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Monday, February 28, 2011

Blitzing a Bejeweled Weekend

(If you are new to my blog you may want to check out my glossary to understand the concept of Kansas)

After this past weekend, if I wrote a letter to Pop Cap Games, it would start out something like this:

Dear Pop Cap Games,
I would like to thank you for making a game that has made EVERY game obsolete...

On Wednesday the game Bejeweled Blitz, made by Pop Cap Games, hit the Xbox 360 and since the first time I played it online competitively Friday night it has been the only game I have thought about.

What Bejewled Blitz is, and I assure this post is not an ad for the game, is a lightning fast 1 minute version of Bejeweled. What makes this game unique, and addicting, is that when one plays it online the player can play head-to-head with another player with the highest score winning.

Since I started playing it I have said that, "This is the first game that goes as fast as my mind" which may be why I am so enthralled with it.

When I went to sleep Friday night I was #1 in the world at it and I knew that if I never played the game again I would always be #1 thanks to Microsoft's True Skill system (I could go on a thousand word rant about True Skill and lay out why the ELO ranking system is better, but this is lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com and not Aaronsratingsystemsoftheworldrantpage.blogspot.com) but what fun would that be? As much as I love being the top player, what I really love are the games that come down to the wire in a flurry of color and reflexes.

I have not been this hyper-focused on a game since Toca Race Driver 3 came out five years ago this month. Bejeweled Blitz wasn't the only game I played on Saturday, but it was the only game I cared about. Rob, Travis, and I won the EASHL championship on NHL 11, but it was a hollow victory as I was still thinking about blue diamonds and red square rubys and making sets of three or more of them.

Saturday night at 11:30 I said I would play, "just a couple games" but those couple games went to 4:30! I could not stop playing and I felt as if heaven had descended to Earth in the form of Bejeweled. After experiencing this I may have to coin a new term and call this "Hyper-Kansas" because I have experienced many a Kansas, but truly I was playing this game to the exclusion of other events in life. Food? It can wait. Sleep? Who needs it?

By Sunday I was getting very aggravated at the True Skill system as I bounced about in the top 10. I could win 40 games in a row and not move up one spot, but then lose one game and drop three. Every time I told myself I was done with the game I would start up, "just one game". Of course one game leads to a multitude of games.

As I sit in my office on today, a Monday, I am still thinking about the game. I mean, how do I score just a little bit more? Can I beat get just that little bit faster to beat my nemesises, a girl, from England and a guy from Texas? Will I get back to a True Skill of 34?

It's been a long time since I experienced a interest like this. This certainly reminds me of the strength and weakness of my mind. When something gets to this level every other object or event becomes dull. Why do I want to eat since it takes time? Why do I want to go to bowling tonight when it is going to take away time to match jewels? Heck, why do I want to leave the house since Bejeweled Blitz can't be taken on the road with me?

Thankfully I am able to break away; although it was close. I just about did "one game" this morning, but I didn't want to take the time plugging every thing back into the power outlets (very bad storms last night. I think a tornado passed over our house because the pressure I felt in my ears were something I never have felt before). so I just left the house and came to the office.

How long will this Hyper-Kansas last? I'm not sure and I can assure you there was no conscious effort for this game to become such a powerhouse in my mind. Just as I make no effort for my mind to become transfixed by something; I also can't just say, "I don't like this anymore". Interests run their course and some last longer, or much longer, than others.

I think I am going to keep playing until I simply can't take the True Skill system any more. I try not to care, but I know I should be higher than my position. Don't get me wrong, and I don't want to sound like an elitist, but I should be higher than 8th (my position last night). And then again maybe the intensity of the matches are enough and if this is a case I, again, would like to thank Pop Cap Games for making every game before it and after obsolete because I have found the ultimate game.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Next Week is a Monumental Week

I am still trying to comprehend how this happened. I mean, next week is a year. A whole year! 365 days which is 8,760 which is a lot of minutes and even more seconds. Yes, next week will mark the one year anniversary of being full time at Touchpoint.

One year ago right now I was in Vancouver and as I think back on myself then I laugh at how oblivious I was to what the year had in store. I knew I was coming on full time when I got back to Saint Louis, but I had no idea what would come of it or how long it would last.

A year ago my life had little direction outside of the occasional police presentation. Fifteen months ago my life had no direction and my sleep schedule was as random as a roulette wheel. Sleep sometimes would come at 6AM, other nights I wouldn't sleep at all.

I could hear the proverbial clock ticking. "What am I supposed to do?" and, "Will I ever have a job?" were questions I asked myself over and over. I had no confidence and even though my book was published it meant nothing to me as I would say "What good is a published book if no one knows about it?"

My oh my how things can change in a year. At the end of my presentations I often say that, "I am waiting to wake up because this must be a dream." and I truly feel that way. From where I was to where I am now I would never have believed it had you told me this was going to happen fifteen months ago.

Next week on March 5th this blog will turn one year old. Again, I had no idea what type of impact this blog would have and now I am approaching 500 followers all across the globe.

So am I dreaming? Is Wednesday March 2nd truly one-year? A surely hope I am not still on the flight home from Vancouver having the most wonderful dream of my life because if this isn't a dream the best is still yet to come. I am still growing as a writer and as a presenter and through this blog, presentations, and my books I hope to continue to share my experiences with you and anyone else who wants to have a look at what life is like on the other side of the wall.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Detour

Something strange happened today. Normally I will never alter my route to the office because the route is the route. If I hear on the radio that there is an accident on the interstates I take I will not deviate my route. I feel that if one takes a different road they are simply, as I heard a traffic reporter say. falling into the trap of "the illusion of movement".

I never will fall for the illusion of movement as taking a different route will usually take longer than just going through the jam.

One thing I must admit though is that even though I may justify setting in traffic to avoid the illusion I really like the sameness of roads traveled. Changing the roads is something I try to avoid and it is something that I don't even allow myself to think about. What that means is I don't even allow myself the thought of trying a new way because the way is the way... that was up until two hours ago.

This morning a freezing rain mix made the roads of Saint Louis as treacherous as they could possible be. As the sun was just coming up a 20+ accident occurred on I-64. The roads were so bad the firetrucks and ambulances headed to the crash piled into the pile up!

All across the city fender benders and severe crashes happened and traffic was brought to a halt. The traffic web site looked more like a Christmas tree than a map with all the colors of various jams and accidents. While there wasn't an accident in the direction I travel the road to get to the interstate had come to a halt due to the 20+ car pileup.

My first thought was to wait it out. I have a presentation at 1PM in TouchPoint's parent training program. The thought of using an alternate route was being fended off as I just saw the roads I normally take. It felt weird to be perfectly honest as the moment I looked at the map and realized I could take another route. It was like the thought had never occurred in my mind.

It is so true that I never have allowed the notion of using a different road, but quickly I made up my mind, got my computer bag, and headed out the door. Just because I was using a different road didn't mean I would avoid the carrots. Thankfully today nothing odd happened at the grocery store and from there I ventured into uncharted waters, or perhaps more fittingly, the roads less traveled.

I was so proud of myself as I turned onto roads that I have traveled before, but not when I am headed to the office. This profound proudness quickly turned into a waiting game as it seemed everyone else in Saint Louis decided to take the roads less traveled.

There were options in roads I could have turned on to make my trip a lot shorter, but as soon as I left the house I was committed. This angered me in a way, but I convinced myself that if I took this side road it would simply be an illusion of movement and the traffic around the corner would be worse than what I was in. Of course, as I saw later on, this road was as deserted as a ghost town, but I was as resistant to changing this new route as I normally am on my normal route.

Tomorrow I hope the roads will be back to normal. As much as I "enjoyed" taking a new route I like the same routine. In a week or month this adventure in detourland will once again seem impossible, but I am okay with that. I like the same ways each day and as I said before it is much like not even being able to think that there is another way to go. So, until next time there is a storm the roads weren't prepared for, I will enjoy my normal route and will not fall prey to the illusion of movement regardless of how bad the jams may be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Great Night of Bowling Derailed

I have been sitting on this story since the second week of bowling (September) but have not written about it. Each week I think it won't happen again and for the past three it has been a non point. Last night though, while having the best night of the year, it happened again.

The first game last night I started with a spare and then had seven strikes in a row before getting a couple spares for a 250something game. The second game wasn't as good, but I had fixed the mistake and was confident for the third game. Then it happened.

If you have followed my blog since last April you may remember the ordeal I had at the Saint Louis Blues game. The tap on the shoulder from a person outside my visual range is still an issue and for some reason it has happened quite often at the bowling alley.

As the third game was about to start a person who always wants to know how I am bowling came up behind me as I was talking about the Daytona 500 with my team and tapped me on the shoulder several times. Each time the approach is like this I am practically unable to talk as the anxiety flows through my body. My pulse picks up and I feel as if I could run three marathons in a row because there is so much energy in my system after this.

Ever since the first time this happened I wanted to tell the person, "Please don't tap me." but I am unable to. Why? I don't really know. I do know asking for things is highly difficult and I don't want to make the person mad. In my willingness to not make him mad though I keep getting tapped on the shoulder and having these episodes.

After this tap I tried to settle back in, but when one's heart rate accelerates rapidly and there is a shot of adrenaline one's state of mind will not be what it was beforehand. After being clean for the first two games I had four opens in the first five frames and I don't remember my final score but I think it was under 140.

What aggravates me today about this is that I have the power to stop this. I could so easily state, "Please don't..." but I haven't up to this point. Before you yell aloud of how simple the solution may seem let me tell you that I feel picking the 7-10 split is easier than asking for something. So often other people on the spectrum will have a situation like this and they will not confront the issue. Over time the tension builds and what could have been a simple fix by stating, "Please don't...." turns into something more severe.

I can tolerate the taps on the shoulder without any other behaviors except having my bowling scores do way down. For me this is easier than the solution, but I never have been good at advocating for myself. What I do hope you understand from this is that when things bother us it is very difficult to simply state what it is and what we would like. I just hope in the future this never happens as I am nearing a perfect game.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Void of Apologies

Over the weekend I had an incident that I'd like to share with you. I think this is a great example of a social issue that can start out small but quickly snowball into something more.

This incident didn't happen in person, but rather was an incident on the racing game iRacing that I talked about last week. Thankfully I can say though that the incident I am about to describe was not caused by my sightseeing tour of the game.

So what happened? I know most of my readers probably aren't race fans so I will try my best to keep the race talk to a minimum and focus on the issues, but first I must describe the incident. I was in an Indycar race at the Michigan oval and was running third with twentysomething laps to go. The guy in 2nd got along side the leader and made a pass on the curved front straight. I was tucked up behind the new leader and decided to try and pass the former leader. Headed into turn one there was contact between the new 2nd place driver and myself. It was light contact, but it sent my front wheels into the air.

When the tires that steer are in the air turning becomes an issues. As my car settled back down right before the long sweeping turn one my car would not turn. I went up towards the wall at a fast pace and the driver in fourth didn't have a chance to avoid me and he clipped my right rear tire which sent him into the air and into the wall ending his race. (below is a picture of my car with the front tires in the air)

My car sustained some damage, but I was able to continue on. The driver who was in fourth though did not realize I had had contact which caused the incident. I believe he thought I tried to block him and he was upset. And probably rightfully so seeing that all of us up front had a shot at the victory.

His replay didn't show the contact and he said that he was waiting for an apology. On iRacing, if you have a headset, one can communicate orally as was the case with this driver out of the race. I have a headset but elect not to use it because I just don't feel comfortable communicating with people I don't know. Sure, I talk on Xbox Live, but it has been a long time since I talked to someone I didn't already know.

The race was under the yellow flag after the crash, just like you'd see in real life, and we were behind the pace car. I was still on the proverbial clock to apologize, but could not come to terms to put in, "I'm sorry" in the chat box. Why should I be sorry? It wasn't my fault as I was steadfast in my belief that the driver in 2nd came down on me. Even if I did say sorry, because I knew I wasn't at fault, the words would be meaningless so why say it? Furthermore, because I struggle with, "I think therefore you should know" my words would instantly be seen through so why say it?

The debate raged on between the driver out and the drivers in front and by my silence I was made into a villain. Right before the race went back to green flag conditions I stated that I think my car took damage by the contact I had. This was my way of apologizing, but it just threw more ethanol on an already volatile situation.

I tried to block the wreck out of my mind as the race resumed, and I also had a car that was out of control due to the damage, but I was unable to get out the words I had heard. I quickly realized that if I had just simply stated, "sorry" things would be fine, but the concepts of apologies have always eluded. What I mean by that is I don't understand an apology. If someone does something intentionally and then say sorry did they mean it? Words can be so empty and be said without feeling so why even say it? Now, if I am turning around and my arm somehow clobbers someone else in the face I will say sorry instantly. But if time goes by doesn't it become empty words? This, again, is probably something that only I feel.

Hopefully that last paragraph didn't make me sound like a cold person; I'm not. I simply don't understand the art of apologizing.

Once the race finished the debate flared up again and the driver that was out stayed in the race room to watch the conclusion. The anger level was rising and just as he let me have it I typed, "I'm sorry you made contact with my car after I made contact with the other car and that resulted in my car not turning". If was as factual as I could make it, and I was sorry he wasn't left in the race because the more cars in the lead draft pack at Michigan the more fun it is, but for me to apologize I had to make it as factual as possible.

As quickly as the words of anger flew the words of peace showed up and all was fine. Before I apologized I told him I'd send a photo of my car in the air to prove the contact, but this didn't help (that photo was the photo I had used) and only the words I'm sorry helped.

Now this whole ordeal lasted about 20 minutes. This was 20 intense minutes for me, but it didn't have to be. If I could have just done the common social rules and quickly blurted out, "I'm sorry" I would have been fine. But I struggle with this. It is like there is a wall in my mind that doesn't allow this to take place. When I get taken out I don't expect an apology, but then again not everyone is me; and it is this concept that I get stuck on. Just because I expect or don't expect something doesn't mean everyone else does and while I may realize this as I type this in the heat of the race I don't. I truly have to have time to think about it and time to process before I can come up with how I feel about something.

This was the first time in a while I was in an incident that I was in that took another driver out of the race. It probably won't be the last as it seems the racing is getting closer and closer on iRacing, but when the next incident happens will I be prepared? I know I could just blurt out, "sorry" but what if it is empty? Going all the way back to grade school I have had this same issue and while a quick apology usually ends the situation right away, I have always taken time to think about it and with each passing second it becomes harder and harder and the void between myself and whoever is expecting the apology gets farther and farther away. I'll try and give the quick apology, but if history repeats itself, and it usually does, I'm in for another intense 20 minutes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Ever Continuing Saga From the Checkout Aisle

I got my wish and it seems kind of strange now. Over the course of my blog I have had many stories regarding my daily run to the grocery store and the small, or sometimes large, dramas and anxiety that have played out there.

So what did I get that I wished for? From my earliest mentions of the grocery store on my blog I have talked about my love of the self checkout aisle. I still love it, but somewhere along the line I mentioned that the employee that works it always said, "Have a nice day." or something along those lines when I was done.

When it comes to a line, such as "have a nice day." I truly don't know how to respond. I mean, when this line is said I am in movement towards the door so do I stop and say something along those lines back? Do I even acknowledge it? Typically I would not acknowledge it and I would walk even faster to the door. So, somewhere on my 270+ blog posts, I stated I wished there would be no interaction. I got my wish.

I doubt that this grocery chain has ever read my blog, but I am now invisible as I go through the self checkout aisle. I have been wanting to write this for over a month now, but each day I think to myself that the next day, yes the next day they will acknowledge me with a nice day comment.

A month has come and gone and still there have been no comments. This was supposed to be my dream as now I can get in and get out without any interaction, but each day I feel like something is missing. It is weird to get exactly what I wanted and have the emotions be nothing like I expected.

If anything the tension seems greater now. "Will today be the day I get spoken to again?" is the question I always am asking myself 1,000 times each day I walk in. After I get beating that question to death I get to the next question, "Well, what will I do if they do talk to me?"

I don't know how I can word this without sounding like nothing will satisfy me. I mean I complain when I get spoken to, and when it quits I feel like something is missing. Yes, I realize this.

Maybe this example is a prime example of Asperger Syndrome. By that I mean I yearn for solitude yet I wonder what normal interactions are like. Being stuck in the middle like this is highly confusing and frustrating.

I am glad I can find humor in a situation like this. While I may say this is frustrating and confusing I see it as a challenge. In the scheme of my day this is a three minute ordeal. Thankfully I am able to describe this situation because the framework of this example may be like much deeper situations for others.

What will Monday bring? I don't know and I am already wondering if I will get in and out invisibly, or if my existence will be proven by some for of interaction.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

8th Annual Bowling for Autism Tourney, April 9th in Columbia, Missouri

For those of you in Missouri I would like to point your attention to an upcoming event. On April 9th the 8th annual Bowling for Autism Tournament will be held at Town & Country lanes in Columbia, Missouri. The Bowling for Autism Tournament is getting bigger each year and is a great fundrasinging event to help raise awareness and funds for autism.

I attended this event last year and had a great time even though my bowling scores were, well, let's just say I left one too many 10 pins.

This event isn't just about bowling though as there is a silent auction as well.

For more information on this event, or to download a donation form, please click here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Order Lost

What if you were to wake up in a world where red was blue and blue was red? It would be a confusing change, but what if you were the only one who noticed this changed and when you spoke about it nobody cared? This example is somewhat, well, extreme but I had an experience like this on Saturday.

Last Saturday the first NASCAR race of the year, the Bud Shootout, was run. Fox Sports is in its 11th year of broadcasting NASCAR and much like all other sports on all other networks Fox has had specific music to go along with the opening of their broadcast.

Music is very important to me because it is one of the biggest ties to memories. My sports world was flipped upside down, much like the color changes I mentioned, because during the intro of the race Fox played their football music.

If you have ever seen a football game on Fox then you probably have heard the song. They have used it for a long time and I even believe this song was the music for the videogame Madden 95! It is clearly a football song, but here it was on the opening to the NASCAR race.

I instantly thought it was a mistake. I mean, this to me was has bad as red being blue. The order of the world had been turned upside down.

I continued to think it was a mistake, but then they played it as they went to their first commercial break and I was in an internal frenzy. What strange world had I awoken to?

Needing a sympathetic, or understanding ear I went to my dad who really, I think, couldn't have cared less. I sent a text to a person at the race and he sent back the generic message of, "lol." Then I sent another text to another person and they, I think, couldn't have cared less because I got no response.

Nobody else cared. The music Fox has played for almost 20 years for football has invaded NASCAR and nobody seemed to notice. While this extreme misuse of a musical composition is limited to one network, to me this would be as extreme as if NBC's chimes were on CBS. There are just certain things that shouldn't happen in life and both of these examples, football music and chimes, fit that category of NEVER!

Did anyone else notice or care? Probably not, but to someone that has so many memories triggered by music this was like being excited for a race but anxiously awaiting the opening kickoff.

What will the future hold? I don't know. Maybe Fox Sports is going use their football music as the Fox Sports anthem. Or maybe their new music for NASCAR wasn't ready.

Sunday is the Daytona 500 and I am almost as anxious to know what music will be played as I am for the green flag to fly.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seeing Everything and Aaron vs. The Bird

To start this blog entry I want you watch a video. This video is from the racing game iRacing, and I am driving:



Last week the IndyCar series in the game was at this track known as Mid-Ohio. Now there is a reason I wanted you to see a lap around this track and it wasn't to show off the game's physics or the ultra-realistic track. What I wanted you to show you I bet you didn't notice the first time you viewed it.

I have a problem in this game, and many games for that matter, because I tend to see everything. Pinpoint focus of my vision is something that is difficult for me and perhaps this has led to some of my, ahem, mistakes behind the wheel.

What do I mean by saying I "see everything"? I'll run down a list of things I see every lap whether I am looking for them or not:
(You might want to write these down and re-watch the video to see if you see them.)

At the 0:04 mark a tower can be seen to the right, On top of this tower I always wonder if it is a cell phone tower.

At the 0:05 the JEG'S yellow billboard always stands out.

At the 0:27 mark I am amazed that there is no wall. What I mean is that you can see turn one over there and if a car were to spin off it would be possible to cross onto the straight that this car is currently on.

At the 0:29 mark I always laugh about the hut that is atop the starter stand.

At the 0:39 mark I can't help but be transfixed by the golden tent.

At the 0:47 mark there is a bridge and I always refer to this as the Honda bridge corner.

From 0:56 to 1:04 there are multiple sights. First is the Westfield Insurance bridge which leads to a very annoying visual sight in the distance. There is a cloud on the horizon that very much could pass for a mushroom cloud. As that disappears and the track turns I then notice all the holes in the fence on the left.

I noticed all of these things on the first lap I eve drove at this track, and I still notice then hundreds of laps later. It isn't a choice and I was amazed that Ryan, the friend from Massachusetts, didn't notice any of these things. In fact, he wasn't even aware of what sponsors were on the two bridges I mentioned. I was shocked at this, but he was even more shocked that I do notice all these things.

It isn't a choice for me to see all these things and I am sure I would be more consistent on my times, and perhaps faster, if I wasn't noticing everything. Seeing everything has always been a problem for me and it happened once when I was racing for real.

The year was 1998 and I was racing karts in West Quincy, Missouri. It was Saturday, a practice day, and the skies were clear. We were racing up in West Quincy because the club track in Saint Louis was currently flooded and the track up in West Quincy was much faster than my home track.  I for one loved this track with the increased speeds, but on one lap seeing everything bit me in a big way.

Driving down the main straight I noticed a bird in the air off a bit on the horizon. I watched the bird in awe and I was unaware that my kart was slowly drifting to the right. Eventually I ran out of pavement and dropped a wheel onto the grass. The bottom of my kart bottomed out and the kart instantly spun. I crossed the pit entry road sideways which threw my kart into the air and up on two wheels. I came real close to rolling over but thankfully I landed rightside up but I was still spinning.

I continued to do two more revolutions before coming to a rest beside the end of the fence. The practice session was almost over so I hopped out of the kart and my dad was right there. He looked puzzled and asked me, "Uh, Aaron, what was that?" Being honest I instantly stated, "I was watching a bird."

From that point on I no longer was distracted behind the wheel of a real racing vehicle, but on this virtual racing game I still am seeing the whole picture instead of focusing on where I should be braking and where I should be turning. One race last season at Phillip Island I had a spin on the main straight because I became transfixed on a cell phone tower.

Again, this isn't a choice. I don't consciously think, "I do want to win this race, but I do want to sightsee as well." Is this linked to having Asperger Syndrome? I am confident it does in someway. I am able to process the whole picture even when attempting to have pinpoint focus. Perhaps this also plays into eye contact issues because to make true eye contact one must have a pinpoint focus and if a person is still seeing the whole picture it will create too much input.

I do know it has been a struggle because I cannot get my consistency down. Every track on the game I notice things that other people surely never have seen before. It isn't a choice and I don't want to see the hut on the starter stand or the JEG'S sign in turn one. Most drivers are focused on lowering their lap times, but I have the added struggle of trying to get my mind to not take in the scenic routes of iRacing.

New Design

I have a full morning schedule with a CIT meeting as well as a presentation for doctors that I don't have the time to write a long article this morning.

I do want to know one thing from you and that is, do you like the new color scheme on my blog? I have been debating for five months now to change it to something and I decided on this. If you've followed my blog since the beginning you will know I used to change designs on a weekly basis, but so far from comments on Facebook the consensus has been this has been a good change.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Sensory Sequel

It happened again. As with the story on October 6, I bit my tongue while eating Milk Duds. Usually the moral of stories is at the end, but let me just say one should never try and talk and eat Milk Duds at the same time.

Anyway, two nights ago I bit my tongue hard enough it made a hideous crunching sound. I will spare you the comparison I normally make, but I will say it did hurt, but not as much as I would have thought. What it did do was make my tongue swell and at all times there was a sensation of pressure as my tongue pushed up against my teeth.

What does all this mean? Yesterday I got up, got dressed, and on my way to the office I started to feel itchy. I quickly noted I felt each minute square inch of my clothing. Typically I am able to tune out the sensation of fabric on my skin, excluding jeans (I rarely wear jeans), but yesterday I was feeling it and it was awful.

I wrote my blog post yesterday morning while scratching away, but I didn't piece together what was going on. Later that day Matt and I had a lunch and learn at a doctor's office and while on the way there I made the connection that this horrible feeling I was enduring was akin to the October 2nd blog post.

We made it to the office and my ability to tolerate the sensation throughout my body was starting to weaken. It started out as a minor annoyance but it was quickly turning into a major event. With each step I took I could feel the fabric up against my skin. I checked my arms expecting to see hives like I have never experienced, but none were there.

What did this feel like? I can make two comparisons that probably won't give the total experience justice. The first is that of having a multitude of flies walking about on the surface of your skin. The second example I can think of is the feeling after a haircut and too much hair has gotten onto your clothing. This does feel like hair on clothing, but magnified 10,000 times.

The lunch went great and I think this one doctor learned more than he was expecting to about the autism spectrum, and I was able to tie in the sensory aspect that I was dealing with at the time, but when it was over and we got back to the office I was mentally drained from the constant onslaught of my own bodies reaction to the clothing I was wearing.

Was I wearing anything abnormal? No, in fact I was wearing one of my favorite shirts and have never had this reaction before. Also, the pants I were wearing I have three pair of and have never had any issues. So that brings up the question, what happened?

The only conclusion I can draw is that the constant feeling of my tongue does something that limits my ability to take in other stimuli. In October it was sound, but yesterday it was the sense of touch that was affected. Am I right? I don't know for certain, but it was the only thing I know of that was on the onset of each event.

I have never experienced anything like this but am glad that I have because I am now able to write about and will be able to talk about it. I have had sensory issues with sound, but only limited experiences with touch. I could write for an hour on this topic and find other ways to describe it, but unless you have experienced it my words would be futile to give you the concept of what it is like to itch everywhere and to be powerless to stop it.

I can't wait for this feeling to go away. I normally can take a lot of input in my system, but perhaps the swollen tongue creates a metaphorical flood that breaks the levee that allows too much input to come flooding in. I will say I am thankful I have the control to not let this sensation get the best of me; it is painful and very aggravating, but I am able to control my emotions regarding this. Some others may not be able to control the anger from this and let me say that if those individuals feel this, but lets say it is even more amplified in them than it is in me. If this were the case I am sure I have only a glimpse of what that would be like.

These sensations are not a choice. I have tried all day to find the "off" switch. I was unable to find it but keeping my mind active helped minimize the agony. I don't really know how to end this post except to say I hope I have given you a look at what a person on the spectrum may experience. I do know one thing; eating Milk Duds is something I will do with caution in the future.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The High Degree of Difficulty of a Small Task

This topic is something I have always been plagued with. On paper it sounds silly but played out in the real world it never gets done. What is this? The example I will use today involves the little red Netflix envelope.

If you don't know about Netflix it is a service that mails a requested DVD that one can choose from their website, and when you view it you send it back and they send you the next DVD you have chosen. Sounds simple, right? Not if you're me.

For about a month now I have had the DVD I watched on a table ready to be mailed. All I have to do is drop it in the mailbox on my way to the office. Sounds easy, but played out in reality it isn't. In fact, small tasks like these that are out of the daily norm are very difficult to complete.

Each night as I go to bed I tell myself that I am going to mail it the next day, but each morning I pass it by. One time I placed it under my wallet and still left it behind. Now I know a task like this isn't something that will make my life better or have dire consequences should it not be mailed, but this is a great example of how a small task can turn into a giant hurdle.

What causes this? I am guessing that my mind is so focused on what normally has to be done that a small task just doesn't make the cut. I focus so deeply on what happens next, and since I have the same schedule adding a small task gets overlooked.

There have been so many times I will say, when asked to do a small task, "Yes, I will do it a couple minutes." and yet the task won't get completed on time. When I say I will do it I fully am committed to doing it, but when something falls outside the lines of what is normal it is so difficult to break away from what I am used to. Some may say it is procrastination, but I feel this is different. This isn't putting something of, this is wanting to do something but after several minutes forgetting what it was that was needed to be done because the mind is so set on the schedule and what the now is.

As I usually say with my examples I will say again; this issue goes with more than just trying to mail the DVD back to Netflix. I do hope I can get it mailed though as I don't know what is next on my queue but I do know I want to watch it. Hopefully tomorrow will be the day that it goes back to its home, but I've been telling myself this for a month.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Sometime in the very near future I am going to have to say goodbye. Parting ways is always a difficult task for me and I have been awaiting this time for several years now. In fact, I can't believe this specific goodbye didn't take place in 2008. What am I saying goodbye to? If you have read my book you may know that if I start a writing out like this it usually involves a pet, but today I am talking about my 1995 Nissan Maxima.

This car wasn't my true first car, but it was the first car I had to pay for and my 1983 Mazda 626 I first owned was more of an annoyance so in my heart this car is my first true car.

The car didn't start out as my own as my mom owned it before me. One of my first solo driving experiences came in this car when, in 1998, with learner's permit in hand I drove around the small town of Gordon, Nebraska. I didn't drive for long, and of course my mom was seated beside me, but I felt alive and on top of the world. Freedom had a new meaning and I loved it.

A couple years later while I was suffering through the 626 Emily proposed that I buy her brother's car. My dad did so, but on the same day my mom bought a new car and proposed that I buy her Maxima. I did so and in a way I felt like a little tycoon with my three cars, but quickly I went down to just owning one.

In a way my life as I know it started out in that black Maxima. I had my first car trip to an unknown place in 2002 as I drove to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to meet a Star Mazda team. Before this I had never driven anywhere far except the familiar road between Saint Louis and Indianapolis. At this point in time I was not diagnosed, but nonetheless my dad kept telling me that he was, "so proud of me" for being able to drive up to that track. I don't know what the big deal was as I found it easy, relaxing, and a reminder of how great and special the world is. I instantly picked up the trait of loving long road trips by myself.

My Maxima was with me in 2003 when I lived in Las Vegas for a month as I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy. The drive out to Vegas is something I will never forget and I hope to make the road trip again someday. If there was ever a time that I grew as a person and challenged myself it was on that trip and my Maxima was with me the entire way.

A couple months after Vegas I was in Florida and the first realization that I may be on the autism spectrum occurred. I was seated behind the wheel and saw three friends or brothers just goofing off playing keep away with a hat and they were laughing and having an amazing time. I was talking to my dad on the phone and I broke down as it all made sense as I realized I never had, nor probably never will, be able to have that sort of "let loose and have fun" as they were having.

So many of my stories that are in my books took place in that car. I can still remember the final time Emily rode in the passenger seat and the time I drove to Washington D.C. in 2003.

During the time I have had the car the only thing I have had replaced were the brakes. This is a very good thing because for many of the years between when I got it and now I didn't have a job. In a way I am lucky I got this car as when my mom owned it she somehow managed to blow the motor and catch it on fire. As I would find out this car has a "never say die" attitude.

I truly believe my car saved my life. As I wrote last year I hit a horse with my car. If the "A" post would have failed you probably never would have known about me. It was this instance that I thought I would have to say goodbye to my car and was one of the reasons, along with the glass shards sticking out of my scalp and hands, that I had tears in my eyes. Amazingly though with a new hood and new windshield the car drove just like it did before the meeting with the horse.

My car was with me in 2009 as I went to the Indianapolis 500 by myself for the first time, then drove to my aunt's house, and then drove to New York City to have a meeting at Autism Speaks. It was this trip that finalized the foundation to make my passion raising autism awareness and understanding.

I don't know how I am going to do it. How am I going to be able to say goodbye to this vehicle? Over the course of the time I have owned this car the person who I was and the person I am now is probably almost unrecognizable. Through my travels in that wonderful car I am who I am today. How can I say goodbye to that?

Three days ago as I was headed to the office on I-64 my vehicle just turned off while traveling 50mph. This is a bad thing when power steering goes away and the brake pedal becomes as hard as a 10 ton boulder to move. After that experience every time I come to a complete stop my vehicle just turns off. With each time this has happened it has become harder and harder to restart. A mechanic over the phone said it sounds like a clogged catalytic converter (I used to pronounce this a, "Cadillac converter"). This is not cheap repair, and also the right front UV joint is going, it needs new struts, the recent ice storm managed to damage the driver side windshield wiper, and it needs an oil change. The amount in repairs is probably triple the value of the car.

Still though, how can I say goodbye to the vehicle that saw me through the darkest times of my life, but was also there as the light at the end of the tunnel was reached? I don't know how I am going to be able to. In a way this is harder than when I had to say goodbye to my pets as their bodies failed them. I know my car is just a collection of parts and doesn't have a mind, soul, or alive, but in a way it does. I don't know if it is my associative memory system, but my car is more than just a car. It is the collection of all the memories I have experienced on the many miles I have traveled. It represents the darkest of times, and the brightest of times.

But its time is running short. I realize my next drive in that car may very well be my final drive in it. Where will it go? I don't know. One person is interested in buying it, but wherever it may go it will be gone. When I was four and my dad got a new van I cried for hours over the loss of van he used to own. That was then and there were minimal memories in that van, but this car I own now has a decade worth of memories.

Maybe this is an experience everyone must go through; that of being saying goodbye to one's first vehicle. I don't know how other people handle it, and maybe it is a non-event as again, there is no soul or life in a vehicle, but for me this car is more than a car. Maybe it does have a soul, but it is the soul of all the places I have been and people I have known.

Yes, my next drive in it will probably be my final drive. It may me a mile, may be five miles, but my time with that wonderful car is about over. It was a great car and I almost feel guilty for having to say goodbye, but maybe this is one of those life milestones that makes us grow as a person.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Thoughts Come Full Circle

It seems every so often a string of event occur that lead me to an article that states the importance of awareness. I may repeat myself in these articles, but it's because I feel so strongly on them. Also, and this isn't to say I become complacent on my job,  but I once again feel as if my job is more important than I thought it was yesterday (this happens a lot).

I may have finished writing yesterday's blog post in the morning but I never did quit thinking about it. I spent the day in awe of the string of events that got me to where I am now and I kept wondering what would have happened if I didn't get those small chances at presenting the flash cards in 2nd and 4th grade. Here's the thing. I wasn't diagnosed then and maybe the teachers just wanted me to participate (irrelevant side note: I can no longer say participate or precipitation aloud. Many people can back me up on this.) and not leave me out of the activity, but whatever the case the end result was monumental.

What I am trying to say is that I feel strongly on teachers knowing as much as they can about the autism spectrum. I have no doubt that those events all those years ago played a huge part in letting me do what I do. And that's the thing; teachers can do a lot of good if they are aware of the elements in play. Also, if teachers don't know how to respond to a person on the spectrum a lot of damage can be done.

What I think may be lost is that I think a lot of people look at the "now" results. As I think back to those experiences I presented the flash cards and talked while doing it, such as correct or incorrect as well as speaking the students names who were playing; I mention this because I rarely spoke to anyone except the teacher. After the game though I went right back to being my quiet self. If anyone had been observing I would venture to say that no one would have guessed the long term gains because the short term gain seemed to be non-existent.

Don't get me wrong on this article as there can be huge short term gains! I don't fully know how to explain this better as the thoughts are in my head but I am having the rare occurrence of not being able to describe them. Perhaps this article makes more sense when coupled with yesterday's as well as Friday's.

Okay, I am running out of time to write this as Matt and I are about to go West of town to present to doctors, but I feel it is paramount that teachers know and understand the spectrum. This, of course, is a given but I never realized the impact those experiences had on me. I have always talked negatively about my school experience, but for once I see how it benefited me in ways I never could have imagined thanks to those two teachers thinking just a little outside the box. I hope I have many chances to talk to teachers about my experiences on the spectrum so maybe, just maybe, there will be someone 30 years from now that pieces their life together and realizes that one small act in grade school led them down the road to who they are on that day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

28: I Didn't Get Where I Am Now Overnight

On Friday Matt, TouchPoint's Community Liaison, and myself had a presentation with a group of counselors and psychologists. I have talked about these types of meetings in the past, but this was the first time I had been along with Matt when we talked to that type of professional. As I wrote on Friday, Friday was my birthday and this presentation we did may have been the perfect birthday gift because the two hours (I think it was supposed to be only one, but they kept asking me questions) were very eye opening for them, as well as myself.

It was my birthday and I was rather reflective on my life, but there is one saying I have in one of my books that says, "Whatever is now is forever." How this applies to this story is that I often forget where I came from. It is hard for me to realize that 14 months ago I had a fear of public speaking and no experience doing it. Fourteen months ago I had no job and had been jobless for a couple years. That was then, but because now is now I have a hard, if not impossible, time thinking about what those days were like.

I apologize for the long intro to this story, but I had to lay down that groundwork to make this story meaningful.

As the two hour presentation went on I could tell that the group listening to me describe my experiences with the autism spectrum were hanging on every word. Often I am oblivious to the impact I have, but the way the group was engaged and the questions they asked made the impact obvious to me. There was a question that was asked that I had never been asked before and it made me think outside of my "everything is now" mind set. The question was, "I'm amazed that you are here doing what you are doing, but, how long did it take for this to happen? I mean, you didn't simply become a public speaker, right? How do you think you got to be so proficient at this?"

In my normal presentations I explain my "Alias" concept that is in my book to explain this, but this was not a normal presentation. I had to think about everything that had to happen and I was amazed at just how much work it took to get to where I am now. The question made me realize that I often overlook the amount of effort it actually took due to "everything is now." I mean, I am aware, but the time it took is lost on me; that is until this question.

My answer to this question was not a short one. I think I began shaking, just a little, in my realization that where I am now started all the way back in school. I gave a quick explanation of being banned from some academic games in school because I won too much, but my 2nd and 4th grade teachers allowed me to be the presenter, the game show host, and this, perhaps, may have been the seed that was planted to allow me to be a public speaker.

I then talked about my love of games and the amount of Monopoly I played. I usually would not socialize outside a game environment, but within a game I would start to talk. Games were always a safe Kansas environment (don't know what Kansas is? Check my glossary by clicking here) and by proposing trades and talking about the game, I slowly learned how to interact in a way that the other person would listen.

In my answer I skipped ahead to my first true job interview at a place that getting the job wasn't a given. It was a video game store and in my job interview I said a limited amount of words. In essence my only answer was, "I don't know." Truly, I was asked if I had any retail experience and I said, "I don't know." Somehow I got the job, but once I was on the floor and the rules of "the sale" were explained I was able to fall back on all the years of playing games.  While the company saw each sale as revenue that affected the bottom line, I saw it as a simple trade, much like a trade swapping Baltic Avenue and St. Charles Place.

I worked at the video game store for about a year and each day, unbeknownst to me, was practice. Slowly I was gaining the confidence to talk. Granted I didn't socialize to well with my co-workers, but the simple fact of talking was becoming easier.

After that I explained how I started to write my book and the years of solitude that I experienced. It was in this part of the explanation that I realized just how instrumental each process of my progression was. Each step along the way built on the next. Without any one of these steps would I be where I am now? I would say, with much confidence, no.

As I finished my explanation to this group, I couldn't believe the amount of time and all the elements it took to get me here. For once, I probably explained something better orally than writing it as I feel as if something what I have written is lacking. What I do want to say though is that progress may not come overnight. If a person starts reading my blog in the middle they may not realize the prologue of my story. It didn't just happen out of the blue. It was a long road, but I didn't travel this road alone. Having the support from my family certainly helped me as they tried to understand me the best way they could and this is something that I feel is essential for growth.

At my birthday dinner Friday night I asked my dad, "When I was in fifth grade would you ever have imagined I would be a public speaker?" and his response was just laughter as it was something he never would have thought of. It did happen, but it didn't happen overnight, or with a finger snap. It happened because of all the support I received through each day of my life and my experiences along the way. Each seed that was planted took time to grow. It may have taken twenty-something years, but this just proves what I have said all along, "There's always hope."

Friday, February 4, 2011

28

Today is a day filled with deep emotions. Today is a day filled with a profound awe. This day, above all others, is a day that I don't fully understand. What is today? Today is my birthday and I am now 28 years old.

I said today is filled with emotions and it is. That hasn't always been the case as when I was a child there was nothing I looked forward to more than my birthday. I won't bore you with the memories I have of birthdays before 2004 as I believe there is a connection between that year and every one since then.

In December 2003 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and my life slowly started to unravel. I started to question who I was and it seemed all that I wanted to be would never happen. The relationship I had with Emily vanished shortly thereafter and my birthday in 2004 was my first birthday realizing that I was on the autism spectrum. That day was bad enough, but I also ended up in the hospital. I managed to knock myself out by falling off the end of the bowling alley. It was my 21st birthday, but alcohol was not involved. While in the ER, the doctor's stethoscope fell out of his pocket and landed across my eye swelling it shut. It wasn't a good day.

Each year after 2004 my birthday became a more depressing day. With each passing year I didn't see who I was but rather I saw who I was not. It seemed to be that my birthday became the day of all days that I realized I was on the autism spectrum.

I began to see each year as a year wasted. I would ask myself, "Why can't I just go out and be normal? Why can't I go out and not shut down when more than one person is around? Why is today not like it was in the past? Why can't I just be happy?" These questions would just swirl around my mind on my birthday, and in fact the whole month leading up to my birthday. By the time my birthday rolled around I was a sobbing mess of a person just waiting for February 5th to come to give me relief from these crushing thoughts.

As bad as my birthday was I had a hard time putting it into words and I don't think I could put into words why my birthday hurt so badly.

Once again, today is my birthday but as I woke up something was missing that had been there the past seven February 4ths; I was not a sobbing mess. The memories of birthdays of old weren't a crushing weight on my mind and the relationships long gone aren't haunting me to the level that they used to.

Why is today so different? I fully believe the difference is that I know my calling now. I am able to see past the "who I am not" to see "who I am". Even last year I was a mess on my birthday and I gave my first small presentation with TouchPoint. I was just part time at this point of the year last year, and I had just been giving presentations to police officers, but I still was not happy with who I was. Even though I was working on my third book I still was just stating my observations of who I was and while I was somewhat hopeful there was not the sense of happiness I have now.

It had to be the 100 or so presentations I have done and all the readers I have world wide on this blog that helped turn the tide. Even as I started this blog I was not fully content with who I was, but now I feel confident in my shortcomings, and even more confident in my strengths. Year after year I just focused on what wasn't when I didn't realize what was. Spectrum or not, life would be a depressing event if one only focused on the what isn't. I know now it is things we struggle with that make us who we are. For years after my diagnosis I was not happy with who I was. My birthday was the ultimate reminder to me of who I wasn't and I was a mess on those days, but I now see that it was those days, as I reflect now, that challenged me. It has taken a long time, but I am now happy about all the tears I have shed on my birthday because it helped shape who I am now and has let me, perhaps, change the world and allowed people a new understanding of the autism spectrum. For once it is my birthday and I am not seeing the "who I am not" part of my life, instead I am looking at "who I will become".

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sleep Schedule

Yesterday I mentioned that I slept a long time and that I was in bed at 7:30. This happened again last night and has always been something I wish I could do every night because I feel, well, more alive.

What got me on this schedule was last week's fated experience with jury duty. I wanted to have no chance at over sleeping so I went to bed as early as possible. Since then the early bed time has stuck and sleeping isn't an issue.

As I think back on my sleeping issues over the course of my life I have always noticed that I feel better when I go to bed early and get up early. It is a hard schedule to keep and every time I am on this schedule it only takes one evening of staying up late (i.e. 9 when I am on this schedule) to knock the schedule off its tracks. Once it is knocked off getting back on is difficult and then there will be no order on my sleep times. One evening it may be 9, the next it may be 1AM..

I also know I dream more on this schedule. The past three nights I have had dreams of snow, or lack thereof and dreams of juries; lots and lots of juries.

The first time I noticed the feeling of this sleep schedule was in 2003 when I went to my aunt's place for 2 weeks. I quickly adjusted my sleep schedule to her's and it felt great. I told Emily that I was going to keep this schedule when I got home, but she then said, "When am I going to see you as I work until 9." That being so I started my ways as a night owl.

After my concussion in 2005, and then again in 2007, I had massive issues with sleeping. It was nothing for me to be up for 24 hours, and other nights I would not get to sleep until the sun broke over the horizon for dawn. I would still sleep 9-12 hours, but I always felt as if there was a fog around me. Thoughts were slower and emotions were more erratic. I find this interesting because I did get the same hours of sleep, but the feeling between those hours and the hours I am getting now are the difference of, and I can't help but to use this line. night and day.

One other thing about the post-concussion time was that I had trouble going to sleep, but I also had trouble waking up. I still have trouble waking up most mornings unless I am on the schedule I am right now. For now I will enjoy these nights because it will only take one night to throw this bliss off. One night of staying up and this routine will be derailed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Like Yearly Events Except...

On Monday I mentioned the void that I experienced when the yearly tradition of racing on Grand Prix Legends didn't happen. In that post I mentioned that I like when yearly events happen on their respective dates but I forgot to mention on event I hate; my birthday.

With all the excitement of the past two weeks as well as last night's heist of the 12 inches of snow we were supposed to get (this means Saint Louis, once again, misses out on a major snowfall, but oh do we have a lot of sleet) I have totally forgotten what Friday is.

It wasn't until I was waking up after 12 hours of sleep (I went to bed at 7:30 last night) and planning out what I was going to write that I realized Friday is my birthday. Usually the lead up to my birthday is the same as the lead up to Christmas but I have been so busy with other things that I haven't realized it until now.

I see my birthday as change. The simplest change is that age goes up by one, but it also shows progression in the world I live in. It is a reminder that nothing stays the same. It is a reminder that what is today will be a yesterday and then eventually be thought of as, "back in the day".

There's nothing I can do to avoid Feb. 4. It is less than 48 hours away. I can fear it, I can be saddened by it, but it will come and +1 of years to my age will be added.

In previous years I have been more negative than this, but maybe this year won't be so bad. I am feeling the normal emotions that go along with my birthday, but not as severe. If anything there is a positive slant and if this positive slant continues it will be my story on Friday.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Day

Take a look at this map at http://www.wunderground.com/severe.asp. Of course this only works if you are clicking on this map today as if you are looking at this in the archives the effect of this map will be lost.

Anyway, the weather for a good portion of the country is poor to say the least. When I hear of weather like this coming in I still get a little excited. I think this come from what most children in school wish for; a snow day.

I had many issues in school and was usually not a happy camper while at school. There were some good days, but for the most part I yearned to be anywhere except at school. I was sick a lot and had many stress headaches, but there was one event that gave me the relief I seeked without the guilt of missing and those days are what many school kids are having today.

A few minutes ago I went outside to move my car because it was parked under a tree that is on the verge of death (I don't want fallen branches coming through my sun roof) and I was amazed at how still the world was. The traffic on the busy street one block over could not be heard as I doubt there was any. The amount of parked cars on our street at 9AM is usually pretty thin, but today the street is full, yet the outside world is almost in a state of pause. For some reason this state of the world gives me such peace and I plan to go outside to experience this stillness in greater depth later.

As for me today I have a book to read and I am hoping the winds later tonight don't cut power as it is going to be cold tonight.