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Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween

I must tell you that I have been looking forward to today's post ever since I finished my St. Patrick's Day blog post some six months ago (see http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/03/st-particks-day.html).

Sunday is October 31st, or more commonly known as Halloween. I don't know the true origins behind it, but for some reason it is acceptable to dress up as all sorts of odd creatures and the like. Even as a child I did not understand this, still don', and I can firmly remember on one Halloween I threw down a protest. I was asked, "What are you going to be on Halloween?" And I responded with, "Nothing, I am Aaron Likens".

Halloween combines many elements I find unsettling. First is the costumes and I can't help but wonder who the first person was that said, "On October 31st I am going to look like a ghost!" I know Halloween is enjoyed by many people, but I simply don't get it.

A lot of people like to go to places where they will be scared, such as a haunted house place. This too I don't understand because isn't there enough fear already in the world? Perhaps it's a release of some sort being scared knowing it isn't real, and I guess I could see that, but still I want no part in it. Emily once tried to get me to go to one and we arrived and the line to get in was mammothly long. I said, "oh wow, look at the time!" and then proceeded to get very tired. That didn't work so I started to cough and we made a compromise that if we stopped at White Castle on the way home we didn't have to go to the haunted house. Looking back I don't know which option was worse.

As a child I did take part in Trick or Treating because who doesn't like free candy? Several years I did cave in a wear some sort of costume, and then others I went out as, when people asked me what or who I was, "I am Aaron Likens. Why would I want to be anyone or anything else?" People always looked at me oddly as if I had spoiled a long secret, or given away a surprise plot twist of a movie they were about to watch.

Looking at the world now I don't know if I would want to go to any random stranger's house for candy. And maybe this is the essence of the ritual. I am afraid of people I don't know, but with the naivety of childhood the dangers of the world aren't as real. While I may not understand the dressing up aspect of it, or the fact people like to be scared, I will respect the ritual of Trick or Treating. When I live alone I don't know if my lights will be on because I don't like random encounters with other people and with that being so Halloween truly would be, well, I guess I wouldn't need to go a haunted house to feel uncomfortable, would I?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Soapbox and a World Without Red Bull Cola

Yesterday I had the fun event of waking up and being quite confused as to where I was. This seems to happen frequently now, and I actually enjoy it, but after several minutes of looking around this foreign room I was in I came to the conclusion that I was dreaming and I went back to sleep.

The second time I woke up I realized that I was in Columbia, Missouri. The reason? I was to be involved in a panel discussion. I needed to get out of bed to get to the hotel where the conference was if I wanted to get there within my usual 1 hour early window.

My drive from the hotel to the location of the conference took me past Faurot Field which is where the Mizzou Tigers play football. I drove by slowly to see, and I can tell you, from my observation, the goal posts on the North end of the field are still missing since being taken off by students after last Saturday night's win against #1 Oklahoma. While I am on the subject, I do enjoy college football, but hate the BCS system and I best get back to my normal topic or I will go on a 2,000 word tirade about the idiocy of the BCS system.

Okay, back on topic after several deep breaths, I arrived at the hotel and was told what to do and when to do it so I was prepared and ready to go.

As with the United State Autism and Asperger's Association conference at the beginning of October that saw me on a panel with Temple Grandin, I experienced the same level of nervousness. The panel format is very awkward for me because, well, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it is very much like what normal conversations are like. You see, when I give a solo presentation I am fluid, fast, and constantly afraid of digging myself into a presenting hole. In my definition, a presenting hole is talking yourself into a corner and not having a point to build off of. Perhaps the phrase, "losing one's train of thought" would be better, but why would I want to use the normal expression?

I was third out of four to state what I was going to say and it was almost painful to wait. I changed what I was going to say at least three dozen times. And again, this is the essence of being on the spectrum I think. When I am the only speaker I have complete control over when and what I say, but on a panel the rules are different and there is time to think about what to say. The issues arise when I have to think and there is plenty of time to think on a panel.

I do want to state that I am not against being on a panel, but I am just expressing the challenges that go along with it. I would be lieing if I said I preferred being on a panel, but experiencing the challenges of this, and life, allows me to express the feelings and emotions to the world so please, if you are thinking about having me on a panel, don't let this sway your judgment.

After I talked, the woman to my right talked and used a figure of speech I had never heard of. I don't know the sentence it was used, but the phrase was, "I stand on my soapbox and talk".

Instantly I became perplexed. "Soapbox?" I said aloud to myself. I then gave a brief smile wondering if this figure of speech would give my blog as much fun as "The Banana Boat of Canada" did (see http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/03/q-friday.html).

I struggled with the visual concept of what a soapbox could possibly be and I thought of a soapbox derby racer. That instantly made no sense because who would want to stand on a thing with wheels? Nothing good could come from that.

My next thought was, perhaps, since soap is clean that means what one says is pure. But if that were the then wouldn't one be standing on soap and not a soapbox?

For the next ten or so minutes I didn't hear anything anyone said in on the panel because my mind became paused and simply lived in the world where the mystery of the soapbox had to be solved. As much as I needed an answer, the visual things inside my mind made no sense. I must say it was clean though with all the soap that was thought of, but nothing made sense.

Eventually I had to let it go. It was hard, but if I was asked a question I could not be caught off guard. Every so often I would go back to the slippery subject of the soapbox, but I couldn't come to anything conclusive and the actual meaning remained elusive.

When the panel was over, the moderator, who is the director of the TouchPoint Columbia office, asked me, "So, you're confused about the soapbox?" I thought I had done a good job of hiding the internal debate, but she saw right through me and explained how, when a person is really confident and passionate about a subject matter, it is as if they are standing on a soapbox. Today I also heard a story of how people would give streetside sermons while standing on a literal soapbox.

With the mystery of the soapbox solved I headed back to Saint Louis. Kingdom City is only 18 miles outside of Columbia and with each mile that I got closer I felt an extreme emptiness. (Read yesterday's blog to understand why.) Truly, the routine of stopping there, while it may seem silly to you, was a big part of my life. Freedom, accomplishment, and feeling alive are all emotions I experienced and this may be part of my associative memory system, in a way, but I felt as if all those were gone because as the exit sign appeared I did not slow down and Kingdom City became just another nameless exit on the highway to me.

I told myself that I would stop at one place on the way, and only one, to find a new place that carries it, the much coveted and needed Red Bull Cola.  Looking back I should have stopped at the Flying J at the Truxton exit (When I see the name "Truxton" I always see "Thruxton" which is a very fast racing circuit in England) but I chose to stop at a nameless gas station closer to the Saint Louis Metro area.

My hopes for a replacement of Kingdom City were squashed as this place did not have Red Bull Cola. This, of course, saddened me, but I was okay with it. Somewhere between Saint Louis and Columbia there must be a place that sells it and it will be fun trying to find it (so long as I keep to my 1 stop limit or I WILL stop at EVERY place).
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A couple major events in my life are coming up shortly. It is less than three weeks until the SKUSA SuperNats, one of the largest kart races in the world where I serve as Chief Starter and flagman, and sometime in November I will be rerunning the three entry stories titled "Schumi and Me". Also, on Tuesday of next week, I will hit my 200th blog post. I plan on doing or writing something really special for this, but haven't decided yet. I can't believe 200 though, that is amazing. I never thought I would hit 20 posts, let alone 10x that!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Series of Disappointments

I love sameness! I love routine, and I love my Red Bull Cola. If you have followed my blog since the beginning you will know that I have, in a way, made the Petro truck stop in Kingdom City, Missouri somewhat famous as this is what I get my Red Bull Cola.

Yesterday I gave my presentation in the parent training class and then it was time to hit the road. I look forward to these road trips and it had been several months since I made my way west so I was counting down the miles as they flew by until I got to Kingdom City.

The drive was eventful as a couple semi-trucks wanted to give me a scare. The winds were quite gusty and I am actually surprised the truck that ran me into the grass on the on ramp didn't turn out to be worse.

Once I arrived in Kingdom City I found my normal parking spot and headed inside. Quickly I noticed that they changed the lay out of the store. This was fine by me and I went into the arcade to play one game of pinball that lasted an uncharacteristically short amount of time.

After the discouraging pinball game I walked to the drink section to locate my Red Bull Cola. Each time since March I stopped I would buy more and more. First time by I bought 2, then 4, and last time I think I bought $20 worth. I was prepared to buy more and as I was calculating the price I froze in my tracks.

"Where is it" I said aloud to no one. "WHERE IS IT!" screamed aloud in my brain. I paced back to the left; nothing! Back to the right; no luck. I then slowed my pace down as I began to comprehend that this store no longer carries Red Bull Cola.

WHY?! I began to walk around the store aimlessly trying to figure out what to do. I came in to buy Red Bull Cola and now it wasn't there.

I was a bit angry, a bit confused, and highly frustrated. On top of all that I was saddened that this relationship I have had with that town and that store would be coming to an end. For me stopping to get the drink was more than the drink as I started getting the drink the same time I started at TouchPoint. I know I have had at least five mentions of the truck stop on here, but now I have no reason to stop there because nothing sets it apart. In a way it was like losing a friend.

After several minutes of aimless walking I bought a pack of gum (I had to buy something as I was in the store) and I proceeded back to my car and started the final leg of my trip to Columbia.

As if the insult to my system wasn't already bad enough I had another experience once I arrived.

I had not had dinner yet so after I checked in I walked across the street to a place I discovered back in June when the staff of the TouchPoint Columbia office took me there.

I walked into the store, still somewhat reeling from the Red Bull Cola disaster, and instantly found it hard to concentrate due to the volume of the music that was playing. It was truly distracting and I haven't had this happen in a while, but while ordering I rediscovered my defense mechanism when in a loud environment.

To say, "what?" or to say, "could you say that again? is something I struggle with. While I was ordering I was asked many questions, but I was unable to understand the person. Granted anyone would have issues if it were noisy, but it wasn't that loud, but coupled with the other events of the day, well, I was answering questions that I didn't know the meaning to.

The end result of my answering was some weird seasoning and some weird dressing and it wasn't that bad, but the thing that was disappointing was the realization that I struggle in that type of environment. You see, while driving down the road there is no difference between a normal person and myself. I don't have a constant mindset of, "I am on the autism spectrum..." However, when I get put into a noisy place like that the truth becomes apparent and I think, "Wow, I am on the spectrum".

So that was my disappointing day. In the grand scheme of things I do know that those two events are minor compared to what else could happen, but still I thought I would share it. Later this morning I will be on panel and then I will be headed back home. Should be a good day and hopefully I avoid any disappointments. Well, maybe Petro will have Red Bull Cola today. Maybe?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

I love a day like today! In a couple hours I get to do my presentation to the parents currently going through the TouchPoint 2 week parent training class. You may think this to be opposite, but presenting to a smaller group is a actually harder than a large one! I enjoy it and always get asked unique questions.

After that I will be making my way to Columbia, Missouri as I am on a panel tomorrow morning. For about a month I have been looking forward to this trip, partly because I know what to do on a panel now from my experience at the USAAA conference earlier this month, but secondly to stop in Kingdom City and get another batch of Red Bull Cola. Ah, the small things!

Yesterday was a big day for me as I started my fourth book. I just finished my third one about four months ago, but I am feeling so many emotions now that I must put write them. I can only write book material when I am slanted towards the sad side so I must make use of these emotions.

I actually had what I call a, "writing explosion" yesterday as I wrote three chapters to my book. I must admit it is difficult starting a project as big as a book not knowing if anyone will ever read it. My 2nd, and 3rd books still are past the self editing phase and I have no clue if a big publisher will take it on. I hope they do because I want my writings to be read by as many people as possible. Hope comes through understanding and I think I have done a decent job at giving people a unique look into the way the mind on the spectrum functions.

In any event, today will be a good day, as will tomorrow! I love days like these.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Presenting to Teachers

My career in public speaking began 11 months ago when I was a speaker at the Missouri National Educators Association Fall conference here in Saint Louis. Since that time I haven't really had any presentations specifically for teachers. This changed on Friday.

Last Friday I was in Bloomfield, Missouri to give my presentation to teachers. Also, I did do a presentation to law enforcement, but for this entry I want to concentrate on the teachers.

If you haven't read my book I should tell you that school and myself did not get along. If I managed to attend school for five straight days it was cause for a celebration because I missed so much. I had constant headaches, real and fake, because of the stress of school. Of course the issues I had the time couldn't possibly of be known because Asperger Syndrome was not yet recognized as a diagnosis.

Asperger Syndrome is a diagnosis now and even though this was just my 2nd presentation to teacher's I felt a strong conviction to get my point across to the teachers. I just had to! Even though this is a small town there is a good chance there is someone like me there.

After my introduction I started with, "I was diagnosed at age 20, but of course I always had issues. I can remember, back in kindergarten, loving these fun block shapes. I don't know what they were called, but they were in a white tub and the hexagon was yellow, the diamonds were blue and boy oh boy did I love a rainy day when recess was inside. I didn't share well though and those shapes were always mine. If someone tried to join me I turned into a nasty guard dog and made sure that I played alone because, sensory wise, there is nothing better than those block. Man! I miss those blocks."

A speaker had spoke to this group and was unsure if they connected with the audience, but immediately I knew I had a connection because a teacher said, "Well, Aaron, I have a whole tub full in my room!" With a big grin I looked out into the hall, but then I told her, "Why did you have to tell me that? I have intentionally avoided them because I know my productivity in society will tank if I ever come across them because, well, they're just awesome!"

The next 80 or so minutes had this type of humor and connection between me and the audience. There were many times that I saw people talking, but they weren't having a conversation outside of what I was saying and it seemed each conversation was sparked by a comment I had said and I can only imagine that those conversations were something like, "Oh my, I remember this one kid..." Or, "Wow, I have a student now who..."

Many times in my writings for my books I have referred to teacher's as the second line of defense for seeing the autism spectrum. If the child is used to the home environment, and is comfortable talking to adults, then how could anything seem wrong? Once the child gets to school though the signs will become more evident. This is where the parents won't notice and if the parents are the first line, teacher's surely are the second line. When I told them this at the close of the presentation after they learned everything I told them, about Kansas, and my cement theory, I had several teachers in tears!

When I concluded my presentation there was an eerie stillness in the room. Nobody got up and the room was frozen in time in a way. After several awkward moments the teachers slowly got up and left.

I didn't have much time to rest as police officers were coming to the same room for their presentation and in the break a teacher went back to the room and gave something to another TouchPoint employee that was there. The terms were that this wasn't to be given to me until after the police presentation.

Once I was finished I can tell you my voice was just about done. 3 hours of presenting with a ten minute break is rough, but all that was forgotten when I was shown a zip lock bag filled with those amazing blocks I remember from kindergarten. I had a blast and they were as much fun as I remembered. Maybe more so.

When it was time to leave I put the blocks back in the bag and asked, "Where do these go?" and I was told, "Oh, they're yours now!"

Bliss!

Later in the afternoon I told Myra, the other TouchPoint employee, that I was going to do my blog on Monday about the presentation, and the amount that I felt I connected with the teachers using my school history as a way to open their eyes, but also I was going to talk about the blocks and I told her that I would take a picture showing, in exaggeration, what my face was like when she told me that they were mine. I showed her the face I would use and she said, "Um, Aaron, that's not an exaggeration, you really did look like that." So, to finish this entry out, here is the photo I took simulating my response and chances are it isn't exaggerated

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pushed to the Limit

Last night I attended the Crisis Intervention Team banquet. The banquet is a function to recognize the officers, volunteers, and agencies that make the program the huge success that it is. I had no idea that attending the event would push me to the limit the way it did.

It happened at the start of the program when the colors were presented. Bagpipes were played along with a snare drum and a big bass drum. The snare drum and bag pipes didn't effect me, but with each hit of the gigantic bass drum I felt shock waves throughout my body.

As the officers with the flags marched towards the stage the drum kept being hit. Hit after painful hit happened and I started to slip.

No one outside my house has seen me in full sensory overload. It isn't pretty and will be covered extensively in my 2nd book. I am happy no one has seen it, but I was worried as with each bang of the drum I felt pain, and lots of it.

I tried to phase out of the room in my mind and quickly tried thinking about my upcoming race I am flagging in Las Vegas, but that didn't work. I thought of the presentations I have today, but nothing was drowning out the low level bass noise of that over sized drum.

If you haven't followed my blog, or know me, you should know I have sensory issues. For the most part they are mild such as my discomfort I have wearing jeans. However, when exposed to the right frequency of a low level base noise, well, I try to avoid it at all costs and at this point in time I was in a corner.

There was no where to go. What am I going to do, walk out of a patriotic moment in a room full of officers? I was so close to the drums though, perhaps 15-20 feet away and never have felt such power from the noise.

The base was overwhelming and I could feel it. The sensations are primarily felt in my legs and that's where the pain starts. It feels like an internal fire that starts flowing through the veins and quickly reaches my arms. My pulse quickly escalates and I feel internally hot by externally cold.

I tried everything I could to try and not hear it, but I could feel it. Slowly I drifted away as I was giving into the discomfort. My head slowly drooped to the left and just as I was about to scream the noise ceased.

In all I doubt the song was over 45 seconds long, but for me it was unmeasurable. The amount of will power I exerted was beyond anything I thought I could do.

During the dinner portion a person I know asked me how I thought the program was going and I told him about my struggle with the drums and he said, "Wow, that is something that us normal people never think of. Furthermore it is something I would never even imagine causing any discomfort in a person."

I once came across a person who debated whether or not sensory issues are real or not. This person asked me, "Is it not simply a power play?" I assured them that they are real, but if you have never felt the fury of this type of overload then how could you imagine it? How can you imagine the pain if you have never felt it? How can you even try to comprehend how something that most people find enjoying can cause one of the greatest pains possible? I don't know if you can, but that's why I write.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Sombering Reminder

Yesterday around the noon time hour I went from my house to fill up my car and go to the store. As I pulled up to the intersection to cross to get to the gas station I noticed police tape on both sides of the street blocking the parking lots. There was an officer in a car just parked there and I wondered what was going on, but quickly let it pass because turning left on this intersection is a dangerous proposition (honestly, this intersection has one bad accident at least twice a month).

I barely made it on the yellow light and as I parked my car to get gas I heard the siren on the police car and was sure I was about to get a ticket for something I didn't realize I did.

I went about my business of filling up my car waiting for the officer to scold me, but then I noticed that he was blocking off the intersection. Thoughts poured into my head about how the world was going to end or many other worst case thoughts that all involved bad things.

Quickly I was blocked into the gas station as traffic at the light backed up. I simply parked my car and awaited whatever it was that required the intersection to be blocked off.

As a helicopter flew overhead I remembered that an officer at the CIT meeting on Tuesday had a black ribbon around his badge. I then quickly remembered what it was like back in March when I did my police ride along (see the story at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/03/tale-of-force.html) and the way the streets were blocked and the helicopter overhead was very much alike the officer funeral then. I knew that a fallen officer's funeral motorcade was about to pass.

I stood by and waited for what I was sure to be a motorcade. While other motorists pounded their wheels and complained to whoever would listen to them on their cell phones I stood silently and waited for what is surely one of the most sombering sights a person can see.

Then, there it was. Off to the East on Chippewa Road were police lights. Then more, and soon as the first car passed were lights as far as the eye could see. For those that had been complaining and screaming a hush fell upon them. One person who was angry and on the phone came up to me and asked, "What the $%&! is going on?" I simply responded with one word, "Funeral." and he quickly changed his attitude and said, "Oh! I'm sorry." I don't know if he was apologizing to me, or to the officer for the language he had used.

What is normally a busy and noisy intersection turned into a silent and still one. The only noise in the air was the sound of the engines of the cars and the sound of the tires on the road. Except for those cars no one dared move and the world was still.

The hearse then appeared and I turned my attention to the officer who had blocked the traffic because I knew from my experience in March that one of the most chilling sights a person can witness happened. Quietly, but with force, the officer turned and saluted with the fiercest amount of posture and importance a person can.

I was once moved by this and went down the path of realizing just how fragile life is. Car after car though kept coming by and I have no estimate on how many vehicles there were, but there were vehicles from all around the state, and even a MODOT line painting truck joined in.

Fifteen minutes had passed since the first car passed me so I decided to walk to the store as it is just six blocks away.

People that were home stood on their front porches and watched the silent spectacle of police cars go by. Traffic that was headed to the East by this point in time were in a jam that stretched further than I could ever imagine it could be in this part of town, but as I peered into the cars no one seemed upset.

As I neared the bottom of the hill and the intersection the final cars in the motorcade passed. Traffic started to be let go out of the jams an people carried on their business.

On my walk home it was like all was forgotten. The jam was gone and the onlookers had disappeared. The helicopters were gone and driver's were back to their rageful self. All the somberness, tranquility, and stillness of the world had gone back to the hectic and hasty world that it usually is. This saddened me because I think I understand the concept of "moving on". For me, I was still emotionally full from the sight of seeing such a powerful sight, but for others that moment had passed. I was thinking about the family and friends of the officers and just how bad they must feel, and even those that had seen the motorcade were back to their lives as if the event never happened.

I don't really know how to end this entry. There are no words that can describe what it is like to witness so many cars drive by in a funeral procession. Maybe this hits home more now because I am an instructor on autism to the officers. Whatever the case life is short, life is beautiful, and most of all cherish it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Don't worry, it's almost over"

I had my blog for today all planned out in my head, but quite simply didn't have the time yesterday morning to give it the time it deserves. It will be a home run, I hope, but it does not get the nod as today's subject.

Yesterday there was a Community Networking Forum in Saint Peters, Missouri. I must tell you that I am becoming a big fan of working a booth, but after yesterday I know that the environment has to be right for me to be able to function.

As soon as the doors opened to the public I all but shut down. The amount of exhibitors that were there this year were up by a considerable amount and room was scarce. There was no safe place for me to stand that allowed me to have all my needs for position met. What that means is that I like a position where no one is standing in close proximity behind me, but yesterday a simple half step back meant I would run into someone.

The room was also rather noisy with over 500 people in the room. Noise is something that isn't usually a problem by itself, but when coupled with an issue like a positional battle then noise is much louder regardless of the actual level.

My defenses started to kick in and all eye contact was avoided. My slight ability to initiate a conversation vanished, but if someone asked me a direct question, or my book was brought up I could come out of my zombie like state.

Thankfully I only had to endure 40 or so minutes of this as I had to rush across town to the Crisis Intervention Team Training Committee meeting. Of all the things I do I think I have the most pride serving on that committee because it truly is an honor to provide my knowledge to the C.I.T. In what I do I hope at least one major crisis is resolved/understood by police officers and the event is made better than what it could have been.

I normally just observe at the C.I.T. meetings and stay quiet, but several times I was able to give my opinion on matters and this elated me. These minor victories to some are cause for ticker-tape parades to me. I am often afraid to express anything vocally for fear of all sorts of disasters (up to and including death... I am a worst case scenario thinker) but yesterday I was able to join in the group discussion.

After the C.I.T. meeting I drove back to Saint Peters to assist in the closing of the networking forum. All the elation I had from the meeting was quickly evaporated as I quickly found myself in the midst of chaos.

My defenses, which were already strong, became even more stout and my ability to look at people began to disappear. One lady, whom I picked up visually coming towards the booth so I began my looking down and to the left with my eyes, said to me, "Don't worry, it's almost over."

With those words I once again realized just how bad of an actor I am. I knew I had defenses, but I didn't know they were so obvious. All the words I typed in this entry about me looking away and looking like a zombie were not realized until I was told to "Don't worry..."

It is in moments like this that finding Kansas is so critical (Don't know my Kansas concept? click http://findingkansas.com/FindingKansas/findingkansas.html to read the concept). If I allow that moment to live on then I run the risk of letting it define me. If I allow the emotions and disappointment of having someone visually notice my discomfort when I am trying my darnedest to look normal I run the risk of severe frustration. If I start thinking about what I am not over who I am then I run the risk of hating myself. I mean, if I focus on the fact that so many other people can, without effort, say, "hello, how are you..." I would not be able to contain my frustration.

This story doesn't end with me talking up a storm, but I did not fall into the "what I am not" trap. Shortly thereafter a person visited the booth and we had a great discussion on the potential deletion of the term "Asperger" from the DSM. I went from zombie to bein in Kansas an became a stellar TouchPoint employee booth worker extraordinaire with just one direct sentence from the person who walked up.

It was a trying day, and at the end of the day there were attendance prizes. I never win at those type of things, but according to many people I won the top prize. What was it? It is a group of pictures and I am not going to tell you what, exactly it is and I will like to see if someone can figure it out so give a comment if you do. Here's a hint: Never stop doing it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Early Morning

Once again, as with last Friday I had to get up really early. Last Friday I drove to Cape Girardeau to give a presentation to Missouri Conservation Officers (I love their stance of learning about autism now instead of waiting until they have had several cases and then learning!) and today there is a community networking forum in Saint Peters that I will be at helping out at the TouchPoint booth. Then I get to drive back towards home, a bit, to attend the Crisis Intervention Team Committee meeting, and then drive back out to Saint Peters. I actually have been looking forward to this day for at least a month!

So I don't have a great story today, or a great concept to tell you, but I do have a couple ideas bouncing around in my head so hopefully I can hit a home run with tomorrow's entry. As for me I am out the door and looking forward to a very busy day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reflecting on Las Vegas 7 Years Later

In my book, Finding Kansas, the events in the chapter, "Las Vegas" took place seven years ago this month. (To read this chapter CLICK HERE.) If you haven't read my book, the events I speak of was the time I spent in Las Vegas as an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy (a formula car driving school).


Of all the "months" I have lived through in my life October of 2003 had to be the best regardless of the relationship issues I was having at the time.


I am not going to rehash the story because you can read it in my book, but what I wasn't aware of when I wrote that chapter was that my experience in Las Vegas was, perhaps, the final major event I experienced before I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.


It all makes sense now, of course, but at the time I was confused as to why all the other instructors made small talk and joked with each other. I tried to fit in, but I was always the silent one in the corner. I tried and tried my first week and was always quiet and I didn't understand why.


My month out in Vegas was my first prolonged time away from home and I must say I adjusted rather well. Although I was in Nevada, I was really in Kansas (to understand "Kansas" CLICK HERE). I was in my element of racing though and this truly gave me the courage to be all the way across the country from home.


As per usual with everything else in my life, then and now, I stayed to myself for the most part. Socializing at the Academy was minimal, and my hours were opposite of the family I was staying with so I didn't have to interact much there. Looking back on that month, I can recall only one open ended conversation with anyone and this was somewhat forced upon me by the Boulder City Public golf course when they paired me up with this older man. I actually enjoyed the conversation and the round of golf, but never would have volunteered for such an occurrence.


All the signs of Asperger's Syndrome were there but I simply did not know it. I still was living under the label of just a "smart, quirky kid" and was loving every minute of my isolation in the desert.


The second week I was there I volunteered to flag the BMW corporate session that would be taking place and out of nowhere I became a star. "Wow, where did you learn to wave a flag like that?" asked the chief instructor. Here I was, very capable behind the wheel and talking one-on-one with a student, but completely mute around everyone else and all of a sudden they [the other instructors] saw me do something I could do without thought. What I mean by this is that all the time, around the instructors, I was as stiff as stiff could be. I was so afraid of any eye contact and every movement I did was heavily calculated, but when I had a flag in hand, well, I became a star.


Again though, as soon as the flagging ended, so did I in a way. The other instructors were really nice and I think they tried to get me to open up, but I kept refusing offers to go out after work. I wanted to say yes, and by saying no I was secretly implying yes, but I never did and they never knew it.


Think about all this for a second. I am at a dream job getting to drive a racecar everyday, and yet the social divide is one of the most memorable things I remember. Remember, at this point in time I had not been diagnosed. I did wonder, "what's wrong with me?" and got really angry at myself for not being able to just be one of the instructors without being that, "one instructor that stuck out as if he didn't belong."


I don't often think about my time out there but rather I remember the drive out there more so. Maybe it is because, for me, my time out there was the final events that led to the "Ah Ha!" moments of getting the diagnosis.


Getting the diagnosis was paramount though! Think about it. I could have blamed myself for years and years for not making the connections that everyone else had. I refused to simply go get dinner with the other instructors because I wanted to get back to the house and continue my Playstation 2 NASCAR game. I could have blamed myself, but getting the diagnosis gave me a reason why.


Knowing why is so key to being able to grow. If one blames them self all the time, the room for growth is minimized by the constant internal struggle and self-hatred. Some people do make a counter statement by saying, "But isn't being labeled 'autistic' bad?"


Bad?! Not in the least! As with everything, it is about perspective. Which is worse; always hating yourself for missing out on social cues and not making those connections, or having a diagnosis that some people may not fully understand? Either way the person is still the person! Label or not the person is still who they were before and after the diagnosis. For me, I am so grateful for it because that month in Las Vegas was the greatest month of my life, but it only became that way after I got past the fact that I am challenged when it comes to socializing. Had I not been the diagnosed I am sure I would blame myself for not making the connections and then I would come to the conclusion that I no longer worked there because of that. Imagine the amount of self hate I would have.


I can't believe it has been 7 years. This story, as it was written in my book, was about me, but now it is more. I understand the need to know and the fact that getting people like myself diagnosed is so vital for our futures. Do I still get down on myself? Yes, but don't we all? At least I know why I have my challenges and that it isn't because I simply failed at it. I have heard too many stories of people that should be diagnosed but the family is worried about the label that comes along with it. Consider this one of my "self-motivation" entries because I feel no one should go through the self blame and hatred that I went through while in Vegas. No one should.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Stranger in a Known Place

Consider this my post for today and tomorrow because of my really early morning tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning I will be headed to Cape Girardeau for a presentation to the Missouri State Conservation Officers. On my way down I will have to stop at what, for me, is almost a mandatory stop for breakfast at the Waffle House on Butler Hill Road.

Why is it "almost mandatory"? From 2002-2008 I ate there almost every other Saturday and Sunday when I was the Saint Louis Karting Association flagman and race director. So, from about March to October I would eat there four times a month.

I enjoyed those early mornings and I became a fixture there. One waitress never spoke to me as I always ordered the same thing and that was awesome! She always got an inflated tip.

While I was known there I was always a stranger. No one knew my name, or what I did whereas other people that were always there constantly had conversations about their lives and what they were doing that day. One man always had the Saint Louis. Post Dispatch and would do anything he could to debate politics. While all this was going on I sat silently.

I may have been sitting silently but I felt like I was part of something. I knew them, and they knew me and they knew I didn't talk much. It was wonderful.

Tomorrow though I will be stopping in again, at the Butler Hill Road location, but I am afraid. It has been so long since I was there that I'm sure not too many people will remember me and this means there is change and I hate change.

All those years I went I was unable to vocalize just how safe of a place that was for me. It may have seemed like a routine, and it probably was, but it was more. What I want to let you know through this story is that even though I may not have the most exciting look on my face, and trust me when I say I was as flat as could be when I ate there every weekend morning, but it was such a special time for me. I'm afraid though as usually I was simply a stranger in a known place, but tomorrow I could be a stranger in an unfamiliar place. I hope it is the same.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Case of The Stuffed Crust

I am going way back in my life for this story, but this is a great example of rigid thinking and the complete inability to understand where someone else is coming from.

For this story I believe the time was summer of 1993. The pizza chain, Little Caesars, had just released the Stuffed Crust pizza unto the world. After being exposed to that once I felt all other pizzas were inferior. I mean, who wouldn't want more cheese on what usually is the most boring part of the pizza?

This was fine and good, except on one Friday evening when I was at a friend's house in the neighborhood I lived in. When told what was for dinner I got elated. "YES! Little Caesars!" I said out loud.

In my mind there was no doubt what the order would be. Because I get the toppings of pepperoni and mushroom so does everyone else. And because I thought the stuffed crust was the best thing ever invented we surely would be getting that as well.

When asked what toppings I wanted I stated my usual, and said, "and we are getting stuffed crust" and then just to make sure I didn't sound too overpowering I added a meek, "right?"

"Aaron," the parent said, "the stuffed crust is $1.75 more." This made no sense to me. The stuffed crust was the best thing on Earth that it would be worth it at $5.00 more.

I made some argument as to why pepperoni and mushroom with a stuffed crust was the best and only pizza worth getting (because it was) to the parent. I was told that he would take it under advisement and he drove off to go order/pickup the pizza.

30 minutes or so passed and when he returned I was so excited. Surely the only pizza worth eating would be in the box. The smell of the pizza quickly engulfed the house and much like a tense moment on the game show "Deal or No Deal" the case, ahem, the box was opened and I was shocked.

Not only was the crust flat, there was no mushrooms or pepperoni. The ultimate insult had been handed out as it was simple a cheese pizza.

I tried with all my might not to say anything and we took the pizza into the other room. My internal fuming grew and grew and eventually I asked, "Where's the pepperoni?" and I got the answer, "Well, my kids don't like it."

This answer made no sense to me because, seeing how I liked it, everyone must like. Even today when I go into a pizza place and see the list of 20 or so toppings I think, "Wow, what a waste of space on the menu seeing how no one will ever order those."

Going back to 1993 now, I tried to eat it, and I tried to understand, but I had to make one more comment, "What about the crust?"

"What about the crust" was like pushing your luck one inch too far because the parent became irate, slammed his beer down, and stormed out of the room.

I was in shock. What did I do? I merely was pointing out the fact that the pizza was inferior in my mind. I wasn't trying to be annoying or to say that he messed up, well, maybe I was a little, but I was just ten years old and I wanted a stuffed crust. There was no malice in my words and I was trying (and failing) to figure out why someone would simply want a cheese pizza.

I wonder how many times this story has been duplicated. in other lives. I ask and I ask and I have no idea that what I am asking is making the other person mad. It took me until after my diagnosis to replay this "Case of the Stuffed Crust" before I began to see that, perhaps, I said all the wrong things.

At the time of the incident I think I was clueless as to why he got mad. I was scared though and I want to make that point clear. I was scared because he got mad and I didn't understand why. It made no sense and for a while I became afraid to speak because I was afraid of duplicating the feat of making someone mad without knowledge. And to tell you the truth, I still carry that fear, although not as much, today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Fear of Forgetting

I am afraid. I am afraid that, as good as my memory may be (it is mainly videographic), I am afraid I will forget something.

To battle this fear I often have a hard time throwing anything out. Each item has a memory connected to it so imagine the item being a metaphorical DVD disc, or perhaps it isn't the disc but the access code to play the DVD. In any event having the physical item allows better access to my memories.

This fear extends beyond physical items and also applies to e-mails. Of my current e-mail accounts I have yet to delete any e-mails that involves something that happened (i.e. I can delete files that include graphics and other non-event e-mails).

As I wrote that last paragraph I went back to my very first Yahoo! e-mail account that I haven't visited in several months. I had a special folder set aside for my e-mails with Linda (http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-i-will-never-forget.html) and was shocked and dismayed to find out that those e-mails finally had been purged.

Maybe I should have deleted the 2,678 spam e-mails I had to keep the older e-mails alive (the e-mails lost were from 1999!) but nonetheless losing those e-mails is currently making me want to find a hole to crawl into and cry.

The lost e-mails were my final connection to her. I have nothing except my memories, and now it's like having the DVD without the right encoding to play the disc.

When I sat down at my desk today I had no idea what I was going to write and can't believe how I went from wondering what to write to a major event.

I'm sure each and everyone of us has lost a special relic or token that reminded us of a person or event. To me though, I need the item to keep whatever it was real in my mind. I don't know if I am capable to describe this fully, but losing the item doesn't mean losing the memory in its entirety, instead the memory can't be accessed. That means I know of it, but I can't play the full video.

One could argue losing those e-mails was a good thing. I can only remember of them, and remember of her without fully experiencing the emotions tied to it. Will the emotions of of knowing that there was emotion there and not remember them be better than actually remembering it? I'm not sure and I think I have confused myself with that last sentence.

I apologize for the off-trackness of this entry. I wanted to hit the points that I have a hard time throwing away, or deleting e-mails because I need them as aids for my memory. Because I remember almost everything I need that aid to kick-start the memory or else it is just another video. Think of it this way; my brain is like YouTube. One can find video of almost every thing on YouTube, but only if you put in the right words to search for. If you don't put in the right key words the video will set there unwatched. This is what items are to me, they are the key words that allow me to remember and access the memory. That being so wouldn't you be protective of all things around you? Wouldn't you want all memories to stay intact?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why We Walk

This past Saturday the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event was held in St. Louis. I had never been to one nor did I know what it was about. I didn't know how many people would show up or what type of atmosphere there would be, but this year I would find out the answers because I would be working the TouchPoint Autism Services booth.

I got there rather early and as the minutes ticked away the empty parking lot slowly started to come to life. I had no idea how many people would be there, and already at 7:45 I was impressed.

By 9:00 I was shocked. This event wasn't just a few families getting together to raise awareness but rather a whole community there for one cause.

There were parents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and every other type of family member you could imagine along with many who are on the autism spectrum.

While the general world hears the word autism and instantly thinks of the worst case negative situation, this community of walkers embraces the people they walk for.

By the time the start of the walk came the mass of humanity was massive. I also didn't know what type of atmosphere there would be, but it was like a celebration; a celebration of who we are on the spectrum. Parents were having conversations, sharing stories, and the best part was there was understanding between them.

As the walk started I became highly reflective and thought about so many people walking for the same reason. But what was this reason? What motivation was there for the tens of thousands of people to give up their Saturday morning to take a 1.5 mile walk?

I thought on those questions and came up with many answers. The first one, obviously, was that these people love someone on the spectrum. But walking? Then I saw a t-shirt that said, "Everyone wants to be heard" and then everything made sense.

With so many people having a collective cause being heard is easier. We don't walk to simply walk, we walk to be heard. Our messages may be different be it that I, myself, want the world to know that I am not defective but simply different (Aren't we all?), while others may walk to say that about their son or daughter.

The current numbers for autism state that 1 in about 100 will be on the spectrum, but that doesn't state how many people will be affected by the spectrum. The whole family becomes involved when a child is on the spectrum, and these walks allows the entire family to be heard.

So why do we walk? We walk to show the world that we exist. We walk to show the world that, while we have challenges, we won't run away from them. We walk to show our support for ourselves, or other loved ones, but most of all we walk in unison with others to be heard. Simply heard.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Halo Reach and the Need for a Destination

Last month Halo Reach was released on the Xbox 360. The gaming public received it with open arms, and pocket books, as the series opened with $200,000,000 in sales... on the first day!

I have loved the previous installments of the Halo Series and my favorite part is the multiplayer. Halo Reach is bigger and has better all around everything, but if that's the case why do I get so angry when I think of this game?

(Again, as with most things on my blog that originally don't make sense, I do have a point outside the game itself so if you are wondering if this is relevant I can assure you it is.)

In Halo 2 and Halo 3 the multiplayer skill was based on a system called TrueSkill. The Trueskill system is interesting and you love numbers I suggest looking it up (just Google Trueskill). I have no clue how it works, except that there is a ceiling and that ceiling was every Halo player's dream.

I may not know the x's and y's and the values of whatever Trueskill is based off of, but I knew I wanted a 50. Skill level 50 is the highest and anyone who had it commanded respect. During the Halo 3 years I was mostly unemployed so I was able to practice practice practice and eventually I got my 50 (in the lone wolves mode of all things. Remember, I don't make a good team player http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/lets-go-me-oops-i-mean-lets-go-team.html).

As Halo Reach's release date neared I was highly anticipating another couple years of getting good enough to hit the ceiling. Instead, the makers of Halo devised a new system. Instead of a lifelong skill system the new system is based on points in a game and the system is reset every month. In team games the team is irrelevant and only the individuals points matter. Most of all, there is no destination.

Having a destination is important. When Halo 3 came out the destination was a 50. Having that destination, or perhaps goal is a better word, creates motivation. What's the point of playing Halo if there is no number to be achieved? In almost every game I play I will NOT play a mode that doesn't count for something. There has to be a reason to spark my interest, and in Halo 3 that interest was the 50.

I play Halo Reach now and I try to stay interested, but ranked modes on Chessmaster seem to be winning the battle for my time. This, I think, is important outside of games because it shows that the motivators are so important. Now remember that if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism and that each of us has the possibility of having radically different motivators, but whatever that is will determine out interest. For me, having a destination is important because I loathe doing an activity that has no purpose or doesn't count for anything.

Will I learn and adapt to Halo's new system? I'm not sure and I have been eyeing what the sales values on Ebay are. There is nothing wrong with the game itself, it's just that there is no motivation or destination. I need that goal, I need that ability to gauge how well I am doing because if I don't have it the activity seems irrelevant.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Annoying Saga of My Alarm Clock

Beside my bed I have an alarm clock. I don't so much use it now for an alarm as that is what my phone is for, but it is still there so I can open my eyes and know how long I have left before I must get up. While this is probably normal, this entry is not about the fact that I have an alarm clock, but rather the alarm clock itself.

I have a major issue with my alarm clock. It buzzes. The noise it makes is annoying and has been known to prevent me from going to sleep. How long has it been buzzing? Well, um, the honest answer is 2005! Truly, even though the buzz is obnoxious. There are ways to make it stop and I have been known to slam in on my nightstand, stand it on its end, and adjust it to the perfect angle to make the buzzing cease.

So, if I have been annoyed at my clock since 2005 why haven't I done anything about it? There is no one easy answer to this and the answer I do attribute to the autism spectrum. First, I have had that alarm clock for a very long time. In fact, I don't think I have ever had a different alarm clock. Why would I want a new one when it is the only one I know. Sure, some mornings I may wake up groggy, and some nights I may need to slam it on the nightstand several times (this method truly works) to get it to stop, but I have had it forever.

I used to see my alarm clock as the enemy back in grade school. It was a game and my clock was known, only to myself, as "The Eliminator." I knew if I could fend my parents off from getting me up (by having various forms of illnesses that may or may not have been there i.e. headache, stomach ache) and the clock got to 7:30 or later school would be eliminated. If I got up the clock would win and I would be eliminated. With such good memories why would I want a new clock?

I must admit I have thought about getting a new clock, but up until this year I never really have the means to do so. This year I do, but when I think about it I get overwhelmed. Overwhelmed you ask? Yes, because  if I wanted a new clock where would I go to get one? I have no idea and wouldn't even be able to take an educated guess as to where alarm clocks are sold. A store you say? But which store, what isle, what company? This leads me to an interesting point.

My anxiety and sense of being lost regarding where to buy an alarm clock is quite similar to the same fear I had on Saturday and being on that panel with Temple Grandin. What I mean is I have never done it. Just as I didn't know how to act on a panel and where to sit so to I don't know where to look for an alarm clock.

Anytime there is something new it is scary because so much processing has to be done. I am so thankful that, as a child, I did so many things because the experiences I have had has minimized the amount of new things that enter my world. However, there's one thing I was never taught and that is regarding alarm clocks. Even if I do know where to get one I am unsure if I want a new one. Sure it creates this hideous electrical buzzing noise, but it also has been with me for over 15 years, and above else it is my arch-nemesis in life as it was, and always will be, "The Eliminator"

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From Dud to Overload

Last night the Special School District (SSD) had an Autism-Asperger-PDD Resource Fair. I was there working the TouchPoint booth and was amazed that five people knew who I was. "Hey, aren't you the guy that was seated next to Temple Grandin on the panel?" was one line I heard.

Sadly, this post isn't about starting to be recognized. At some of the booths the SSD had plates of candy. The booths next to us both had small boxes of Milk Duds and since I hadn't had a Milk Dud in at least a decade I decided I wanted some.

Moderation was not in play as I scoured the room for more. It may have been a decade, but every chance I got when the booth was empty I was making up for lost time and devouring Milk Duds.

I must have been enjoying them too much because, on what would be my final box, I bit my tongue like I have never done before. My tongue made a noise much like the crunch of eating carrots and the pain was intense. Later, when looking into a mirror, I would find out that I truly have a deep bruise on my tongue.

As painful as it was at first the pain subsided quickly (which is remarkable considering the way it looks this morning). The pain was mild and the only discomfort at all was the fact that my tongue was swollen and I could feel it pressing against my teeth. This is where the real story begins.

The room we were in wasn't that large and the room was somewhat loud. All night I had no issues with tuning the constant hum of talk out. This was up until the crunch of my tongue. After that I slowly lost the ability to tune out the noise. All at once I heard everyone at once and the noise continued to get louder and louder. Think of it like being in a car and slowly turning up the volume without stopping.

Louder, louder, and even louder the room got. The sounds of humanity quickly sounded like a raging river that not even the biggest dare devil would risk white water river rafting on.

I had never experienced this form of overload. I truly could not tune anything out and within ten minutes of this my body was exhausted. I heard dozens of people at once but could not distinguish anything. People would come up to the booth and they talked to me, but I could not hear them over the crushing volume of the room.

This had never happened to me and I am wondering if there is a connection between the bit tongue and the ability to tune out the room? I have no idea how the brain works, but because I never have had this happen, and it happened right after that lovely crunchy noise so I am wondering. I do know that I have heard stories of those on the spectrum having more severe behavior when they are ill or injured. Could the sensations of that hamper the brain's ability to tune out the world?

Of course I do not have the answer on the grand scheme of things and all I know is that last night was really difficult. I am thankful it happened because I never have felt so crushed in a room by volume. I can now empathize with those that have those issues because it was tiring, it was anxiety inducing, and most of all it was scary to hear everything at once without a filter. Yes, without a filter; I like that because last night, in that room, I lived life unfiltered and I hope I never bite my tongue again so I don't experience that ever again. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's In a Song and Why It Is Important

If this were an episode of the game show "Jeopardy!" this would be the equivalent of an Audio Daily Double. To start this blog I want you to listen to the video that is below. Yes, it has video, but the video is irrelevant. The relevancy is in the song itself.



What did you hear/are you hearing in that song? If you grew up with the original Nintendo then you may be reliving the days of Bo Jackson running around the field untouchable, or Joe Montana throwing 90 yard passes. The game was Tecmo Bowl and is still considered, by many, to be one of the best football experiences ever.

This blog post is not about the first football video game to incorporate real names, but rather what it means to me. That song may sound old and simple compared to today's orchestral scores in video game, but to me this song represents something special. No, it isn't memories of video games of old, nor is it those memories that some people have of the innocence of childhood. For me, this song reminds me of ways I bonded with my dad. Now you are probably confused. How could a song from a 1989 football game represent something so major?

I have no clue as to how other children bond or do any of that sort of stuff, but for me everything revolved around what I was interested in. I'm sure other kids have this, but being on the spectrum and having "Kansas" be so important I think it is magnified.

The first time I rented Tecmo Bowl from G&M Video I was enthralled. I loved it, but I knew nothing about football nor the teams. As a six year old I realized that is was a very good opportunity to get my dad involved in the game. What did I do? Each new game I played as I was up against a new team I would go to my dad and ask him if that particular team was good or not.

Game after game went by and I am sure he got tired of hearing, "Is this team good?". It may have seemed as if I was trying to get an edge against the team I would be playing against but that wasn't the case at all. What I was trying to do was establish a joint interest.

Joint interests are vital! Because I was immersed in this game I wanted my dad to not nessacarily join me in total immersion, but in the least be a part of it. I'm sure I may have been a little annoying in my persistence of wanting the scouting report on the opposition, but the scouting report had nothing to do with what I was trying to do. I can't bond by just being around someone and there must be an activity and for me, at the age of six, asking about NFL teams was my way to do it.

The point of this entry is that, for one, that song has a lot of power. I have talked about the memories that are connected to songs and this one is a powerful one. Secondly, and finally, if a person is exhibiting a behavior like mine, they may be trying to establish that connection that isn't normally there. We may seem like we are pestering you, and I'm sure my dad was on the verge of never wanting to be asked if a team was good ever again, but for us we are just trying to establish that connection the only way we know how.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Final Thoughts on the Most Important Day of My Life

Is it over? As much as I worried and as much as I stressed I am sad that it is over. I mean, how many times in a person's life do they sit next to a person who single handily changed the world?

If you read, or watched, my blog last week you know that this panel was the only thing I was thinking about. This continued after my last video blog before the panel and as I took my seat to watch Temple's keynote I was in a state of panic.

During her keynote I was listening, but nothing was processing. I was as scared as scared could get. My heart felt like it was at the back of my mouth and every breath was labored. My heart rate was way up and even though the room was ice cold my hands were sweating from my constant hand clasping. With each minute that passed I knew I was getting closer and as much as I wanted it to be over I also wanted time to freeze so I could perfect what I was going to say.

As Temple's keynote ended I had no idea what to do. I was a panelist, but didn't know where to go. That being the case I wandered to the stage with a look of complete lostness on my face. I have learned that this expression, more often than not, will get someone else to give me direction. That, and the fact that my name tag badge said, "Aaron Likens" and in big red letters below "Speaker".

For the moderator being on stage is something that requires no thinking. It is natural. For me, I was scared and she told me to just, "choose a seat." Being as nervous as I was, choosing a seat was something that quite simply could not be done. Which one do I choose? The other two men on the panel had already staked out their side and as I tried to sit they talked among themselves that they would save the end for Temple. My reaction to this was to just wander back to the middle portion of the stage.

Let me state that next time I do something like this, if there is a next time (please be a next time!), I will not have this pre-panel anxiety. Anytime something is new, and anytime the new event is something of this caliber, I will have a reaction like I had.

So I was lost once again and there was still 15 minutes until it started. The moderator was away from the stage so I just stood there with a look of complete despair.

I was experiencing every possible negative emotion a public speaker could feel before a presentation and it was amplified. I was fearful my words would not be heard. I feared that I would be unable to speak. I was sure someone would either yell at me or find something to throw at me. My biggest fear of all, and I didn't state it in either of my posts or video blogs, was that I was truly afraid another panelist would take offense to something I said or disagree whole-heartily and yell at me. These fears grew at an alarming rate with each passing second.

The moderator came back and I asked the question once again, "Where do I sit?" She at once said, "Wherever you feel most comfortable" but I don't know where that was. In fact, at that moment, feeling comfortable would have been impossible.

Knowing my weakness and knowing that if I didn't say anything I would continue standing there, I decided to take a chance and make a stand, "Could you tell me where to sit?"

That question may not seem like a big deal but it was a huge one for me. I spoke up for myself and that is something that doesn't normally happen. This was a momentary victory and she walked me up on stage just as Larry Kaplan (The CEO of USAAA) walked up. He said, "We will put Aaron here and Temple on the end."

"OH MY GOODNESS!" I thought in big bold letters, "Temple Grandin is going to be seated next to me?!" If there was pressure before it was minuscule compared to the pressure I now felt.

How does one react to knowing that they will be sitting next to a person who is on Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the WORLD?" Well, I can now say from experience, that a lot of shaking is involved. My hands started to shake and the moderator asked if I wanted any water and I said no, but then realized that holding the small cup of water would be a good way to hide my hand that was shaking.

As 10:30 neared Temple was called to the stage and then there she was. I have heard the term, "rubbing shoulders with the best" and always thought it was a figure of speech, but the way we were sitting I literally was rubbing shoulders with the best.

During the video that was played from a person who couldn't make it, (I honestly didn't hear one word of that video because I was scared almost to the point of fainting) my hands were shaking like there was an earthquake taking place in my arms. To make matters worse, Temple noticed this and kept looking at my hands.

At this point in time I accepted the fact that failure was not an option because there was no option because I WAS going to fail. I never had that level of emotion in my body and was about to give up when it seemed, out of nowhere (I was having trouble paying attention due to the flood of fear), it was time.

The moderator started the timer and I had no words pre-planned. I had no clue what I was going to say, but I just started talking. I don't remember the order of what I said, nor if it was any good, but I just tried to get as much relevant personal story out that I could in six minutes.

Within about 30 seconds of speaking I felt like I normally do in a presentation. Those pre-stage jitters? Gone. The acceptance of failure? Vanished. My only mission now was to get as many people to remember who I am and that there is hope and to not let autism define a person.

I don't remember much of what I said, but I do know Temple liked my line about having no idea what a prepositional phrase is when the grammar question came up. This was a turning point because beforehand I was worried I didn't belong up there. I am new, the rookie so to speak, and I was up with the big time. Speaking and noticing that Temple was agreeing with me gave me so much hope for myself. My fears of being yelled at vanished.

From that point, to the end, it was just a blur. I kept looking at the time of day clock that was on the back side of the podium thinking two things, "I hope I can get to the end without saying something stupid," and, "I wish this would go on forever."

The most awkward time came when Temple had to catch her flight and left. I didn't know whether or not to join in on the standing ovation so I kept looking over to the other two panelists. If they stood I would too, and they did so I joined in.

Then I was asked to tell the room how I choose my profession. It was about the only thing I remember word for word and I made sure, as I was saying it, to be forceful with my hands. The first three rows all shook their heads in agreement and I felt alive at that point in time. That moment was a moment of complete achievement. I knew then that what I had, and have, to say is not only heard, but people want to hear it.

Saturday October 2nd, 2010 will be a day I will remember forever. I got to sit next to Temple Grandin, on a panel, and along with the panel, got to tell our stories and gave people a glimpse into how our minds think. On that day I can think of no other place I would have rather been and I can think of no other place that could have been a bigger honor.

I started writing so I could be heard because I could not speak it, but I have grown now. I can speak and it is such a wonderful feeling to know that, even amongst the big time, I was heard.


Friday, October 1, 2010

The Eve Of...

This is it! I am just one night's sleep away from the event. I can't believe it. I know I have said this many times, but how many times in a person's life does a dream come true?

I had a blog post way back near the start in saying that I am, "living the dream" and I can't believe I haven't awoken from this dream yet.

If you have followed my blog from the start, or have read my book Finding Kansas, you know that things haven't always been like this for me. I'm glad they weren't or I wouldn't have anything to say.

Tomorrow is the result of all the hardship, all the pain, and most of all the relationships I had during that dark period. I would not have made it onto the panel with Temple Grandin if not for the employment Greg gave me several years ago, or the understanding my parents have had even before I was diagnosed. On top of all that the person that probably helped me the most, in terms of presentations, is Ron Ekstrand who put me in this position. I didn't know if I had the talent for this, but the potential was there and with his confidence here I am.

I'm sure there are others I should thank, but then I would be up all night. What I do want to say is that an understanding family, circle of friends, and employment is vital for growth and I have been blessed with the perfect situation.

It is getting late and I almost have tears in my eyes for I am going from the fear stage to the acceptance stage. I no longer fear making a fool of myself and I think I have a general idea of what I am going to say. Because of this I am now reflective of how I got here, hence my thanking people.

If I don't go to sleep now I will surely ramble on until 10:30AM. 14 hours separates me from that panel and I may not change the world on that panel, but I know that whatever I may say will be heard. When I started writing that is all that I wanted. So tonight is the eve of whatever lies ahead after tomorrow and I can't wait.

USAAA Part 2 Video

Live from the USAAA conference