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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Memories of 2010

I was lying in bed and came to the conclusion that I could not end my blog for the year with numbers. This year was too great and too special for me so I have to have a fitting end.

A year ago I was in a sad state. There was partial optimism because I just found out I would be giving 36 presentations to police officers, but other than that I had nothing to look forward to. I had my book, but my Amazon numbers were never anything to get excited about. My passion was auto racing and the dream of driving kept slipping further and further away. In all reality I didn't really know who I was or what I was meant to do.

On the day my first police presentation happened I was actually annoyed, in a way, that I had to get up before 1PM. You see, I had no job and was tired during the day and awake at night so I naturally was a night owl.

After my first presentation my mood changed. The first police presentation was only my 3rd bit of presenting ever and the reviews from the officers were actually good. I spoke, they listened and I wasn't arrested (I was actually afraid of this) so it was a good experience.

In January I had nine or so of those and February came and I felt more and more confident in front of a group. Other than police presentations at 1PM I still had no need to do anything else. Then it happened. I was doing the presentations at the police academy through TouchPoint working part-time and then I was offered the position of, "Community Education Specialist". I jumped at the chance, but only if I could start after my trip to Vancouver.

If there was ever a trip that was a great send off to a person's second half of life (that being a person with no direction to a person with a mission) my trip to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver was a perfect one. It was so good that it was the subject of my 2nd blog post.

I got some amazing photos while I was up there and also was very thankful that my friend Rob gave me the event ticket to go. What I was also thankful for was that Rob wants to be early at events like myself and we got on the first bus to the mountain and we got in the front row. If you were looking at the Woman's Aerials Finals for me, and you had no reason to do so because I still was invisible to this world, you would have seen me.






My trip to Vancouver wasn't just major for me because I lived out the dream of attending the Olympics, but rather a surprise presentation I gave at a Rotary club in Vancouver. I am smiling in this photo, because I truly was amazed that people listened to my message. I had just presented to officers and now I had spoke to people that weren't in a specific field or possibly had no dealing with the spectrum.

When I returned to Saint Louis I was not returning as a person with no direction, but rather a person who had found his calling. I may have had a calling though but I had no idea what I was going to do or how to do it. One of the first suggestions from the CEO of TouchPoint was for me to start a blog.

A person years ago had told my dad that I needed to start a blog if I wanted my book to ever get noticed. Because I knew nothing about a blog or how to write in it format I never tried, and now when the CEO asked me to I felt cornered.

I didn't want to do it. It was new, it was unknown, and I didn't know what to name it. I yelled, "Dang it!" when I came up with the name life on the other side of the wall because I then knew I had to do it. All my writings have, and probably always will, start with a title and since I had the title I was locked in.

As March came and went and my blog slowly picked up followers (let me tell you, when I picked up my first follower that I didn't know I did a major happy dance in my office.) I too slowly picked up momentum in my position. I started out presenting in a passive manor unsure of myself, but after touring the state and meeting people from all over the state I not only knew what my passion was, but I could feel it.

Near the end of March my publisher informed me that I should try and write an article for another blog to kick off Autism Awareness Month. I decided to write the story of how I got to the position where I was and it aired on my blog, Autism Learning Felt and then the biggest place of all.

One day on the first week in April I noticed an odd trend. My followers were going up and I had no idea why. I also had comments from people I never had seen and even still more people were following. I called my dad, somewhat in shock, and asked him what was going on. I thought maybe it was some sort of scam or perhaps someone hijacked my blog. Surely people weren't joining because they liked what I had to say? And surely not that many people would discover my blog at the same time? Both of those questions were answered to my favor when I went to Facebook and saw my picture on my wall, but it was posted by Autism Speaks. Someone told me I should remember that moment because, in their opinion, that was when I "made it".

May was a major month for me as I was asked to write an episode review of The Celebrity Apprentice for Autism Speaks. Watching the episode I did I watched with an awe and fear that I can't explain. It's one thing to write for myself, but when asked to write something for a specific purpose is something I had yet to do. I think I did a halfway decent job as they posted it on their blog.

Later in May I went to Indianapolis and met my friend Ryan from the Boston area. This was a multi-dimensional trip for me though as not only was I meeting a person I had raced on Xbox and Grand Prix Legends for years, but also I was going to do my first bit of working with USAC.

My first event in a flagstand outside of kart racing is a thing I will never forget. I state exactly how I felt about it in my blog post entitled The Best Experience Ever.

June proved to be my busiest month as I all but lived in hotels. It was an amazing month and a month that tested my endurance. I toured much of the Southwest and Southeast parts of Missouri and it was a month that I proved to myself that I could do this. What I mean by this is that it's one thing to stay in Saint Louis and write from my office and give presentations in the Saint Louis area, but now I was driving all about and was always on the go. Previously I don't know if I could have done this, except maybe for racing of course, but this was something new and I loved it.

Not only was I traveling and giving presentations, but I could feel the impact I was having. Up to this point I still was unsure of my impact. Yes people came, and people clapped at the end of my presentations, but now I was getting e-mails of thanks and I was in shock.

In July I started my Great Sunglasses Experiment and my blog took off. During this time I also had two major events in the racing realm. The first event was my first event as the sole flagman of a USAC event. The event was the Battle at the Brickyard and was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The cars racing were quarter-midgets, but nonetheless any event on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a major deal and I felt so much pride and fulfillment from stepping foot on the grounds as a flagman.

The week after this event I was off to Shawano, Wisconsin for the SKUSA Summer Nationals. Not only was this event a race I was flagging, but also I had a personal mission to get one of my books to Jamie McMurray. Even to this day I still can't believe how big of a drama this was for me. I had people texting me, others e-mailing me, and all around I thought I was in the midst of a Nike ad campaign because everyone was telling me to "just do it". It took a bit of help from Ekartingnews.com's Rob Howden, but it got done and was a great example that sometimes people on the spectrum will need just a little bit (or in this case a lot) of help.

August was actually a rough month for me. Not because I was overly busy, but rather because my month was rather empty. I was coming off of two months of nothing but go go go and now it was a building month. Truly I felt sad and I grew tired and bitter because I simply had no place to go and no place to speak to.

The end of August got busy as Rob, the friend from Vancouver, came down and we went to the IZOD Indycar race in Chicago and then the go-kart race at Rock Island. It was a great bridge for me and it allowed me to forget about the emptiness I felt.

Once Rob left it was like starting my job anew. A funny thing happened though quickly after my return and it seemed I was the only one that didn't know it was going to happen.

It came in an e-mail about the USAAA conference. I knew I was going to be a panelist on a panel, but didn't know what that was or what it entailed. In the e-mail however I quickly learned that this panel wasn't just a panel, it was the panel as Temple Grandin was going to be on it.

Time crawled for me and even though it was almost three months ago, I still remember and can feel all the anxiety and tension from the anticipation.

Eventually the day came and I survived. I don't know what I said on the panel and even though I have a DVD of the panel I don't think I will ever be able to watch it.

I went back on the road in October and November and had my first television interview while I was in Hannibal. After that I had the SKUSA Super Nationals in Las Vegas which proved to have some rather wacky and non-typical Las Vegas weather.

All the time and all the travels I have done this year I have taken you with me. There have been highs, and there have been lows, but through it all it has been a great ride. I didn't know if this blog would last one month, but now I over 400 followers. Instead of being fearful of this world of blogging I now get excited each day something happens in my life that I will be able to write about the next day.

2010 was an amazing year for me. I think where I was a year ago and I laugh. A year ago I believed change would take years to happen. A full time job was something that I couldn't even imagine because I didn't think I would have the energy for it or would there ever be a job that would fit me. I also wondered if I would ever be able to make an impact, and of course I though this would take years to happen, but in just one year I have spoken to over 4,000 people. 4,000! I don't know what you consider a lot of people, but 4,000 to me is a huge success.

I sit here writing this and I am afraid. A year ago the only thing I looked forward to was the times I could play NHL 10 over Xbox Live. I am afraid to even begin to think how much of a difference can happen in a year. I mean, what will I be writing on December 30, 2011? It is a scary thought but I can't wait to bring you along with me as I continue my mission and passion, working for TouchPoint, and raising as much awareness and understanding as possible.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Numbers of 2010

Perhaps it is due to the holiday season, but the amount of view my blog has received has been about half of a normal month. I don't want to create great articles if people aren't going to read them so I thought I would conclude 2010 with an article on random numbers of my blog and life from this year. So here now are the numbers of 2010:

#of blog views this year: 59,175
Top 5 most viewed articles (these are page clicks and not main page views)
1.Defining It 2,304
2.The Day Before the Great Sunglasses Experiment 1,221
3. Why We Walk 876
4. If You've Met One Person 207
5. My Experience In TouchPoint's Parent Training 200

Most viewed month: July 14,112
Most commented article: Defining It 28
# of presentations: 94
# of people at presentations: 4,219!
# of miles driven for presentations or races worked: 11,461!
# of miles flown: 12,000
# of hate mail received from bog: 2
# of e-mails thanking me for my blog: too many to count
Largest presentation: USAAA conference (panel), 700
# of hotels stopped at while driving to see if I had any blog comments: more than I'd like to admit
# of counties in Missouri I gave a presentation in: 27 (out of114)
# of police officers out of my 4,219 at presentations: 1,000!
# of countries presented in: 2 (USA, Canada)
# of countries that at least one person has viewed my blog: 40

So that was my year in numbers. I still can't believe my blog or presentations skill has grown to the size it has in just nine months. I have never been happier and would not trade my current position for anything. I hope I can continue to bring relevant stories and examples from life on the spectrum. I have no clue how I have written 240 posts in just one year without a struggle and I never thought I might be in a position to help bring about so much awareness and understanding.

I truly want to thank every reader of my blog whether you are a regular, or have just read one time. Even for those that have read just once I hope that they went away with just a bit more knowledge then they came with.

With that I would like to wish you, wherever you may be, a happy new year and thank you for letting my experiences be part of your day!

My normal blog schedule will resume January 3rd unless a story or experience warrants sooner posting.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Aaron vs. The Teacher That Told Me I Was Wrong When I Knew I Was Right

This story will sometime make it into my presentation. I think it is a great example, but normally I will think of it during the Q & A segment at the end, but maybe I should use it every time.

Anyway, this story was relived last week when I drove through my old neighborhood and saw my old elementary school and the teacher's house that this story is about.

It was 4th grade and it was sometime near the start of the school year. There was a test that I think was a common sense or rational guesses test. In this test there was a question and here it is: How hot is the normal bath? Is it A. 72 degrees B. 99 degrees or C. 139 degrees.

When I saw this question I knew the answer. I knew it because there was a time that I was fixated on temperatures and I would put a thermometer in every bath I did. The temps ranged from 99-104 so I knew the answer so I marked, with confidence, that the answer was 99.

The next day I thought nothing of the previous day's test. When the test was returned though I had one wrong and it was the bath question. I instantly put my hand up and asked how this was wrong. "Aaron, everyone knows that room and bath temperature is 72 degrees." Other students chimed in on this and I was the only one in the class who put 99 as an answer.

I loved my 4th grade teacher, but she did have a habit of grading tests without seeing the test key. This was one of those times and I could not convince her that I was right. In class I even said that the neighborhood pool closed anytime the pool got under 75 degrees. This fact fell on deaf ears.

So what to do? I knew I was right and I would not stand for this mark off my score. After school I decided to take up my cause by riding my bicycle. How would this help? Well, my teacher was a mini-marathon runner and I knew her route around the outer orbit of the neighborhood. Since I knew she ran counter-clockwise around the neighborhood I would ride clockwise. If this didn't work I would ride my bike near her house until I found her.

I got my exercise that evening but as I turned around the Northwest corner of the neighborhood I came across her. I passed her and then slowly turned around and slowly rode up beside her. I tried to act as nonchalantly as possible but I probably was as predictable as the sunrise.

After a couple seconds I couldn't take it anymore so I asked, "About that test?" She responded with, "Aaron, everyone knows it's 72 degrees." I knew room temp was, but not bath. I explained this logic and the fact that the swimming pool closed at 75 and eventually, and probably just to get me to leave her alone to her running, she agreed to check the test key in the morning.

The next morning I took my test that had the one answer marked wrong and I confidently, and in a cocky manner, walked to the teacher's desk and slowly placed my test on her desk. Out came the infamous red pen and she unmarked the 95 and unmarked the "X" on the question and the much sought after "100" was put at the top of the test.

Now here is where my story turns Aspergerish. Most students would leave it at that and take pride in the score and moral victory. Myself? I knew all the other students in the class had false marks on the test so I asked the teacher, "Are you going to take points off of all the other kids tests because they said 72?"

I insisted and insisted that since the other students got it wrong they should be marked for it, but the other students that heard this, and the teacher thought this would be a nasty move. This frustrated me as they were wrong, but they got credit for it anyway.

In my presentations I am able to explain my emotions a bit better than I think I have done on here. This was a thorn in my side during this ordeal because I KNEW I was right. I can not tolerate being right and being told I am wrong. Did I take it a bit far wanting all the other students being deducted points for their wrong answers? Maybe, but they were wrong, weren't they?

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Party At The Airport

Last night I tried and tried to go to sleep, but each hour came and went with sleep still being ever elusive. Once I was asleep and woke up I was as tired as I was when I first tried to go to sleep. My dreams last night were as vivid as reality, but I know I am just a few days away from being out of the memory trap know as December.

Thankfully for me our traditional Christmas won't happen as normal. The weather played tricks on my mom yesterday and she got iced in at a house in Rapid City. She may have been stuck but the airport was operational and her flight departed on time.

With that curveball my mom had to play the game of trying to figure out how to get to where she wants to go. After several hours on the phone with the airline she got a flight to Indy, but she doesn't come in tonight until 10:55PM.

With this schedule change all of the normal routines obviously aren't going to go according to plan. Most of the time I would not like this, but I have tried to avoid the Christmas routine since 2003 and this year I don't have to try to avoid it as my nephew, sister and myself will be having a Christmas party at the airport to wait for her arrival.

It won't be a traditional Christmas, but I am okay with that.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Memories of Indianapolis and Getting Stuck In The Snow

Arriving in Indianapolis yesterday unleashed a multitude of memories. When I come up for the Indy 500 in May all the memories are racing based and aren't overwhelming like it is for Christmas.

I was a little ahead of schedule so I decided to drive by one of the houses I grew up in. I normally go by the first house I can remember, but this year I decided to go by the second (the first is super easy to get to and is just a three minute detour).

My first thoughts as I got off of I-465 was, "Wow... Snow!" It's been ages since I have seen a proper snow total on the ground. In Saint Louis we seem to get plenty of frozen precipitation, but usually it is freezing rain or sleet. I like snow so seeing snow on the ground was fun.

As I neared the neighborhood known as College Park I was taken back to all the events and times of my when I lived there. I could remember pulling onto the road that leads into with my sister in the dark of night in 1992 with the kittens who would be named Siam and Amsterdam. Or the day I played in the big field with a kite and hours later there was a bad storm and we went to the basement.

Navigating the neighborhood was fun as the roads still had snow and ice on them. A couple of turns and there it was, a house I lived in. I know time, for me, is different and it felt out of place for me to be driving a car down this small street because I can remember all the times riding down that street as a child thinking about what it must be like to drive a car.

If I stayed on that street for too long I may have had a real hard time leaving so I quickly put the car in reverse and left, but before I left the neighbothood I wanted to drive my car on the path that I used to ride my bike.

One of the streets I drove past was the street my 4th grade teacher lived on. This brought out many memories of that school year and sometime next week I will tell you one of my favorite events from that year. Trust me when I say it is one of those, "classic Asperger moments". After I had seen enough of the old neighborhood I proceeded to drive to my sister's house.

On my way out of the neighborhood I drove past a tree. This tree still shows the signs of a wreck I saw the aftermath of ten years ago. The day I saw this was the day my nephew Caden was born. I was near the exit of the neighborhood when I saw a pickup truck wedged into this tree with steam for the radiator boiling out. I stopped and got out to see if the driver was okay and the driver got out of the car dazed. He may have been drunk, but nonetheless I asked, "Are you okay?" He responded with something along the lines of, "Yes, now leave me alone." and with that he went walking. I asked if I should call an ambulance and he just continued walking in an aimless way. I didn't have a cell phone at the time so I simply drove away wondering how on Earth a person could drive straight off the road like this person did. One day later the pickup was still there.
I could write on and on about memories, but I am going to do my best today to avoid the thought of Christmas' pasts. So with that being so I will instead tell you the story of a late night run to the store that saw me get stuck in the snow.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening talking with my sister. One conversation led to another and eventually we talked about food and nuts came up and I got a serious craving for sunflower seeds. Now, I don't like just any seed, but David brand now has a Jalapeno flavored one and I know I have bought and ate more of those bags than should be allowed by law. The Mobil station next to TouchPoint sells them and every time I go in to stock up the cashier tells me, "Boy, you sure love your sunflower seeds". Yes. Yes I do!

Being seedless I decided to make a run to the grocery store in hopes that they sell that flavor. Most grocery stores don't sell the Jalapeno, but it was worth the risk seeing that the store is one minute away. Well, it should be one minute but as I was backing out of the driveway I didn't carry enough speed and before I knew it my front tires were stuck in a valley of snow.

I tried to pull forward, but I just heard my engine revving. I tried to go back and more revving without moving. I got out of my car and walked to my sister who was still in the garage and asked, "You got a shovel?"


We shoveled... okay I tried, but my sister did most of the work and I got into the car and tried again with no luck. More shoveling, more trying, no luck. My sister then stated that I should push as she tried to back out. This ended with me pushing and nearly falling, but the car still was stuck in the snow.

I got back in when we shoveled to the cement and I thought I was going to make it, but my tires just spun. My engine went up to 3,500RPM's in that attempt and afterwards there was the distinct smell of burnt rubber in the air. This would have been cool had I been moving, but I managed to burn rubber standing still. I don't know about you but I am going to say that takes major skill.

We tried and tried and eventually my sister said she would push. Where I had failed in my pushing my sister pushed and I was in the street and I was on my way to the store. So much time had passed that I forgot why I wanted to go in the firs place, but by the time I got there I had remembered, but then I was disappointed because the curse of the Jalapeno flavored sunflower seeds in grocery stores continued. In the least they had the chili line flavored ones, but they aren't as good.

So later today I pick my mom up at the airport, and then we will be eating at Noble Roman's (home of the best bread stick/cheese sauce combo in the world!). Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I will be that much closer to getting out of this month, but tomorrow is the hardest day of the month. I am thinking about sending my yearly apology to Emily, but she say I don't need to do it each year. I thought I could get away from writing about that, but I guess not. In any event it is just 8 days to go until January!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The View From Above and A Drive to Indy

After several cancellations today was finally good enough weather for me to go on my helicopter ride. A month or two ago at the Crisis Intervention Team banquet I was the winner of the silent auction item of a ride in a Metro Air Support helicopter.

I didn't know what to expect and was actually quite nervous as I left my house. To quell the nerves I listened to the song "Liberation of Gracemeria" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HGQS5XSoJ4) and it seemed to work, but as I neared the airport I realized I had no idea where to go.

To help find the location I turned to the certificate that was given to me at the banquet and it had the phone numbers, but I hate calling people and I had already called once to confirm that the weather wasn't going to ground the flight again.

I drove up and down the road and saw sign after sign and hangar after hangar but didn't see anything that was helicopter based or police based. Defeated, I got out my cell phone and dialed them again and held my breath and hoped that they wouldn't be angry that I didn't know where I should have gone.

Of course my phone anxiety was all for not and once I was directed as to where to go there was no way for me to have known. One of the pilots led me in and we went straight into the hangar where the impressive fleet of helicopters were.

I was given a brief explanation of the helicopters they use and their operation hours. I didn't realize that Metro Air Support was operation for all hours of the day (that explains the helicopters at 1AM I used to hear all the time) and they support Saint Louis City, Saint Louis County, and Saint Charles County.

After the brief intro the time for fear was over as we went outside and entered the helicopter that we would be flying through the air in. I had one flight in a helicopter before, but this was an ultra-small helicopter and was a brief flight at a tourist attraction in Keystone, South Dakota. That flight was in 1991, I think, so it had been a while.

As a warning, and a precaution, air-sickness bags were given to me and I was told to let the two pilots know if I felt ill at all. I thought back to my flight from 1991 and didn't remember any ill feelings, but when the pilot told me this helicopter was able to do full rolls and stay in the air I could see why one could possibly get sick (not that rolls were on the menu for the day).

The engine fired and before it did I worried about how loud it would be, but with the headset it wasn't that bad; in fact even without a headset the noise wasn't all that bad. We sat on the landing pad and waited...and waited... and finally there was lift and we were airborne.

The feeling of rising vertically caught me off guard. I'm used to planes, and I even took pilot's lessons back in 2001-2002, but this felt odd. We rotated and headed to the East and headed towards the city.

The navigator asked me for my address and he punched it in and we started heading in that direction. On the way though there was a traffic stop in Maplewood so the pilot began to orbit the scene of the traffic stop. The navigator reached towards the pouch in front of me and pulled out some binoculars. The officer on the ground got out of his car and approached the car he had stopped. We remained above until the officer was walking back to his car and then headed towards my house.

All this time it was so odd to see all the places I knew from street level from the air. The world looks so peaceful from 800 feet. Places also look a lot closer, but with a max speed of 170mph anything in a city would be rather close in a helicopter like this.

Within seconds we were over the house I live in and I know I have said, "it felt odd" many times, but I know of no other way to state how I felt seeing my house from above. Everything looks so peaceful and small.

After a few orbits there was a call just a mile or so from my house so we made a hard turn and now I knew why there were air sickness bags. Seriously, the G's I felt in this bank rivaled anything I felt on a race track. I could feel the blood moving throughout my body and was amazed at the sensations I felt.

The sensations were move than just pressure as thoughts became easier. I don't know how better to explain this as it happens so fast. Perhaps it can be compared to the moments right before sleep to obtained, and if that's the case perhaps the feeling isn't the best one. Okay, now I know, with that pressure of the corner it feels very much like a fever. My mind is slower. Why this is? I don't know and this is just an observation, but I would certainly need to experience that more to come to a conclusion.

When we got to the call I could hear on the headset that the situation down below was not a peaceful one. There was one officer there, then another car showed, and by the 15th orbit four squad cars were outside the place of residence. Once the situation was under control we headed towards downtown.

One of my favorite memories of all time was when I was a child and I was on a plane headed back to the Indianapolis Airport. It was just becoming night time and we flew in over downtown. As far back as I can remember I have loved downtowns, and today was very much like being back all those years ago. But instead of being on a plane with a brief view, I was in a helicopter that was doing circles around downtown.

I took two photos and here they are:



After patrolling the downtown area we flew south and I was still in awe of all the places I recognized and the peacefulness the world seemed to have. For a while we flew over the South County Center Mall and I had many memories of what it was like working the holiday season. This led to a web of thoughts and I, for the first time during the day, realized that Christmas is just two days away and I also realized that the 7 year anniversary of knowing that I am on the spectrum came and went.

There was one more call that we covered that turned out to be a false alarm, but as we headed back to the airport I came to the conclusion that I feel much safer now knowing that there is this eye in the sky. I wanted to tell the two pilots that they have one of the coolest jobs in the world because they keep officers and people on the ground safe, but they also have the best view of Saint Louis on a daily basis.
The landing was sad in a way because it meant the flight was over. It was well worth it though as we were in the air for around 90 minutes give or take 30 (I know, big margin of error). After I got off the helicopter I thanked the co-pilot and I was on my way.

From the airport I started my way towards Indianapolis. My mom is going to my sister's house for Christmas and I decided to join them, but I was going up Thursday but the weather forecast looked grim as of last night (it looks not as grim now).

If you have followed my blog this month you will know that December is a tough month for me. Even though this has been the best year of my life by far, this month still has me down like every other year. That being so, the drive to Indy is really difficult because I am able to recall all the drive I have driven previously. Be it 1998, 1996, or even the deathly scary foggy drive of 2004 when I left Saint Louis after bowling at midnight.

The drive itself wasn't that bad today, except for the same company of semi-trucks that drove side by side doing 45 in a 65 for 20 miles.

As for the memories? Well, I think this blog is long enough for one day so I will end this at that and talk about more memories from Indianapolis tomorrow.




Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making An Impact

One of the things I do here at TouchPoint is to go with Matt, the Community Liaison, to visit pediatricians. I look forward to these events because no two are alike and this provides an unique challenge. Some doctors are on the cutting edge of what autism is and others, well, aren't. With that being so these visits, known as lunch and learns, can be really talkative, or rather quiet. There was one lunch and learn that I said, "hello" and that was it and then there's others that I am the only one talking. While these events have been scattered through out the year I think I will remember yesterday's lunch and learn for some time to come.

The office we visited had several doctors and during the lunch hour they rotated in and out. This always is difficult for me because I have to repeat the same story twice and in my mind the second person in already knows what they didn't hear because I already said it once. So awkward!

I survived the awkwardness with a little prompting from Matt and the first three doctors in the room had some great questions, but the 4th one in was an unique challenge.

First, all the doctors at this practice knew what the autism spectrum was. I hate to say that because you'd think that would be the norm for 100% of the doctors, but it is not. Secondly, the doctors wanted to know more and this too should be the norm across the board. Anyway, the 4th doctor in had many questions about what TouchPoint is and what we do.

The conversation stayed on TouchPoint for some time and this doctor was having a hard time buying into the fact that people who are mildly on the spectrum should receive help. He was concerned about misdiagnoses and the like. He stated that it just made no sense that he has seen two different cases of autism, both families didn't receive any help, and one kid became much more functional than the other and there was no reason why.

Before you jump on the doctors case I was able to see it from his point of view. This doctor kept saying that there is no black and white test for those on the spectrum and he truly wanted to know why. At this point Matt was called by a doctor to talk to one of the staff in the office and the room emptied to just me and this 4th doctor. I felt the nerves kick in because this was the one-on-one conversation I yearn for. This became a game and I felt as if I were back at the video game store making a sale, but instead of selling a simple magazine subscription I was selling TouchPoint and the need for families to seek out the right information about autism.

This doctor was still hung up on the notion that diagnosing autism is a subjective affair. The ADOS was explained and this seemed to ebb the fire inside him a bit, but he still wanted to have a way to know if it truly would be the autism spectrum, or ADD, or any of the other things it could be.

I don't remember what the opening was, but for the longest time in the conversation I was waiting to use my cement theory. This doctor by all means wants to help and this conversational debate was him trying to grasp something that he can't simply see in an easy test like, say, taking a person's temperature. In my presentations I joke that, "We live in a society that wants everyone and everything to fit in a nice tidy box and the autism spectrum most certainly is not a tidy box." and this doctor is an example of that. Anyway, the opening was there and I stated the fact that so many great minds probably had Asperger Syndrome and that getting help early is going to going to maximize the chances that behavioral issues won't be an issue later on. If a child is ravaged with issues early on and never grows out of it and the school system casts them aside, well, then that means so much human potential will never be met.

With the last line of the previous paragraph I had a complete change in tone and was much more open to referring out those who may have Asperger Syndrome to get help.

Matt came back in (he had a conversation much like mine with someone else) and as we left I was truly shaking from thinking about the size of the impact that one hour had. This practice is quite large and while the doctors knew about the autism spectrum and did all the tests such as the M-CHAT they didn't know the importance of the early intervention. Before our lunch and learn the autism spectrum was just a 2D concept with little to no soul, but I am certain after our lunch yesterday the spectrum became a 3D concept that was better understood and the importance of what to do when they suspect the autism spectrum became clear.

I am so thankful I have this chance to make a difference. I am also thankful to come across doctors who want to know about the spectrum but are somewhat timid because of all the "misinformation" out there. I'm sure there are many more doctors out there who are in the same boat as the 4th doctor from yesterday. They want to know and they want to do the most good but with some information, right and wrong, about the spectrum they just can't grasp the spectrum. Yesterday I think Matt and I helped them grasp it and the best part of this story? There's another lunch and learn today at another office! But of course, I have no idea what to expect.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What I Want To Say, But Never Have

Much like my entry entitled An Aspie's Dream I could have sat on this piece of writing and saved it for a future book, but I can't sit on something like this as this needs to be shared with the world.

There are so many things I wish I could say but never seem to be able to. I may go about my day without saying it, or without showing it, but I really do appreciate those around me. I don't know how to simply say, "thank you" in a meaningful way so often I say nothing at all. Regardless of what is spoken, or what is shown, I truly am grateful.

There are times that I am happy, times I am anxious, and other times when I am sad. Sometimes the emotions are so great it feels as if I am going to burst into pieces, but sometimes you may not know it because I will not say it. I have heard people say that those on the spectrum don't have emotions and let me tell you that you should never think this. Not even for a second! I experience the whole array of emotions and maybe I experience them more than you, but I don't know how to express it. Sometimes emotions confuse me and I don't know how to state how I feel. This may come across as being emotionless, and when you ask me I may not respond with how I feel, but I wish I could. I wish I could tell you that I am happy, I really do, but often those words go by unspoken.

There are times when people ask me a question because I look troubled and I so badly want to explain how I feel and that I am not troubled, but most times I say nothing. I may sometimes appear annoyed at being asked a question, but this is just my usual knee-jerk reaction to an unsuspected conversation. Afterwards I will realize that the person meant no harm and I wish I could, at that very moment, say thank you and explain how and why the autism spectrum got in the way of what, for others, occurs without thought.

There are times that I can get frustrated and am unable to say what is bothering me. I will sit there slowly building up pressure until I can no longer take it. I may say something rude or in a loud tone, but as annoyed as I am at whatever it was that was irking me I too am frustrated at myself that I simply couldn't say what I needed changed. Because I am aware of the differences I don't want to be a burden and I am afraid to ask for things regardless if it is small or large. I am happy with my differences, and want you to be too and that's why I sometimes am afraid to say, "could you turn the music down?" or, "could we not enter the busy shopping center today as I have had an already stressful day?" I'm afraid if I ask for these small things you may define me by the autism spectrum and while I'm proud to be on the spectrum, and would not wish it away upon myself, I don't want you to see the autism spectrum in me because first and foremost I am me.

There are times I have heard a scary word. I don't know how to react to this word and with each time I hear it I get more and more confused. I should know how to respond, but I get so confused that I simply say nothing at all. This may confuse my family as I usually remain silent when I hear them say, "I love you". This could lead a person to think that I am unable to experience love. Again, please NEVER allow yourself to think this. The emotions are there, oh! how they are there! Emotions like love simply overwhelm my ability to express anything so I say nothing. I don't want to be rude when I do this, but it may come across like it. I so badly want to say just how much those in my life mean to me but often, well, always I seem to say nothing. There is so much to say though because without the support of my family I wouldn't be who I am. Without them believing in me I may never have believed in myself. How do I say this in words each time I hear, "I love you?" I don't know how to therefore I say nothing.

There are so many positives to who I am, but often it seems the only things people remember about me are the things I left unsaid. I want to say something when this happens, but I let it pass. Some may say that I simply don't care, but this could not be farther from the truth. I do care, but I simply don't know how to show it. This is why I want to say all the things I have said in this writing. It is because of this I want, no, need to say the feelings I feel. I may need to, but often I don't state how thankful I am that people care about me. Being on the spectrum can be a gift, but with that gift comes challenges and it takes support from people like teachers, friends, and most of all family to get through it all. I may never be able to say what this all means to me, but trust me when I say I do feel it even if I can't speak it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Need To Know

Yet again I am suffering through a sleepless December night. This bit of insomnia was surely triggered by my planning out yesterday's blog on Wednesday (some blogs are a week or more in thought before they get written). The flood of memories was great, but it is nothing to the current state I am in.

I spent most of Thursday lost in deep thought. Anytime there are emotions involved in my life I tend to retreat and slow down. Around noon I became angry with myself. I started thinking about all the times I have said the wrong thing... or texted the wrong thing and I said aloud, "Aaron, how could you have been so blind?"

This line of thought never leads to anywhere productive and I slowly crept to a dark place. It has been years since the events of Christmas pasts, but to me they are still as fresh as if they were events that happened yesterday.

Again, this line of thought can't possibly achieve anything because what's done is done. Knowing this, and actually abiding by this are two different things and I continued to get angry with myself; furious at one point.

For one reason or another as I was managing my blog I went through all the months of my blog this year and read the entry titles. I don't know if I will ever read anything I write after I click the, "Publish Post" button, but I was able to remember all the places I have been and all the hope people said I brought to them. "Hope?" I asked in inquisitively aloud even though no one could hear me. I then let go of my self hatred and said, "Hope." with a courage that felt out of place. (It was out of place because courage and December, in my book, are polar opposites).

Why was I hooked on hope? December may be a rough month for me, but without the almost Hollywood type scripts of my past Christmas experiences I may never have accepted that I was on the spectrum. Furthermore it is from the sorrow I feel from the whole breaking up on Christmas via text message that lets me bypass all the fears of standing in front of a group. Why? Because the world needs to understand and those that may be on the spectrum need to know.

The need to know can't be stated enough. Imagine if I would have had the same life up until now minus my current job and minus knowing that I was on the spectrum. I would have no knowledge of why eye contact is difficult and why I prefer to be alone. I would have many questions and few answers. Using logic the only thing I would be able to understand is that I must be a huge failure. Again, the self hatred path achieves nothing, but this is the trap of being on the spectrum and not knowing it.

Does knowing it cure it? Of course not, but it gives a reason. Without a reason one only has them self to blame and over time bitterness will fill the person up. Through this, hope is a word that does not exist and the attempt to better one's self is not even thought of. How do I know this? I was there. I had the diagnosis but refused to accept what it meant. I refused to accept the diagnosis because I was scared. The information I read when first diagnosed was not worded all that well and I simply lived life blaming myself.

It was during the day when I was thinking about the story of the last paragraph that hope began to flourish within me again. I think back to a couple presentations in the summer and parents, who had brought their teenagers to my presentations, said afterwards that their kids had said that they saw a lot of themselves in me and that maybe it isn't so bad after all.

I fight this battle within myself every so often and certainly every December. However I always seem to come to the same conclusion and that is, if I had to endure the pains and cause the pain I did to get to this point that I am having a positive impact on the world, and raising awareness and understanding then who am I to complain? December may be rough, but how many people out there have a story like mine without the knowledge that the autism spectrum element is in play? I wonder if their friends or family get angry with them because they think they are "weird" or "odd" or I wonder if they hate themselves for whatever social awkwardness they have endured.

Through this sleepless night my passion has be renewed yet again. I still firmly believe that, "understanding is the foundation for hope" and the world needs to know about the spectrum. Furthermore, those that are undiagnosed need to know more than anyone else. There is always hope, but only if one knows what they are dealing with. I am sure there are people going through what I did during the time I rejected my diagnosis. This though motivates me and I am actually anxious for 2011 and all the possibilities it has. I can't wait to get back in front of an audience or have an extended conversation with an expert or a doctor. I may be excited for the future, but again there are those that aren't, and while my work may not make someone's life better directly or give them the magical cure, it may start the path to understanding and that first step is the step towards hope.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Day I Mailed Corporate

I started thinking about what to blog about today last night. This led to a flood of thoughts and sleep was once again an issue and has led to a  flurry of other concepts.

This story takes place when I worked at the video game store. I took the numbers of sales very seriously, perhaps too much, and I was always looking for that edge to set myself, and the store apart. The managers there became apathetic towards the numbers and I felt as if I were the only one who cared.

All of this was okay because I was single handily, in my 18-28 hours of work each week, keeping the store's numbers in what the home office wanted to see. As good as this pattern was it all came to a crashing halt when the new wing of the mall opened up and a competing store opened.

One of the biggest sales numbers corporate wanted was reservations. To reserve a game all a customer had to do was put $10 down and we guaranteed them a copy on release day. The competing store though offered $5 reservations and loyal customer after loyal customer began to walk around with competitor's bags. I was furious.

I've heard the saying that, "It's not personal, it's business" but the way I sold was by making a personal connection. albeit a false one like a used cars salesman, so I took this new store as personal as one could. I loved the art of making a sales pitch, and this new store had come and destroyed the game I loved so much.

I asked the manager if our reservations would drop down to $5 and he said, "Corporate said not a chance". This further angered me because we were the only store in the district that had a competing store. I am very competitive and our numbers tanked. I took this personally and I felt a deep passion to get the store out of this rut.

On a slow Thursday night I decided to use our computers that allowed for communication with the home office and I wrote a letter on why we needed to go to $5 reservations. This letter was the first thing I had written since 7th grade (four years) and I wrote with a deep passion.

I may have had a deep passion, but my knack for writing in the conversational tone was there as was writing with a hint of sarcasm. Thinking about this I now know my gift of writing was always there because I must of had three or four pages of reasons why we needed to go to $5. Corporate, at the time, believed there was no difference in 5 or 10 because in the end the price was the same, but to the customer there was a big difference and the numbers proved it.

When I got done with the letter I sat on it for 10 minutes wondering who, if anyone, would see it. I eventually came to the conclusion that I had an idea, and the worst ideas are the ones that are not shared. With that I turned to the manager and he put in his code and the letter was sent.

Several days passed and I heard nothing from the manager. I wanted to ask about it, but I was scared that I would be fired for speaking up.

A week passed and the manager finally said, "You got me in a lot of trouble! Your letter found its way to some important people and they did not like the non-professional tone of the letter! Sarcasm? You used sarcasm? I knew I should have read it before you sent it. They wanted me to fire you, but we're starting $5 reservations next week."

I don't know if this is a story of victory, or defeat. I got what I wanted, but getting the tongue lashing I did I have been afraid to speak up ever since. Of course, at the time of this story in 2001, I was not diagnosed yet and I had a hard time understanding why the people in the corporate office would have found anything wrong with what I wrote. I got stuck on this and did not see the fact that I had, perhaps, aided in changing a policy of the company. Since that day I have, sadly, had many "worst ideas" because I am afraid to share.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Musical Dream Come True

If you've been to one of my presentations this year you may have heard me talk about things that I became fixated on in the year 2009. This part of my presentation isn't given every time, but when I do I mention that in 2009 I was fixated on Chess for a while, then North Korea. I like calling these come and go fixations the, "suburbs of Kansas".

I did say there were three things and the #1 fixation of 2009 was, of all things, the music from Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Yes, I know, a very obscure thing to become fixated on, but with Asperger Syndrome there isn't a willful choice as to what will or won't become a suburb. (In case you don't know my Kansas concept I state: If you paralyzed in every state except Kansas, where would you want to live? Kansas is or are the thing(s) or activities that us people on the spectrum will think about non-stop, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. Some people may just have one thing and that's it, myself I have auto racing and my job as the "capitol" of Kansas with many revolving suburbs).

During the final six months of 2009 I watched every episode of the US Syndicated version. I didn't do this because of the questions, although I must admit I do love the game, but rather the music. When the show wasn't on I would head on over to YouTube to listen to the music. There was one video that had all the music from Season 8 of the syndicated version in order and I think I must have accounted for 80% of the video views because I watched in non-stop.

I may have been able to watch it at 10PM on KDNL and I may have been able to listen to fragments of it on YouTube, but one night in my extensive research of the game show and music I cam across the fact that there was an album of the music. There was a slight problem though; the soundtrack I found was on ebay.co.uk and the price... $200! I was jobless and even if I had a job at the time I don't know if I would ever pay $200 for a soundtrack... then again I am on the spectrum and maybe, just maybe, I would.

I was discouraged and went to Amazon.com and put in the title and there it was, an album for $.01! I felt like I had cheated the system and I purchased it and watched the mailman slowly work his way to my house each day.

One week later the package came and I had trouble putting the disc in the tray because I was just so excited. Once I did the screen said, "13 tracks". I was confused as the album I saw on the UK Ebay site said 76 tracks. The music started to play and it was not the same album. What I purchased was http://www.amazon.com/Who-Wants-Be-Millionaire-Album/dp/B00004U9LQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292426968&sr=1-1 and what I wanted was http://www.amazon.com/Who-Wants-Millionaire-Keith-Strachan/dp/B00004TACO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1292426968&sr=1-2. Same name, but much different discs (I don't know where the 13 track disc is anymore... I was mad).

After that episode I sort of lost interest in the music of the show and I stopped watching the show. I hate to say this because it may seem like I am shallow, but getting that 13 track disc was one of the bigger disappointments of my life. This, right here, is the power of Kansas. Kansas can make things seem more relevant, or make other aspects of life less relevant. This disappointment was enough to change the flow of what my interests are and that takes a lot of power.

Every so often I would look on the internet for the actual Album and one would appear on amazon.co.uk now and then, but the prices are always high (there is one currently at 39.99 British Pounds). Then, on a hail Mary chance, I looked on the US Ebay site and lo and behold there it was! a WWTBAM album that didn't have Regis Philbin on the cover (no offense Regis, I am a big fan of you work on the ABC Primetime show for all those years, but the album your face is on saddened me) and was the official album. But wait, what was the price? "Twenty dollars!?" I said aloud. "$20!... YESSSSSSSSS!" I didn't hesitate and I bought it and I waited.

My interest was spiked once again and I went back to the YouTube site to listen to the music. The seller had a low feedback rating and I was worried that this was some sort of scam because some of these discs have gone for $200 and I got it at 10% of that. I mean, if it's too good to be true...

When I got home from work yesterday I had a package. Opening it was difficult because I was just so excited. I held my breath that Regis Philbin's face would not be greeting me as some sort of inputting error or false advertising of the product and, when I finally got the jewel case out of the package, there it was! the actual album.

Since getting it yesterday I have listened to the soundtrack many times and am utterly amazed at the greatness of the music. I could go on and on about how the soundtrack to the game is much like a movie soundtrack or the subtle differences between the $32,000 and $64,000 question, but I am not a music critic. I am just a person of odd musical choices and I know I will be enjoying this soundtrack for some time to come.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Burning Oil and Memories

Sleeping has once again become difficult and I was planning an early bedtime last night, but all this went by the wayside when I started my car.

Over the weekend Saint Louis received an inch of snow, and my car, instead of having snow on it, had a thick sheet of ice on the windshield. My scraper was mysteriously absent (I think it grew legs and walked away as that is most logical explanation :) so I had to sit and wait for my car's heater to work its magic.

Time went by and the ice slowly started to show signs of yielding to the heat. At about this time there was an odd yet familiar scent in the air that triggered many memories.

The first memory had nothing to do with this car, but for some reason it was triggered. What I remembered was my first car and the first time Emily sat foot in this contraption. I call it that because the year was 2000 and my car was a 1983 Mazda 626 that should have been laid to rest many years before I drove it. There was a hole in the trunk and most everything except the engine didn't work. It did get me from point A to point B so I can't complain about that, but the first time Emily sat foot in the car it was an adventure.

We were coming home from... wow, Crestwood Mall (See yesterday's post) and were on I-44 on a very chilly and snowy night. As I said, not much worked on this car and one thing that didn't work was the defroster. After about two miles on the interstate the windshield decided it wanted to make the night an adventure so it started to frost over. My visibility was reduced to the point where I sat to the windshield. I quickly rolled down my window and was looking outside my car to see where I was going. Emily was not amused at this.

While the smell that I experienced yesterday wasn't directly tied into that example, it plays the leading role in my next memory.

A month after having the frost issue I decided to beg my mom for the usage of her car. Her car was the 1995 Nissan Maxima I own now and its defroster worked so I knew I could drive without having to stick my head out the window. There was a catch though on this night. You see, just a few weeks prior to this my mom blew the engine on her way to Indianapolis and the car caught fire. The fire stayed in the engine, but the car needed a new engine. She warned me of an odd smell, but I shrugged it off as I didn't know what she meant by it.

Driving to pick Emily up I smelled nothing, but as the car warmed up and we hit the interstate the smell engulfed the car in a haste. The smell that I was smelling was oil that came out of the engine that blew and got trapped up against and in the fire wall. And let me tell you, unless you like the putrid smell of old oil burning my car was a self enclosed stink bomb. Again, Emily wasn't amused.

After her two experiences in each of the car's I drove she decided that she would drive from then on. I actually could see her point of view and was glad because I hated my 626 and I couldn't always have my mom's car, but then again why would I because of the noxious smell of burning oil. So that brings me to yesterday. As I sat waiting for my car to thaw and I had the temperature set to 85 and the defroster on I smelled that smell I first smelled 10 years ago. The oil had returned.

It's like clockwork as the first time each year I have my car on the highest heat setting the oil scent returns. It isn't as toxic smelling as the first year and with each year that goes by the scent becomes fainter and fainter. Smelling it though brought back all the memories of that first year I knew Emily and of course the disasters of the cars I drove. In a way I felt as if I were back in the year 2000 driving down I-44 knowing, without a doubt, that Emily most certainly was not amused.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Places Lost to Time

Places are very important to me. Having an associative memory system I remember a lot from being in places that those memories are tied to. Because of this I hate changes in the places that I know because it disturbs the way I remember the memories there.

With that being so, on Saturday, I decided to go to mall known Crestwood Plaza. Some of my first memories of Saint Louis happened at that mall. As my parents were house searching in October if 1993 we went to the mall and I was shocked. Yes, we had malls in Indianapolis, but there was something about Crestwood Plaza that I loved. The food court was enormous and the mall itself seemed to stretch forever (I just did a Google Earth measurement; it measures at .33 miles).

The food court was located in the basement right next to the Exhilarma which was, quite possibly, gaming overload for me at the time. This arcade was mammothly big and had everything. I went there for many years until it closed in the early 2000's, but I have one special memory in the arcade. In 1998 the day before I got confirmed at my church, the arcade racing game of Sega Super GT was glitched in a way. Instead of being a 3 lap race it was a 40 lap race! 40 laps for just 50 cents. Good times!

In a way this mall eased the transition from Indy to Saint Louis due to just how awesome that mall was. If this mall was any inkling to the future, the future was going to be bright (note to self in the future: Do not let malls dictate omens of the future).

I don't know why I wanted to go to Crestwood Mall on Saturday. I have read in the South County Times that the mall may be razed and rezoned and that shops are disappearing at an alarming rate, but I had not yet seen this for myself. I may have been reading it for two years now, but it wasn't real because how could the most fantastic mall on Earth suffer such a fate?

It was 5:45PM when I arrived at the mall. In my memories of previous Christmas shopping experiences I can remember parking at an extreme premium. There was no thing as a short walk! Saturday though, well, front row parking was readily available. I began to worry what I would find inside. My worries were well-founded and the following picture is one I took:

This may have been the building I remembered but where were the people? Where were the stores? Instead of a mall it looked like a prison with all the metal gates down on the empty stores. I was horrified.

I'm sure everyone has that place from their childhood that is no longer there be it a corner store or a cinema. Time changes, places change, but the ability to accept this varies in people. I was brought to tears at the emptiness of a place that I have so many memories at.

In a way now my memories are tainted as I will remember the people at the mall, but instead of remembering a lively mall with the typical healthy economy atmosphere I will remember a place that is well out of place. There is no avoiding change and change seems to effect us on the spectrum more so. The thing to remember about this is that it can be changes in places like a mall. I have written about this mall as if it were alive, but in all reality it is just a building that opened in 1967. To me though, as with all places I visit, it is the ties between what is and what was. I have always had a challenge when places close or get torn down because in a way the memories there get closed or torn down too. Sure, the memories are still there, but instead of being memories that are experienced in video form in 3D they sort of get filed into an encyclopedia in my mind that simply states that "memory happened".

What will the future hold for Crestwood Plaza, now known as Crestwood Court? I don't know officially, but from my phone's picture it doesn't look good. I don't know what happened to it, or where the stores went, nor do I care really because the only thing I know is it happened. In a way it feels if all that enthusiasm I felt as an awe-struck 10 year old back in 1993 is gone. The place that helped bridge the move, which was a big deal, is being lost to time. It may not be alive, but it feels as if I have lost a relative that always made me feel at ease.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Diagnosis: Now What?

I feel compelled to write about this because in the past two weeks I have heard the same story multiple times and it is a story that I too experienced. This story is a tricky one to experience, but one does not have to!

Many times when an autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed a doctor will say the diagnosis is Asperger's or PDD-NOS and essentially show the parent(s) the door and say, "good luck" with little or no explanation with what that means (please note I am not bashing doctors as a whole, but many people and families have had this experience. I think the numbers are decreasing thanks to better awareness and education, but it still happens). When I got diagnosed the same thing happened to me and I had to go to the internet to find out what it meant... BIG MISTAKE!

If you go to Google right now and put in autism you will be greeted by a number, a big number, 17,400,000 pages regarding autism! If you are a parent that just got the news you probably are a bit shaken, and a bit scared, and now the world is asking you to navigate through 17.4 million pages.

With 17.4 million it is a safe bet that not all of them are going to offer a realistic view or a medically and scientifically accurate point of view. This is what happened to me as I read, on a website, that people on the spectrum, "can't have jobs, don't have friends, don't have families, and can't be happy." This was the first thing I read about Asperger's Syndrome and it took me six years to come to the belief that what that web site said was wrong.

I believe that the first week after diagnosis is the most important because if one reads the wrong stuff, if one reads what I read and believes it, well, the amount of hope in one's heart is going to be less than if one read a more realistic and positive point of view. If the right information can be given there may be a bigger buy-in to the fact that their child is on the autism spectrum and instead of one parent going into denial perhaps both parents will be willing to learn about the spectrum and be able to make better choices as to where to go from being told, "good luck."

With all that being so I wanted to introduce TouchPoint's Parent's Guide to Autism (click the cover to see it). This guide is a great tool for those that are new to the spectrum because it gives the right information without overloading the parents with information they can't use. I do know that if you are reading this blog you probably are already acquainted with the spectrum, but should you have a co-worker or a friend have a child diagnosed please suggest this 12 page guide as it is, in my opinion, the best introduction to autism a parent can have.

All too often the parents hear that there isn't hope (there's always hope!) and one parent will deny the diagnosis. This isn't productive for the child, or the family, and with the right information this can be avoided.

I wonder where I would be if I had read something more realistic when I was diagnosed. I went through 16 months of the deepest depression possible before I started to rebound after I started to write. I know what it is like to go through the depression after diagnosis and it is something that can be avoided. If it can be avoided then then perhaps the parents will be more open to the right types of intervention.

In the future I do hope if you come across a new person on the spectrum you remember this post and lead them to the Parent's Guide to Autism. Someday I hope no family will be told, "good luck" when facing the autism spectrum. Instead of "good luck," share with them this guide and wish them, "good hope!" because there is hope, but only if the right information is given.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hopefully The Final Word on Sleep Issues

I started the week with sleep issues and still am having trouble going to sleep, but thankfully I haven't seen 4AM come and go since early Monday morning. These issues though led to my article yesterday and I have been thinking about my issues with sleep and there is certainly a correlation between sleep issues and writing explosions.

There is one thing I wanted to cover that I did not on Monday regarding sleep. I talked in length about not being able to go to sleep, but that's only half the story. What also is difficult is waking up once sleep is achieved. Yesterday's story was inspired by a dream I had in the time between presses of the "snooze" button. This is quite common for me when I am in the midst of sleep issues and it is difficult to simply wake up. When I do wake up from this state it feels wrong. By wrong I mean it feels as if there is a vale over me that dampens everything and I have difficulty functioning.

This vail of sorts will last all morning (like now) and much of the afternoon. Then a funny thing happens around four or five in the afternoon. I say funny because it works like a schedule that can't be changed. After spending most the day struggling to make sense of everything and trying hard to stay awake I wake up. Now when I say wake up I mean WAKE UP! with all the energy that one could have.

It is this delayed burst of energy that creates the issues later on at night. What I find interesting about this sudden burst is it happens regardless of what time I woke up and also regardless of how many hours of sleep I get. Saturday into Sunday I got four hours of sleep and woke up at 6AM. I was sluggish all day Sunday up until 5PM when that sudden burst of awakeness hit. I did not want that burst and it was more of a mental burst because my body truly was tired. The end result was sleep was not acquired until 4AM even though I was tired.

This is the annoying aspect of this. I may be tired, I may be so tired that my muscles hurt and everything seems funny because my mental state is to the point of finding everything funny (if you haven't been in this super tired state you may not know what I am talking about) , but nonetheless my mind is going strong.

This sleep issue cycle I have is a self-contained cyclone that feeds upon itself. Can't go to sleep then can't wake up then mind gets too awake and can't sleep... What causes this? I have no idea but there is certainly something going on in the subconscious because that's where I write from and all my major concepts and best writings stem from this. So is it bad? I don't know but I can say it is annoying. The one thing I do want to say is that it isn't a choice. I don't think, "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if my mind goes racing tonight and I can't sleep?" There is no "off" switch to a racing mind. If you have a child on the spectrum that ever falls into this sleep issue cycle try not to get angry at the child. Trust me when I say that I am as aggravated at it as anyone else could be. If you get angry then the child may try harder to sleep and then start to worry that if sleep isn't achieved you may become angrier and that feeds to the thought frenzy and sleep becomes that much harder.

I am hoping tonight will be the night that I can lay down and have zero issues. I worry though because I have that vail currently. If it stays like this all day I will be fine, but what will happen at 5 o'clock? Will I get a sudden burst? Also, I have a presentation tonight at a Lions Club so I will have that burst of energy for that, but this could be good because I get exhausted after talking, even if it's just for 10-15 minutes. I guess I could worry about it now or just wait to see what happens this evening... I guess I'll worry about it now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Starting One Lap Down?

As with yesterday's post, I was planning on talking about the ongoing sleep issues, but this morning as I was drifting in and out of being awake, and also hitting the snooze button on my phone every five minutes, I had a dream that replayed yesterday's incident at the checkout line.

In my dream I saw the scene played out from a third person's point of view. Seeing it, I realized just how big of a disadvantage it is to establish new relationships for those on the spectrum.

To make a comparison: would a soccer team agree to start the World Cup finals down one goal? Or how about a baseball team agreeing to start the World Series down a game. Or how about a race car driver saying that they want to start the Indy 500 down one lap. Why do I give these comparisons? Think of it this way; yesterday I was displaying all the signs that I wasn't okay, even though I was, and when I was asked I showed more and more signs that I wasn't okay when I was just irked at the question.

By displaying the wrong cues we are constantly starting behind in the first impression department. For those that know me, I have no problem communicating with them because I feel as comfortable as I am going to get. If I come across someone new, or a new situation, I will withdraw into myself and this is when my facial expressions go blank. When I go blank I get asked, "Are you okay?" and with that the first impression is lost forever and I am starting the game of socializing one point down.

I never understood this concept, or was able to explain it, until I saw it in my dream this morning. I don't know if I like realizing this or not because now I am going to be extra aware of it and will either try too hard, or get angry with myself for being socially awkward with people I don't know. At least I understand now. At least now I somewhat have an understanding with how the invisible score system works within the social society. I know I am somewhat capable at conversation once that first 90 seconds is passed, but getting there is the hard part.

As I have been writing this I now realize that I may not be alone in this boat of starting behind. In my travels across the state of Missouri this month I have heard the story repeated, "If only people didn't write my son off from the first sentence" to, "Once he has a friend there's no problem, but getting past hello seems to be impossible."

Think about it, if we are constantly having bad experiences due to reasons we don't know why on earth would we even try? If we constantly fail at establishing a relationship when we don't know why, can you expect us to be willing to listen? It's not so much to just say, "put on a happy face" because I don't know what that means or why I should.

After seeing it played out in the third person though I now somewhat have a better understanding and hopefully this entry can be used to help everyone understand how and why we have issues with relationships. We may be more capable than you think, but if we are always starting the socializing race one lap down, we will never be able to hold our own or learn because instead of starting one lap down some people may never get to start. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Are You Okay?"

Instead of boring you with another day of writing about sleep issues I will instead tell you about a common question I hear. I heard this question this morning and it always catches me off guard because I don't know how to respond to it, or when I do know how to respond to it my mind won't allow me to.

This morning I went to the grocery store to get my usual breakfast (a bag of carrots). I have become a professional at getting in and out of the store without being noticed, but this morning the automatic check out stations weren't opened yet so I had to go to an actual checkout station that was manned by a person.

Only one lane was open and there was a lady in front of me so I laid the carrots on the counter and waited. My mind was lost in thought as I began to piece together what I was going to write this morning.

A couple minutes passed and in was my turn to pay for my bag of carrots. Even at this point in time I was running on autopilot because I so concentrated on my blog post. I got my wallet out and made sure I kept Thomas Jefferson on tour (http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/06/on-tour-with-thomas-jefferson.html) so I used a $2 bill. This didn't phase the cashier lady and instead of a comment on my money usage I heard an all too familiar question, "Sir, are you okay this morning?"

I am a magnet to that question. I am sure I was 100% flat in terms of facial expression because of my concentration on my writings, but I also was tired, and rather cold. All of these elements led me to being flat in the face which obviously led this lady into thinking that something had to be wrong with me.

My cause wasn't helped when I barely acknowledged that she asked this. Checking out is always a difficult task for me (because of experiences like this) and I usually make no eye contact with the person that is working the check out. I remember today looking off in oblivion somewhere between the employee and the computer monitor that shows the price.

When she asked me this question I made no attempt to look at her and I honestly don't remember what response I gave her, exactly. I am almost confident I simply nodded my head because that was all my mind allowed me to do. This question always throws me off and when I am thinking about something else I can't simply jump from that to the question at hand.

The employee thought something was wrong though and I was asked the much dreaded follow-up question, "Are you sure?" After this I am truly screaming on the inside. How do I respond? I nodded yes and I answered your question once. Why must people ask a second time? I'm sure a normal person would have given an in-depth answer to quell any questions the employee had, but I don't fall under normal and have a real hard time dealing with such questions.

My change was given to me at a pace a snail would have sneered at because this lady thought something was wrong with me. She kept looking at me which I started this checkout process simply deep in thought, but now I was in panic mode. I just wanted to leave, but she slowly reached for the change and said, "Well, I guess some people are just quiet." If she only knew the truth and if she only knew the damage a comment like that has.

I'm used to that question because I usually have minimal to no expressions. This is somewhat common for those on the spectrum and many times this gets read as us being upset, ill, or mad. This isn't the case (of course sometimes it is) and to constantly bombard us with "Are you okay?" will eventually make us upset, ill, or mad.

This morning I wanted to say that I was on the autism spectrum after she made her comment that "some people are just quiet" but was unable. First and foremost autism is a communication issue and this morning I realized that it just isn't words, but even in our non-verbal communication we can emit wrong signals.

I had so much I wanted to say to that employee because this is a prime example of the difference between the autism spectrum and not. I had a chance to truly educate someone because I don't think she meant to harm me emotionally, but the words were left unsaid; after all, the autism spectrum is first and foremost a communication issue.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tales From A Sleepless Night: Day 1

It's late. I should be asleep and every muscle in my body is telling me that I should, but my mind is not allowing it. The melatonin I took was as useful as three rain drops to a raging forest fire. I know this feeling as I used to have this almost every night several years ago. It's been a while though, 12 months to be exact.

If there's one thing that seems to be consistent about my bouts of not sleeping it is the month of December. I have so many memories in this month and with each coming of December I begin to think about them, and I continue to think upon them and it just continues on without any hesitation.

There may have been a trigger to this, but before I say that story let me tell you that these bouts are common with me. In fact, in 2005 there were two different occasions that I was up for 48 hours. Trust me when I say that I wanted to sleep, but my mind, once it starts racing, can't be slowed down. Thoughts fly around so fast that even though I am truly exhausted and my body yearns for sleep my mind won't shut off.

I used to have this a lot when I was in school because I would be thinking about all the stuff I needed to do on the next day. I would think of things such as, "Will there be a fire drill?" or, "Will I be able to do my school work at school to avoid home work?" These questions, of course, couldn't be answered until the actual day, but that did not stop my mind from trying. Also, if my mind is fixated on a topic it will dwell deeply on that topic. When states and capitols were my thing I would just name a state in my mind and then state the capitol. When I was scared of storms I would play out ways to get to safety. When I was excited about a race that was coming up on the weekend I would envision how it might play out. Oh, and don't get me started on if my mind would get an advertising jingle stuck in my mind!

So I did say that I think tonight's edition of insomnia had a trigger. While December itself is one (I will try and write examples of this as the month goes on) I had an unique experience on Saturday. Two days ago I gave a presentation at Saint Louis Community College at Meramac. What's special about that? Eight years ago I went to that school. It was my only semester of college, but I still remember everything as if it were today.

Eight years ago my life was rather dull compared to today's standards, but I had Emily as a girlfriend and I was still eager about my future life as a race car driver. Routines were aplenty and each day between my morning and afternoon classes I would go to the place Emily worked and eat lunch.

On Saturday I had to keep this routine and went to the place that she used to work. I was fairly confident that she no longer works there so I figured that I was safe going there without having extra drama.

Sure enough I didn't see her, I don't think (I say this because I don't remember what she looked like at all), but the emotions and experiences came flooding back when I ate the food I ordered eight years ago. The taste was exactly how I remembered it and I had so many flashbacks of what was and what used to be. I usually experience this in December, but this kicked it up into hyper-drive.

Why did I go to eat there? To put simply it was all part of the routine. Just because eight years has gone by doesn't mean the routines went by the wayside. You may say that, "Wouldn't the routine be busted because you aren't with Emily anymore?" and I will tell you that routines live past relationships. However painful it is to continue it is irrelevant because routine is routine.

Once lunch was done I headed over to the campus and was amazed at how fresh my memories seemed to be. Memories I forgot about came to the forefront. I remembered my music class, and the mass com class, but most of all I remembered the afternoons in college comp 101. It was in Mrs. Wilcox's class that I discovered that I could write. Sure, my grammar was not all that great, and I threw around commas as if they biggest fad ever, but the core of writing was there. I felt as if my return to that campus was a return to the place my writing career was born.

During my presentation all those rushing thoughts were gone and I told the room my stories and experiences with being on the spectrum. Afterwards though I started to feel all the emotions tied to the memories. Typically in December I just struggle with the emotions of Christmas past as well as the fact that 2011 is looming at the end of the month (I struggle with New Years greatly!).

December is a month that I see as a month of great change. I remember crying for hours at a time in 1989 because I knew it would never be 198X again. Even at the age of six I struggled with time. I still struggle with year changes, but each December brings about all the emotions I have felt over the years during the month.

If you have followed my blog, or have seen me give a presentation, you will know that I broke up with Emily on Christmas via text message. I still play out all the possibilities of that night. Not all my thoughts regarding this month are bad though. I think back to those Christmas mornings and the feeling of warmth I experienced. This too brings about a fury of emotions that can't be controlled.

Wow, I think I have written a lot. I tend to ramble when I am tired and, quick fact, the majority of "Finding Kansas" was written due to insomnia. That was then though and I have a life now. I don't want this and I assure you that I can't wait until December ends. But... that will mean 2011 will be here and 2010 will never be again. See, it simply never ends.