob would not have appreciated being left alone in the middle of Illinois, but it was so hard for me to constantly realize that I was not alone.

I don't want to drone on and on about the end of this invasion, but I found it amazing at how difficult it was for me to keep my mind centered on the fact that there was someone else around me. I noticed that I have always been this way, but this was the first time since being diagnosed in 2003 that I had someone around me for a long period of time.

Being able to identify this difficulty brought a smile to my face because I know I can explain it better now. It's not that I wanted to strand Rob in Illinois, but I am usually so deep in thought, and so used to being deep in thought, that I run on a sort of autopilot that doesn't have that great of an ability to process where other people are and what they may want. I knew this and I have written about it, but like I mentioned above, this is the first time I have had this happen since being diagnosed.

As much of a smile that I had then, and even writing the last few paragraphs, I have grown to wearing a frown for it is over. Rob is somewhere in the air and my room will be back to being mine and mine alone. I won't have to worry about annoying him, or waking him up in the morning, and I can go back to recruiting an army of soda cans as I forget to dispense of each one as I finish them. I can play what I want to play and watch what I want to watch without having to consider someone else and when Rob first got here I was sure I would be secretly counting down the days until he left because I was sure I was going to be unable to withstand the invasion, but I did withstand it and actually didn't mind it. What I thought I would secretly hope for will come true when I get home, but I am afraid. I will have complete freedom once again, but I will be alone again. Sure, I will be able to talk with him, and all my other friends over Xbox Live and I am sure we will dominate the rink on NHL 11, or the globe on Risk, but it will be impersonal again and actual people will be either a disembodied voice or represented by an avatar.

The invasion is over and I learned several things. Among them is that I must not be that annoying in person because Rob didn't punch me in the face for the entire two weeks (yay me!) and secondly I learned that I am able to sustain a friendship in person. Seven years is a long time to be alone, and this invasion may be over now, but instead of fearing the next one I will be looking forward to it, whenever it may be.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Renewing My Passion

Yesterday was a rough day. Events such as the one on Sunday usually don't get their full emotional impact until 24-48 hours after the fact. This has always been with me and I don't know if it is part of the autism spectrum, or unique to me, but once again I had that time lag and it was a rough day.

Why was it so rough? I could not let it go/ I could not accept the fact that I froze when I had a chance to change a person's perception of the autism spectrum. I also couldn't believe someone would apologize with such a look of despair on their face.

I had my week planned on my blog and had some interesting articles to write, and I'm sorry to keep this story going, but this has consumed me. This has been the only thing I have been thinking of, and now I can say it is a good thing.

If this event didn't happen I would not be feeling the way I have. For me, it is in these times of sadness that my passion for writing and speaking gets renewed. Someday, I hope, there will be no need for me to do what I do in terms of writing and speaking because the autism spectrum will be fully understood by the world. As much as I hope for this it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of work and perhaps this won't happen in my lifetime, but I'm going to try.

It is an event like the one on Sunday that reminds me that I am unique and that some people may not understand this. I went and read my entry entitled "Defining It" and realized that after this woman's apology I began to let it define me again. I was only as strong as what society would let me be, and being apologized to showed me that what I have must really be bad.

Today will be three days and I know now about this trap I fell into. I can't allow one person's remark to define who I am. I'm sure I will hear remarks like that again and again and it is these remarks that must keep me going. Understanding is the foundation of hope and if people don't understand then needless apologies may happen more often and those who are apologized to may fall into the trap I did of letting it define them.

So, once again, I'm ready for the world. Let's go!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm Only as Good as My Last Event

Of everything I deal with there is one thing I would change in a heartbeat if I had the chance and that would be my lack of being able to accept past successes. I see myself as only as good as what I have done in the short term.

Right now I am still being consumed by the "I'm sorry" comment. I know I could have responded better, but I froze. It is in this that I am reminded that I have Asperger Syndrome. Believe it or not, I don't spend every day thinking, "Hey I have Asperger Syndrome". I am only reminded when something occurs, like being apologized to for having it, and this is why I prefer to be alone. If I am alone I am simply myself and there is no chance of such reminders.

I have a negative outlook right now because of that experience I had. I feel as if giving up is the best course of action. Will I give up? No, but that's how I feel.

I can have success after success but all it takes is one hurdle that makes me stumble and I will question my ability to get the job done.

Looking back at my archive I have had an amazing year traveling the state and also fulfilling my dream and being in the flagstand for the races in May, but that doesn't matter now. All I want is to go back and give a better answer and not freeze on the apology comment.

This is an important concept to understand because other minds on the spectrum MAY share this trait. This trait is "whatever is now is the only thing that matters." It is hard, if not impossible to get my mind to change its outlook because the past is irrelevant (unless the past is the current thing that is the only thing that matters) and whatever is being thought of now is the only thing.

I have looked at my calendar and I see that I have presentations coming up including being on a panel at the USAAA conference, and that should be an amazing experience, but I am still stuck in turn three of the Rock Island Grand Prix and the emotions of not being able to respond to a simply apology. Well, I guess it wasn't simple because I am writing this now and everything else seems harder.

Readers from every continent will read this today, and I should feel some sense of pride or accomplishment to this, and normally I do, but again I am still in my corner, working the race, and feeling insignificant because someone felt the need to apologize for who I am and I was unable to respond.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"I'm Sorry." Why?

Over the past weekend I was the assistant race director at the Rock Island Grand Prix kart race, the largest street race in America, and had a most unique, and sad experience.

Several months ago, I posted an article titled, "I'm sorry..." in which I describe some of the social issues I know I have and still have issues with. This, sadly, is not a sequel to that article. This time I was not the one apologizing.

The Rock Island Grand Prix is one of my favorite race weekends because of how close the audience is. I am not sure at the actual numbers, but the numbers are in the multiple thousands. Why so many? As my photo I took in 2006 illustrates, the RIGP is a street race ran on public streets.

I am stationed in turn three and after one of the early races a spectator called me over to ask what my blue flag with orange stripe meant. I explained it and then she asked me if displaying the blue flag at street races was my day job.

This woman was in her mid 30's, give or take 13 years as I am awful at ages, and I figured this was going to be a "typical" conversation people have. How fast a conversation can change.

I told this woman that I am a Community Education Specialist for a non-profit in the the autism field in Saint Louis. She asked what that meant and I told her. She asked what makes me qualified to be in such a position and I told her that I am an author and that I am on the autism spectrum.

Her response? "I'm sorry."

I'm sorry? For what? I was taken aback by that comment and I was unable to respond. I don't know if I was offended or saddened. Whatever I was, I was frozen because no one as ever apologized or expressed sympathy to me for being on the autism spectrum, and they shouldn't.

Is there that big of a fear of the word "autism?" I had my sunglasses on and was making partial eye contact and the look on her face was one of true pity; like I was a disappointment or a defect.

Words eluded me. I just stood there oblivious as to what to say next. I now realize that was the prime opportunity to be a Community Education Specialist. But how does one react when one apologizes for who I am? I reacted by simply returning to my post some 10 feet away and waiting for the next race to start.

I now know what to say and that's why I am writing today. There is nothing to be sorry about! I am going to be honest and say that, yes, there are challenges, but other things come easy. Most of the time I am happy as can be and have a wonderful time lost in thought. There are times where the only word that can describe my perception of social situations would be "confused" but I have grown to accept this and am always challenging myself to become a little bit more adept at the art.

It is because of my Asperger's Syndrome that allows me to write. I have one semester of community college to my credit and there is no obvious reason as to why I am able to write at the quality and quantity that I do.

It is because of my Asperger's Syndrome that I have all the race official positions I have. My reflexes and ability to hyper-focus allows me to excel at these positions.

I am who I am and a part of me has Asperger's Syndrome. I see it as a strength, most of the time, so please tell me why you are sorry. It isn't that bad and I would not trade it in to be normal even if I were offered an insane amount of money.

If this perception of autism, this need for this woman to apologize, is prevalent then my job just become more important. I never once had any event like this happen, and now it has. Next time someone apologizes to me I will be ready and I will simply ask, "Why? I am happy as myself. Do you think I am wrong for being me?"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Q and A Friday: What's In a Name?

Today's video blog covers the ongoing debate on whether or not Asberger Syndrome will be in the DSM-V or if it will be consumed by simply calling everything the autism spectrum:

Coping With the Crossings

The name of my book is Finding Kansas and I assure you it isn't a geography lesson. My "Kansas" concept is a metaphor that states, "If you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas, where would you want to live?"

What does this mean? This means that a place/item/conversation/everything is either Kansas and everything is great, or it is extremely difficult or disinteresting. I try to immerse myself in Kansas and also try and make it where there aren't any metaphorical border crossings. This, of course, is impossible.

The invasion is still ongoing as Rob is still here in Saint Louis and yesterday I had two places that had a crossing. The first place was Steak n Shake which isn't surprising as ordering from a waiter is always a difficult task.

I have been comfortable talking around Rob, but as soon as it was time to order words became harder to say. Just a simple, routine event like having an interaction with a waiter can create a road right out of Kansas.

When this crossing happens I do get frustrated with myself. In my mind I should have no issue, but the fact is I do and having to order just floods my mind with so many thoughts. Add in the fact that waiters/waitresses always look directly at me and then I start thinking about eye contact and the end result is a order in a voice a zombie would be proud of because I become almost lifeless.

After Steak n Shake, and as I began to regain my confidence, we went across the street to Gamestop. I was hoping for a smooth experience here, as I had already experienced my out of Kansas experience for the day, but the road would drive me farther are farther away.

From the onset of our entry into the store a clerk talked to me and I was unable to gauge if it was a joke, a greeting, or an insult. As soon as I have to process something like that the whole experience is going to be tainted because it takes me time, and while I am thinking I miss everything that goes on around me and also become fearful because I am unaware of where I stand at that point in time. Where I stand means in terms of an invisible social scoreboard meaning how much I am liked or hated at that point in time because I always have to assess this.

I found what I was looking for and walked to the counter where once again I was joked with and was completely oblivious to it. The other worker finished off the joke by telling me, "See, I ask for good help and this is what I get." What does this mean? Why am I being included? Was it rhetorical? How do I respond?

Question after question was being asked in my mind and if my mind had a visible state it would have been a small, quivering child in a corner that was scared and crying. I was so overwhelmed and so confused that I wanted nothing more than to turn invisible and walk home without anyone knowing who I was or that I was even there.

After the purchase the clerk began a monologue of "insider information" regarding future system tactics and banishment of hackers. I may have been interested had I not already been completely derailed.

Rob was with me this entire time and he noted that I never once made any eye contact with the clerk. This clerk has seen me many times and I have always gone into the store alone, yet this clerk talked to Rob as if he were me and he too did not look at me at all and simply made eye contact with Rob.

During this monologue I tried to make it seem as if I were interested, and disinterested all at the same time. I am always afraid of being rude because I don't know what is and isn't rude. Would it have been rude had I just said, "Well, I gotta run?" I couldn't say that because it wasn't true, and I knew it wasn't true then he surely would not it wasn't true. One of my favorite quotes fits this, "I think therefore you should/already know"

Eventually there was a brief lull in the amount of information being given to us and we made our break. The after effects lasted a while though. I tried my best to hide it, but I know I was a couple notches further down the "edgy" dial.

It is quite difficult living with these constant border crossings. One minute I am able and the next I have no ability to be without fear. One minute I am a master at the art of conversations and the next I am unable to speak. One minute I move with ease, the next I am in a positional warfare.

Living with the knowledge that I may go out of Kansas is tough. I'm not going to lie about this. It is hard and I am afraid, but I will not let this define me. I have to make a conscious effort to do this because there is fear, and I know that if I never left the house the chances of me leaving Kansas would be slim. But, if I never left the house the borders of Kansas would be very small. Knowing that there is a vast world out there that has so many unique things to see, and knowing that I have a place out there makes it easier.

To put it better, my ultimate Kansas used to be auto racing and when I raced I had to leave the house to do so. Now, while racing still is very powerful in the world of Kansas (I will be an assistant race director at the Rock Island Grand Prix this weekend), spreading the understanding of the autism spectrum through writing and speaking is my #1 Kansas. I would be unable to do this if I always stayed at home though.

Coping with the crossings is difficult, but motivation to spread awareness makes coping a necessity. I know I will be dragged out of Kansas, but I won't know when or where until it happens. This scares me, but not enough to prevent me from living my life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Question on Brain Waves

As you may have read on Monday's post, I went to the Museum of Science and Industry over the weekend and there was one interesting activity that the museum had that has stuck with me. The activity was a game and I love games, but I never have been dominated in a game like I was in this one.

Now you read that first paragraph, and then looked at the title referring to brain waves and you may be a bit confused, but the game that was played is called Mindball and the way one wins is by relaxing.

Mindball utilizes some sort of brain scan device that is in a belt like, well, belt, that fits around the head. The device measures Alpha and Theta brain waves and by relaxing one can lower these waves.

The game is played head-to-head so Rob and I went at it and as fast as I sat down and was strapped in the game was over. The way one wins is by having lower brain waves and this makes a ball that sits between the two players move in one direction. If the ball reaches a person that person loses, and the game I played the ball, I swear, had after burners on it! It wasn't even a contest. It was so bad that the person running the game said, "Whoa! Okay, let's try that again!"

We waited in line to play this game and the staff never let someone go twice in a row, but my performance was so bad that a second chance was given.

In the second game I thought I was relaxed. My conscious mind was clear, and yet again the ball flew towards me and it was an instant game over.

Looking at the chart of the game my brain waves were at the maximum that the screen allowed, so I guess you could say they were off the charts. As I stood up I made a comment to Rob that, "Well, maybe that's what I get for being on the autism spectrum." I didn't think much of this comment, but the man running the game started to ask a question, but then had to get the next duo into a game. The man kept looking at me and I began to wonder if this abnormally high set of brain waves is indeed connect with autism.

Back when I was in Vancouver during the Olympics I did a different brain waves game and there my brain activity was off the charts. This is fine and all, but I do not know what this means. I looked up what Alpha and Theta waves do and I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about how the physical brain works. I can write all day about how emotions played into my life and the challenges that can come from simple things like eye contact or run ins with ushers at hockey games, but neurology is something that I know nothing about.

Because of my lack of knowledge I simply wanted to throw this out there. Is there a connection? The one thing I read was that a Theta brain state is much like a person driving down the interstate and being unable to recall the last five miles. If this is true is this part of "The Conscious Coma" concept I put forth in my book? Also, if I thought I was totally relaxed, and my brain was so active, is this a busy subconscious and if so would this be the cause of my usual tiredness after a half day of being out of the house due to processing? So many questions!

I usually have answers, but for this I want someone to answer mine as I am curious and need to know.