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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Autism Awareness Tour of Missouri begins

Autism Awareness Month may not officially begin until tomorrow, but my effort in raising the awareness and understanding begins today. In a few short hours I will be leaving Saint Louis and will be traveling down the road on I-44 en route to Lebanon.

As it stands right now I have 19 presentations in 20 days all across Missouri. I have been looking forward to this stretch for a long time now and today is the day!

Over the course of April I hope to bring you stories of my travels. The next two days though will be posts commenting on the start of Autism Awareness Month as well as World Autism Awareness Day.

It's going to be a great and meaningful month and I am so thankful for TouchPoint for getting me out into the communities across Missouri and for you taking the time to read this. Time is ticking and it is time to begin this trip!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30th, 2005, Kisumu, Kenya. The Day I Was Blessed to Survive

I originally posted this in August of 2010, but it is most certainly fitting to run this again on this day which is the 6th anniversary of this scary experience. The reason though why I wanted to run this again is that this was the day that shaped who I am today. The day prior to the events in this story I had written several chapters to my book "Finding Kansas" and it was writing those chapters that I finally allowed myself the thought that maybe someone, anyone, would get something out of my writings. Could I ever have imagined that I would get to where I am now? Never! After this ordeal in Kenya though I always had the thought that I must have survived for a reason. Each day I relive this experience and replay what happened and each day I know I am more than fortunante to have survived. Because of this I know that each opprtunity in life is a gift and one must make the most of it. I also would say it is fitting to run this as tomorrow my Autism Awareness Tour of Missouri begins in Lebanon. It was a long road of personal discovery to get to where I am today and of the biggest events was the story that follows:

For those that have read my book you may have remembered the part where I talked about the time a mob of homeless boys held my dad and me captive in a car for over an hour. This event happened more than five years ago and I thought I was through all the emotion from that day, but I was wrong.

Last night I had a dream and it was the most realistic dream I have ever had. The emotions, the fear, and the danger were all felt anew. It was so realistic that I had a dream that I posted on Facebook via my phone that I had the nightmare (I checked my Facebook status this morning and was sure I made that post, but I did not).

Because of this fear rushing through my system I feel I must write the story again because writing helps me process information that would normally lie stagnant.

I will start the story by telling you that I was traveling with my dad to Kenya and we were in Kisumu, Kenya on this fateful day. My dad was doing some video work for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and I went along to do some still photography. My experience up to that point had been one of self discovery and this ordeal that occurred on this day surely had a hand in making me the writer I am today.

Yes, my trip was full of self revelations and this was aided by the fact that I spent five days alone in the room 312 at the Imperial Hotel. I had some sort of virus that made me sleep for hours on end and when I was up all I wanted to do was sleep. Exhaustion was given a new meaning for me because of this, but when I was up I wrote and it was in that hotel room I was in that I first thought that, perhaps, someone someday might actually read, and care, what I have to say.

My dad came back and the next morning we were out for my dad to take some town shots. The video on this page shows what we were doing, but what seems to be a quiet town quickly changes as the video will only give you a hint as to what was to come.




The video ends suddenly because my dad did not want the camera stolen. What you can't see in the front of the vehicle is the fact that the first two kids to get in front slammed their knees under the front bumper. They [the kids] knew that our driver was a pastor and that he would not run over the them. If our driver knew what was to come he may very well have.

Out of nowhere descended 10, 20, 40, 50, and then 75 kids. The mob surrounded us from all angles and we eventually had several kids with their knees under our front bumper. The car we were in was a 1982 Toyota something rather and had seen many a kilometer. Because of this the power in this car was not enough to break us free.

Now I know I have said homeless kids, but some of these kids were near 18 years of age and in very strong physical shape. They have to be to survive, and to survive they do things, like hold people like me captive for money. With a mob of this size no amount of money would satisfy all.

The kids demanded that our windows be kept down and they kept trying to get us out of the car, but our driver stayed calm and nonchalant about the whole mess. He may have been calm, but I was a shaky mess.

There are no words I can use that will let you know the terror I felt. I either wanted God to free us from this or have the mob kill us because the suspense was too much to bear. I fought back the tears, and really think this was because I was too scared to cry, but the kid outside my window, who was holding a large glass shard and nice sized rock said to me, "What are you afraid of? Us?" And then he laughed and my despair grew.

At some point in time our driver got one of the kids, and only one, into our car. I was seated in the rear left of the car, my dad the front right (remember, Kenya was a British country so drivers are on the right) and this kid was now seated to my left. He appeared to be weaponless, but I now had no safe haven.

Words made no sense as our driver slipped in and out of English with the kid that seemed to be in control, if control was possible in a mob of 75 homeless kids. At times an auctioneer would have been envious at the rate of conversation, but nothing was changing. We had kids on all sides, kids on the trunk, the roof, and the hood.

Then I saw it! Two police officers were walking toward us and I felt like I was going to be safe. Hope had arrived and not a moment too soon. When one is facing death there is no feeling like the feeling of freedom and life. However, this feeling of hope was fleeting as the police looked at the mob, looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Once again we were just one step away from a vehicle from death.

The minutes, seconds, and tenths-of-a-second were being counted. I thought of everything I wanted to do and see that would not happen. I thought of the girlfriend I had but lost. I realized I was alone, and then I thought of the fact that I really wanted to know if I'd develop as a writer. It was these thoughts and fears that were rekindled last night in my dream.

This mob that was all around seemed to be more interested in blood rather than money. Money was the talk at the start, but negotiations with the mob leader revolved around my dad and I getting out of the car. Getting out was a one way ticket to being stoned.

We once again caught a break and I noticed it through my hyperventilating. Slowly, say, about every five minutes, one of the kids at the front bumper was wandering off. Eventually there was just one. This kid was the kid holding the cap that you can see in the video nearing us near the end of the video.

The look in this lone kid's eyes scared me. It was of hate, rage, and sadness that screamed that he wanted our blood and/or money in no particular order. His knees were firmly under the bumper, but when the leader of the mob was off talking to one of his minions, our driver took out a 100 Kenyan Shilling banknote (about $1.50) and waived for the kid to take it. The kid took the bait and we had a clear path and our driver gunned it and that Toyota something or other leaped forward, well, lurched forward with all the might it could muster.

Instantly our car was pelted with the rocks the kids were holding for the stoning they were hoping would occur. One rock came through the rear window and just missed my head. I took this as a cue to duck, as did the homeless kid that was still in our car.

We made it one block and now the homeless kid, who I must say had been very confident until we made our break, had the same look of fear I had moments prior. The fear, once again, was reversed when we made a turn at the end of the street and a pickup truck was backing out.

The eager mob had been throwing everything they could towards our vehicle and was chasing us. This blockage of the road was bad, VERY bad because what was a friendly blood thirsty mob was now an angry blood frenzy mob. If they got to us it was over.

It's good to know that drivers the world over only care about their car in parking situations, but bad when you learn this when you MUST get by. The pickup backed out, pulled in, backed out and re-angled all the while ignoring the constant tone of our horn (the horn had seen better days too).

We were a quarter block from the turn we made and the mob was rounding the corner. There wasn't much time left, then, all of a sudden, a private security guard from this shopping strip saw the mob nearing our car and he took three quick steps and flashed his long sword. All at once the front of the mob slid to a stop. It looked like an orchestrated slide, but the kids behind the front didn't know they were stopping and many kids took a tumble.

When it comes to blood thirsty mobs a small tumble won't stop them. Our driver had had enough with the pickup that couldn't decide if it was coming or going and as it was backed out our driver shot between the pickup and the curb and made the sidewalk our road. The pickup driver showed his disapproval by honking his horn at us. If he only was aware of what was behind.

The road was clear and five blocks later we threw out the kid that was still in our car. I say throw out but he was more than willing to leave as he certainly knew there are strength in numbers, and this time he was out numbered.

Afterwards I was in a shaky state. I say shaky because I literally was shaking, sometimes violently. I could not believe I was alive and uninjured. I kept processing and reliving the ordeal and I could see it, truly see it. I still can because of this video-graphic memory. I didn't have to put the video on here because I can still see it in my mind.

An hour passed and I was making no headway with my emotions. I was slipping away, drifting into my mind where no one could hurt me. I wanted nothing more than to never be around anyone again, but as we got back to our hotel my dad suggested I write, so write I did. It wasn't much, but I wrote about the event on the forum of the Saint Louis Karting Association and it was then that I realized the power of writing.

I've had encounters with the emotions of this event several times after the event. When I saw "War of the Worlds" with Tom Cruise I ran out of the theater crying when the scene of the main character and his family are in the mini-van driving through the mob and then the mob wants the van.

Because of my dream last night I had to write this story again, I had to use this medium to dispel some of the anxiety and sadness I experienced on that day that is still floating around in my mind. Having a video-graphic memory is sometimes a great thing to have, but for the high-stress events, and the exceptionally high stress event like this story, my memory allows me to relive the event in full detail whether I want to or not.

I can't tell you how thankful I am that my writings started just a few months before this event. Writing was the key that allowed me to not become fixated, perhaps forever, on that event. Also, this event gave me a greater cause to write. I was spared from the mob. I read news stories later in the following years of mobs like this one killing foreign tourists. Were they the same kids? Maybe, but more importantly that could have been me, but I was spared. I struggled with this for a while, but as my writings became deeper and, heck, just in the past year I have learned of my impact, I have realized I was spared for a reason.

Knowing that one's self was on the brink, and a second chance was given is, again, something that words can't give justice to. The only justice I can attempt to give it is in all that I do, be it my books, presentations, or a blog entry like this one today. Dreams may haunt me for some time to come, but I will know that this crisis I went through was the one single event that paved the way for the person I have become today.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Drive Home

On my drive yesterday an occurrence happened which seems to not be an isolated incident in my life. Much like the drive home from Shawano last year I followed a car for many miles. Last year it was a Chevy Cobalt, yesterday it was a blue Ford Focus.

I started following this car in Tennessee and since this car was moving at a decent speed I decided to follow. My logic when driving is that the lead car will be the one to get the ticket should there an officer around so I will always follow. An hour or so passed and I stayed the same safe distance behind. From the way the Focus rides I did not know what the age of the driver was so I did not feel that connection until a certain exit.

We were nearing an exit that had a lot of gas stations and the driver in the Focus raised his hand for me to pass. This was something I have never seen on the interstate before, but I followed the driver's instructions. I drove up along side and looked over at an old man driving and an old lady in the passenger seat. The driver tipped his cap he was wearing and with a waive of goodbye he exited the interstate.

This knocked the wind out of me. Who was this person? It is a question that will never be answered and yet I yearn to know. I never talked to this man, never stood in his presence, and all that I was was a speck in his rear view mirror and yet he felt it right to waive goodbye.

When it comes to connections with others I am often puzzled as to what this means. And yet, when it comes to something like this, I feel as if there is a deep, gaping wound in my life.

About an hour later I stopped for gas and some food and got back on the interstate. Down the road aways after my stop there was a  construction zone with the ominous signs of, "Construction Zone Speed Limit Photo Enforced: Minimum fine $375". I take these signs very seriously and will not do .1mph above the speed limit. I feel like a hazard on the road because I am doing sometimes 25mph slower than other cars, but I am sure that sign doesn't lie.

Anyway, there was one car that blew by me and that was this blue Ford Focus. I knew it was the same one because of the custom license plate that it had so after the yellow flag zone, ahem, construction zone I sped up to get behind the car.

I once again felt an air of safety following this car, but there came a point when I had to make the pass when his speed decreased. I passed expecting another waive of hello, but this time there wasn't; I was just another random car on the cold roads of the interstate. This was quite saddening.

This is such a weird thing to go through. I can sit next to a person on a plane and experience no connection even on a 12 hour flight, and yet driving behind creates a since of loss when that car, or I, exits the road.

With all the driving I have coming up this could quite possibly happen again. If it does I am going to go on overdrive to try and figure out what causes this. Is it the car, the person, or the experience that I feel the loss of? Hopefully I can give you an answer in the future. As for now, I am two days away from starting my Autism Awareness Tour across Missouri.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thoughts From Nashville

This race weekend was a tough one due to mother nature. After the paradise like weather two weeks ago we were greeted with temps barely at, if ever at, 50 degrees. The skies were better fit for a horror picture than a race and the winds were constant. And to add on all this it rained halfway through Saturday leading to a long Sunday.

While I could write on and on about the race, and my excitement for the next race a little over a month from now, I think it would be much more useful to type about the obvious growth I have had in the past three years ago.

Saturday after the day was called due to rain the staff and I went to downtown Nashville to eat. This place was a bar/eatery and right away entering there were some people that might have had one too many to drink. One of them challenged me to something, but I walked right past and am thankful I have eye contact issues.

I can think back to three years ago and I would have entered that bar and would have done a 180 and stood outside and wouldn't have thought twice about standing outside without protest perfectly content. I didn't do this though and I walked in, sat down, and tried to act as naturally as I know how.

Several minutes passed and a singer started singing and we were seated right beside the speaker. It was very loud, but I was not bothered to the point of feeling uncomfortable. Again, three years earlier, I would have walked away without comment. In fact this actually did happen three years ago and I did simply leave without comment. I didn't state what had happened as I was, in a way, ashamed of it. I was not confident in who I was and had no ability to state when something was difficult for me. I have grown to the point now that I can state when I am at my limit, but the limit was never touched despite the loud music.

Sitting at that table I know I probably looked "uncomfortable in my own skin" but I was there. Those around me know what I have and no comment, except for one question of, "Is this too loud for you?" was made. This alone gave me more strength.

What has changed in three years? Maybe life experience? Maybe growing within Kansas has empowered me outside of it? Maybe other things? Perhaps all of the above is the right answer.

I am also happy that I am talking to other people. Years ago I would do my thing at the track and then as soon as I could retreat within the confines of a hotel room. Granted, during the frigidness of today I was yearning for a warm hotel room, I have not retreated yet this year. In fact I am looking forward to these times, say, going out to dinner. Years ago I would ALWAYS order pizza by myself, but not this year.

These times of going out to eat do prove interesting for me and at times it is very awkward for me. At one point in time I thought to myself, "Oh my goodness! That new character on the television show House obviously has Asperger Syndrome because her social issues and facial expressions are mirror images of the awkwardness that I am experiencing". I did research and the actress, Amber Tamblyn, is playing her as if that is what she has. I just thought this was interesting and a follow up to the autism and the media post I did recently.

So today I am driving home. It will be a week of preparing as on the 31st I head to Lebanon for the first of many presentations. It's going to be a great week and a great April!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thoughts From the Road

It occurred to me as I neared Nashville that I had not been through this town since 2003. It was December and I drove down to the Orlando area to drive a late model at USA International Speedway.

The trip I had to Florida those years ago was the trip that I mention when I talk about the time I saw three kids goofing around and my realization that I was different. Before that time I thought it was everyone else, I mean back in school I thought everyone else was odd for not wanting to know everything about the weather.

Once my trip to Florida was over I drove home but the drive home was much different than the drive there. My world, as I knew it, was changed. At the time I did not have a name for it and was replaying many events in my life. Again, I knew not what I had, but I knew there was something.

Driving into Nashville rekindled the emotions I had back in 2003. It was weird though because the last time I drove through I was questioning my ability in life and was worried about, well, everything; especially the future. I had impressed the people in Florida with my driving ability, but with my questioning of myself it was of little gain. Now though, as those emotions were felt once again, I felt them with a smile. The last time I drove through here I was confused, what I had was not named yet, and I was depressed. Nearly eight years later much has changed. I was worried about the future but now I don't. I questioned my ability but now I am confident it what I can do and know there are challenges. Yes, much has changed, one thing that hasn't though? The traffic in Nashville! It took 45 minutes to go a mile just like it did in 2003!

Road Trip

Later this afternoon I will be headed to Nashville for this weekend's USAC .25 "Music City Mayhem" event. This will be my first true road trip in my new car and I have been looking forward to this race ever since the end of the race in Phoenix two weeks ago.

I was looking forward to the drive, but after 80 degree weather several days ago there is snow on the ground and the weather radar might as well be entered in a Christmas tree competition because it is lit up like there is no tomorrow.

This race is a good lead-in, for myself, to the travels of next week. This week it's a race next week it is the start of Autism Awareness Month.

I may write another post tonight should I think of anything, or should anything interesting happen, on the drive. Also, I may post tomorrow so you may want to check in and see if I have. Finally, the races I am flagging may be on the internet should the upload be fast enough at where we are at. Check http://www.usacracing.com/usac_live, if you'd like to watch tomorrow. One thing though, the weather looks very damp tomorrow so hopefully it holds off, if not the weather does look good for Sunday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My 300th Post!

Today is another milestone I could never have imagined as my blog turns 300 today. I will try to avoid what I wrote on the 100th and 200th post, but I may repeat myself as I haven't read my own blog so I could repeat myself.

Anyway, I was asked a question earlier this week by a person whom I haven't talked to in several years, and I was asked, "Is it difficult writing so much?" I thought about this for a while and realized that it is actually harder working on my books now. I am currently writing my 4th book (only Finding Kansas has been published) but without the instant feedback it is harder.

There is another reason why writing a book is much more difficult than writing a blog. With a blog there is no set limit on length. What this means is some blog posts are long, some are short, but with a book one needs around 85,000 words. Let me say this written out for dramatic effect, eighty-five thousand words. What this means is that as MS Word is counting the words I know how close I am to completion. With some many words needed it is easy to become overwhelmed.

When writing my first book I never intended it on being a book so I wasn't paying attention. This sort of happened with the second book as well, but when writing my third I found myself fretting over words. The same thing now has happened on my fourth book and this is a great example I can use. When one can see just how much work is needed, and in terms of writing a book it is a lot, one can get overwhelmed. This happened to me every time I missed a day of school, which was often, because I would get a sheet with all the assignments due. Seeing every paper due at once made me think it could never be finished. This is the same way I sometimes feel about writing in book mode.

Writing in blog mode? This is easy. It is once a day, usually written in the morning every weekday and sometimes the weekend on special events. While it is now easy for me it wasn't always so. I still have a sheet in my desk from last March that was a "blog idea paper" (actual words on the top) that had ideas for my blog and what day I would write it. I was so scared of not having anything to write that I had two months worth of stuff planned. This may sound good, but because I was trying too hard the ideas weren't all that good. This is one of the traps I would fall into at school when overwhelmed; quantity trumps quality when stressed because as long as it is done I don't have to worry about it.

Since the days of last year of massive planning I now usually start planning the blog the night before. Each day I take mental note of any challenges I faced, or conversations I heard, or bits of items in the news all in hopes of having the topic for the next day's blog. I have quit thinking weeks in advance because if I do I assure you the quality would drop off. I am glad I have done this because I believe this keeps me more aware of the now and lets me see each day as a learning experience.

It's been an amazing run so far and just the first three months of 2011 have been fun to write. From writing about the struggles to getting up to bowl without offending other bowlers, to the day I had a flat tire, to the thoughts of saying goodbye to my car, to the horrible experience in jury duty, and of course the severe allergic reaction to being stung by a bee, I can't believe the stories so far.

Tomorrow I start anew with post 301 and tomorrow will be like any other day, and the day after that, and if I keep going I might start planning so I will quit doing that, but I will thank you for reading and look forward to one of these chats at my 400th post... dang, I can't quit planning my blog in the future :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Step Up To The Plate and Be an All Star for Autism!

My blog is not going to become a full-on fundraising page, but this event is something I feel dearly towards.

Every year TouchPoint has a fundraising event that is called, "All Stars for Autism". Last year, being new at TouchPoint, and really new to this world of blogging, I did not participate in it. This year I am.

50 years from now when I look back on the major events of my life there is no doubt that my time with experience with TouchPoint will be near, if not at, the top. Here's the thing though; I'm not the only one that may say that. Everyday across Missouri people with autism are being served by TouchPoint and each day people from around the world read this blog.

TouchPoint has given me a stage and a chance that I never knew was possible. If it weren't for this job this blog, which I update daily, would never have happened. If it weren't for this job I would not have spoken to the nearly 5,000 people I have in my presentations.

Either through direct care, community awareness, or a position like mine, TouchPoint's mission to serve those with autism is probably the dearest thing to my heart. If all these words weren't enough to convince you to donate I will post a video. This video was featured at the 2010 Festival of Trees and I am in it. Below the video is the link you can click to go to my fundraising page and make a donation or you can click the picture on the upper right of my blog. Every cent counts and goes towards this amazing cause!




Click here to donate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Opposite of Seeing Everything

Last month I used an example from iRacing and my racing career to illustrate how I can see the whole picture and see small things or small things moving. While there are times I do see everything there are other times that there will be a major change and I will be oblivious to it.

Today's example will be a photo from my office:

This photo shows the Southeast corner and while it may not look impressive in terms of what is in the picture I assure you there is a story to tell.

About a month ago Heath, who is TouchPoint's Director of Facilities and Safety, stopped by my office and asked me, "Hey Aaron, how do you like the change?" I heard the question but sort of phased out trying to think of what was different. I looked around the office and then looked back at Heath completely perplexed.

Several awkward seconds passed as I was trying to figure out what was different or if this was a joke. Heath then said, "The Dell monitor boxes have finally been moved."

"Oh" I responded, "Wow, I can't believe I didn't notice!" You would be too if you knew how big those boxes were. Take a look back at my photo and imagine three Dell computer monitor boxes (and these were BIG screens circa 1999 at 37lbs each!) stacked almost to the ceiling. These boxes would be one of those things that someone would say a person, "could not possibly miss!" but I did.

I find this so odd about myself. There are certain things that if moved a couple inches I will notice and yet here are three gigantic boxes removed from an office I am in everyday and I did not notice even when told something changed in my environment.

As with a lot of other things I deal with, this is an all or nothing system. I will either notice it to the fullest extent or be 100% oblivious. Emily used to get annoyed with me because I was always oblivious to when she would change her hair style yet if she added something to the interior of her car, or the day she got a new bowling bag, I noticed.

There's people not on the spectrum that may miss a hair change, but I still can't believe I missed the three boxes. This is a great example, might be one of the better examples actually, of how the mind on the spectrum can have quirks. Using that iRacing post from last month I am sure I noticed things others have never even seen, yet something so huge removed was not noticed.

I personally don't know what to do about this. Is it problem? I wouldn't say so, but it is just another piece of the overall puzzle that is the autism spectrum and is a great illustration. Of course not everyone on the spectrum will have this in the way I have it. Another person may notice every item and if moved a millimeter they will move it back. Myself, well, I notice I lot of thing except when I don't and even when told there was a change I still will need help seeing what was removed.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Lost in the Hills

On Saturday I had a presentation in Park Hills at the Mineral Area College. It was an early presentation and I left Saint Louis around 5:30 AM so to leave plenty of room for my mandatory stop at Waffle House on Butler Hill Road as well as leaving me plenty of time just in case something occurred on my way down.

When I give presentations I aim to be 90 minutes early when it is out of town. This was even more important for this presentation as an estimated 100 people were going to be there. Being late was not an option. However, several times on my blog I have had a story arc involving my GPS system and this story will, sadly, add another to the GPS dramas I have faced.

I put in 5270 Flat River, Park Hills, Mo, 63601 and the GPS took an unusually long amount of time finding the road. Eventually it did and after I left Waffle House I was on my way.

There is something liberating about traveling before dawn. I don't know if it brings back memories of my trip to Las Vegas that I wrote about in my book, or if there is something else in play, but as I headed down I-55 in the moments before dawn I had such a confidence within me. I felt alive.

Those moments of bliss would soon turn into frustration as an hour or so later I was in Park Hills and on Flat River. However, and I may not be the most educated person when it comes to saying, "Hey, that looks like a college!" but I didn't see any buildings that could even half pass for being a college. I followed this Flat River road all the way across US 32 and then I ended up at a mine.

My hopes went up as I quickly confused "Mineral Area" and "Mine". I mean, a mine has minerals, right? Well, I followed the road to the mine and quickly my hopes were dashed as this was a historic mine and is part of the Missouri State Park system so that meant it most certainly was not a college.

I now had some decisions to make. 1. Do I accept that I am lost? 2. If Q1 was answered as, "yes" then what to do about it? I didn't accept that I was lost so quickly so I drove back the way I came hoping that I just was blind to where the college was, but once again even I knew I couldn't be that oblivious to a college. I mean, a college is a big place, right?

On a hunch I headed East on what I think was Main street with the notion that I was going to stop in at a gas station and ask them. Isn't this the eternal dilemma, a guy stopping to ask for directions? I saw a gas station, but it was closed, I saw another and it was closed, and I saw a third one but convinced myself it was closed because I really did not know how to ask for directions.

It was now 7:30 and my presentation was scheduled for 9:00. In my mind time was running out fast as I wanted to be in the parking lot around 7:00. There is a reason why I want to be early and this being lost proves why I want to be so early.

I was now in a huge dilemma and as I pulled back up to Flat River I remembered I could look up schools in my GPS. Excited I pulled over and started going through the menus, but as excited as I was the jubilation never came as Mineral Area College was not in my GPS.

In my presentations I often state that I, and other people on the spectrum, sometimes resort to odd ways of getting what we need. I have a hard time simply stating what I need so I will use other ways to start the conversation. I knew my friend in Massachusetts, who is an early bird, would certainly be up as it was 8:30. Furthermore, talking over the phone would eliminate me having to go into a gas station to have a face-to-face conversation so I simply sent a text to him asking, "up?"

By doing such a vague text I had so many ways to explain that, well, if he wasn't up I could say, and I think I eventually did say that the text was, "sent to the wrong person". I did use that after he responded with, "Am now" and I was sure I had woken him up early. After a couple more texts I said I was lost and he said, "I can't read your mind, where are you?" and with that I called him.

Thankfully I did not wake him up, but out of fear for asking I instinctively said the text was sent to the wrong person. After those words were out of the way it was time to figure out where in Park Hills I was and where I needed to go. It took a while and I think his maps he was using also had the address down for the road that no college was on, but once he searched for Mineral Area College it pinpointed where it was and once I was told where to go I found it and arrived at 8AM.

After such an ordeal I am truly glad I need to be so early because if I tried to be just one hour early I would have been stressing out more so than normal and I would have arrived at the time I was supposed to start. What I also have learned, but will forget I'm sure, is that GPS systems can't be trusted. Oddly enough it will be one year in two days from when I gave a presentation at the Park Hill School District outside Kansas City. There too I got hopelessly lost because of my GPS. That being so I guess the moral of this story is if I am going anywhere that has a "Park" or "Hill" in the name I better get three different maps because those GPS systems can't be trusted.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Honored

I have been a public speaker for just 15 months now and am still in awe that people come to hear me speak. It is hard for me to find value in what I have to say because since I already know what I know I often assume everyone knows.

Each presentation is as special as the first one for me because by the end of the presentation I realize that the audience is truly listening to what I am saying. This feeling is often lost a couple hours afterwards, and maybe this is what keeps my energy level up because each presentation is not taken for granted so if that is the case this sense of not taking it for granted and not realizing my own power is a good thing.

Last night I was in Union, Missouri and I gave my normal presentation. The room was a unique one as it was in the Franklin County Government Center using the Commissioner's Chamber room. The turnout was great and the room was full with around 60 people in attendance. This number is even more impressive considering it was Saint Patrick's Day.

As my presentations across the state increase and I revisit places, or regions I have been, there has been a recurring theme and that is people that have already attended are coming back to my presentation. I say I have trouble knowing my impact, but I do know just how big of an honor it is to have people come back after already hearing the presentation once.

When this first happened last year I took it as if my information wasn't clear, but another person told me that a person has to hear something many time before true comprehension can take place, and on top of that my presentation is never the same twice so I know now just how big of an honor it is to have people want to hear my presentation twice.

I will be updating my upcoming presentations today and should be able to get some more addresses for the presentations in April if you are in Missouri. If yesterday was a taste of what is to come, April is going to be an amazing Autism Awareness Month!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Books

If you were able to see me many years ago you would laugh at the fact that I am now an avid reader. As hard as writing was for me when I was in school reading was even tougher. Oh, how I loathed to read! Today is different though as I am currently on page 1,260 of Les Miserable.

Back in school though reading was something I did not enjoy. I would read just the required amount and not a page more. I was vocal in my hatred of books, but I didn't really know why I didn't like to read. I could read without a problem, but it just seemed to take too long.

There was a turning point in 4th grade. I read a book that was based on the television show Ghostwriter and actually read it in one sitting after school. In one sitting! I had never read taken the time to read something that wasn't required and I had never read for more than twenty minutes and on this day I took over two hours to read.

As much as I enjoyed reading this I felt like I had to keep the fact that I read a book secret. I did not boast to my parents that I had a read a book because that might mean they would have me read more so I kept this day of reading secret and continued my vocalness anytime reading was required.

If you have read my book, or followed my blog for a while, you will know that I did not go to high school so much of the required reading was missed out on.

In 2004 when I went to Lithuania I had to come up with a way to pass the time of the flight. I would be separated from my video games so there had to be something I could do. I decided to go to the bookstore and I bought Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne Trilogy. Not quite classic lit, but at least I was interested in books.

From that point in time every time I have traveled I would have some books on hand. In 2006 when I went to Madagascar I read The Great Gatzby, The Old Man and The Sea, and started A Tale of Two Cities.

I now read when I am not traveling and already have my next two books lined up. After Les Miserables I will tackle War and Peace and then it is off to the complete series of Sherlock Holmes. I never thought I'd be an avid reader, of course I never thought I would be a writer as well, but I still find it funny that all the way back those many years ago on the day I read my first book that wasn't required I kept it a secret until now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Marathon Has Begun

With the USAC race last week I feel as if the three month Marathon has begun. Between races and presentations, and I need to add three more presentations on my "upcoming presentations" page, it is going to be the busiest I have ever been in my life.

Today the marathon continues with a private presentation in St. Charles and tomorrow night I am in Union and on Saturday there is a private presentation in Park Hills. Next week is more of the same and then Friday night I will be driving to Nashville for another USAC event and then that week starts the hyper-marathon within a marathon (does such thing exist?)

With so much coming up I can't wait to share the stories from the people I meet, the roads I travel, and hopefully all stories will be bee free!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tales From Security

I am now back in Saint Louis after flying home from Phoenix. Much to my dismay I landed in cold weather with snow on the ground. This was a stark contrast to the almost blistering heat in Phoenix (To the locals it wasn't hot at all, but try going to 95 degrees from 35!).

As I woke up yesterday I still was feeling the effects of being stung. I also was coming to grips with a nickname that I probably won't be able to shake within USAC and that nickname is, "bumblebee".

Anyway, I got to Sky Harbor airport and headed straight to my gate. I wasn't feeling all that coherent as I had taken so Benedryl so I was drowsy and hurting. This came into play as I went through security.

When I travel I tend to take a lot of stuff. Even more so when I flag because I had my suitcase, my computer case, and my flag bag. Because only two items are allowed I have to stuff the computer case in the suitcase until I get to the scanners and then I have to take it out. On top of this the shoes must come off as well as the belt and one needs to get all the liquids or gels out of the suitcase. Normally I am speedy in this process, but yesterday sluggish would be a word that would be too fast to describe my inability to get everything separated.

There was a woman with a child behind me that got somewhat irate with the amount of time it took me to get everything in the bins. She said something along the lines of, "If you are going to take this long nobody is going to make their flights." and with that line she just stepped in front of me. I was just about done at this point in time, but she now was the one that was going slow and blocking traffic because I couldn't pass her.

Seeing how she was upset with me I decided to state why I was going so slow. I said, "Yesterday I was stung by a bee and had a severe allergic reaction and am very tired. I also have Asperger Syndrome".

"Oh!" she said, "I know about that." as she pointed to her child who was maybe around seven years old. By this time her bags were going through the scanner and she directed her child to the metal detector scanner. She did this by telling her child, "Now we go through the scanner and listen to the nice man who will tell you when to do so." As soon as she said this the men operating the X-ray scanner said, "Look out, he isn't all that nice."

Confusion. That's the only way to describe what the child was going through. His mom said nice man, but he heard the joking comments from the other TSA agents. The mom instantly knew there was a problem because she said, "Come on, there's no need to upset a seven year old." and indeed the child was now upset. He stood at the archway of the metal detector very unsure of if he wanted to go to the other side and the agent who may or may not be nice.

I watched and feared that this child may be near a meltdown state, but he gathered himself up after a few words from his mother and he crossed the detector, but he made sure he didn't stay next to the man whose niceness was in question.

This story is a prime example of just one of the potential challenges people on the spectrum face when going to an airport. The TSA agents who joked probably had no idea that the child was on the spectrum and might take the comment literally. I think they thought that the child wouldn't even be able to hear the comments. This situation could have been averted, of course, but it also could have ended with much more drama than it did. The mother was right on top of the situation and reassured her child. Perhaps she knew that her child couldn't wait in the line for a long time and maybe that's why she got so irate with me.

On TouchPoint's Facebook page I ran a link to a story that I was going to write about, but never got around to doing so. This episode I witnessed yesterday though has made me remember it and I thought I would share it. The story is about Southwest Airlines offering mock flights for those who are on the spectrum. I won't go into full detail as you can read the story, but I think this is a great sign of what could be to come. For parents, to have a dry-run of the airport environment without the fear of having a meltdown and missing a flight is something that I hope more and more airlines offer. This is a great step and I hope more and more of society becomes aware of the spectrum and offers programs like this.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fright of the Bumblebee (Or Any Type of Bee) Realized

Last May I wrote an entry entitled Fright of the Bumblebee. In it I proclaimed, and perhaps bragged, that a bee had never stung me. This life-long streak came to an end yesterday.

I was in Phoenix for Round One for the USCA Mopar .25 series and was having an amazing time atop the flag stand. The track was fast and the racing was close, and sometimes too close, but it felt good to be back with a flag in my hand.

There could be so many things I could write about for this weekend. Saturday night I ate out with a group of people and actually talked.  Although I did talk about autism, perhaps I just continued my "Alias", at this same meal I tried real Mexican food for the first time. It was a weekend of firsts, but the first I will remember for a long time to come came from a really small being.

After the final race on Sunday I was helping take stuff down and I needed to move a box from the score tower to a trailer. It was a sizable box so I reached around the box to grab it and I did so I turned towards the door.

At first I thought I just scraped my wrist on the cardboard too hard as I picked it up; much like a rug burn. Thinking nothing of this I continued on my way.

As I got outside the pain became immense and I looked down and there it was. A bee, that I late found out fit the description of one of those vile Africanized honey bees, AKA Killer bee, doing a number on my right wrist.

My first reaction was that I was being stung. It didn't make since that the rear of this creature was under my skin. I quickly panicked and shouted some words that were more disconnected syllables than actual words. The woman that was walking next to me saw my problem and quickly flicked the nasty thing off of me. To make my visual problems worse, on top of the pain, the bee split in two leaving the stinger and gland sticking out of my skin. By this time it felt as if my arm was on fire.

At first it was a sharp, but manageable pain, but with each second my arm felt heavier and heavier and the pain kept getting worse and more intense. I’ve had my fair share of injuries in my life, but this was quickly turning into a pain that was so unique and so intense that I know without a doubt I never want this to happen again.

I don't know how I got directed to this hauler, but I ended up in the office portion of a semi-truck of one of the families who races in this series. The pain was great, but there was a new problem; I was beginning to have trouble swallowing.

Remember how I bragged about never being stung? That was the question everyone was asking me, "Aaron, are you allergic?" How would I know? I’ve never been stung. I was getting to the point that I could not swallow normally. Drinking water was almost out of the question.

Because of this, someone called 911 and paramedics were dispatched. Now picture this; I just got done flagging two days of racing and we had several serious looking incidents, but all drivers were fine and here I am, doing a routine task after the races, and I get stung and people are concerned enough to place the call to 911. Was my pride hurt? Maybe, but I was concerned too as this was a feeling that I never have felt.

With each breath I feared that breathing would become like swallowing. The minutes went by and it kept getting worse and worse. Talking was now labored and while I was not afraid or panicking I was becoming deeply concerned.

I did forget to mention that very soon after I entered the race hauler I was given some Benedryl and by the time the paramedics arrived I was slowly regaining normal levels of speech and swallowing. They took my vitals and my blood pressure was higher than normal for me. They didn't know this and I didn't tell them because I didn't remember exactly what normal is, but they said they could give me something, but if they did I'd have to go to the hospital. That didn't sound fun at all so I signed the waiver releasing the paramedics of any and all responsibilities and they left.

As time went on, the only reminder that I was stung was the stiffness in my right arm. It still hurts now but it is more of an annoyance pain than a pain that hurts badly.

What have I learned from this? I always thought my fear of being stung was too strong, or perhaps irrational, but for once in my life the reality of being stung by a bee was far worse than what I thought it would be like.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Slice of Paradise

Today was a long day. There was no practice as today was just sign ins, but nonetheless it was long. What made it longer were thoughts of an event that happened yesterday. I have an article written on it, but I am not sure if I want to share it as I feel so strongly on the matter.

There was a respite from this when, during a food and supply run, we made our way to the top of a lookout that I forget the name of. I took the following photo with my phone:




I wish I had a better photo, but I don't so you'll just have to know that the valley seen is the Phoenix metro area. The elevation on this lookout is 2300 feet is a place that I will try to describe, but will probably fail.

Yesterday on the flight out I was mad, depressed, and angry. Why? Hopefully I will share with you why but being atop this lookout made everything just a little bit less harsh. To me, being atop Phoenix, was a freeing experience. The world looks so peaceful when atop a peak like that and I could have sat up there for hours.

To me, seeing the world in this way is nothing short of beautiful. Seeing the world from afar makes the problems of the day and the emotions of yesterday seem less harsh. They are still there, but to see some much of the world above, well, I don't know, it just gives me a different perspective.

Tomorrow will be practice and heat races for the USAC .25 series and I am excited. The track is literally in a state park and I don't know if there is a more scenic place to flag a race. The emotions of yesterday will still be with me, but tomorrow I will be at my most favorite place in the world and that would be a race track.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Twists and Turns of Aisle 17

What would a month be without a story from the grocery store? Perhaps a good one? In any case, once again, an event worth writing happened this morning on my daily trip to the grocery store.

This morning I had to also buy a couple of padded envelopes so after I picked up my carrots I walked to the other end of the store to pick up the envelopes. Being distracted by the book section as I looked at the odd cover of some of the current best sellers I walked right past the envelopes. I turned around, picked up a couple, and proceeded towards the checkout aisle.

As I got to the end of the aisle I noticed a rack of shirts to my left. They were green, had a four leaf clover on them, and had the words, "Feeling lucky?" on them. I instantly remembered writing my Saint Patrick's Day story from last year and had a slight chuckle.

I was walking with a brisk pace and as I turned the corner I heard a slight clinging noise. I thought nothing of this and did not take the time to look behind me. A half second later I heard, "sir" and then as I continued to walk, "sir? Ahem, SIR!" (I interrupt my own story to say that the word "sir" looks really weird. Don't you think? Now back to my regular programming.)

I know nothing good comes from a 'sir?' that changes to a "SIR!" My anxiety level pegged instantly and I feared the worse. But what was the worse? This I could not calculate but I knew something awful was going to be seen as I turned 180 degrees to see what monstrosity had happened behind me.

I turned around, very slowly I might add, and saw an older man looking at the floor. When he noticed that I had turned around he said, "Aren't you going to pick up that shirt? I just wanted you to know that the shirt fell of the rack as you walked by."

The noise I had heard was indeed one of those "Feeling lucky?" shirts falling to the ground. I was walking with such a brisk pace that I guess the wind knocked one over. I don't think I made contact with the shirt as I turned the corner, but it might have occurred seeing how I have a habit of running into things.

I walked over to the shirt and put it back on the rack, but this was done on autopilot as I still was in a state of shock from the initial sirs that were said. I then turned back around and headed to the checkout aisle completely frazzled.

It is amazing to feel just how fast the anxiety level can go up and the feelings of fear felt. I obviously don't know what it is like to not be on the spectrum, so I wonder if it is common to go from "all is fine" to "it must be the end of the world". There is no middle ground. I wish in a situation like this I could turn around with a sense of curiosity as to why I am being called instead of turning around thinking life as I know it is going to be over. In any event I do think Saint Patrick's Day got the last laugh in on me after last year's article. And no, to answer the shirt, I don't feel lucky.
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My blog tomorrow may be put up in the evening. Tonight I fly to Phoenix to flag the first USAC .25 race of the year and I don't know my schedule so I will either get a blog up in the morning or more likely the evening. I have been waiting for this weekend for some time as finally it is race season!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Goodbye Said

It finally happened; yesterday the car that was with me for so long was towed away. It was a long process of trying to figure out where the car would go, and Saying Goodbye took longer than I expected, but it is gone now.

In the article linked above, I wondered what the final drive would be like. Sadly there was no final drive as whatever was wrong with it has prevented it from starting. This didn't prevent me from going to my car last night to say goodbye.

Fittingly enough it was a very gray and rainy evening. With my emotions the way they were I did not notice the rain as I walked the quarter block to the car that has been in my life for a decade. The doors were unlocked so I stepped into the familiar driver's seat and was flooded with emotions.

As I remained seated I tried to remember all the places and all the events that have happened in that car. I first remembered taking Emily to the 2001 Brickyard 400 to remembering the madness that is the traffic in New York City. That car, to me, represented freedom. I grew up in that car and now time was running out.

With each second that I sat in my car I knew it would be harder to exit. This was very much akin to saying goodbye to a pet when you know their health is failing and the only logical thing to do is to say goodbye. I truly felt as if my car was angry at me. True, it is an inanimate object, but travel as many miles as I did in that car and you too, perhaps, will feel as if all the nuts, bolts, and steel have a soul.

It is gone now. There is no black 1995 Nissan Maxima sitting outside where I live. I now feel some anger towards my new vehicle and maybe this is the same reason why some people wait to get a new pet after the death of the other. My new car isn't my old car and I am angry for that. Sure, there are improvements such as the fact that the struts in my new car don't click constantly, and I can no longer call my car a horse killer, but as a person that rode in my car last September said, "Hey, your car is loud, but that just means it has character".

With it being gone I am doing everything I can mentally to keep intact the memories from it. Having what I call an associative memory system means that my memories are kept fresh by the items, or in this instance car, that are associated with the memory. With the car gone I am worried that I might lose the vividness of what it was like to leave Denver at 2:30AM on my way to Las Vegas, or the tenth of a second I had that I was sure I was going to die when I hit that horse.

I will typically say change is bad and today I am holding my new car in contempt. I know that over the course of the next decade new memories will be etched in it, but for now it is an empty shell. It has no memories tied to it and above all else, it has no character.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Wow, I Never Would Have Known"

Yesterday I gave my police presentation to officers going through the Crisis Intervention Team training and at the end I had an unexpected conversation that included the quote that is the title of this post.

This conversation was a first for me as this officer had seen me outside the Police Academy. Amazingly enough he remembered me from bowling at the bowling alley several years ago. Furthermore we weren't even in the same league. This may have been true but after my presentation, regarding myself being on the autism spectrum, he said, "Wow, I never would have known you were on the autism spectrum".

In my presentations I state, very clearly I might add, that if you were to see me outside of this environment in an open ended situation you may not recognize me.

By this point in time four other officers had joined in the discussion as the day's worth of classes were over, but truly they were interested and wanted to know more. I'm used to this in other forums, but after yesterday's post about the rollercoaster of emotions this was a much needed and much welcomed event.

The officer wanted to know how I function at the bowling alley so I told him that I have bowled there for over a decade and have been on the same team, somewhat, for the entire time. Instantly he picked up on my concepts and asked, "If you had to change teams then I am willing to bet you would not bowl, correct?" I stated something along the lines of that I might bowl, but it would be difficult.

I also added the fact that my favorite thing to do in the social setting of the bowling alley is to work on the South County Times crossword puzzle. Most people socialize at the bowling alley and while I do too I also have my crossword puzzle to fall back on.

This story, I feel, is a great example of the potential issues people like myself may have. In the right situation we will create an image that will make someone state, "Wow, I never..." but if the safe environment we are used to gets changed then it may become obvious. I think back to what my teachers told my dad at parent teacher conferences, "Well, Aaron doesn't socialize to well with other students, but perhaps he is just smarter so don't worry about it."

I'm sure most people outside of the readers of this blog would have a hard time picking up the behaviors of a person with Asperger's Syndrome; and why should they? If there is no reason to know it, or have been exposed to it, how would they know? If a person sees us in our element, or as I like to call it, "Kansas" they may always have the, "I never..." mindset. It is when the world throws us a curve and knocks us out of this that it will become apparent and then this is where confusion may set in and this is where education of the world is needed.

It is so hard to explain in a few sentences, and it is even harder when under stress, that I am on the autism spectrum. Yesterday I went to the DMV to try and register my car and as I finally, FINALLY, got my number called I was already frazzled. This was caused by the fact that I was a kid magnet and these three kids were running around my chair screaming like the end of the world was near. When the screaming trio left I was called and I went up to the lady who called my number, set my papers down, and clearly stated that, "I have a form of autism and I am frazzled right now." This got a puzzled look, but after a few seconds her tone changed and she became very helpful.

I think this was the first time I came out of the box with stating what I have and that I am having issues. The DMV story happened before the officer's presentation but I found it amazing that I did this because I knew the cashier lady would not think anything was off except maybe some sort of suspicious behavior on my part due to lack of eye contact and odd movements.

Wow, I wanted a three to five paragraph article and now I have no clue how long this is. I also don't know if I proved my point or added points I had no intentions of making. I think the bottom line is that the public as a whole may see us in our element and suspect nothing, but when the curveball gets thrown and people like myself have issues the public may scratch their heads and wonder, "What just happened" before they learn what really happened and then say, "Wow, I never would have known".

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rollercoaster of Emotions This Past Weekend

I am fully aware of the stark contrast in the previous two posts. On Thursday I was elated, happy, and confident in the increasing awareness of autism. Then, the next day, I was bitter, depressed, and angry. This back and forth feeling bounced every which way this weekend.

I struggled with the fact that there are some people that don't care to know. I am being fully honest when I say that I don't understand how a person could do this. I am probably not alone in this thought, but it gets me worked up and angry.

Hearing a story like the doctor I wrote about on Friday somehow makes me lose focus. I don't see what I have done but I just see the ever expanding need for better awareness and understanding. This story made the positive meeting obsolete in my mind. And I should tell you that this mindset is something I have always had in that one negative thing will always trump a positive.

At some point yesterday I finally realized I can't talk to everyone in the world all at once. This was a turning point because it allowed me to see the impact that I have had and not the one that still are, well, maybe clueless is the best word to use.

One thing this emotional weekend showed me is that I care. This is important because being the Community Education Specialist for TouchPoint Autism Services isn't simply my job, but it is a calling that I feel strongly about to the point that when I hear a story such as the clueless doctor it hurts me.

I now know stories like the clueless doctor won't hurt me anymore. Instead of hurting, these stories should motivate us all to expect better from doctors. If you have a doctor that understands the autism spectrum thank him for this! Please remember I am not bashing the field as a whole, but one doctor is one too many and there are excellent doctors out there that care and aren't clueless.

I don't think my passion for this ever decreases, but instead with each story it continues to grow. Later today I have a presentation for police officers going through C.I.T. training (Crisis Intervention Team) and while I'm not going to be able to stop every doctor from being clueless I am able to have an impact each day with those that hear me. There's a part of me that knows that in maybe a day, or a couple days, the thought of what needs to be done will overshadow what has been done. This may seem like a bad thing, but this is where my passion comes from. This is where my writings come from so while I may experience a rollercoaster of emotions every now and then I say it is worth it because there is a lot of need for understanding out there.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mission




Since tomorrow is a Saturday, today will act as the ONE year anniversary of my blog and I have something highly relevant to write about.

Over the course of this past year I have written about many topics. There have been highs, and there have been a couple lows, but through it all my mission has been to paint the picture of life on the spectrum.

There have been several times I have written about the Lunch and Learns I have done with Matt at doctor's offices. I find these to be one of the most important things I do because we can have all the insurance coverage in the world, organizations like TouchPoint can have the most effective therapies known to exist, but it all means nothing if doctors aren't educated on the matter.

The reason why I am so fired up about this right now is that I heard about a parent who went to a leading medical facility in Saint Louis with the “finest” doctors and what she heard has disturbed me. The quotes are as follows:

Your son is too young to have autism (he's age 3)

Your child can't have autism, see, he just made eye contact.

Maybe it's just a seizure disorder

Have you tried putting your child in a sleep study?

The ADOS? Oh, a ‘psychologist’ completed that.

If a doctor at a top facility is playing this game, think of how many doctors in the city of Saint Louis, the state of Missouri, the country, and the world are. If doctors are not willing to believe that autism could be what the diagnosis is, some families may never find the right treatments, or perhaps find them too late. There is always hope, but all the research out there shows that the earlier a child receives therapy the chances of a faster rate of growth increase greatly.

Because there is the chance of hope with early diagnosis, I am sickened by a story like this. If autism was new to the world of doctors, say 50 years ago, I could see why there would be ignorance. Am I saying this was good? No. However, with the rates of autism spectrum disorders today hovering around 1 in 100, there is no excuse, none whatsoever, that a doctor should be playing the, "there's no way it's autism because..." game.

Are you as angry as I am? I am furious! Why? If some doctors are playing this ignorance game, there are families with children on the spectrum who may not get the much needed answers until later in life, answers that will lead to early intervention and growth.

I was diagnosed at age 20 (2003), but that truly couldn't be helped because Asperger Syndrome wasn't put in the DSM until 1994. It's not yesterday anymore. It is 2011 and doctors MUST know about the spectrum. It exists and a child may look you in the eye; a child may be able to speak; a child may be able to catch a ball, and just because they can do any of these things, contrary to some doctors’ beliefs, doesn't mean it isn't autism.

The mission has not changed. This is truly a race to raise as much awareness and understanding as possible; to hopefully, somehow, get these doctors to understand. They have to understand! To be perfectly honest I have tears in my eye right now thinking about how many times this autism denial happens. If the family buys into that, even if they know it is autism, then so much time is wasted. The year is 2011 and aren't we more educated than we were 50 years ago? I would like to think so, but if a doctor at a leading institution is saying this than I have to ask, are we really? One case of this is too much. One case of this could set a family back for many years when the answer was there all along. So again, since doctors have the ability to know, are we really ahead of where we used to be?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It Happened Again

Two days ago Matt and I had a lunch and learn except there was no lunch and it was actually at 9AM. Nonetheless the concept was still the same; to share with the group information about TouchPoint and to let them hear a little about my experiences on the spectrum.

This go round the audience was not doctors but rather counselors and one psychologist. I didn't know what to expect going in because I often feel this group feels as if they know it all, but wow, was I in for a surprise.

We were scheduled for 45-60 minutes and we talked TouchPoint, but at some point in time, maybe it was when I stated my "Cement Theory", the volley of questions started.

The next hour-and-a-half was amazing. The room of 14 asked questions I had never been asked and it forced me to look within myself to come up with answers. This group was craving my insights and it was probably the highlight of my year so far. Why? It once again proves that there are people out there willing to listen. I don't know why I think everyone thinks they know it all, but this group truly wanted to know everything they could so they could better serve their clients who are on the spectrum.

As I had said, we were scheduled for just around an hour, but I was in shock when we wrapped up and the clock read 11:30. It had been 2 1/2 hours! If it weren't for the fact that people had places to go and people to see I probably still would be in discussions. In fact, one guy said about this presenation, "This is the best thing I have ever done in my career!"

With each of these events I am getting more and more confident; not just in my speaking abilities but also in other people. Maybe the tide is turning and I think that there are more professionals out there that want to know the right information about autism than those that don't really care. I can tell you that the ones that want to know truly care and want to do the best they can to understand it. I can't wait for each and every chance I get to have a presentation like I did two days ago.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Autism? Just a Bunch of Spoiled Children!"






This was originally run on August 3rd, 2010. The story of this officer, and the quote that was used in the title, happened one year ago today; the day before I started full-time at TouchPoint. That being so, I felt it was best to run this story again as a reminder of the mission we all should have in increasing the awareness and understanding of those who are on the autism spectrum.


Did that quote, the one that is the title of this entry, make you angry? It made me angry when I heard it, but it also threw me off of my game when I heard it because I was just about to start a presentation.


My presentation was to a group of police officers and one of the officers near the front of the room, when they saw my opening slide to my PowerPoint presentation, blurted out, "Autism? Just a bunch of spoiled children!"


I was hurt, in a way, because my entire presentation is based on getting the officers to understand some of the struggles faced by those on the spectrum and their families. The look on this officer's face truly scared me.  As I started my presentation he kept shaking his head at me like I was telling the biggest fib of all time.

In my 40+ presentations to police officers he was the only one that, I feel, didn't grasp the fact that autism is a challenge and that it exists. There have been others that have had that same attitude before I started my presentation, but by the end they were asking more questions of the topic and wanted more information on how to help a person with autism that is in need.

Can I blame the officers for having a closed mind before the presentation? Not really, because a lot of the tactics officers use are opposite of what works for people with autism. There is a real disconnect because of this, and furthermore, there is so much misinformation about autism in society.  On top of all this, no two people with autism are the same and the end result is a real need for officers to get autism training.

I just heard a story about an 18 year old that has Asperger Syndrome and was pulled over by the police. The officer approached the car and tapped on the window. The driver looked at the officer and did nothing. The officer tapped with more force and still the driver did not respond. By this time the officer was already irked so he screamed, "Sir, roll down your window now!" The young man was confused by this anger and said, "Why didn't you tell me to?"

The story continues and the officer was already on the last page of anger management book when he asked the driver, "Can I see your license?"

The driver looked at the officer like he was speaking a foreign language and said, "No, you can't see my license."

Between rolling down the window and being asked to show his license, the driver had mentioned the fact that he had Asperger's Syndrome. The officer didn't know what that meant which led to the climax of this story.

The officer once again asked, "Sir, can I see your license now!" The driver, who now was really confused, said, "You couldn't see it before and you still can't see it." And with that the officer arrested the individual for disobeying an officer or something like that and was hauled off to the station.

The driver's mother came to the station and I believe that other officers at the station understood what happened. When the mother asked the driver, "Why didn't you show the officer your license?" the driver said, "He asked if he could see it, but he couldn't see it because it was in my wallet in my back pocket." I don't think there were any charges filed.

Simple education of officers could prevent a traumatic event like the one I just described. If officers aren't educated it is hard to blame them because how could they understand that things can be taken literally. Police officers have a very stressful job and are accustomed to liars and thugs who will attempt to push every button the officer has.  When they come across a person on the spectrum that says the wrong things or doesn't understand their questions or commands they rely on the typical police procedure without empathy towards the person. Again, they have a stressful job and I was lucky enough to experience a day with an officer and you can read HERE

My presentation goes deeper than just alerting officers to the potential literalness of the spectrum, but also that each person with autism can be a complete opposite of the next. I give them the signs of autism and also a first hand account of what sensory overload feels like.

I am still angry with myself that I wasn't able to get through to the officer who provided the title for this post. I have about 800 other officers who were a success story; they got it. But for each officer that I failed to reach, that could be one officer who does the wrong thing and a person on the spectrum may experience a traumatic experience, or worse.

The need is there. The numbers for autism are going up at an alarming rate and police officers need to know what they may come across. If you are in the state of Missouri and are interested in a presentation for your local police department, they can schedule a presentation by contacting TouchPoint Autism Services at 314-432-6200.