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Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 At The Halfway Point

Today is the final day of the first half of the year. Maybe not in terms of days, maybe it is, but I go by months and not days. Anyway, today is a great day to look back on the year so far.

The year at the office didn't start out to good as chronicled in The Art of Evasion. Sadly, the sirens have sounded for legit reason way too much this year.

Later in January, one of the worst experience in recent memory happened to me in an Ill Fated Trip to The Office. Everyday I drive by that gas station and some days I go in when I do an energy bar instead of my normal bag of carrots for breakfast, but each time I drive by I still am dumbfounded by the anger and ignorance I saw on that day. Also, each time I drive by, I somewhat hold my breath hoping and praying I don't have another flat tire at that gas station.

Near the end of January I had jury duty. I had always looked forward to jury duty but after the experience I was left simply shaking my head in disgust. I still enjoy talking to people about the absurdity of the case and the verdict, and I can't wait until the 2.4 years passes, that's the average time span between jury summons in the city of Saint Louis, and get back on a jury. Why? I don't know, maybe there's something wrong with me.

I did an interesting video blog of sorts in February when I used iRacing to show how much I see in certain situations. This is kind of hard to explain, but it is one of my most viewed blogs so if you missed it, you should read it.

The next post I did was in somewhat of an angry tone when the television network, Fox, changed their theme music for NASCAR races. Order and sameness provide a sense of safety and this, what may seem like a small change, really bothered me.

February ended with me giving praise to Pop Cap Games for creating Bejeweled Blitz. The next month of my life at home was consumed by that game as I yearned to become the #1 rated player in the world. It was a long and sometimes angering road, but by the end of March I had made it to the top. To this day no one has eclipsed me at the top.

March 2nd was a joyous occasion as I celebrated working one full year at TouchPoint. Up to that point in my life a typical job would last six months before I got burned out, bored, and frustrated with the socializing with coworkers. I am so thankful that this job I have now is anything but boring, most certainly isn't frustrating, and everyone here knows about the autism spectrum so I am so thankful and can't wait to do a two year video next year.

Later in March I said goodbye to a near and dear friend. It was 16 years old and, well, it wasn't a person, it was my car. Saying goodbye was difficult, but slowly my new car has become part of my life and it's been a great ride so far making new memories.

My first race of the year happened in March in Phoenix and it was an event that has not been forgotten within the USAC staff. Last year I talked about my fear of bees, and this fear was realized when I was stung by a bee and found out that I am really allergic to them. In the same trip, on the way home, while still feeling drowsy from the sting, I had an interesting occurrence happen going through airport security. I still think back to that mom and sometimes in presentations, when the right question is asked, I will state the story.

April? Well, I don't remember much of April as I had my Autism Awareness Tour of Missouri. I think I drove over 2,500 miles and in one stretch I had 22 presentations in 19 days. I can't pick out individual posts because the entire month is something I will remember. The entire month is on this page in reverse order.

I lied, I can choose one post for April as the time I threw out the first pitch at the Saint Louis Cardinals game can't go unwritten. That day is still a blur to me coming off of such a trip across Missouri. It is a moment that I wish I could have taken in more. While I was standing, waiting, for the pitch to happen I may have been scanning the crowd, but I saw nothing. The sounds of life from the stadium were there, and yet I heard nothing. I may have thrown the ball, but I don't remember walking up to Skip Schumacher and I don't remember him signing the ball, but I have it here in front of me and he did sign it.

The beginning of May saw a West coast trip with a presentation at a college and a race in San Bernadino. I hasn't been two complete months, but this trip seems like an eternity ago for some reason. I do remember this trip fondly though and the ability to speak in front of a college psychology class was a huge honor. Also, after the race, I had an unique perspective on manners and that story has found its way into my presentations. Seriously though, my way is so much better!

In the middle of May Matt, TouchPoint's Community Liaison, and I had an amazing visit to a doctor's office. The visit was only half of the story of, A Tale of Two Doctors, as the other half was a story of a doctor that didn't really know a thing about the spectrum. The message to doctors is one that I know we will keep giving as, well, they need to hear it and the stakes are just too high not to.

If my life didn't have adventure enough, the first day on my annual trip to Indianapolis was filled with storms, flags, and a fast drive to escape the storms. I still haven't deleted my "max speed" reading on my GPS from that experience.

My last post from May was one that still haunts me and I am thankful my most recent golf outing last week wasn't as bad. Anyway, this post consists of two groups of old men yelling at me. If you missed this post the first time you surely want to know how I made eight old men angry.

June will forever be remembered as the month that I got dirty. That may sound, ahem, dirty, but the first week in June I flagged a USAC event in Hagerstown, Maryland and it was nothing short of the dirtiest I have ever been in my life. Typically I will freak if I have any dirt on me. If you ever see me in an environment where I get something on my hands take a look at what I do. Usually you'll see me see my hands, I'll look at them, and off to the nearest sink or towel is what will happen. However, within the power of, "Kansas" I was able to tolerate the dirt. At the end of the day, however, I went straight to the shower. I'm sure that the tub I used on that Sunday is still black!

The of course I wrote the articles that have been the past week and I don't feel a need to recall those. It's been an amazing year thus far and tomorrow I will make the announcement regarding my book. Also, next week is a big week for me as the annual USAC Battle at the Brickyard takes place and once again I will have the honor of flagging on the ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Again, it's been an amazing run so far this year and I'd like to thank you for reading. July should see the 100,000th page view of my blog (the number to the right is short 20,000 as that counter started late) which is a number I can't believe. So again, thanks for reading and double thanks if you are a follower, and I continue to look forward to giving you an inside look at life on the other side of the wall.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reflections on a Dream Filled Night

Last night was an odd night for me as my dreams were even more real than usual. I've talked in the past about how real my dreams seem and that I usually remember most, if not all elements from my dreams. Last night, however, it was even more real.

Usually I have no clue as to where the topics of the dreams come from. This past night the answer was obvious as in both presentations yesterday I was asked, "How did you get from where you were to where you are today?" The questions looked to expand upon my presentation conclusion when I speak about my trip to New York City to have a meeting with a woman from Autism Speaks and then going through TouchPoint's Parent Training.

I had never been asked that question before and I gave an answer about giving two presentations at a Masters level teaching class at Lindenwood University and then starting out at TouchPoint giving presentations to police officers before coming on full time. That answer seemed to satisfy, but to me it did not. I felt as if something was missing. What that was, I didn't know, but it showed up last night in my dreams.

This is a big week for me as it is with that announcement I talked about on Monday coming this week so it is rather odd that two events (the announcement and those questions) would make me reflect on how I got to where I am today.

The first part of my dream was of when I was in school. When I dream, especially when I dream of events that have happened, the emotions are felt just as strongly as when that time era actually happened. In the dream I did everything I could to get out of school, but failed. Anyway, when I was at school, I dreamt of the day in 2nd grade when Mrs. Jendra allowed me to be the presenter of the flashcards. I was retired as champion, but instead of giving me busy work she allowed me to be the host of the game. Without a doubt this was one of the most major events of my life as I am now a presenter and without that experience long ago, well, perhaps I would be unable to do what I do now. After this thought my dream took a turn to the bizarre and a tornado hit the school and I woke up in a fright. Thankfully that part of my dream never actually happened.

After being up for about 10 minutes around 1:50AM I got back to sleep and went straight back to dreaming. This time it was the era of when I moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis. I never have thought about that time era extensively because it was an awful period for me. In Indy people like auto racing so what my ultimate "Kansas" was everyone knew what I was talking about. In Saint Louis the Asperger in me showed more and I had minimal interaction with classmates because what I was interested in no one else had ever heard of nor cared about; after all, Saint Louis is a baseball town.

I cried in my dream, but then I dreamed about the times my family would go back to Indy and I had my moments of supreme respite. While my mom and dad would be visiting either my brother or sister I would go to the friends I had while in Indy and stay there. I do believe it was there that I crafted my art of conversation as we would play games for hours on end. Monopoly, Double Crossing, and eventually Risk were played and played and played. Games are a safe haven for me and I feel like my normal defenses are lessened within a game. Having these weekends of normality over the course of a decade kept me going. I knew that those times in Indy were relevant in my life, but until having that dream I didn't realize the contrast between the isolation in Saint Louis and the warmth and all the games in Indy was so different.

Again I was woken up, but instead of fear I was awoken by a happy sadness. I realized that all those times in Indy kept me from fully going within myself. I wasn't 100% isolated in Saint Louis, but the times of personal interaction was far between and I talked to no one at school. Having those moments of normality were critical in my development and I should state, during this era, I wasn't diagnosed which makes the miracle of all this even more spectacular. I also was sad because I remembered the final game of Monopoly that was played in 2004. Times change, people grow, and what is eventually becomes what was. What was though, in that era, was a critical time of growth.

This time I went back to sleep around 4AM and my dream went to the night I started to write. I thought, within the dream, "Wow, what is this, a miniseries tonight?" Anyway, I remember all the emotions I felt on that night. I could feel the anger, the confusion, the frustration, and the intense desire to be heard. I wanted to be heard but I could not speak it. I had so many emotions but had no way to express them. As I say in my presentations, "Before I started writing I was the least emotional person in the world."

After being diagnosed I went into a horrible 14 month depression as the first thing I read about the spectrum stated that, "Persons with Asperger Syndrome will never have a job, never have friends, will always be a burden, and will never be happy." I wish I knew which web-site I read that on so I could send them a copy of my book to prove them wrong now, but at the time it was those lines that defined me. Forgotten were the times in Indy when I was alive. Forgotten was the times in school that I spoke in front of the class like a game show host. Forgotten was my life and the only thing that was true were those lines from that web site. That is of course until I started to write.

The last things I dreamed about was putting Gran Turismo 4 in my PS2 and turning on the jukebox within the game to listen to classical music while I wrote. I went to my computer and for the first time in my entire life expressed myself.

It was a long road from that first night to get to where I am today as I started writing in February 2005, but all the events that preceded that had a hand into getting me to where I am. At the time, I'm sure, no one could have imagined that what seemed like an irrelevant event would play such a role. I mean, I'm sure my 2nd grade teacher, if she is still alive, will never know the sincere gratitude I have because of those times I stood in front of the class. Also, all the times in Indy kept me conversing and kept me interacting. It was also the oasis within the school isolation I had and those weekends spent in Indy kept me confident about myself.

It was a night of dreams that seemed real. The images, the words, and the emotions were all real. I was saddened and elated at the same time. I was saddened because of the memories, but I was elated because I was reminded that there is always hope. I am a advocate for early diagnosis and intervention, but I didn't receive any of those. While it is best, should a person be diagnosed later in life there is still hope. For those 14 months I said over and over, "There is no hope." but I was wrong. I thought my life was going to be confined within the house I lived in as that's essentially what that web site I read said. However, having the experiences I had as a child in school, and the times in Indy, the seeds were planted that has allowed me to become who I am today. As with planting, the sprouts don't sprout instantly and it may take time. For me, from that first time in 2nd grade being in front of a class it would be 18 years before I spoke in front of a group about autism. 18 years! The road may be long and hard, but the dreams last night reminded me that I didn't travel this road alone and I am thankful to everyone who helped me along the way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm Still Amazed...

I did two presentations today and in both cases the difference between before the presentation and during was staggering. It still amazes me that I can go from barely being able to answer a person's question of, "How are you?" to being able to speak non-stop for 90 minutes and then answer questions.

For those that have actually seen this transformation I am sure they are amazed as well. At my 2nd presentation today I was standing alone and was standing and feeling awkward. I don't know what it is about presenting, but I can do it with ease. However, the moments before can be highly agitating.

Sorry for the late post today; having the two presentations put a crimp on writing this morning and I should be back to my normal before noon posting time tomorrow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Remembering What Was

This will be a big week for me in terms of making an exciting announcement on my blog regarding my book. I've known about this for a while, but have not made it public on here but I will be able to do it sometime this week.

Anyway, because of this announcement, I was remembering what was before my book yesterday. I thought back to the times I first sat down and put words and emotions on paper, or rather computer screen, for the first time. Never, NEVER, could I have imagined my life would take the turns that it has. If you had told me I'd be a published author on that first night I would have said, "I'm not good enough to be published." If you would have told me I'd turn into a public speaker I would have said, "Why are you telling me such things that could never happen?"

What I didn't think, or imagine, could happen has. I've received many comments from my three hour presentation last Thursday and I still am in shock from the positiveness of them. As I have said many times, I don't know what I do as I just state my story and experiences. It is impossible for me to understand that people get anything meaningful from it. That being said I know I am blind to those sort of things so as long as a stage is provided I will keep telling my story.

Another thing that made me remember back to the days when I was just starting to write was my video game marathon Friday night into Saturday. Before working at TouchPoint I would often be up until 4 or 5AM playing whatever racing game was the "in" game at that point in time. I often thing back to all those nights and I wonder how I got from there to here. Every so often on the weekend, when I have a weekend at home, I enjoy having one night like I had this weekend. So often, back then, I would wonder what was to come. I knew my life couldn't stay that way forever. There had to be something more, but what? Each night when I went to sleep I would have those thoughts, and again, I knew something had to change but I never could have imagined the wonderful turns it has taken.

The main reason I enjoy a late night gaming marathon, besides winning the playoffs on EA's NHL 11in OT, is that I feel we can often lose track of who we are. What do I mean by this? To know who we truly are today we have to remember who we were. I mean, how can one gauge growth unless they are willing to remember what used to be? By staying up that late I remember all the nights I sat down and created concepts, and wrote my story. But I also remember the anticipation, the angst, and the wondering of what was going to happen. By feeling those emotions of old I know I have grown, but it is in those emotions of old that created who I am today. It was those nights of looking out the window in pure wonder pondering who I am and what was out there in the world and it was those thoughts that spurred on who I have become today.

Of course, all this didn't happen overnight and was a multi-year process. The process is still continuing and I'll tell you about the next exciting step later this week.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Luckiest Guy on Earth

What did I do to deserve this? I'm not sure. How did I go from where I was to where I am? It all seems so impossible, it truly does, and yet here I am. I'm sure luck had nothing, but I can't help but feel as if I won some sort of lottery, or some sort of sweepstakes, because, right now, I wouldn't trade anything in my life for something else.

What a week it's been! Of course it started with the TouchPoint golf tourney, and then the amazing presentation and conversation in TouchPoint's Parent Training on Tuesday, but yesterday the week got even better.

The Thompson Center had a conference in Cape Girardeau and I was one of the breakout sessions. I have to admit I was actually scared of this presentation because, well, it was scheduled for three hours. THREE hours! My PowerPoint presentation, if a stretch it, can go for 90-105 minutes. This presentation was scheduled for 180!

As usual I was early to the campus where the conference was being held and I actually love being in the room of my presentation ahead of time. After I set up I often take a seat and try to just blend in as if I am just another person waiting for the presenter. Perhaps this is a coping skill as now I have no anxiety before a presentation. This lurking in the audience ahead of time while soaking in the transition between empty room and presentation is something I look forward to and I was asked several times if I were, "saving a seat" beside or in front of me.

Slowly the time came was approaching for my presentation and I am always fearful no one will show up. I struggle with the, "Who am I?" concept and often wonder why people care what I have to say, but regardless those thoughts person after person filed in and at 1PM it was go time with about 70 people in the audience.

I'm not sure what it was yesterday, but I was on. This isn't to say I have ever been "off" because I can only recall one presentation I didn't have my A+ game, but yesterday I had my A++ game. Words were easier, the humor and timing were flawless, and my tone on the tear jerking lines were as heartfelt as possible.

Maybe it's because of the lack of presentations I have had, maybe it was the environment, or maybe I'm still learning how to speak in a group, or even still maybe my passion for raising awareness is still growing. Whatever the case there wasn't a doubt in my mind that my words were being heard.

My format for the three hours was my normal presentation followed by a cookie break (the Thompson Center served the cookies, not me. I don't bake and actually have a fear of cooking, well, a fear of someone burning the house down while cooking. The world is a safer place with me not cooking!). I was sure that I'd lose most of my audience after the cookie break as the only thing I had scheduled, and I let the audience know this, is the final entire hour would be Q&A. As 3PM neared I had not lost a single audience member.

It was an honor, and absolute honor, to have people stay around another hour to hear me ramble on some more. Just as with the parent training class a few days prior those in attendance couldn't get enough. The whole hour was spent in discussion and the questions were awesome.

One question let me recount the days of busting the VCR by watching the same thing over and over again and another question talked about what it is like when I read (it is just like watching TV for me, except with my mind being the screen) and even another question that spoke of literalness and humor (I recalled a line my friend, Rob, said and I laughed to the point of crying).

When the three hours were over I was almost shaking. I grabbed my computer bag and only remaining box of books that I had and forgot my conference packet and name tag which I was actually highly depressed when I found that out as I really wanted that so I can fully remember the experience I had. I hope the audience enjoyed it, but for me it was such an amazing time. So many people cared what I had to say and some found humor, some had their hearts tugged, but me? I once again found my voice, passion, and reason. I told the audience, "I'm still waiting to wake up. If you could have seen me two years ago I didn't talk much and rarely left the house. I thought I would never do anything in life, and yet here I am, it must be a dream, right?" I know it isn't a dream and what a life it is. I get to bring a message that there is always hope, it may not appear like it and it may take a time, but I am everything I thought I couldn't possible be. Yes, I may not be a race car star, and I may not have won the lottery, but without a doubt I feel like the luckiest person on this Earth.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The People I've Met

Earlier this month I blogged about meeting a person on the golf course who spoke of taking one's time on the golf course. That blog was called, "The People we Meet" but today I'm reflective on those that I have met in the past.

Maybe it was realizing that it has been two years since I went through TouchPoint's Parent Training that has made me aware of the passage of time. A big theme in my writings, at least in my book, is the absolute dread of the passage of time. Time equals change and since change is bad time is bad.

As I tried to go to sleep last night my mind was going full speed on remembering the people that I have met. Some of these people have been vital, others have been totally random. I thought back to the one semester I took at Saint Louis Community College at Meramac and I wonder where my college comp 101 teacher is today. I can remember her giving us reading material from this book that had essays from college students just like us and I always thought, "Wow! What would it be like to be one of those students that has had the chance to have other people read their work?" Never would I have thought but of my career and passion would be writing. I do wonder though if Mrs. Wilcox ever learned that I became a writer?

Not only did I think about my teacher, but what about the students that were in the same classes as I was? I tried and tried to remember names, but I'm not good with names. In fact, I am so bad with names that one of the final questions on a test in this music class was, "What is your instructor's name?" I combined his name with his secretary's name and missed it which my final grade in the class was a 89.9! That one question was the difference between an A and a B. I never have gotten over that.

Sorry, got sidetracked (truly that grade has hung with me), but I wonder if wondering about people we have come across in our lives is something everyone does regardless of being on the spectrum or not? It's a weird feeling because, at the time, I didn't and perhaps was unable to care or even give more than half-a-second of thought of those around me but now I want to know. I don't know why I want to know, and if I had an answer I might care for a while, or I might care for a tenth of a second, but right now I wonder.

Here's the thing that if I dwell on this for too long will certainly depress me and that is, think about it, everyday we cross paths with people. Some people stay in our lives a long time, some will be like that old man who spoke wisdom on the golf course, and then there will be a multitude of extras that have no speaking parts. With all these people, whether they are important or not, there may come a time that they are no longer around. For me, today, I wonder what happened to people in my college classes. This is somewhat common and at times when I find my elementary yearbooks I enjoy seeing how many former classmates I can find on Facebook.

Now I want to ask an interesting question; has this wonder I have explained always been around, or is this something that maybe the internet has fueled? What I mean is, how could one find another person, say, 30 years ago? Perhaps by dialing "0" and talking to the operator, but could they help you if you didn't know the town?

It's a different world now and the people we have met will, in a way, never truly be gone. I was born after the show "M*A*S*H*" was on television, but if I remember from reading about the ending the two main characters shake hands as one lives on the east coast and the other the west and they both know that they will probably never see from or hear from each other again. In this day in age this is a lost concept on the youth of today, and perhaps everybody now.

So I've probably gone on a nice ramble today. While in the previous paragraph I said people will never truly say goodbye this is different for me as I never said hello to anyone else in that one semester I spoke of. I still wonder what became of them and just because I didn't speak to them and I didn't interact with them, well, they were still part of the world I was in. I often will not speak to those around me, but I am fully aware of their presence. I may not look like I am listening, but I am much more observant that you'd think. I am a sponge of the events and sayings around me, but most of the time I retain it all and don't interact.

I do speak more than I used to (I mean this outside of presentations) but still I wonder who all those people were whether they are the people I had in college, or maybe my grade school teachers. As I said on the, "The People We Meet" article it is important to have a good face on all the time because, even though we live in a Facebook world, there just may be the chance that someone can't get in touch with you and someone, someday, may have a sleepless night and be thinking back on their life remembering who was important to them, who were the extras, and who were the villains (I had to keep the movie lingo going).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Magic Then, Magic Now at TouchPoint

It wasn't until I gave my presentation to the parents currently going through TouchPoint's parent training program that I realized that it has been two years. Yes, it's only been two years since I sat through the program as a consultant. Yesterday also saw the fact that I had not given a presentation in almost a month so I feared that rust would plague my words.

As much as I feared the rust the fears were for not. As soon as I started speaking it was as if not a second had gone by since my previous presentations. On top of that, at the end, the questions were some of the best I have had and the discussion was intense, deep, and often times humorous. It was awesome, but it was during this segment of questions and answers that I realized that it was just two years ago that my life truly began.

I often credit the the trip to Autism Speaks in New York City in 2009 as the start of who I am today and I will state that in my presentation. However, it isn't so much to know what one wants to do but it is a totally different, and more difficult, thing to find a way to do it. It was just a week after I got back from New York that I began to go through parent training.

The first day I didn't know what to expect and the reason for that is what I read after I got diagnosed. Once I had diagnosis in hand I didn't know what to make of it so I went into the hit or miss abyss of the internet. After writing that sentence I went to Google and typed, "autism" and it said there are about 80,000,000 pages! Just five months ago there were 16,800,000! The point of the numbers though is this; not all of them are going to be accurate. I found one of those pages and it said that people on the spectrum, "Will never have a job, will never have a family, can only be a burden, and above all else will never be happy." I read those words and, sadly, believed them.

After reading those words I didn't care about anything because I believed those words and when one believes something like that they are most certainly destined to become it. I did. However, for one reason or another, I started writing which led me to go through the TouchPoint ADAPT program (parent training) and while I wasn't expecting much going in I was amazed at the enthusiasm of the parents who were going through it. Secretly, on the first day, I thought that obviously they had not read the web page I had read nor did they have the same belief.

My beliefs were tested with each passing moment as success stories were shown and I began to wonder if that website I read was full of baloney. Then, after the first week, I saw monumental gains in some of the children along with a sense of hope from the parents and it was enough. If I didn't know better I'd say it was nothing but magic, but while the title of this entry has the word "magic" in it, it truly isn't. By empowering parents and giving them the information of how the mind on the spectrum thinks and the appropriate way to address issues, well, harmony can exist.

During the question and answer segment yesterday I was taken aback by these thoughts. For one reason or another I never gave credit to going through that program for giving me the "magic" in what I do today. I wasn't even a parent, just a consultant, and going through the TouchPoint parent training gave me the confidence that the website I read after I was diagnosed was nothing but hogwash. As I went through the program I could never have imagined that I would turn into a public speaker and be spreading the message of not only my story, but that there is this place some may say works magic, but I say we produce the most important thing of all; hope! Without hope what is there?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Golfing with a Blue

Yesterday was the 2nd annual TouchPoint Invitational golf tournament benefiting, well, TouchPoint. I was asked to show up to fill in for an empty spot on any of the teams of four. I was told to be there at 11 so I showed up at 10:15.

When I arrived at the Meadowbrook Country Club there weren't that many people there and I had no idea where to go. I got out of my car and walked to the club house but didn't see anyone. In moments like this I panic because I don't know what to do. That being so I walked back to my car and got out my phone and played some chess on the chess.com iPhone app.

After about 15 minutes of making some horrible chess moves (I'm not all that good) I got out of my car again and headed back to the club house. In situations like this I am hoping to find someone who will talk to me and tell me where to go or what to do. There is a really big sense of fear in this because I am deathly afraid of going into the wrong room or being yelled at for being in a place that I'm not supposed to be. Has this ever happened to me? No, but the fear is still ever present.

I made another pass of the club house and I saw the TouchPoint banners, but again I saw no one. Was anyone there? I didn't know, so I was all prepared for another beating at chess when a car pulled in and a person with a TouchPoint shirt got out. Success! I now had a person to follow blindly and they would show me where to go.

I learned, after following this person, that I was in the right spot all along and all I had to do was to enter the doors by the banners. That ma sound easy, but I am so afraid of making that one mistake. If I don't know exactly what to do my usual response is to do nothing and wait for direction.

With the issues of where to go out of the way I now waited to find out what to do once again. I glanced at a sheet that had the players names on it and I began to worry as my name wasn't on it. I went outside to the registration desk to ask and they said they didn't have me as well. My response to this was to walk around aimlessly as I planned my next course of action. Truly I was a dart without feathers, or a speeding car without steering. The "positional warfare" was in full swing and my expressions were as bland as could be. While my exterior may have looked just slightly uncomfortable the internal strife was high.


A few minutes after I began to walk aimlessly I was told a team wasn't showing up and that I would be filling in. I didn't know who I would be playing with which wasn't an issue at this point in time as I was just thrilled to get the chance to participate in the event once again.

As the minutes ticked by I learned the team would be comprised of TouchPoint's IT director and director of HR. When I learned there was a team I went to my car and got my clubs and as I got to the bag drop I realized I need to invest in a new golf bag. It's one thing to play with clubs older than myself (I was the only one on the course with an actual wood driver) but my bag I use was purchased for $5 at a garage sale in Gordon, Nebraska and it is the heaviest, most lopsided bag in the world. Looking at other bags I felt severely outclassed.

Lunch was served and then it was time to play. Right before we started though we were told we did have a fourth player. This player wasn't another person from TouchPoint, but rather Alex Pietrangelo of the Saint Louis Blues. 

To be honest I was instantly nervous. I knew what to expect from my TouchPoint team, but now we had a NHL player on the team. I didn't know what to expect and have never had any exposure to a sports player at all except in passing. On top of that a hockey player! Hockey is a very physical sport and I worried that our newly acquired teammate would be brash, aggressive, and rude.

As we were introduced all my fears were for not. Alex was just like anyone else. There was nothing "NHL" about him and his attitude was not that I would expect of someone who plays sports for a living. Again, I haven't been around anyone famous before and was going in blind, but as we drove to the 1st tee he was just like anyone else.

It was now time to begin and the format was a four person scramble. I warned my team that the last two times I played golf I managed to irritate a whole bunch of old men, and I also warned them that my drives off the tee-box have been awful. I teed off last and with all the pressure on me on not wanting to totally humiliate myself I swung my vintage driver and out drove all the members of the team. "I don't know where that came from" I said and from that hole on I couldn't drive at all.

The round of golf continued on and as a team we interacted. It was so neat just talking to an NHL player like he's just anyone, and that's the way he was. We weren't shooting the best, but the talk and banter was awesome.

In my book I talk about my "game theory" which states that in a game I am more talkative thanks to the environment. I felt so free during that round and had I been in that same group, say, at dinner there would have been much fewer words spoken by me. In fact, I even got the nerve to ask a question about hockey (I almost never ask a question about anything!) regarding something I noticed at a game I went to back in December. I was the high bidder on two front row tickets behind the goal and I noticed that the refs, on faceoffs, were constantly talking. I was extremely curious as to what they were saying and I asked this of Alex and he told me that he wasn't fully sure because he is a defensemen, but chances were the ref was stating to move a skate a certain way and other things of the like to make sure it is an even draw. Also, he said the refs talk much more than people would expect.

I wanted to ask that question from the on-set of the round but I didn't know if it was appropriate. It took me until the 15th hole to get the nerve to ask the question. I didn't think the question would be offensive at all, but would he want to think about hockey while playing golf? I weighed the evidence as to the if it would be offensive or not and three hours later I did ask the question.

I had another dilemma during the round and it was the same dilemma I faced last year. In the inaugural TouchPoint Invitational Joe Micheletti, a former player and now announcer, donated a trip to New York to visit him in the broadcast booth. I wanted to thank him for his support by giving him a book of mine, but I was unable to. After about four holes yesterday I came to the conclusion that I wanted to give Alex a book, but how would I go about doing this?

The logical way to give someone a book is to say, "Hey, would you like a book?" but that requires asking the question. Again I pondered and dwelled on if it were appropriate to give a person a book like this. I struggle with this and last year, if you remember, it was a high intensity time when I tried to give NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray a book.

Hole after hole went by and I kept waiting for the right moment to ask. To some people this might be easy, to however it was an adrenaline inducing panic. "Just ask, Aaron" was what was going through my mind but I always came back with, "but it would be rude, right? He's here to play golf, not get a book, but it's not like he's buying it, I mean, who would refuse a free book? But again, it would be rude, right?" This vicious cycle of logic did not yield until the next to last hole.

It was time. It was now or never. The goodbyes were already beginning and we were thanking him for carrying us on the course (he is a very capable golfer). With a surge of adrenaline and fear much like when one almost gets t-boned crossing an intersection in a car (that is not an exaggeration! That's the only thing I can compare the amount of mortal fear that went into asking the question) I asked, "Would you mind if I gave you a book at the end?"

The tone in my voice was much weak and fearful as if the question I was asking would have lifetime ramifications because, to me, I was just scared out of my mind. Alex responded, "Oh my yes! I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday and found nothing so that would be great!" As usual I found out my fears were unjustified.

When we were done I went to my car and got a book out, and signed it, and handed it to Alex. I felt as if I just scored an OT goal in game 7 because asking that question, and giving him a book is something that last year I failed at. You may be reading this thinking that something so small should not give me such a feeling of elation, but how else could I feel? To overcome such a fear and to overcome something I was unable to do a year prior is a major event in my mind.

We shook hands and he wished me luck and I wished him the same in the NHL and I went into the clubhouse for the evening dinner program. As elated as I was I came back to Earth as the positional warfare set in as I didn't recognize anyone and didn't know where to go. Thankfully Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint, walked in and I walked his way and talked about my day.

As we talked people came and people went and eventually I came across a person who had me at a book club earlier this year and she had another person with her and I got to talking and she asked me what I had done since that book club and I talked about my April tour of Missouri for Autism Awareness Month and once again I was flying high. I was back in my comfort zone and I explained the need I feel the education system has for autism awareness and we kept talking right past the time dinner was served.

All in all in was an amazing day. There were times of stress, and times of elation. I told Ron that, "if my day wasn't filled with at least some strife how exciting would my blog be?" I learned yesterday that people that play sports aren't as mean as I envisioned them and that they are just real people like anyone else, but I also learned that in the time from last year I must have grown. It may have taken a whole round of golf to get up the nerve, but this year I didn't drive home sad as I gave that book to Alex Pietrangelo.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Invisible Order

I was going to write this for my 4th book that I am currently writing, but I couldn't sit on this concept for that long...

Recently, at a race, I experienced a frustrating event. This occurrence has happened to me many times and each time it happens it always leaves others a little angry and myself a little confused. Until I realized what was going on I always thought that something was just wrong with me, but I now know it is simply another aspect of being on the autism spectrum.

So, what event led me to this revelation? It was at a race, as I said, and it was at the end of the race day when it was time to pack up. Since this race was a traveling series all the items needed to be placed inside the trailer. There were eight of us and the packing started easy for me as I took down the caution lights and the corresponding equipment. Afterwards though, well, that is when the "Invisible Order" took control.

What is the "Invisible Order"? Is it a shadow government that operates in the, well, shadows? As much fun as it would be to write that story it, sadly, is not the topic. Anyway, the packing continued and I stood around trying to figure out what to do and where to go with myself. This has happened to me many times and in other situations I have been called lazy, aloof, or that I lack initiative. This isn't the case as it simply is that I lack the ability to understand the invisible order of the world.

So, to finally get around to answering my question, the invisible order is what I now call the process in which others communicate. To normal people this order may be fully visible and not mysterious at all, for me though I don't understand it at all. You see, as I stood in the trailer trying to figure out what the next step was the others always kept moving and kept working together without saying anything. Nothing was spoken! The other staff kept going from item to item and task to task without stating what was next. To me this order was fully invisible and I was amazed.

Maybe I am simply re-explaining the hardship that those have on the spectrum to pick up on, "non-verbal" cues. And maybe so, but I don't think it has ever been explained quite like this. I don't understand how the staff kept moving without skipping a beat or talking to each other. It was as if I was witnessing telepathy. When two people would pick up a big item that required two people to lift the item and teamwork to twist and turn to get it to where it needs to go the process went on without a hitch. Anytime I pick a heavy thing with someone else it is like trying to watch an ostrich ballet dance on a tight rope. In other words it is a complete disaster.

Because I lack the ability to understand this invisible order I have always been awkward in team work environments. When I worked at a kart shop I often when get asked why I wasn't loading the trailer when the time came. I never was able to give the right answer because I didn't understand it myself. At the time I answered, "Well, since I don't know where everything goes I'd rather do nothing than to do something and mess it up." This was partially true, but now I know the real reason is this invisible order.

Why is not understanding this invisible order a problem? It would sort of be like trying to play soccer at a baseball game. Yes, it is still a sport, but it is in the wrong environment. That's what happens to me, I am playing a sport, but not the right one at the right time. Or you could also say it's like doing a waltz at a rock concert. Because of that all that I do looks and feels out of place.

Once I defined this at the race I looked on with utter amazement at how effortlessly everyone else moved. It was magic, pure magic, and yet I still didn't pick up on how they knew what the other wanted.

In team settings, or simply among others, we may appear lazy, or un-energetic. This can come about because we are simply lost among the order that we can't figure out and also because it is tiring living in the world outside the invisible order. Trust me when I say that if you see me in that state I wish more than you can even begin to imagine that I wasn't in that state. I know I stick out and adding further duress on me isn't going to help. It isn't a choice and it isn't me being lazy or wanting others to do the work, but rather it is me not understanding the order of the environment. Others seem to naturally know, but I do not. When I try to join in it just gets more awkward as when I try to operate within the invisible order I just create visible chaos.

For those of you who can operate within "The Invisible Order" I want you to take a step back next time you are in an environment that requires some amount of team effort and imagine if you were me. Imagine watching all that was going on around you and being blind to the team work that happens. Imagine, when you are picking up an item with someone, that you always do the opposite of what the other person is expecting. It is a sight to behold, and if you aren't on the spectrum you may not realize the ease as to what is going on. With all this being so I ask you, the reader, next time you see a person on the spectrum in a situation where others are moving with ease and the person on the spectrum isn't doing much I ask that you don't get angry. Look around and notice the ease others are working. Movements aren't calculated and team work isn't spelled out with words. It simply happens without a visible reason and for us on the spectrum, well, the order with how people interact with each other is simply "The Invisible Order".

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living On The Air In Milwaukee

Yesterday I headed from Saint Louis to Milwaukee for the USAC .25 Midget race that is on the same grounds as Sunday's IZOD IndyCar race. Mapquest said to take I-55 to I-39 to avoid Chicago, but my GPS system didn't get the memo and I like to blindly follow the GPS so I got the honor of dealing with Chicago traffic.

As I crossed into Wisconsin I realized that it will be 9 years next week that I drove, by myself, to Wisconsin to visit with a Star Mazda team during the SCCA June Sprints at Road America. I was 19 in 2002 and was having issues socially and yet I was able to drive nearly 500 miles away. I was undiagnosed at this point in time, but my dad said he didn't think I would do such a thing and I did.

Back to yesterday, I got to the hotel and we checked in and about an hour later we went to a place near the track. I drove the group to the track and it felt odd to have passengers in my car. I'm used to being alone and to have company, well, it was just downright odd.

We got to the sports bar and we found others with the race in the back room. I don't recall how many people were there, but it was over ten and it was noisy. As talkative as I was before I shut down. Everyone else made it look so easy. What was easy? Conversing. The conversation was natural and the movements of the others was not forced. Myself? I don't think I said one thing except, "Coke" when asked what I wanted to drink. The "positional warfare" was in full swing and I was, at times, as stiff as a steel beam.

Conversations shifted, people came and people went, and then the rest of the group who supposedly got lost in Chicago showed up and the room got even busier.

As all this was going on I must admit I got aggravated at myself. "Why can't I just one time be like that?" is what I kept asking. "Just once?! Please?" That isn't me though and as the evening progressed I remembered that I am, indeed, on the autism spectrum. If I could be like that then I would, perhaps, not be on the spectrum. What I have isn't bad, it is just different. While at that location I felt like an outsider and alone, but as the time there was running down and I walked outside to open my trunk for a suit case to be put in it I looked up into the night sky and the drizzle that was falling and I was thankful. Why thankful? Without incidents like this I could very well forget why I do what I do. If I am ALWAYS in my comfort zone I would not be able to describe any of the challenges.

If you've followed for a while, or are new, I write about anything and everything because that is what the spectrum is. Having Asperger's doesn't just show up on weekends, or an appointment every six months, it is a full-time thing. It doesn't come and go and it doesn't have a season.

As I walked back into the bar/restaurant I had a smile on my face as I once again accepted what I have. The anger I had was gone and I was excited, elated, and once again inspired for everything that was and is to be. Odd sentence and odd thoughts, I know, but it is true. Challenges? I'll face them. Can I conquer them fully? Maybe not, but I know that if given the right environment I can show who I really am. This weekend I'll get to do that on the race track.

So know to explain the title of this blog. As we left the bar and headed back to the hotel, James, the director of the quarter midget series, gave a song request. Now I will say I have a lot of off-beat stuff, but never have I had a request like this. He didn't request the $250,000 song from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire nor did he suggest the Jeopardy Think Music. What did he request? He requested the theme song from WKRP in Cincinatti. And not only did he request it but we essentially had it on repeat. And not only was it repeat, but we had a bonafide sing-a-long going on. The bass was cranked up and I don't know what "rocking out" really is but I know if any one around our car could hear it, well, they probably would have been truly confused.

So that was my yesterday. It was up and down, but that's the way life in general is whether one is or isn't on the spectrum. If anything it was almost like one of those movies where one questions one's skill and then finds himself and perseveres. What a day, although "Baby, if you've ever wondered... I'm living on the air in Cincinatti..." keeps running through my head. I heard that song one too many times last night!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Out of Place

Three days ago I returned home from being gone for almost three weeks. Returning home for me is a time relief and a time for stress. Why stress? The unpacking game is something that always gives me a hard time because I have to unpack and make sure all of my things are exactly how I left it.

While I was gone the cable in the house failed for one reason or another and the cable guy came and had to get behind my television. I knew this but didn't think anything of it until I returned home and saw my television moved about a foot to the left. Also, items in front of the television were moved and once I saw this I didn't know what to think as I was flooded with emotions.

You would think something like this would not induce such a response, but it did; I turned into an edgy person that was very upset. I kept saying aloud, "I don't understand" because I didn't. I knew the cable guy had came, but I didn't understand why he didn't put everything back.

I love order and I love sameness. To come back and see that everything has shifted, well, it evoked all sorts of emotions. Again, as with yesterday's blog, I can't simply turn it off. Even though my area is an organized mess, I do know where everything is thanks to the organized part of the mess.

This isn't something I get angry over because I know most everyone else is immune to this type of response. I wish I could see the shifted room and feel no emotions, but this isn't the case. When I see the room every urge in my mind is telling me to return the room to the state I know. Sure, I can try and ignore it, but it won't go away.

I don't have too much to add on this, but I wanted to write this to describe the impact that a change in the environment can have.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Sound Feels Like

Yesterday, when talking about the effects of sound, I wanted to go into more detail on what it feels like. However, as often happens while I write, what I want to write sometimes just doesn't fit into the flow of what I'm writing. Today I will cover it.

So what does sound feel like? The following description is how I feel but if you are new to my blog I want to make one point clear; if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. My sensations and feelings are mine and they might or might not be shared by another person on the spectrum and I do know some people on the spectrum love loud noises. With all that being so please remember that moving forward.

I have two issues with sound. Obviously the first one is loud noises. However, the second one is something you might not realize, or think of, and that is an item, or other thing in this world, that could produce a loud noise. Those things are almost worse than a loud noise, but I will cover this when I get there.

To begin, let me describe sounds that are currently sounding. (is that a proper sentence? I wonder if it sounds right? Sorry, couldn't help myself with the sound joke) The first thing I notice isn't that I can hear the noise, but rather that I can feel the noise. Typically this is felt in the legs and perhaps this is simply the bass of the noise. Regardless of what it is this is usually the type of noise that gives me issues. I've said this before, but it isn't necessarily the volume of the noise, but rather the frequency and when I can feel the sound the issues begin.

The first thing that will happen in my body is an immediate increase in my heart rate. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a shot of adrenaline because there is fear. The fear, I know, is irrational, but I can't turn my brain's messages off. I can't simply, "get over it" or as I was told as a child, "don't worry about it!" when an electrical drill went off. In any event, it isn't just that the heart rate goes up, but there is a physical pain associated with this. As a child I could not translate my emotions into words people around me could understand. I mean, how could I describe the feeling of wanting to run as fast away from the noise as possible? Adults took it as a child being afraid, but it's more than that as I feel, as loud noises sound, that it is a matter of survival to get away from the noise.

As the heart rate increases my arms start to feel a sharp tingling sensation. If the tempo of the noise increases, say, like a motor increasing it's RPM's, so to does the speed of all the tingles and other feelings. As this increases so to does the messages from my brain, "run... run... RUN!!!" Just writing about the sound has increased my pules a little just from memories of sounds. That, but maybe it is the jackhammer outside my window right now (talk about irony! Is that irony?")

Again, there is no off switch and I am not wanting to feel this to annoy those around me. Perhaps as a child this was thought of, but truly it is an overwhelming of my system.

Ear protection helps greatly and I won't be at a race track without ear protection. I'm not sure why this helps, however, because sound never truly hurts my ears. Maybe it produces a sense of security, but the feeling of sound in my legs and chest is far worse than the sound in my ears (this is where "if you've met one person with autism..." applies because the next person's issues may fully be in the ear.)

Also, in the presence of loud sound, I feel as if I need to do something or if something really awful is about to happen. Besides the physical sensations the anxiety of something bad is about to happen can't be turned off. I'm not sure, but maybe I learned at a young age that nothing good comes from loud noises. Does it? Thunder? Bad. A crashing sound in another room? Bad. Fireworks? Some may say good, but anything that explodes can be hazardous to one's health. Tornado sirens? Those are the worst as NOTHING good comes from them.

As the sound starts to subside my emotions and physical sensations are still going wild. It isn't an instant calm and it may take a few minutes. If the sound is the right frequency I will continue to hear the noise and if I hear a tornado siren I will hear the noise in my head for hours after. Slowly though the sharp tingles in my arms and legs will ebb and my heart rate will come back to normal and the pain will start to vanish.

Because of the adverse effects of noise I am always on the look out for it and that is why I am shaky around items that could produce loud noises. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, walking through the pits towards the trailer was difficult because of all the cars parked in the pits. I knew that any of those cars could start up at any point in time. For those of us on the spectrum we are highly defensive and observant in our surroundings. We have to be because we do try and avoid those moments of uncomfortableness. However, we can take this is a level that creates just as much discomfort as the sound itself.

The anticipation of the sound is almost as bad as the sound itself. The pulse increases to a point of pain, the legs get the sharp needle like tingles, and the arms become like 10 ton weights. The thoughts of, "run run run..." come back and my brain is telling me that the area is unsafe. And this is the thing, loud noises are seen as unsafe and when I was always told, "don't worry about it" I saw it as the same thing as if I were playing on top of a 20 story building without walls, ropes, or nets. Falling off would be bad, but I saw, and sometimes still do, see loud noises just as dangerous as playing atop a building.

Most of all, between both types of sound, it is tiring. The feeling afterwards is of pure exhaustion. I am much better now than I used to be and maybe that is because, from flagging all these years, my body as slowly learned that not everything that is loud is bad. As a child I would scream and do everything I could to avoid noises. At sporting events when they would use concussion fireworks at the start of the event I would be in the concourse or sometimes out of the arena because it just hurt to bad. What did my parents think? I'm not sure, but it wasn't that the noise was simply uncomfortable but rather it truly hurt. And concussion fireworks are a double problem as there is an anticipation that is unmatched followed up by a noise that can be felt throughout the entire body.

To cap off talking about the anticipation of sound, have you ever watched a movie that made you jump? In some movies it is somewhat obvious as to when the thing, monster, alien, or scary guy in a mask is going to jump out of somewhere with loud noises and screams coming from the screen when this happens. The anticipation I get when watching a movie like that is somewhat like the same anticipation feelings I get when around something that could make a loud noise. However, it is only a fraction of what I feel. So if you can think back to a movie experience you've had, multiply the feeling in your chest and the slight sense of danger by about 1,000 and you will have a good idea of what I endure around things that could become loud.

So, I hope I've done a decent job explaining noises. It's something I wish, as a child, I could have described because it wasn't my parents fault, and it wasn't that I simply couldn't, "get over it" but rather it truly is a painful experience. Remember though each child/adult on the spectrum is different and the feelings and emotions could be different than mine, but if there is a loud noise and the behavior changes, well, I hope my words can help you associate with what it feels like on the outside.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fighting Sound and Aaron vs. The Catch Fence

Last Saturday I was once again at a USAC race. The race was a regional Ford Focus midget event at Columbus Motor Speedway and was my 2nd event ever flagging full size midget cars. All the anxiety I had from flagging my first event the previous week was gone and I felt sure in my actions. While this story isn't about how I felt flagging I would like to say that the degree of difficulty was a little bit higher thanks to a certain someone (you know who you are!) forgetting a certain item.

As I said, the flagging side of the night isn't the main story here, but rather I was reminded of just how much fight I have to put up. What does that mean? The USAC cars weren't the only cars on the program that night so I kept walking from the flagstand back to the USAC trailer. As I walked through the pits I passed Late Models, Modifieds, and Street Stock cars. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but would you believe me if I told you I hate hate HATE loud noises?

This is something I don't think I have covered much, if at all, for during my first 359 blog posts. So yes, believe it or not, I hate loud noises. "Well then," you may say, "how do you flag races?" I would respond by saying that it is something I love so much that I am able to, somehow, push aside every thought that my brain is telling me to "run away from the sound" and I just do it. Anywhere else I almost always will not have the inner strength to put up with the noise.

So why were the loud noises bad? At the time as I was walking through the pits I didn't have the ear protecting headsets and it seemed I was a signal for people to start up their cars as I walked through. An idling motor isn't that bad, but when the engines are revved in place and the noise shoots up, then down, then up, then down, well, that's when my body wants nothing more than to run away as fast as possible.

But running isn't an option. Despite my bodies yearning for noise freedom, I had to walk like nothing happened. I looked around at other people and marveled at the fact that no one else appeared to be affected by noise. I tried to put on my normal face but inside I was racing faster than the engines that were revving up around me. The noise of those engines produces a wave that one can feel and the ground shakes and I felt it all. I've always thought it isn't the volume of the noise, but rather the frequency and when I can feel the noise that's when it is the worse.

The noise may have been bad, and the adrenaline was flowing, but I walked to the USAC trailer as composed as I could. I do know my movements at the trailer were more awkward than normal because I was recovering from the noise. This is something I wish everyone could see though. Socially, in that situation, I was unsure, awkward, and ill at ease. However, each time I went back to flag all those moments of awkwardness were gone. The transformation internally is something I wish you could feel because I could write 10,000 words about it and still not give you the faintest of pictures of what it feels like. I'm sure visibly the difference is there too and as I said, I wish everyone could see it.

Of course I survived the night and when I am in the flagstand the noise is not heard or felt at all as I am so concentrated on the cars and the track. If there is a noise such as something dragging on the car I will hear that, but in terms of the noise having any detrimental effect there is none.

Now I do have to share one more story from the night. In one of the heat races there was a spin so I put the track under yellow and started waving my yellow flag. The cars coming towards me weren't slowing so I put some extra movement in my wave. I went up and down and then back up with the yellow and as I came back down it didn't. I was confused, but my flag stopped moving.

I looked up wondering what happened to my yellow flag and I saw that it was somehow tangled in the catch fence that was above my head. I thought nothing of it as I thought it would be a simple fix so I gave a gentle tug downward. The gentle tug did nothing and the flag was very much tangled. My next course of action was to try and use the tip of my flag to untangle it, but the flag was wrapped around the fence. I knew this wasn't good.

The track cleanup was just about complete and I started pulling harder and harder on my yellow flag. I have two more yellow flags in my flag bag and I didn't want to hold up the show because this was my 2nd event and I did not want to be remembered as the flagman who couldn't get the flag out of the fence. With that being the case I decided I was going to pull my hardest and if the flag ripped so be it. I pulled, and I pulled, and eventually I jumped a little to get more leverage as I came down and on that jump the flag was freed. I was hoping no one saw my little panic show, but just as I had that thought I heard a round of applause coming from the crowd behind me. I turned halfway towards them and gave a half-sized raise of the hand and saw that some of the crowd was standing was clapping. So much for not being remembered! At least they were entertained.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Posing for Photos

A while back in my blog post, Lost In Pictures, I wrote about all the emotions that are felt when looking at old photographs. Today, however, I am going to talk about the sheer horror of having my picture taken.

I've talked on and on about "positional warfare" but nothing induces it more than having my photo taken. I mean, do I smile? How much of a smile is too much? Posture? Arms? Hands? I think about every inch of my body and how I should be standing.  As this goes on my entire body feels like it wants to jump in 1,000 different directions because I quite simply don't know how I should be in the space that I am. On top of all that I stated the smile issue and it becomes an issue because why should I smile if I am not happy?

I have never been good at faking a smile and if I am smiling it is because I truly am happy. I can't fake happy and I can't fake a smile. See my photo with the blue backdrop on the right hand column of my blog? That's the photo that is on the back of my book and the only reason I am smiling there is because my now deceased cat, Siam, jumped up on my dad's desk and knocked some stuff over.

What brought this topic about was the following photo:


This photo was taken after the races on Sunday in Hagerstown and is a group photo of most of the USAC staff there that day. They put me in front, I think, because of the amount of dirt I had on me. This photo though came up fast and was unexpected. One second I am sitting down gathering my strength back and next moment there's a camera. I stood up and let the others direct me because I was becoming stiff in the positional warfare and just before the picture was taken I put my arms behind my back.

It was a natural reflex. The point of the photo, I guess, was to illustrate just how dirty I was, but within the positional warfare I felt 100% uncomfortable with my arms out. Amid much protest I put my arms out and then processed why it was important and that smile? I was smiling because I realized that this would make a good blog post.

Being on the other side of the lens has never been my strong suit. I am a decent photographer, but this doesn't translate to having my picture taken. When I was in school having my photo taken for the yearbook was always a lengthy ordeal. "Aaron, say cheese!" the photographer would say and I would say, "Why?" When I would say it I said it blandly and without any emotion.

This issue also goes back to the, Are You Okay? blogpost. In that post I stated how many times I get asked, "Are you okay?" because of the typically blandness on my face. Again, I can't fake happy and I can't fake a smile. To simply smile for a photo is something that is difficult. Sometimes in presentations, and in conversations regarding my book, I will say that the hardest part of my book was taking the photo on the back.

Am I the only one with this? I'm sure people not on the spectrum have the same issue, but perhaps not as extreme as this. Some people love their photos taken, others not so much, so what are you?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

When I Go I Go All Out

There have been two things this vacation that I have been highly interested in. The first is chess and as the title says, when I want to do something I just don't do it a little but rather I go to a point some people may say it is overboard.

How bad has my chess fix been? Yesterday I played the Xbox version of Chessmaster for a good four hours all the while playing the chess.com app on my phone where I am in 10 games at once. Today is looking like another chessathon type of day!

The second thing that got my attention happened in an odd way. It started two weeks ago when I was coming back from somewhere towards my sister's house and on 156th street there is a trail crossing with flashing yellow lights. I thought nothing of this and as I was about to pass through a bicyclist appeared from behind the bushes and just about ran into my car. You'd think the outcome would have been different, but I thought right then and there, "I want a bicycle!"

So two days ago I went to a sporting goods store and looked at bikes but the prices there sort of made me cringe. I wanted a bicycle but at this point in time the desire didn't outweigh the price.

Then yesterday I went to Target and saw a decent bike, or at least I think it was decent as I have no idea what I am looking for, for half the price. Without a second thought we were wheeling the bike to the counter and I was the proud owner of a bike.

As of now my hope is to build up to being able to do a one-day long bike ride. Will I get to that point? I'm not sure. So long as it stays as one of the suburbs of Kansas I might. But, should it get fall out of Kansas I may look at it and wonder, "What was I thinking?"

These interests come and they go. I still have no idea why one subject or activity becomes and interest and others don't. Furthermore, I don't know why certain things that are interests become boring. Whatever the case whatever is the interest today will be thought upon like nothing else and when it no longer is an interest I could care less about. We shall see if this bike phase lasts, or if I'll have another thing to put down on the list of former interests.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The People We Meet

Last week I talked about the horrible experience of making two sets of older men angry. Yesterday I returned to the same golf course to use the next-to-last rain check I have, but I went with some apprehension. I was hoping the 90 degree heat would scare off people, and as I pulled into the parking lot I knew the heat had indeed done its job.

As I said last week, I play golf for the purpose of staying alone. Also, as I play, I play at a fast speed. While I do enjoy golf it is something that I rush through. You won't see me lining up a putt from a reverse angle, or spending any amount of time deciding what club to use. I find the ball, hit the ball, repeat until over.

When I arrived at the par 3 11th hole there was a person riding to the green. I reached for my phone to continue my current obsession with chess, and after about 10 seconds I heard someone yell, "Go ahead and hit!" I instantly got scared.

Go ahead and hit? But why? He was on the back side of the green and what if I hit him? I had been long on all par 3's and my heart sank. "Here we go" I thought, "a repeat of last week. So much for golf!"

With much worry I got out my 9 iron and hit the ball. It went left, way left, into the trees. It looked like a horrible shot, but I wanted nothing to do with landing my ball anywhere near the man who told me to hit.

I drove the golf cart to the green area and I noticed that the man who told me to hit looked like he didn't belong on a golf course. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just that I wouldn't expect a man of about 60 in jean shorts,with an Indianapolis Colts t-shirt, and with a unkempt beard halfway down his chest to be playing golf.

This man knew exactly where my ball was and pointed to the tree I was beside. He also said, "Son, you can join me, play behind me, or play through me. It does not matter much to me." I initially didn't respond as I processed the pros and cons of each. As I was processing I hit the ball from behind the trees into the bunker and then from the bunker to the green.

Once on the green I stated my reason for my decision, "Well, seeing that I play really fast I think I'll play through." The old man responded, "Wow, I used to play like you, but 50 years ago a man I played with told me that golf is about rhythm and finding a groove. The groove isn't just in the swing, but it is also finding yourself on the golf course. I take the same amount of time each shot, and will line up each putt the same way. Sure, I get yelled at and play slow, but I have found, at my age, to enjoy each round like it is my last. Why do people rush so much? Golf is something to be enjoyed, not rushed through."

I must admit afterwards I started to line up my putts with a little more effort. The words didn't really get processed until after the round and it made me think of the contrast between this old man, and the ones last week. Last week I wonder what those men are like off the golf course. How do they converse with people? Do they yell a lot? And how about this man I passed through yesterday? He doesn't look to be the yelling type, but I wonder if he speaks his wisdom and experiences to others? Every day we meet people, and every day others will meet us. I don't want to sound sappy on this, but how do you want to be remembered? For those of us on the spectrum chance encounters can be much more. One bad experience can live with us forever. Those men last week almost destroyed my desire to play golf, and yet yesterday this man talked about a man 50 years ago that taught him to play to enjoy the game. I may, over time, pick up the habit of savoring golf instead of playing speed golf and I wonder if I do indeed do that if, say, 50 years from now I will be the one talking to some twentysomething about the man that taught me the wisdom of enjoying the game.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Internal Clock Woes

I've been in Indiana almost two weeks now minus the excursion to Maryland and I am having issues. These issues have created a sense of drowsiness and inability to go to sleep. It may be a minor thing, but Indiana's daylight savings time has got me annoyed.

When I grew up here it wasn't bad. This was due to the fact that until 2007 Indiana did not observe DST. So essentially part of the year we had Eastern time, the other half Central. If you want to read the history of time in Indiana, you can go to the Wikipedia page about it.

Yesterday my sister, nephew, and I went to a mini-golf place and when we left it was almost 9 in the evening and yet the skies looked as if it were 6. Living in Saint Louis we are on the Eastern side of the time zone so the sun rises early, but it also sets early. My internal clock is used to this and here, well, my internal clock has no idea what to make of this prolonged daylight.

I'm not saying that what Indiana has is bad. It's just that I'm not used to this and my body, which love routines and sameness, is having difficulties making the change. Thankfully this isn't as bad as when I went to Alaska in 2000 in the summer time. Where we were in Alaska the skies never got totally dark. The sun officially rose at 3AM, and officially set at 11PM, but still the sky had light. I was there for a week and did not get one night of good sleep because my body simply thought it was always the afternoon and I have never been a big nap taker when the sun is out.

I don't think this issue is isolated to me and perhaps being on the autism spectrum plays no part it this. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't but the fact remains that the 9PM sunsets have me confused. As a child I would have loved it, but I know I would have been confused if my parents told me it was bed time at 9 and the skies were still somewhat bright.

I will be in Indy for another five days and then I will be returning home. By then I might be in harmony with Indy's time zone and then when I get to Saint Louis I may go through the same thing, except instead of staying awake longer I may get tired earlier so the battle with the internal clock will probably continue and with all this change perhaps my internal clock is just flashing 12:00.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Drive Home and Drives 20 Years Ago

Yesterday was long! The racing in Hagerstown for the USAC Mopar .25 at Hagerstown was fun to watch and somehow I was even dirtier than the photo I posted on Saturday, but for this post let's skip ahead to the drive home.

After a successful weekend in the flag stand, and many hours of complete concentration, I couldn't help but laugh at almost any humorous comment. The day started at 6:30AM and we left the track around 7PM. At around 8 we ate and afterwards my iPhone came out and we played Monopoly for three hours with me coming out on top avenging the crushing defeat Kyle gave me on Thursday.

Despite the tiredness I was feeling I was having an amazing time in the car. The hours passed and I tried to sleep to no avail and finally, FINALLY, and around 4AM we pulled into the USAC office where my car was parked. Soon afterwards I was on my way to my sister's house.

It was weird to drive by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as just a week prior around 300,000 people were there and now 16th street was empty. Not a soul was out and this gave me a reminder of what I used to do as a child.

I grew up in Indy and one of my favorite things to do with my dad was to ride around as he drove. Most times we would do one lap of Indy around I-465, but sometimes we'd go downtown. What did I like about this? Thinking back I remember I used to be deeply fascinated with street signs and business signs. Also, I was interested in how the world worked. Yes, that may sound odd, but I always wanted to know what it was like to be in dependant and be like all the other drivers of cars that I would see.

Riding around was something I think that was pivotal in my development, and as I passed Methodist Hospital I began to see a few cars. Some were heading downtown, and some were headed away. At 4:30 in the morning I could sense the impending transformation in the atmosphere. In a couple hours the stillness I was experiencing would be gone; the few cars would be replaced by many cars. The quietness would be replaced with the hustle and bustle of a busy city and yet, at 4:30, it was still and quiet. Those cars I saw were probably either leaving the night shift, or early risers headed to work. Perhaps it was being up for so long, but I got excited at seeing the moments before Indianapolis would go for still to life.

The rest of my ride was aggravating as the lights on Meridian were not helping out. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and I don't think I hit two lights in a row green.

As I neared the north side of Indy I once again remembered roads that my dad and I traveled when I was young.  I thought back to the days of when I wanted to be a part of the world and to be one of those random other cars. I never thought about how I used to feel and never really appreciated that I have become one of those cars. Maybe the allure of growing up is lost, but last night, and again, maybe it was that I was so tired, but last night I felt proud. My dream on those hour or so long car rides with my dad was to someday be part of the world and now I was.

At around 5AM I finally got to my sister's and I wasted no time in finding the bed and going to sleep. I did go to bed with a smile on my face as I remembered my former dreams and also realized that it have seemed like a waste of time all those years ago, but I know without a doubt that those evening rides with my dad helped me understand the world just enough to help me become who I am today.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Behold! The Power of Kansas

I talked about my midnight drive on Thursday, but today, well, today I show you the ultimate proof of what Kansas can do. This blog will be short, but will certainly prove the point.

As I mentioned in a blog last year that talked about how I started flagging I got into flagging to avoid changing the oil in my kart. In other words, and I still am, I don't like being dirty... At all! However, when I flag, sometimes it can't be helped and today, in Hagerstown, I now know that I never have truly been dirty. Today I didn't recognize myself in the mirror, and tomorrow? I can't wait! When it comes to racing (my ultimate Kansas) I can push myself and I won't think twice about getting dirty tomorrow. Oh, before I show you the photo, you can watch the racing tomorrow (Sunday) at http://www.usacracing.com/ and click on the .25 section. We will start racing around 9:30 US Eastern time. So now, the photo:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Midnight Drive to Maryland

Wow, what a long day/evening/morning. To be honest, I don’t really know what day it is, and it is hard for me to realize that I am in Maryland. While I may be in Maryland my day, my very long day, began yesterday in Indianapolis.


Yesterday I woke up at my sister’s house with the anticipation of taking the flag stand at the Indianapolis Speedrome. This was going to be the first time I flagged solo at an event that wasn’t quarter midgets or go-karts. Of course this was supposed to happen last week, but rain, storms, and tornado sirens but a halt to that. Anyway, I drove to the USAC office yesterday just after noon and when I got there I was asked by everyone, “Aaron, what did you do to make those old men mad?” in reference to the story from a couple days ago. It’s always good to know people do actually read what I write!

From the office we headed to the track. So many thoughts were going through my head, and the #1 thought was that the weather better not throw another wrench into my tenure in the flag stand. Even though the weather people had the chance at 0% I believe there is always a chance, say, 50% chance of rain because it either will or won’t rain.

Time progressed, and the evening came. From flagging the practice the week before the nerves were gone. I was sure I was going to be nervous to the point of not being able to concentrate. I was sure I was going to be shaking and a complete unconcentrating wreck. Thankfully, one of the moments I have looked forward to happening since I started flagging in 1995 didn’t throw me off. In fact, part way through the night I noticed that I had no emotions about what was happening except the concentration of the event. Perhaps is this good because the emotions didn’t interfere.

Eventually the time at the track was over, and originally I thought the time at the track would be my whole blog, but as I write this I’ve been in this car for twelve hours now and this experience is something I’d like to share.

Ever since it was planned that I was going to be riding with James and the other USAC staff I have looked forward to this with high anticipation. I love long car rides. Call me weird, but I do. I also like layovers at airports so maybe I should see a doctor about this, but in any event we left the track and headed East down I-70 towards Hagerstown, Maryland.

The first leg of the journey wasn’t anything of note. We ate then I proceeded to withdraw into the world of iPhone. I must say I am glad I didn’t have one of these contraptions as I was growing up because, well, that might be a topic of a future blog. Moving on, we eventually got to Columbus and I began to get tired. I put down my phone and tried to sleep, but there was just one problem; I don’t sleep well, or at all, in moving vehicles. If I can lie flat, have a blanket and a pillow I might, and that’s a big might, be able to sleep but it won’t be a restful sleep. I feel every movement of the vehicle and I can’t tune it out. If lights flash I sense it, if the radio is on I hear it so needless to say the car is not a place I take a nap in. And of course I knew this going into this and I was fine with it.

As we entered Pennsylvania we had a problem; we needed gas and no place was open. We stopped at a truck stop and it was an exclusive truck stop as cars were not welcome, at least when it came to fuel. We forged on and got to another exit where there was a gas station. We stopped and the interior of the station was closed, but James put the credit card in the pump seeing if it would work and it did for $0.06 worth of gas. While this was going on two cars pulled in and parked and the drivers from each car got out and was standing looking at the sky. We asked if they worked there and they did, but they said they didn’t open until 4:30 and it was 3:45 so we were out of luck. I wondered, then we all wondered, who shows up 45 minutes early to work in the middle of the night? Furthermore, couldn’t they help us out? Maybe it’s rare, maybe it’s common, but when someone is short on fuel they sort of need it and since they were there couldn’t they have opened for a couple minutes? Sadly, they didn’t.

There was nothing else to do but to go forward. Would we run out of gas? Maybe, but it beat sitting at the gas station for 45 minutes waiting for the employees, who were already there, to open shop. We got back on I-70 and hoped for the best. After a mile there was a sign that said, “Next exit 2.5 miles.”

Thankfully these 2.5 miles were downhill and we, certainly on fumes, made it to the next gas station. But, was it open? The first one was not, but the one next door was and the gas crisis was no more. Looking back on how I used to react with gas light issues is like looking at the difference between North and South. When I worked at the kart shop about five years ago we would be driving down the road and I would have a constant eye on the gas gauge and when we would get to a quarter-tank I would constantly state the need for gas. It was almost an uncontrollable urge, but I feared nothing more than seeing the horrible yellow gas light. Over time I think the driver kept pushing the envelope just to watch me squirm. Perhaps that experience has made me immune to stressing about it, or maybe I’ve just grown, but today’s gas light crisis created no stress.

After the gas station dilemma it was no hotel dilemma. Hotel after hotel after hotel was sold out. I don’t know what was going on in Washington, Pennsylvania, but every hotel, and I mean every hotel, was sold out. Eventually we stopped at a sold out hotel and everyone took a nap except me. The engine was running, the radio was still on silently, and the sound of jake-brakes from semi-trucks kept filling the Pennsylvania night air.

What did I do? I tried to sleep, but it was useless so I talked to Rob on Facebook on my phone and when he said he was going to bed I kept talking to see how long he would stay on. I mentioned the NHL Finals and he stayed on for another fifteen minutes. After that I checked each of my friend’s wall on Facebook, and then played some chess via the chess.com app. Again, I tried to sleep, but at sometime past five in the morning the sun began to light up the sky in the East. I am used to a pitch black sleeping environment so needless to say sleep was not going to happen.

So now here we are, we have made it to Hagerstown. I am tired, and somewhat out of it, but I’ve got to be honest and say that I wouldn’t have changed one moment of this trip. Remember, I love long car rides and I see today as a challenge, but also a huge gift. While I may be pining for a bed in a couple hours I feel great now. Tomorrow we’ll have practice and Saturday and Sunday will be racing. The racing should be on www.usacracing.com on the quarter midget page. So yes, this trip despite the lack of sleep is amazing. I look at it this way; without experiences like this what would I discover about myself? What would I learn? How would I notice challenges and be able to define them? So yes, it is going to be a long day, but I wouldn’t be using my vacation for anything less!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Moving Forward

Today is a day to move on. After yesterday's fiasco at the golf course I must look to what is coming and try to rid myself of the yelling, irate foursomes that got angry with me. Even though I am still trying to figure out what I did wrong I must convince myself that people can be mean without logic.

Even though meanness without logic makes no sense to me I have seen it throughout my life. It is in this that the world scares me. Emotions, in some, are not logical. If I see a situation brewing I can prepare myself, but for the sudden snap or sudden change in the tone yesterday on the course, well, it simply scares me because if it happens once it will always happen. There is no middle ground in spectrum thinking, sadly, and with each experience I have had with a tense situation, like yesterday, my guard will remain heightened for some time to come.

But today, today is a day to move forward. If I allow myself to fully concentrate on the fear, confusion, and frustration caused by yesterday I will descend into a dark place. And I must say, of all days, today is the best day to move forward!

Once again I am headed to the Indianapolis Speedrome and I will be the flagman! Hopefully this week the rain, lightning, and tornado sirens will all stay away. I love exciting blog posts, but I do have my limit. Looking at the forecast if any of that bad weather hits it will be nothing short of an act of God as the forecast shows a 0% chance of rain. Of course weather people are often wrong.

After tonight's race I will be riding with the USAC staff to Hagerstown, Maryland to work a race this weekend. The drive is around 9 hours and we will be leaving this evening. This may sound like a horrible way to spend my vacation, but I can't wait! I come alive within a closed vehicle as the atmosphere is safe and constant. No new people will join the conversation, and seeing how everyone is a race fan the nine hour drive will be, I'm hoping, a great time.

I'll get back to Indy sometime on Monday and of course I will be blogging from the hotel if they have wi-fi and I may be posting this weekend. Tomorrow's blog post may come in the evening as I don't know what the schedule is. Regardless, I can't wait for tonight and the weekend. It's going to be great!