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Friday, July 29, 2011

Photography as Art

Yesterday evening I was at a photo showing at the Regional Arts Commission. The event was put on by Life Skills and the project is called, "Everyone Deserves a Shot." The concept is for people with a disability of one form or another to take a photo from their perspective.

Before I started at TouchPoint I was a photographer. Would I say I was a professional? I'm not sure as I had no training, but since I got paid for it perhaps that is the only parameter for being a pro? Anyway, before I show you the photo I took for the project, I thought I'd show you some of the photos I have taken from around the world.




Riga, Latvia, 2008

Riga, Latvia, 2008 (Perhaps my favorite photo I've ever taken)


Another photo from Riga


This is Antaanarivo, Madagascar, 2006


Accident at SKUSA Supernats, 2006. All drivers were unhurt.


This is up there with my favorite photos and is a great agony of defeat photo.


This got published in "Go Racing" Magazine as their, "Point of Impact"
photo for that month. The driver was uninjured.


This was the start of a race at the 2007 SKUSA Supernats
as the field headed towards turn one.


This is the infamous tracks that run through Kibera which is a large slum in Nairobi.


So there are some of my works of photography. If you will notice that most of, if not all of these, involve no faces. When I photographed races it is an event, and when I am taking picture of places, well, people are just sort of in the way. This is very much like what it is like for me outside photography and when I was asked to contribute to Life Skill's project I originally thought it would be easy. I mean, I've been around the world to take photos, how hard could it be?

The project stated a photo from the taker's point of view. "Well, what is my point of view?" I asked myself. I noticed that all my best photos typically involved minimal persons and usually no front of faces. I struggled for a week until I realized that this within itself is my point of view. Just as eye/face contact is difficult in person it is equally as hard while behind the lens. With that I had my concept.

With the concept done I went to downtown Saint Louis on July 1st. I knew what I wanted but getting it was going to be tough. I walked quite a bit in the 100 degree heat dressed in my office attire (I always wear long sleeves in the office and black pants) and I finally found my location. I sat down and waited. Timing was key and on top of that I had to make sure that those around me did not see me take the photo because that would disturb the natural order of things.

I waited, and waited, and started to get very hot. Then a stroke of luck! Three people were walking across this location I was in at the same time a girl from Japan was getting her photo taken by her dad who was beside me. I quickly went from a guy who had an aloof stare into space to a photographer taking the money shot. With the shot in hand I headed home knowing I got what I needed.

Now, remember, the project stated that it needed to be from my point of view. To do this I had my dad photoshop the faces to symbolize the fact that I don't remember people. Since eye/face contact is minimal, and there is some other block there, I don't remember people. Faces, in my videographic memory, are blurred. So here now is my photo that I took for the project:




Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's Horse Day!

I'm not sure why, but each person I have told that I had hit a horse with my car always reminds me about it. Perhaps this is because not too many people have done such a feat, but whatever the case may be it was three years ago today that I hit that horse.

The event is still with me as without a doubt it was the scariest quarter second of my life. Sure, I had racing crashes, and one where I had full break failure into a hairpin, but I still felt as if I had some element of control whereas with the horse it was instant.

I'm thankful that I am able to laugh about it because that has helped. If I were unable to laugh about it I could easily become enveloped in the emotions of that split second when I saw the horse. I'm also thankful, maybe, that those around me have such a defined sense of humor about the incident. Case in point, two weeks ago at the SKUSA race in Grand Junction there was an overpass with an elaborate mural. What was on this mural? Horses! So, on the same night I learned what a Chinese fire drill is, we stopped under this overpass and the group suggested I get out to get my photo taken with the horses.  So, with some creative photo angles they took the photo now known as, "Horse's revenge" as it does look like that horse is about to take a bite out of my head.

All kidding aside, today is a day that I even more thankful that I am still here. That incident was very close to being very bad. I struggled after the crash wondering 1. Why it happened to me? and 2. Why did I survive?

It took several months before I came back to normal, but a brush with a horse like that is something that hangs around a person for a long time, perhaps forever. Maybe it's a good thing though because I have not taken a day for granted since.

Eventually, when my 2nd book is released, this event plays a huge role in a series of events and you'll get a much clearer picture of what the event did to me. Now though, on this the 3rd anniversary of horse day, I'm grateful for each day that has passed since, and I'm also thankful that I've had no more run-ins with horses. And trust me, I want to keep it that way because when driving comes up in presentations, and I mention I hit a horse, each time I am asked, "Did the horse live?" And when I respond with ,"no" I see several heads stare at me with a slight shake of the head. It isn't like I left my mom's house three years ago intent on hitting that horse. Some people though will always call me the, "Man who killed Mr. Ed." That used to bother me, but now when I hear that, and anytime I see a horse, I just thank about how great it is to be alive and it just furthers my passion for autism awareness because the words of the ambulance driver, after seeing my car three years ago, still rings in my head as he spoke to the police officer, "Okay, where's the body?" He was referring to me thinking that I should be dead, but obviously I was/am still not. I was blessed to survive and I'm going to make the most of it!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Memory of The Man Who Opened The Door

Yesterday I learned that someone very vital to the progression of my life had died. In this post I will not use names because those that know him will know who I am talking about and if you don't know him, well, maybe someday someone will think of you the same way I think of him...

It was May 2004 and my life was not going the way I thought it was going to. I had just gotten my diagnosis six months prior and my racing career was stuck in neutral. Things were not going well at all. Then, for reasons I still don't know how or why, and when I think about it to this day I still don't understand why it happened, this man suggested I come to what is now called TouchPoint and give a presentation. Today this is a normal event, back then I was not talkative at all except when it came to auto racing and perhaps that is why this man suggested I come and give a presentation on racing.

I had 90 minutes to fill and because I was talking about racing it was barely enough. Never had I talked to a group for so long, well, I had never spoke in front of a group. There were times when my thought process stumbled, but this man and the group never let me hit the ground. If I stuttered trying to come up with something to say they asked a question that I could easily answer. Again, why was I giving a presentation at a autism center? I still don't know, but it was an amazing 90 minutes and while the effects were not felt right away, the confidence from that stayed with me and would later allow me to do what I do today.

Time progressed and I started to write and my dad shared my unedited stuff with him and it truly shook him with the insight I was providing. As I began writing I put no merit into that my work had any relevance at all and I believed that all in all it was worthless. Despite my beliefs on this hearing my dad explain the impact it had on him made me have a slight doubt on my belief of worthlessness.

Eventually my book was released and he was at my first book signing event and bought, I think, the 3rd copy I ever sold in person. He also was at my 2nd presentation as an employee of TouchPoint. I find it odd that he was always there, in a way, and yet I barely spoke to him. Conversing outside the 90 minute racing presentation, or presentation at TouchPoint, I never actually had a conversation with him.

In my presentations I speak, sometimes, about being allowed to be the host of the flashcards in 2nd grade as a major point in my life and until I heard the news yesterday of his passing I forgot about the racing presentation here. Of course everything in my life had to happen just so, but he opened the door in my older age that put me in front of a group. Confidence in critical for those on the spectrum and he took what I was afraid of (talking) and combined it with what I loved above all else and made it an environment that I could not fail in. How great is that?

As great as it was I never thanked him for that. I can present all day and all night but I am not the best at conversations that involve thanking someone. Don't get me wrong, the emotions are there, but there is such a wall preventing me from expressing it.

There have been, and I'm sure will be more, people that have given me a chance and have provided me a forum to grow. There will always one instance I remember at the top of the list and that is the time I got to speak in front of a group about racing. Without those 90 minutes I would not be who I am today. I may still have written my book, but my presentations, this blog, and my work with TouchPoint surely would not have occurred. Knowing this, and knowing that I never thanked him for that is going to be with me for some time I fear. Because of this I want to say that if you have ever played a role in a person on the spectrum's life and they have not thanked you please know we are grateful. I'm grateful beyond words and I'm afraid that this remembrance is lacking in the power it deserves.

So, there are no words with which I feel are worthy enough to end this. How do I for the person that opened that allowed me to go down the path and become who I am today? Well, maybe there just two and I never told him this and I have to live with that but, "Thank you!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Hole In The System...

Yesterday was a long day for me and it was also a good time to look within myself and determine what is causing this sluggishness. I kept going back to my issues I had getting to Grand Junction, but then I thought of other odd things that have happened to me and determined that the travel event couldn't be the whole story.

Last Monday my dad was in New York City and he met with my new publisher. He told me what was said and how excited the editor is to have my book. All in all the meeting was amazingly positive and all are hopeful that my book has a chance of making it big.

"Big? What does that mean? How many people and families will benefit from my words if it gets big? What will life look like? What if it doesn't get big?" These are the questions that my mind has been hammering out for the past week and I think this is the root of why I have been feeling odd. Granted, this, for most people, would be something that would be a dream, but for me being on the spectrum any unknown variable is a ticking stress bomb.

When there is something small or large left open my mind starts to dwell on it and quickly it becomes a swirling whirlpool that starts to suck in other aspects of life. Small things become trapped in the whirlpool and my defenses for handling smaller events in life become nullified. As time goes on the swirling action of the this whirlpool envelops everything and this is what I want to point out; when I was younger and seeing counselors they would always ask me, "Aaron, what is bothering you?" To this I would always say, when I was feeling bothered, "Everything." because to me that's exactly what it is.

Once there is a single hole in the system the whole system slowly cascades downward. Many times, when I was younger, I didn't have the awareness of myself to know what I was truly being bothered by, but now thankfully I do, but this is why I write this. Us people on the spectrum are horrible self-advocates  and WE WILL VERY RARELY SAY WHAT IS BOTHERING US! With that being said it can be rather easy to go on a wild chase trying to figure it out, but once the whirlpool begins all the smaller things we tolerate may become intolerable.

I don't write this to make the AS seem scary, but to state it in a realistic tone. When there is a whirlpool don't give up but try and open your mind as to what the center of the matter is. I'm sure it is easy to become frustrated because we will think everything is wrong with the world and nothing is right and with our mindset we will believe nothing ever will be right.

I have been thinking back on the past year-and-a-half and can pinpoint three different times I have been in the whirlpool state. Each time though I have made it out the other side. I know now this and am not fighting the emotions I am feeling. Eventually my mind will know there is nothing I can do except wait for the release of my book on April 3rd, 2012 to see what it will be like. I can think, predict, and calculate what it will be like all I want but that won't do me any good because this is the utmost of unknown variables.

One thought I had while writing this was that someone might ask, "Well, Aaron, what would have happened if your dad didn't say anything about the meeting?" and I believe that would have been worse because I would have had this mind logic, "Well, since he didn't say anything that means that the meeting went bad. Wait a sec, how bad? Are they canceling it? Do they think it's bad? Is everything over..." With that being said I certainly will take this over that.

In my life I can trace the majority of whirlpools to trying to figure out that which can not be figured out. Trying to know the future in advance is a slippery slope and usually will lead me to a whirlpool. Remember though, and this is critical, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. What causes it and what the reaction is may vary heavily from person to person. As a majority though, us people on the spectrum prefer predictability and routine and when something major is looming I'm sure the chances of a whirlpool are greater.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Coping With Thoughts

Ever since I got back from Grand Junction last week I feel as if I have not fully been awake on any of the days I have been back in Saint Louis. I think I talked about this in Thursday's post and I may have even mentioned that, "this hasn't happened since..." and I have been thinking about that and this actually does happen every so often and most of the time, at least for me, it comes when my mind is thinking way too hard.

Yesterday I barely had the energy to leave the house to go get two bags of ice. I stayed in the recliner and simply rested. While I will say I did enjoy the rest I did not enjoy the extent that my body and mind feel exhausted. During this state emotions are felt with my force because the minimal filters I have are not there to block. So, if I feel a little anxious it will turn into a nightmarish anxiety, if I feel a little sad the sadness will be a deep dark void from which light does not reach.

What causes all this? I'm not sure, but there is a percentage that is caused due to physical tiredness. That percentage isn't only a minority as the majority, I'm sure, is mental fatigue. I can rest all I want and sit in a recliner all I care to but that does not help mental fatigue. My mind is always working and always thinking. I believe the subconscious is strong and I have seen a pattern between feeling this yucky and coming up with the concepts I have put forth in my book(s).

If you ever deal with a person on the spectrum and there is a time for them like I am going now let me just say that you shouldn't take any of the snippiness personally. During these times, like the one I'm in now, I can be a little more blunt and a little more precise. Small tasks seem like impossible ones and bigger tasks seem like trying to get to the moon while driving a 1972 Ford Pinto. Because my mind is so busy thinking questions in the now just interrupt my mind. I'll get snippy, but trust me when I say that after the fact I do regret getting snippy, but at the time I am oblivious to it.

I like my title for this post because it is a true statement in that I truly have to cope with the sheer fact of thoughts. This doesn't happen all the time for me, but when it does, like now, I feel tired, sluggish, slower, and more emotional. Things seem harder and this might be because I don't have the full mental capacity as I normally do because my mind is lost within thought.

Whatever is going own I hope it ebbs soon. If my mind is working on a book chapter I hope it makes itself clear because I am tired of feeling tired.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Peanuts Factor

From the earliest of ages I was a big fan of anything Peanuts. No, I'm not talking about the actual nut, but rather Charles Schulz's Peanuts.

Each year he coming of Christmas was marked with A Charlie Brown Christmas as well as Halloween with It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I wasn't so much a reader of the strips, but I watched the television and movies they had. I can't tell you how many times my dad rented Bon Voyage Charlie Brown; And Don't Come Back!

Now why is any of this relevant? Back on Monday when I went to the Barnes and Noble in Grand Junction, Colorado I saw the complete collection of the Peanuts strip. I looked at the mammothly sized book and picked it up to feel how heavy it was. It was quite heavy, but when I looked at the main character, Charlie Brown, I felt a rush of emotions and a realization that, "Oh my goodness! He has a nose!"

A nose? How is that relevant? This all goes back to the issues of eye/face contact and I truly don't think I had ever paid attention to Charlie Brown's face in all the years I watched growing up. Instead of looking at the face I always looked at the yellow and black shirt design that he wore. Then I started thinking about the other characters in Peanuts and realized I did a color association instead of facial recognition to remember who was who.

I find this absolutely compelling as this would mean that I had issues looking at faces even back then. I always thought that I had decent eye/face contact as a child and slowly regressed due to the logic of, "eye contact sometimes initiates a conversation, conversations are open-ended and difficult therefore eye contact is bad."

I held the book for almost a minute forcing myself to look and then I also noticed that Charlie Brown has a small doodle of hair. I had never noticed that either. As I said, I did color association. I knew Linus either from the red shirt, or blue blanket. Lucy was easy as she was just blue, Peppermint Patty was green, Sally was actually remembered by the distinct hair color as there was enough.

There have been several studies I have heard of that measured where people on the spectrum watch movies. Well, not where they go and watch movies, but rather where they are looking at while watching a movie. Many times, from what I have been told, people on the spectrum are either watching off to the sides, or have a pinpoint view of the person who is speaking's mouth. I remember clearly I looked at the color of clothing, or the person's mouth. It's true that when I watch something and am looking at the person who is speaking's mouth it is a real pin point vision.

What I'm amazed at, and never knew until holding that book, was that even with an animated show like Peanuts the lack of eye contact is there. Why is this? I know why I shy away from eye contact now using my logic, but back then? What is it about the face that is so mysterious?

I will admit I don't have the answer... yet. I want it though and I know my mind will be thinking about this a lot this weekend. I do know about the color association, but could my young mind have simply been overloaded by the amount of info in looking in the face? I say now that, "direct eye contact is like looking into a person's soul" but could I have known that at the age of six? Or is it simply that there is just to much info in the face and I didn't know how to state it then?

There are so many questions with so little answers and I apologize for that. I wonder how where other people on the spectrum look, especially with something animated like The Peanuts. I also wonder if anyone else ever did a color association to remember the people on the screen?

I don't know, I have been leaning towards doing the Sunglasses Experiment again as my eye contact was better after that and I had much clearer thoughts on the eye contact issue. Maybe I need to readdress this post after a month of sunglasses.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Body's Reaction to Stress

I slept almost 14 hours but I feel as if I haven't slept in days and I am hungry but I don't want to eat. This is what I woke up to this morning and still I am sluggish.

What's going on? I think it is a combo of things. First, I think this is some time lapse from the weekend and primarily last Friday's travel ordeal. Many times in my life an event will happen and it isn't until a few days, or sometimes a week later that I get a strong physical reaction to the event.

Also, my dad is having a 2nd surgery on his shoulder today. I believe the 1st surgery he had was when I was out of town giving presentations so it was like it didn't happen in my mind because I wasn't home. I am home this time and the surgery was on my mind last night which resulted in an entire night of highly realistic dreams.

I usually have dreams I remember, but it is when I have something on the mind, or am stressed, that I get dreams that are as vivid as day.

How long does this feeling last? It varies and if I push myself on the day I feel like this it usually adds another day. The more that my mind does the less recovery it gets, I guess. It is an awful feeling though and it feels just like when, after my concussion in 2005, the times I'd be up for 30+ hours straight.

The point I want to make in this post is that sometimes our reactions come well after the fact. Yes, I had a moderate reaction at the airport last Friday, but it is now six days later and it is now I am feeling the true effects. Perhaps this is because I was on the go up until now and my body just now is able to finally soak everything in and deal with the emotions that have been standing in the queue.

It has been a long time since I have felt like this, but as per what I usually say, and I'll say it again, in the end I am glad to feel this because it is just a reminder of the challenges. I used to feel like this almost everyday before I started working. Every night was a restless sleep and each day was a day without energy. If what used to happen happens today I will wake up, but sadly it will be around 6 or 7 in the evening. This won't be good as I have a presentation at the Police Academy tomorrow at 8AM and will need to get to sleep... it could be an interesting morning for me tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Writing Method

A couple times this year I have been asked, "How do you write?" Each time I hear this I want to reply with a literal answer of, "with a keyboard" but I know that isn't the question. What they want to know, I think, is what is my writing method? So today I thought I would answer that.

I first must say that there is certainly a difference between writing for a book and writing for the blog. The book needs some continuity whereas the blog can be a little bit more random. In all reality though I think more about my blog than book because when I come up with a new concept or metaphor it just instantly appears in my mind. I am always thinking about my blog though, sometimes day in advance.

When I do sit down and write I write at a fast pace. The slower I go the worse it usually is. I spend no time thinking about the words I write and many times I am amazed at myself as to what I wrote. Several people have told me I write in, "stream of consciousness" but I don't really know what that means.

There are times when I will pause and think about where I want to go with a story or example, but these are momentary pauses. I have found if I have to sit and think about something then it isn't ready to be written. As for editing what I write, I will not change what I have written. Yes, grammar or typo errors are corrected, but when it comes to the content changing it is just not fair to the thoughts and feelings I had at that point in time. It was this aspect of writing that crushed me in school.

I can remember in College Comp 101 we had to write the rough draft, edit it, edit it, and edit it some more until we had the final version. My grades always had the deductions for not having the evolution of the finished product, but why would I want to edit it when I liked what I did the first time? The teacher one time said, "Don't be lazy." but I don't see it that way. Back when I was in college comp 101 I didn't know I had the gift to write but I remember I wrote in the same manner as I do now.

I have another quirk that I have talked about in the past and that is I will not read what I write. I used blog2print.com to make a book of all my 2010 posts and I am looking at the book right now, but I won't read it. Why won't I read my own work? When I have tried I get flooded with thoughts and I will nit-pick my work to death, "I wrote that?! What was I thinking? I used that word to describe..." So to avoid that I simply will not read what I write. I have found when I do read I then try too hard to write and my end product is forced.

The last sentence in the previous paragraph has my #1 thing I avoid. Above everything else I will never force something to be written. When I try hard to write I come up with nothing. My writing comes from within and if I force that area of my brain to work it takes a lunch break. It is when I let my mind go free into thought that I can just sit down and write without much effort. I have only struggled to write an article for my blog on one day. Just one day out of the 1 1/3 year have I sat at my desk and tried to come up with something. That day was early on and since then I have learned to let the back of my mind do the thinking for what to write.

Currently I am working on my 4th book and have been since October. I am taking my time with this one whereas my 3rd book was a mix of blog articles and chapters that are book only. I felt as if that was cheating in a way so my book chapters for the 4th book are for the book only. I write a little at a time and am averaging about 3 chapters a month. Book chapters are usually deeper and I want less story and more concepts to back up the stories so it takes longer. Also, concepts such as Kansas, or Cement Theory just happen without thought, but once in my mind it is like I have always known it without doubt.

So that's just some insight into my writing method. Next time anyone asks me this I hope I can remember writing this so I can say the right things and give the right answer instead of wanting to say, "with a keyboard."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Day Returning Home and The 80 Gate Dash

I returned home yesterday and am back in the office this morning. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing trip home and the day started that way as Tony, a person who does some work for SKUSA, and I killed some time in Grand Junction.

We went to the mall, and then to lunch, and all the while I was talking without any problems. For one thing this was a one-on-one conversation, and secondly a lot of the talk was racing related. In an hour I'm sure Tony heard me talk more than all the other races he's seen me at combined.

After the mall we went to Barnes and Noble and after that we exhausted all other places we'd want to go in Grand Junction so we headed to the airport four hours early.

As we got to the airport I began to get nervous as I recalled the miserable trip from Friday. Would the journey through security be as traumatic as the one in Saint Louis? As much as I said in yesterday's post about not worrying I sure was failing at that right from the get go.

I worried and worried but when I got to security it was like an episode of "The Twilight Zone". How so? It was like the premier episode when all the people had vanished. There was no one. Was the airport closed? Nope, it's just that Grand Junction is, well, Grand Junction. Smaller airport equals smalled amounts of people at the airport.

From the side came the TSA agents and compared to their big city counterparts these agents were relaxed and had a sense of humor. Don't get me wrong, while they may have been relaxed their jobs still got done and as my flag bag went through the scanner three of them huddled around and tried to make sense of what was in the bag. When this happened I was sure I was going to be deemed some sort of terrorist and somehow my flag stand would be considered a weapon of some sort.

The lead scanner agent looked at me and asked, "Sir, what is that?" I responded with a simple of answer of, "flag stand" and they released my bag and that was that with the crisis averted.

The next step in my day was to hurry up and wait. Thankfully I have plenty of games to keep me occupied on the iPhone as well as continuing to talk with Tony. It was an odd experience to be sitting in the airport and watching the people that were leaving before us. We would be the only ones, then the gate area would have about 40 people, then it would become empty again. I actually enjoyed this time very much.

Time progressed and it was getting near 5:00 in the afternoon with my ticket stating that board time would be 5:40 and departure 6:23. Remember how I stated yesterday that I would be fully relaxed should anything happen because now I knew the protocol? It's one thing to say it and it's another thing for it to actually happen and trust me, I wasn't relaxed. I kept trying to convince myself that everything would be fine, everything would work out and that everything was out of my control. I mean, what could I do? It wasn't like I could magically make our plane get to the gate (only if I could!).

5:10 came, no plane. 5:20, 5:30, 5:40. When 5:45 came about I went into full 'cat' mode. What I mean by that was if you've seen a cat at attention being hyper-vigilant, well, that is what I was; tense, stressed, and ready to pounce.Well, not really pounce, but I was about at my limit for stress. All I kept thinking was, "please please PLEASE let my connecting gate in Salt Lake be close." Tony looked it up for me and we would be arriving at gate E68 and my flight to Saint Louis would be... C1! So it wasn't as bad as Friday's 100 gate dash, but this still, in my books, would be an 80 gate dash. Oh course this was all hypothetical at that point in time as we still didn't have a plane.

At 5:50 the gate attendant lady came on the intercom and said the plane out of Salt Lake City was late and was due anytime. At least I knew the plane I was on existed and was on the way. This helped calm my internal nerves a bit because now I knew what was going on. My imagination of being stranded in Grand Junction until August was now squashed.

Sure enough, a couple minutes later, our plane arrived and the getting the passengers that were on, and the passengers that were waiting to get on process went by astoundingly fast. However fast it might have been we still were late getting off the ground by 15 minutes. I had a scheduled 36 minute layover so time was short. On top of that, per my boarding pass, I would be landing 10 minutes after my next flight would start the boarding process. I was sure I was going to be bumped and stranded in Salt Lake City until, well, August. I was sure life as I knew it was over and there would be no way I could make the 80 gate dash in time.

The entire thirtysomething minute flight saw my body in full alert status. Much like an athlete visualizes how the game is going to play out I visualized the 80 gate dash. Time was of the essence and I had no time to waste.

As we began our decent I did a momentary "dance of the fingers" and another one of the SKUSA staff that was on the flight saw this and asked, "Aaron, are you okay?" I didn't realize that the emotions within me drew me to doing it so I quickly said, "yes" and tried to make myself invisible which was impossible seeing that I was on the plane as I was.

When we landed the time it took to taxi to the gate felt longer than the entire trip up to that point. I knew what was coming, I could see the clock; it was 7:37. "7:37! Ha! A fitting time to be at the airport" a said aloud without knowing it causing the man beside me to look at me strangely. I let it go and didn't want to explain the fleet of Boeing planes. Besides, only a person like me would make that connection. So anyway, 7:37 comments aside, we made it to the gate and I was off like an Olympic sprinter off the start... and then a minute later I was already slowing down as once again I had my office shows on (they are slip ons and are so much more comfortable than tennis shoes while inflight) and my shins had not fully rested from Friday's 100 gate dash.

Despite the pain I trudged on. I was not playing the stranded for hours game again and I was pretty sure there were no more flights to Saint Louis that night. I ran, and I ran, ad then I huffed and was out of breath. I think the run itself would be easy, but carrying to heavy items along with the run is a high task to do.

I ran by the D terminal and then I could see from the C terminals up ahead. It was 7:52 with a scheduled departure time of 8:00. Was I too late? I didn't know, but my heart was racing not only because of the run, but because of the unknown.

I turned the corner and could see C terminal and just as I got to gate C1 the automated message played, "Delta flight 4466 to Saint Louis is delayed due to... late arriving crew..." All the running and all the stress was for not. As I should have learned, and what I said I had learned in yesterday's post, regardless of what I think I have the power to do, in this instance I have no control over the situation. You see, I may know this, and I thought knowing it would have stopped the same thought cycle from occurring, but it just doesn't work that way. In other aspects of my life knowing how/why my thought cycle is the way it is has made huge differences, but with something like this, seeing how I am so routine and scheduled based, knowing did nothing to quell the fear.

Eventually we left Salt Lake and I made it home and when I finally tried to go to sleep my body was still on a high alert status. The whole four day trip seemed like a blur and my mind slowly tried to make sense of all that had happened. I think by 3:00 I was asleep and what did I dream of? Not an 80 gate dash, not a 100, but I dreamed of having to go from a Z terminal, to an A. I woke up 30 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off in a cold sweat with my heart pounding. I've had scary dreams, but that was a nightmare!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What I Have Learned From "That" Trip, the Race Weekend, and The Night Out

It's Monday and above all else I survived. Getting to the SKUSA Summer Nationals was an event all within itself and if you missed that post it was a special edition of my blog on Friday (the most recent post from this one).

When events occur in my life I always try and learn from them so I thought I would write an article about what it was that I learned this weekend. So what did I learn? First I learned that, when flying, I can stress all I want but if the flight I am on is late then there isn't ANYTHING I can do about it. I can't put the throttle down harder, I can't protest to air traffic control, and all in all I am powerless to do anything except to exist on that plane. Before Friday I did not know what happens when one is late to a flight due to a late arriving flight. It was in this unknown that the panic set in.

Because of the panic I over-exerted myself in my 100 gate dash and the three hours of worry caught up with me. However, I did want I have learned to do when things get tense for me and that is to write. While the ticket agent was making sure I was okay I was already planning on how to harness the event and turn it into a blog post. I do this with almost everything in my life and am always analyzing and thinking about the next post, and I decided I could not wait on that day in Salt Lake City so I got out my computer and wrote my emotions and story of the day.

That evening I was totally exhausted. Events like the one at the airport aren't simply cured instantly, at least from a physical stand point. Sure, my emotions went right back to normal, but the lingering physical burden, or maybe the word sluggish is better, continued for some time. When it was time to wake up on Saturday I was still coughing and still aching. On top of that my shins were killing me as I did my 100 gate dash in my office shoes.

I had stressful dreams leading into Saturday, but as I left the hotel and saw all the familiar SKUSA staff I started to feel back to my normal self. I thought of a line I wrote somewhere in my book that, "regardless of how I feel the sun will rise tomorrow" and what a glorious sun rise it was in Grand Junction. The scenery here is amazing and being at the race track was the best cure to the previous day's drama at the airport.

The two race days went by way too fast even though each day was a 11 hour marathon. I've said this many times, but I pick up energy I didn't know I had when I flag. Typically I tire easily and am not the most physical of persons, but come race days I spring alive, and trust me, after Friday, I felt alive.

During the morning practice on Saturday I thought of the importance of what writing has meant for me in my life. You see, the previous day not only was my writing for my blog, but it was for myself. This is my outlet, this is my way to express the deep depths of emotions I feel but am unable to express them in any other way. I don't know how long it would have taken me to get out of the frustration of the airport drama had I not written about it. As practice continued I realized it is critical for those on the spectrum to find that medium, whatever it may be, as it has proved to be one of the biggest assets in my life. How does one find this though? I don't have that answer, sadly.

When both days were over I rode back to the hotel with three others and I was talked into going out to dinner. This was a rare occurrence as typically I will retreat into the safe confines of my hotel room. After coming off the emotional roller coaster I wanted to do something besides the norm so I agreed and off we went.

The three people I was with I have seen at the SKUSA races for some time, but being the flagman I often am not around anyone else. So what that means is that I will see them, but not talk to them. That may work at the track, but when eating at a table I found staying within, "my shell" as they put it was not going to work.

During dinner I was again realized just how difficult it is to have an open-ended conversation. Being the racers we are much of the conversation was around that and when it was I could fully stay tuned into what was going on, but when a sudden change of topic came up, or a figure of speech or pop culture statement came up I became lost in processing. At times I truly felt like the most oblivious person on Earth and questioned my past as I thought back to if I truly have lived under a rock.

I could have got frustrated at myself, and perhaps several years ago I would have, but I thought of this as one of those learning experiences and not only that but I was actually enjoying myself. This has now happened at both USAC and SKUSA races now and maybe it truly is that I am coming out of that thick shell finally, and then again I feel it is more in part that I am comfortable in my imperfections. I may be oblivious, I may have no idea what a certain comment may mean, and I may stare in disbelief when a "Chinese fire drill" happens, but above it all I am me. I can't help all this and those around me can either take who I am or think I am odd. Regardless, I am me and I'm happy being me.

The more I live and the more I am out in the world the more comfortable I am with myself. You may think it would be the opposite as being out in the world puts a bigger risk of having, say, a Salt Lake City airport experience. That may be so, but I've built up towards this. It's been a 28 year long learning experience, and I am still learning. I know now that when flights are delayed the sun will rise, I know when I get stressed I can write about it, and I know when someone shouts, "Chinese fire drill!" at a red light I need to shake my head in disbelief and look about as if I don't know the people I'm with.

So what a weekend! This weekend started out with severe lows, but like a sappy movie I came through. As I said earlier this year on my blog, I truly feel as if my life is a movie script because it would be hard for this type of stuff to happen. I'm glad it does though because, again, if I wasn't at TouchPoint, and not working these races, what would I be learning? As I learn and put it to words I hope my words can somehow be of help to anyone who may need that inkling of understanding. So yes, that was my weekend. I learned that airports are crazy, Grand Junction has a street called, "F 1/2 St." and I am able to survive a fun night out despite the Chinese fire drills.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Trip From ______ and the 100 Gate Dash

I don't know what I did to upset the order of the world today, but so far my day has been beyond miserable. The day I speak of starts shortly after writing this morning's post. I packed, left home, but then I forgot a book I needed to ship so I swung back home and made it to the post office. I was a little irked at this, but this pales in comparison to what was to come.

Today's trip was the first time that I was parking at the airport. All the other times I have been dropped off, but this time due to scheduling conflicts I would be parking myself. This was a new experience for me and I didn't know where to park as there are many options. I choose the airports lot and the cheapest means the best in my opinion so I went to Lot "D" and as I pulled in there was a man in a van swinging a towel. "Funny" I thought, but I thought nothing more of it. I pulled up to the gate and now the man with the towel was yelling. I stopped, backed up, and rolled down my window. "Lot's full, you've got to go to "C".

"Lot C?" I asked to no one even though he was there. I was processing because I had planned what I was going to do. I mean, I had never caught a parking shuttle and I was worried about walking the whole distance and was there even shuttles and my oh my the mind of mine was going faster than the Concorde used to.

Seconds ticked by at a extremely slow pace as I tried to figure out what "C" meant and then I did. I turned around and headed to "C".

Once inside the airport I made it to the security line that was backed up beyond the ropes. Such is life in these days of security, but it was louder than normal, or maybe I had not calmed down from the parking lot issues. In any event I was what I would call, "shaky" and all the elements in play in this environment was effecting me more.

I made it to the boarding pass check place and I was already getting my bag ready to get my laptop out when I was asked what the other bag was. The other bag was my flag bag and when I said flags the agent looked at me oddly. Trying to explain what flags are, to someone who doesn't know racing, is somewhat difficult. This caught me off guard and I forgot what I was in the process of doing so I started walking and since my computer bag was open my computer flew out of my bag and slammed on the ground. To make matters even worse the battery shot out and hit a man in the feet and he gave me a very stern look so all in all getting through security was a horrible experience.

I wish my day had ended there, but it continues. The plane was supposed to leave at 2ish and I had a scheduled 40 minutes layover in Salt Lake for my connecting flight to Grand Junction. However, it was 1:40 and there was no plane at the gate. 1:50 and still no plane. Finally at 2 the plane arrived and we boarded.

As I sat down a man behind me tried to put a large bag in a small overhead in. He slammed and he slammed and he slammed the door so hard he broke it. We couldn't take off until it was fixed so out came a pilot, a mechanic, a flight attendant and many rolls of masking tape. Masking tape? I hope other mechanical difficulties on planes aren't fixed by this method.

Once that was fixed, and we started moving, the pilot stated the flight would be about 2 hours and 30 minutes so the entire flight I was calculating just how much time I would have. The entire flight I was in a heightened since of pure panic because I didn't know what would happen if I were late. In my life, being late is not an option. I am ALWAYS early, but now I was going to have to contend with what the flight attendants refer to, and they refer to it quite casually, a "tight connection".

To make matters even worse, I had to valet check my flags as the regional jet was not designed for any over head space whatsoever. We landed at 4:30 so I had 25 minutes to get from my plane, get my flags, look at the monitor, and make the trek to the gate. I was praying that my next flight was right beside the one I was on. That would be great, wouldn't it?

I exited the plane and went to the area designated "valet" bag drop. Time was ticking and it kept ticking and the bags were not getting there. The way the gate is there were no agents anywhere near this area so I was in a further state of panic. I decided to walk down to ramp and find an agent and I made my plea and showed him my ticket, "Am I going to make my flight? I have a form of autism called Asperger's and need help."

For me to state this and to attempt to advocate for myself is something that doesn't happen very often. In fact, in public, this is only the 2nd time I've done this. I was somewhat proud of myself, but this feeling went away when I heard, "I don't know sir. I don't know what you said or where your gate is, you can look at the monitor for yourself."

In my time of needing some direction and some prediction of what was going to happen I got nothing. I wandered, aimlessly, back to the valet area as I could not see a monitor without crossing into an area that if I went into I would be unable to go back to get my flags.

Time was still ticking and I was getting more and more anxious. My heart was beating too fast and my breathing bordered on hyperventilating. I was in a crisis and I had no where to turn. I was so worried that if I missed this flight I would miss the SKUSA Summer Nationals. This, in my world, is simply not an option.

After five more minutes the bags arrived and in a stroke of unexpected luck my bag of flags was the first bag out. I grabbed them and began my dash. I felt as if this was the Olympic sprint, but first I had to find which gate I was going to.

I turned the corner and found a monitor. I was at B10 and I looked and looked and found, "Grand Junction. On time 4:55PM Gate E83". In a rare slip of the tongue I said, "Oh God!" And with that I was off. It was 4:44.

The run itself was bad enough, but I had my computer bag and in it also is a huge book along with the bag of flags that also has my metallic flag stand. Running was done awkwardly and I also had lots of other foot traffic to weave around.

4:50 came and I was starting to run out of steam. Running and hyper-ventilating is not a good combo, but I was not going to miss this race. I couldn't miss it, on top of that I'm never late and above all else I didn't know what happens when one misses a flight. Would I have to talk to someone? Panic! Panic Panic!

At 4:51 I made it to the E Terminal and at 4:53 with my legs having no feeling and my brain in give up mode I got to my gate. With the weakest of voices I asked, "Did I miss the Grand Junction?" The lady behind the counter stated simply, "Yes, you did." Then she said, "Let's see here, you have already been rebooked for the 8:15. Here's a $6 coupon for food for your inconvenience."

I stood there and was at the brink of collapse. I was breathing but there was no feeling of oxygen. The lady obviously could tell I was having some sort of issue so she came around and asked if I needed to sit down. My generic answer to this is, "No." But after five more seconds I said, "Maybe?" She grabbed my flags from me and stated, "Oh my, these are heavy, what are they?" I said, "Flags" to which she asked what that meant and I had already answered that twice on this day and I was in no mood to explain.

She led me to some chairs and I sat and I just stared off into space. Breathing was difficult and as I write this it still hurts; it feels much like when you've been outside in extreme cold. I'm coughing and maybe I'm just getting sick, and then again maybe this was such a shock to my system that I'm just having these difficulties.

So now I am two hours from leaving and this day has been difficult. I am proud that I tried to advocate for myself, but what can I do when I try to ask for help and get denied? This just further shows that there is a lot of work to be done. In any event, contrary to what I thought, missing my flight was not the end of the world. I will be manning the flags tomorrow and the world did not end. I thought it would, but it seems everything is going to work out. So for now, I'm going to go enjoy my $6 meal voucher and hope that this day's hijinks are over.

The Rapid Response Meeting

Yesterday I attended the Rapid Response Peer-to-Peer exchange in Columbia. I went along with TouchPoint's Community  Liaison, Matt, and had no idea who was there or what to expect.

The Rapid Response group is a mix of state and private groups or persons who are trying to raise the awareness in doctors and preschools of autism. There were about 40 people there and instantly I felt uncomfortable in a way because everyone knew me or had seen me and yet I only recognized one person who was at a presentation just two weeks ago.

With having such a mix of conversations and people around me I went into shut down mode. I didn't want to go there, but my body gave me no choice. I stared off into space straight in front of me trying to gather control of the situation, but the safest thing I could do was to just look forward away from everyone.

After a minute of this I got angry at myself. I'd say about half of the room had seen me give a presentation and they saw me when I was animated and talkative and now here I was, twirling my belt loops, and as silent as could be. I kept asking the, "Why?" question forgetting that I have the Asperger diagnosis. This sort of thing often happens as when one is always in a comfortable environment one may not always experience the thing I was going through then.

I kept trying to break out of this shut down, but I couldn't. There were just too many people there. Thankfully the program began and during the actual program there was no talking needed from me.

Five hours later at the end it was another one of those open-ended conversations. On our way out the table we had moved to started talking to us and it was easier then. Maybe having five hours to adjust, or maybe having it be just a smaller group, well, whatever the case may be I was able to talk and it felt great.

This happens every so often; one of those reminders of what I have. As I usually say, I am glad this happens because it keeps me focused. If I always lived in the bubble I try to maintain then I would have nothing to write about. Also, for those that have seen me prior to that meeting, I think it was good that they saw the real me outside of presentations. Many times people will tell me after a presentation, "Are you sure you are on the spectrum?" To answer this I will say, "Someday you may see me outside this medium of presentations and when you do you may ask yourself, 'is that really the same person?'"

As for today I will be headed to airport in a few hours. I will be heading towards Grand Junction, Colorado for the SKUSA Summer Nationals. I'm excited to get back to a kart race as well as the fact I have two flags I have never had before (black flag with yellow X and the course condition flag) and can't wait just to have them in my flag stand with all the other flags. I know, I'm a flag dork. It's going to be a great weekend though and I may post something tonight, tomorrow, or Sunday if anything relevant enough happens to me.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bullying: A Guest Blogger

If you have ever read any of my comments I am sure you have come across something that Issha has written. She was going to use the following as a comment to the post The Silent Struggle but it was too long. She sent it to me via e-mail and I asked if she'd like to have it used as a guest blog. She agreed and here it is:

Well I did get into the bully situation. In fact, I've been bullied all my school life. The way I handled it? Every possible way. I usually don't like to tell on people when it involves me either, because of the same reasons. Only there's this point where if things in life frustrate me too much, I'll be sick of being in the same loop and do anything I can to get rid of it.

Mention a way to stop bullying and I've probably tried it. Things is: Whenever a person who bullies doesn't mind getting detention, or some other type of punishment, or even being expelled, the options are limited.

Next to trying to get my teacher to bring out every possible punishment and talking to them and reasoning with them etc., I tried just ignoring them. Just keep doing my schoolwork and pretend I can't hear them. This doesn't work either. This just aggravates them and gets them to a point where they try and get their friends to stand around you and try and get your attention in every possible way. (Yes, I'm talking about chanting the same thing over and over again, shouting my name all the time, previous 2 things mixed, poking me while calling my name, push me around, etc.)

Also, they usually do these things in a way and/or during a time when the teacher can't see/hear. Then when you DO finally decide to tell on them, they usually deny everything that's happened and sometimes even look angry at you for 'trying to set me up!'. In the worst case scenario they even have their friends to back them up, telling they saw it and it was actually me who started the whole thing. From this point on it starts to look like a police investigation. No evidence, no crime. But the criminal is still out there and now knows it was you who turned him in. Time for retaliation.

There was only one time something the school did sort-of helped. But I don't recommend this.

I was new in school, but my chronic fatigue knocked me out that year and I gave up on my school year and instead tried to recover with lots of help from different services.

I did have to go to school at least 3 periods (1 period = 45 minutes) a day though, because of the law and because they wanted to keep me in a rhythm. I still think this is the worst thing they could've done to me, they could better just have me doing small volunteering work or something like that.

Why? I got isolated. I was the weird kid who was always feeling down, never socialised with everyone and could leave whenever she felt a bit tired. (this way their perspective. I didn't feel a little bit tired, I felt like I could faint any minute.)

Not just the class, but suddenly a big part of the SCHOOL started to bully me. You can imagine I didn't like the lunch breaks.

Suddenly a few guys from my class started to follow me on their bikes after school when I was trying to get home (I was on a bike too). They would cycle in half a circle around me SO close, I would hit their bikes if I would even steer just a little bit (the other half of the circle was where the grass next to the road was. If I would've gone over that, I would've gone too slow and they could just stop me).

Their intention was to follow me home. I suspected them from being in a gang a long time already and I had to go through a very deserted place. If something would happen there, probably nobody would see. I was so terribly scared, you can't imagine.

They did this a few times for just the beginning of my journey, but one time they were REALLY planning to follow me home. I had lots of trouble not crying and pretending like I wasn't too impressed. Suddenly they made a mistake. They felt SO powerful, they thought they could afford to cycle a bit ahead of me and wait in a line for me. I have no idea what would've happened if I cycled up to their line, but I don't want to know. I turned around and all my defenses came down (since they couldn't see me anymore) and from the crying and the adrenaline I got the power to cycle faster than ever before and I cycled back to school.

Here I explained everything that happened while crying and shaking. Even some classmates who saw me passing by knew that something big happened. They never saw me this stressed before. (and I cry fast, so that says something)

Because of this the teachers immediately believed me and even wondered why I didn't tell that they were doing that before. They had me point them out in a book with their pictures and names. (I didn't know all the names, because I wasn't at school enough for that)

They told me that they would tell them that they had to stay after school every day as punishment and that if they would even lift so much as a finger towards me, I should say so and it'd result in immediate expelling from school.

This at least got them on low profile. Of course friends of theirs started bullying me now, but at least it wasn't as bad as it was before.

So yea, this did sort of help, but only because I wasn't at that school much and only for a year. Had I had done this while having to be at that school for more years to come, I wouldn't have made it. I was so isolated. Lunch break was just a time to eat my lunch and wait for it to be over for me.

Luckily after half a year some nice girls mentioned they saw me being alone all the time and felt sorry for me and told me I could at least stand with them so I wouldn't be that lonely. This made lunch breaks bearable and I'm very grateful to those girls.

But yea I just want to say... Bullying is one of the worst things in life and if people are REALLY determined on bullying you, they'll get it done. There are plenty of people who don't care for punishment or talks or things like that. And you can't expel every student that bullies. Half the school would be gone.

I sometimes wonder if bullying can ever really be stopped.

Notice some bad vibe in this comment? You guessed right, I'm still being affected by the bullying that happened in my school life.

If someone who bullies themselves read this: Think about what you're doing please. Is it really worth it to mark someone for life, just so that you can be a bit more popular in school? Can you really live with the fact that you're ruining somebody's life for some own gain? Please stop. As someone who's been bullied to you, the bullier, I look you in the eye: Please. Stop.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Doctors Who, "Don't Do Autism"

Dear Dr. X,

I know you are out there Dr. X and have met many doctors like yourself. It's a real shame you are out there because families trust you for their health. Why then is autism something you are so resistant to learn?

While other doctors are learning about autism and the signs and learning about the statistics that about 1 in 100 births now will be on the spectrum you go about your day stating, "I have 500 patients and have never seen autism." When asked what it looks like you stumble about and say, "Well, like Rain Man?"

While other doctors are administering the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) you state you have never heard of it. Why Dr. X? Early intervention is vital for maximum growth and mainstreaming for those on the spectrum and yet you won't inform parents about this simple test.

In the Saint Louis area many doctors are receptive to letting us come in and give out information about autism, TouchPoint, and my personal stories and experiences. Yet you, Dr. X, state that, "We're too busy to deal with autism." You're what Dr. X!? The CDC has declared autism a "National Health Crisis" and yet you are too busy to deal with it? Please Dr. X could you explain this to me? Parents depend on you, they listen to you, and they trust you. To say you are too busy to handle a health crisis is something I just don't understand.

Dr. X, while some doctors are learning ways to communicate with those on the spectrum and learning about what options families have for therapies and autism centers to go to you have stated that, "We don't do autism." Don't do autism? I'm sorry, Dr. X, but I just don't understand this. This would be like a firefighter saying they only fight fires on the 1st floor and if it's on the 2nd floor, well, they just don't do that. This would be like a veterinarian saying they treat all pets except they don't do Pugs. I understand you aren't a specialist in autism and is it this fact that you are scared of Dr. X? So many doctors I have visited admit that they don't fully understand autism, but they want to know where they can send a family. I mean, if something is neurologically wrong you send them to a neurologist, so why then do you refuse to "do" autism?

It saddens me, Dr. X, that I've heard you tell parents, "Don't worry about autism, they'll outgrow it." and, "Your child might just be a late bloomer, let's reassess for autism three years for now." You may not know it Dr. X but there is hope out there and there are places to turn. I know autism is something you can't take a quick test and see. I mean, a thermometer doesn't work and you can't order a blood test. For the most part, Dr. X, I don't think you are intentionally trying to hinder these families but you simply don't know about autism and the sheer fact that you can't visibly see it and you can't order a test confuses you. That's okay, autism is new, but staying in the dark about, well, that's not okay. The families of Missouri, the country, and the world, depending on where you are Dr. X, depend on you for the well-being of their children. You don't have to become the world's leading expert on autism, but to "not do autism" is to do a gigantic disservice to your patients.

So Dr. X, you aren't a single doctor. You are a collection of all the doctors out there that don't do autism or says it isn't a big deal. If you fall into Dr. X category it is simple to get out of it and it is RIGHT to get out of it and I implore you to get out of it. To keep wishing autism is going to simply disappear is like hoping that the sun won't come up the next day. Autism is here, the numbers are going up, and staying in the dark isn't a crime, but it should be. You are the front line and by seeing autism early you can give the family real hope. Don't offer false hope though by saying they'll outgrow in their teenage years!

To end, Dr. X, I just want to say one more time I hope you will listen. I hope you will open your eyes. Autism is here and I'm sure you can go on being Dr. X and think you have never seen autism and never will, or you can do a little research, give the M-CHAT, and provide a path that will give the families hope. It's your choice Dr. X.

Sincerely,
Aaron Likens

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

L.A. Noire: The Most Challenging Game of All Time

A special thank you to all my readers for getting me over 100,000 page views (the counter on the right is off by 20,000) for the life of this blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am truly honored!

I have been a video game player for as long as I have been able to. I can remember the simplicity of the Atari I had and the bowling game and my personal favorite, Pole Position. Times have changed from that era and the complexity of the modern era of games is simply amazing. A few weeks ago a game by the name of L.A. Noire (Rated M for mature and trust me, this game is. As one reviewer stated, "make sure the kids are asleep when playing this)" was released and I have found it to be, without a doubt, the hardest game I have ever played.

How is a video game relevant to my blog? L.A. Noire takes place in the 1940's and the player controls an up and coming detective through various cases. During each case the player has to interrogate various persons of interest and witnesses as well as investigate the crime scenes. Sounds easy? The asking the question part is because the clues you find at the crime scene unlocks the questions, but once the question is asked, well, that bring the tricky part about.

What's tricky? Once the question is asked the person who was asked it will answer, but they may not always be telling the truth and it is up to the player to determine whether or not they are. How is this done? By observing the person's mannerisms and... eye contact.

Here's my problem, even when playing a video game I don't look the characters in the eyes. In fact, I don't even look at the faces. Most games I play I have to turn the sub-titles on or I won't hear the words spoken because of the overload caused by looking at all the faces. For this game I do have the sub-titles on and this makes it quite difficult because the whole concept of the game is to look at the people who are speaking.

I've tried to look at the people in the game in the face, but it is the same array of sensations that I get when in person. Those sensations include a bit of anxiety, a shaky feeling in the legs, and a sense of overload. It's something that is rather uncomfortable so naturally I look elsewhere.

After a witness has stated their answer the player can choose from "truth" "doubt" or "lie". If the player thinks the statement is true, then truth is chosen. If the player thinks the witness is holding back information then doubt is the right option. If the statement is a flat out lie then lie is the option, but then the player must choose the correct piece of evidence that proves it was a lie. This is what I find the easiest because it's logical as there's concrete evidence proving it. The difference between truth and doubt can only be determined in the facial expressions and this is where I fail horribly.

Playing this game got me thinking so I watched some television last night and realized I don't look anyone in the face. I wish I would have noted this last year when I did my Sunglasses Experiment because I wonder if, after last July, I could look people in the face after wearing those sunglasses for a month. I watched several different genres of shows, news, sitcoms, and sports and the results were all the same; no eye/face contact.

I find it interesting that even though the people in the game L.A. Noire are not real and are simply animations I still have the same level of difficulty looking at them. Why is this? I sometimes in presentations will state that, "direct eye contact is like looking into a person's soul; there's just too much info for me to process" but these animations have no soul. Then why is there this level of difficulty? I can only come to the conclusion that the mere fact of trying to process what a face is doing is too much. Then again, maybe it's better to make the comparrison to trying to distinguish what a sentence means when you don't speak the language. You can try to understand it, but try as you might you don't know the language therefore as hard as you try you will get nowhere.

I plan on trying to move forward in L.A. Noire. I may be horrible at it and ill-equipped to play the game, but it is a challenge and I love challenge. On top of that I hope to learn more and experience more on the whole eye/face contact thing. I truly wish this game came out one year ago in the midst of the sunglasses experiment because would I have had better abilities then? Also, and I don't know if I answered this last year, did the sunglasses experiment train me to make eye contact or did it just lessen the anxiety? If so, have I lost the gains that I had? So many questions, so little answers. Maybe I need to do the sunglasses experiment again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Last Day At The Brickyard

Saturday was the final day of the 2011 USAC Mopar .25 Battle at the Brickyard. The event was four days long and by the last day my body was wanting rest, but I was loving every minute of it.

Before the races began on Saturday I walked over to one of the trailers in the pits as I wanted to ask a question. I kept hearing a name that was familiar to me and I heard it last year as well. I wanted to ask this last year, but didn't have the nerve. This year though I did. What I wanted to know was if the parent of these two drivers was the same guy I sort of worked for in 2003.

Asking anyone anything is a difficult task and is something I don't normally do. Well, it is easy for me to ask a question about an event, but anything that is personal or has to do with something that isn't task or event related is something I avoid at all cost. However, I was feeling confident so I went to the trailer and asked. Turns out it is the same person but he didn't fully remember me. He did say I am an excellent flagger though.

The day then progressed on with just 18 races to be ran. With each race that passed I kept dreading the moment of the final checkered flag. It's one thing to flag a two day event, but to work a four day event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, well, I wish time could have stood still and that I could have lived in those days forever. Alas, time moves on.

What also made the event more special, and it's been this way all season, is the feeling of belonging. Last year I was new, highly anti-social, and avoided talking to anyone. I enjoyed my isolation at the finish line. This year I have traveled with the USAC staff so much that there is a sense of safety talking with them. Gone is the anti-social Aaron and I look forward to being part of the crew instead of the silent figure with the flags.

A sense of belonging is a strong emotion for a person on the spectrum. I feel as if I grow the most when feeling like I belong as it gives me energy I didn't know I had. It gives me the motivation to step outside my comfort zone. I do want to say it took a while. I think that feeling of belonging doesn't just happen and can't be forced. Perhaps everyone, spectrum or not, has this same thing, but when that feeling is there for me it is something I wish would never leave.

But leave it would. The days races were coming to an end and my body was getting ready to go on strike as four days in that heat had taken its toll. When race 18 was over and the final checkered flag flew I did everything I could to avoid feeling anything, but that didn't last long. It was over. Four days at the Brickyard were now over and all that was left was to tear down the temporary track. I helped the best I could, but I was physically and mentally drained. It was a sad sight to see what had been a track get turned back into a barren parking lot.

A couple hours later when it was time to leave the staff was talking about what to do with the victory wreath that was used in the pictures for the winners. It's been a thing with the staff that they get me to try something new each race and a person came up with the idea that I should wear that in a picture. Before I knew what was going on I was wearing a wreath being pushed towards the victory lane area that still had our banner up.

Those moments were special. The photo originally was going to be just me but then it turned into a group shot. I've written in the past about how difficult it is to smile in photos, but in this photo there was no hiding it. I was happy, elated, and felt like part of something. It may have simply been an impromptu photo, but that smile in this photo is something that will be with me forever.


Friday, July 8, 2011

The Silent Struggle

Yesterday while basking in the sun and flagging the USAC Mopar .25 Battle at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I got to thinking about something well off the race track. The thought didn't last long, but as I was driving back to my sister's I kept thinking about it.

I realized that I am more than fortunate to be where I am today. Everything had to happen just as it did for me to exceed at flagging and, well, my entire life in general. Everything had to be unlocked, but what I thought of was the 'what if's'. What if something didn't go the way it did, what then?

There are countless amounts of people out there that end up in the what then scenario. On top of that us people on the spectrum are horrible at expressing ourselves and stating what we need. For some reason, between races, I thought of the bully situation at schools. I have been asked that question in presentations, but never really dwelled on it, however, using my concept that people on the spectrum have a different sense of time and, "Everything that's now is forever" makes for a even more serious situation.

With that thought I wanted to do something. But what? I don't know what to do about this except to keep doing what I'm doing, but I want to do more. I never dwelled on this subject because the bully issue didn't happen to me. But what if it did? I thought about that on the way home and I know I would have fought the emotions by myself. However, the crushing fact of it would have plagued me because I would not see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the trap, this is the thing that happens to us. I say many times that I can only see the now and the what is, and for others this may be the same, and if it is the awareness that needs to be done at schools regarding kids with Asperger Syndrome is even higher because we very rarely will mention what is happening to us.

What may confuse teacher is this; I was the class tattle. If someone was out of line with someone else I would mention, but if it involved me I would not say a word. Why? Well, if I mentioned it to the teacher this would involve me. Instead of being the witness I would be the victim so to speak. So, if I went to the teacher, the other person involved surely would know it was I who spoke. Then what? Would the retaliation be worse? On top of that could I get in trouble at all for whatever it was that had happened? Since I could not judge what would happen I never did speak of a matter to a teacher that involved someone calling me a name, or taking a pencil.

We fight the battle alone and I don't think it needs to be this way. To get the awareness up though, that's the battle. A person can only fight this silent struggle for so long. Again, I don't really know what more I can do except to try and talk to more schools. With the numbers of ASD what they are the school systems will eventually have to know what to do, but instead of taking decades let cut that number down.

So today is another day at the track and I am going to enjoy every second of it. In the back of my mind I do know I had a lot of help getting to where I am. I hope through my words and my presentations that I can raise the awareness and understanding so others all over the world can have that chance to succeed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aaron vs. The Cook, Aaron @ The Brickyard and Aaron Goes Down Memory Lane and Revisits a Rock

Yes, I know, it is a very long blog title, but a lot happened yesterday and I could have been cheap and spread it out over three days, but what fun would that be? This really is a three part blog post with the last segment showing the place that I first waved a flag in public.

Anyway, my alarm rang loud at 5:30 yesterday morning and typically I will hit the snooze button for at least an hour, but I was more than anxious to get up. In fact, I kept waking up every 20 minutes sure that I had overslept.

I got ready to go and headed to a restaurant. Typically I give names and locations, but the next line of events are to a level of bizarre that I don't want to get anyone in trouble. Truly I am at a loss for words what happened.

So what did happen? I sat down and instantly gave my order of bacon, pancakes, and three sunny side-up eggs. A simple enough order, right? About a minute later the waitress came over to me and said, "The cook says it is against the rules and law to make sunny side up eggs. Would you like them scrambled?" Now this was a major moment because 9 times out of 10 I will passively accept whatever I am told. Rocking the boat is something I do not do. However, I was feeling confident and sure of myself for in just a few hours I would be serving as flagman at the most hallowed grounds in all of motorsports. With the confidence flowing through my vains, and a picture of sunny side up eggs on my place mat, I responded with, "You can't be serious." Perhaps my tone was a bit sarcastical, but I'd say rightfully so. I then said, "I had breakfast here five times in the last month and had them, and look at the place mat!"

"Well sir" she responded, "I don't know what to tell you." I was ready to walk out and leave at this idiocy. To make matters worse, this waitress had served me the sunny side up eggs just less than a month ago. She agreed to go back to the cook and the cook again assured her that they were, in fact, illegal. I could hear the conversation and the waitress came back to me and stated what the cook had said so I again pointed to the place mat and gave the logic, "Why would your chain advertise something that is against the law?" and with that line she went back to the cook and less than seven minutes later I had the breakfast I originally ordered.

This was a rare example of me advocating for myself. Granted my way of life was not changed and in the end this story will not change anyone's life, but I spoke up for myself which is something I rarely do outside of this blog.

With breakfast complete and the skies above Indianapolis a radiant mix of orange and pink as the sun was making its presence in the East sky I made the trip down Meridian to 16th Street. At this juncture I was a mix of so many emotions. I thought back to all the Indy 500's I have attended and thought back to just how scared I was one year ago to be flagging my first USAC Mopar .25 race. Gone was the fear, but what was still there was that sense of awe I had the year before.  That sense of awe is one of the most powerful feelings I have felt and as I got closer and closer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I could feel the butterflies throughout my entire body.

The track got closer and closer and eventually I was at the tunnel. To say I had a grin on my face would be selling it short. I was elated, ecstatic, and jubilant all at the same time. Yes, It may just be a race in a parking lot, but it's on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I get the honor of flagging it.

As for the day at the track not much happened and it was a typical day. Last year I had to be a fast learner but this year comes the confidence of now having the experience of flagging eight other events.

It was a hot day, scorching would be more precise, and at the end of practice I felt as if I had been microwaved. I debated which way to take home and decided to take the long way; a way I used to travel a lot when I used to live in Indy.

I pulled out of the track and made my way onto Georgetown Road. It led me to Lafayette Square mall which was a place I spent countless afternoons at the A&W Hot Dog place as well as the Fun n Games arcade. I should state, if you didn't already know, I grew up in Indianapolis for the first 10 years of my life and those memories at that mall are over 20 years old, but I remember them as if it happened five minutes ago. Such tranquil times those were!

From there I made it to 56th St where I have many memories. There used to be a Noble Romans pizza place there that we would always stop at when leaving Indy when we would head back to Saint Louis. We were in that part of town as my friends lived right there as well as my sister.

Further on ahead I was sad to see that a place that used to be known as "Friendly Foods" was gone. That place had a name change across the years as it became, "Friend Foods". I always had a fun time debating whether or not they were still friendly or not. I didn't know for sure though as we never stopped there, but still, the name was kind of odd.

The next intersection I breathed a sigh of relief as this church was still the same. What do I mean? Well, I like consistency and don't like change. This church had, for at least 15 years, the same marquee message and today I found out it is still the same. I do hope though, for the members of that church, that the marquee is simply their motto and not the pastor's sermon as after 15 years I'm sure it would have gotten old by now.

As I approached 86th St I made the decision to go by the old house. Well, I had actually been thinking about the place and I wanted to go there last year during the Battle at the Brickyard, but I was just too tired. This year I did make the trek and as I entered College Park I was astounded at how much the neighborhood looked the same. It's been almost two full decades since I lived there and yet the houses are pretty much the same, the swimming pool is as busy as it was when I lived there, and the thing that made me the most happy was that my rock was still there.

Rock? Yes, a rock, but what you might call a rock I saw as a flag stand. One day after a stressful day at school I decided to grab the flag Duane Sweeney gave me (he used to be the flagman of the Indy 500) and go stand on that rock and give cars that drove by the checkered flag.

Looking back on it this clearly was an obvious sign that I was on the spectrum because I became engrossed in this. I would spend hours on end waving that flag to passerbys. It was relaxing, and on top of that it was good practice in terms of style.

Day after stressful day at school this was my outlet. I was never worried about angering people as most people would either honk, flash their lights, or wave their hands with elation.

I became something of a legend I think, or maybe not a legend, but people started recognizing me outside of my rock. One night my dad and I went to a USAC midget show at Indianapolis Raceway Park and when I went to the concession stand the lady that took my order said, "Wait a sec, I know you... you're that flag kid in College Park, aren't you?"

I call that rock the first place I flagged publicly as I had a set of small flags my dad got from the IMS museum, but I just flagged along from home and trust me, my mom remembers all the times she got struck by a flag as she walked by. Maybe it was this that made her happy I took my flagging to that rock.

That rock is a part of me and as I took that picture and walked back to my car a tear came across my eyes as I remembered just how long ago it was that I manned that rock with authority. Such a long road it's been, and yet I remember it all. Back then I never could have imagined that I'd be touring around flagging real race cars instead of Buicks and Mini-vans. In a way I discovered myself on that rock on those depressing afternoons after school. It was my outlet, my way to express myself, and for all those drivers back then who saw me I wish I could tell them who I have become. What a road it's been!

Yesterday was practice but today is the 1st of three race days. The action starts early, 8AM US Eastern Time and you can watch live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/usac-25

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Day of Supreme Bliss

It's going to happen again! I was so excited last year and truly last year was one of the best four days of my life, but it's going to happen again. Not only that, it starts today!

Yes, USAC's Mopar .25 midget series returns to the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me, there is nothing like the grounds of IMS. The Indy 500 was just a little over a month ago and it is such a thrill to go back to the grounds.

The feeling I have today is radically different than last year. When I say I had no idea what to expect last year that is no understatement. I had only flagged karts and had NEVER flagged an oval race and here I was being thrust into the marquee event of the year.

This year I will be making the drive with confidence. I have toured the country this year with this series and now know what to expect. Instead of being nervous and thinking and rethinking each call and each flag I will do it from a sort of autopilot, or rather without thought.

I think that is an interesting line, "without thought" because everything I do I think, and think, and think about it. This is one of the things that holds me back socially because I process and over process. Others make conversation seem so instant whereas for me it takes longer. It's in this gap that I feel the most uncomfortable. However, with certain tasks and events such as games I bypass this processing thing. Remember though that if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism and what applies to me may be different. That being said I feel most at ease when in charge of the flags at these quarter midget races. The speeds may not be the 220+mph that is the norm on the 2.5 mile oval of IMS, but the action is just as frantic.

The next four days are going to be awesome and you should be able to follow the action live on USAC's Ustream page. Today is just practice and I'm not sure if the feed is up, but Thursday onwards will be racing.

I will write more tomorrow about the experience, but as for now I'm out the door headed to the greatest land in, well, my world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hunkering Down on the 4th

Yesterday I made the drive from Saint Louis to Indianapolis. I made sure to leave early enough as to not risk being out as the sun went down. Why? The 4th of July may be a time to celebrate America's independence, but for me the 4th is a time to stay in, and stay away from the windows.

As a child I feared the 4th. I didn't mind the non-whining bottle rockets and I can remember liking the fireworks that spun in place with sparks and didn't make that much noise, but besides those nothing struck fear in my heart like hearing the term "firecracker" or anything else that either has or makes a sound like a bomb.

Living in the city of Saint Louis there aren't that many fireworks that go off in the neighborhoods. Yesterday I was on the far North side of Indy, Westfield to be exact, and it was very easy to picture myself in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Seriously, I can't imagine the amount of money people around hear spend on fireworks and the 30 seconds I went outside I could see fireworks that looked like the ones one would expect to see at a professional display.

So, you might ask, why don't I like fireworks? The first answer is obvious and that is sound. The concussion sensation of the big boomers are a high shock to my system. Then, after the initial shock, I am in fear of the next one, then the next, and then the cycle continues on with my system at high alert. There is another reason I am somewhat fearful and it goes back to an event that happened when I was about five years old.

It was New Year's Eve and my dad wanted to celebrate in style. What better way to celebrate than to mix these elements: 300 bottle rockets, a Folger's coffee can, and a gallon of gasoline. With that mix what could possibly go wrong?

Here's what was suppose to happen; there were 300 bottle rockets in a coffee can and gasoline in the can and outside. The gas would act as a fuse so my dad could light all 300 at once and the sky would be filled with the howling sound of 300 bottle rockets. My dad filled the can and also had a gas trail away from the can to act as a fuse so he didn't have to get too close.

In theory this would work great. However, as the family stood on the porch we found out theories often proves to be a wasted thought as in reality they are just that, a fantastical image of what one thinks should happen. What did happen was that the bottle rockets themselves had fuses which mean that they would not take off instantly. So while those fuses were going off the bottle rockets sticks were in a pool of burning gasoline and melting.

If you've ever seen a bottle rocket go off with a bent stick you know that they have no predictability. Now, imagine 300 of them! I was bundled up in a gigantic blue coat that I had and I'm glad I was because as soon as the rockets started taking off it was a war-zone. The family scattered about and one bottle rocket bounced off my coat. I had seen enough and I went running towards the hill on the west side of the house before I think my mom shoved me to the ground to take cover. The noise was intense with the howling and the explosions. If there was ever a time to call something pure chaos this was it.

Thankfully the chaos didn't last for too long, but those seconds played out like hours. As bad as it was for me, I think my dad enjoyed the show and if I remember correctly he instantly was plotting a way to do it better the next year. In the end, for the 300 bottle rocket extravaganza, there was no next year.

I do realize that the previous story was from New Year's but fireworks are fireworks regardless of the celebration. So those are the two reasons I don't like them, it's now the longest point in the year until I have to deal with them again so all in all today is a good day.