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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Someone Somewhere

Today someone, somewhere will get the news. Maybe it will be the person, maybe it will be the parents, but today someone, somewhere will get the news that they, or that their child, is on the autism spectrum.

It's almost a certain guarantee that someone, somewhere will hear this news. The rates of autism are growing and the current numbers, here in America, are that about 1 in 100 live births will be on the autism spectrum. In Missouri it's 1 in 84. That's more children than will be diagnosed with diabetes, AIDS, and cancer combined!

When someone, somewhere gets the news, I feel it is the most important day in their life because they can go down many roads. Will they find the information that I did? When I was diagnosed I did a search on the internet, this was back in 2003, and I found a website that said, "People on the spectrum will never have a job, won't have friends, and can not be happy." This was the first thing I read so I believed it. I mean, if it's on the web it must be true, right? Today, do a search on Google, and you will get 82,100,000 possible pages. Of these, sadly, someone, somewhere may find a page like I did. They are out there, be it from doctors who don't know the human potential, to people on the spectrum stating that it is impossible.

There is better way for a family or person if they can find the right information after hearing the news. For someone, somewhere the diagnosis does not have to end their life, as they knew it, on that day. Instead of reading the misinformation that's out there, I hope they instead see the potential and hopefully find a page about Temple Grandin, and maybe see the list of people in history that were, or suspected of being on the spectrum.

The autism community is growing each day as someone, somewhere gets the news. Whether it is someone like myself, or parents, the internet is a medium to find out what that means. Because of this, I feel we must try to keep our best foot forward. Sadly, not everyone is going to find TouchPoint's parents guide to autism. Not everyone is going to keep that word of hope in their vocabulary.

Keeping hope alive is critical. I lived 14 months without it and it was very tough. I got off to a bad start reading that garbage. Still, today, I hear stories all the time of people finding those bad pages, or even videos on YouTube professing that being on the spectrum is a one-way ticket to "nevers" and "won'ts". Just on Monday, my dad told me of a person he knows whose family is going through the same thing I did.

I have many passions regarding the autism spectrum and have talked to many different types of audiences, but I feel the most vital listener is the someone, somewhere, who today gets the news . Granted, I can't speak directly to them, but by raising the awareness and understanding across the board, perhaps, the number of people who know the facts will have a louder voice than the one's who say life is impossible.

Look, I know the diagnosis is not seen as a message of good news at the time. Also, there will be challenges and some things may be more difficult. However, everyone in their life will have challenges, won't they? If the person, or parents, believe those people on those web pages that say all is lost then someone, somewhere may just believe it and then the real tragedy begins.

Because of all this, we all share in the voice of reality. No one person is going to open everyone's eyes to this. I feel I'm doing my part with my presentations and blogs, but everyone has the chance to change one person's world. If you know that someone, somewhere has gotten that news today you can be their voice that could turn them away from the misinformation that is out there.

You may think I may have dehumanized the aspect of the spectrum by just referring to the new people by saying "someone, somewhere." But I phrased it like this for a reason because I see it as some"ONE" and for that "ONE" person, today, whether they hear "your son," "your daughter," or "you, yourself,  are on the autism spectrum," the stories they hear, or web pages they visit, may shape that "ONE" person's life forever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"It's Not About the Grades"

The title of this post is something I never thought on or dwelt on up until yesterday. Yesterday morning I rode with TouchPoint's Ann Schad to a presentation at a school. First, I must say that the school we visited was awesome in the fact that they truly wanted the information and the questions they asked showed their passion. Anyway, on the ride over, Ann and I were talking about schools and the vital need for the school systems to have the best understanding of the spectrum as possible. During this conversation Ann mentioned to me a situation at a high school in the area with a student who has straight A's, but is catastrophically behind in every aspect of socializing. The parents, and her, have tried to get the school to think that, perhaps, the student has Asperger's and to that the school said, "There's no issue here, he's a straight A student!" and to that Ann said, and I love this quote, "It's not all about the grades."

I think back to myself and I think if I were young today I might fall into that same issue the student mentioned above is having. My parents heard the same thing each parent-teacher conference, "Well, your son Aaron doesn't associate or socialize well with other students, but maybe he's just smarter so don't worry about it." For many years my parents didn't worry about it only to find out the true diagnosis when I was 20.

Right now, and you may disagree with me, I don't know if I can fully fault the school systems on this. Yes, they should know about the spectrum and yes, they should know that intelligence is not a factor when diagnosing, but the level of awareness and understanding isn't at that point in which all in the world understand. Let's look at this from someone who is ignorant of the spectrum; with most things in life a diagnosis is not a positive. If a child can't sit still or keep attention on something it might be ADD. If a child constantly defies authority and argues every point it might be ODD. With each of those there are clear signs and perhaps the classroom is disrupted by the behaviors. However, for a student with Asperger Syndrome who is making good grades chances are this person is going adhere to the rules. That being so there most likely will not be any disruptive behavior and since there is no seemingly adverse behavior, in the school's eyes, we might just be looking at the model student to them so why would they want to even open the possibility that they would need to give a diagnosis?

This is a topic that needs to be addressed now! On paper these students may appear as if they are the model student, but underneath the numbers and GPA's there is a major struggle going on. The student mentioned above barely makes it through the day and by the time he returns home he has constant meltdowns. The school, however, doesn't see this therefore there is no issue. Once again this shows the struggle that the spectrum has because we don't have those obvious markers that other developmental disabilities have. With that being so, I must say again at this point in time I can't put 100% blame on the schools. In five years maybe, but we still have a long way to go before everyone knows what the spectrum is and the challenges we on it face.

So, to close, we do live in a society where everything is by the numbers. Turn the news on and chances are at some point you will see how well the stock market is doing. Did a movie succeed? Well, they will look to the numbers for that. Is a student doing good? As with the first two examples, the answer, to the schools, lies within the grades. People are more than that though. When grades are the only way to determine how well a person is doing they simply become a number. Those on the spectrum may need more help and assisting them in the school years will help over the course of the lifetime. This isn't an issue that we can accept answers of, "Oops, we missed that, sorry." because there can be so much potential in these students, but we got to get them through school first. In five years, or less, I hope this is a non-point and we'll simply remember a time when we struggled to get our voice out there and get people to understand what the spectrum is and what it looks like. I hope in five years, or less, we can look back and remember the days when some schools thought that good grades ruled out Asperger Syndrome and I hope there will be a day that every school system in America, or the world for that matter, realizes that "it's not about the grades" when it comes to the autism spectrum.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back At It

First, if you missed Thursday's special Thanksgiving video blog you might want to check it out. For those that saw it I want to say that I had no idea my aunt was going to be in it. She just happened to "wander" as she put it into the shot and decided to go with it. It was done in one take so everything you saw just came naturally.

Today I am back in the office and back at it. In eight minutes I'm off to somewhere in the city to raise awareness at a school. I've been looking forward to today for about a week because I love what I do and when I'm away I think about that next chance to do present.

While I was gone my December filled up nicely. Last year December was the slowest month of the year, but not this year and that is so fantastic. It begins, however, right now so my time is up. The good thing is my car ride yesterday spurred a lot of blog ideas which for the past month writing has been difficult so that's very good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Today's post delayed due to dreams

I had this amazing blog idea for today. Truly, it was going to be amazingly awesome. However, last night I had a night full of dreams.

These dreams were very realistic and very reflective on my life. Before I went to sleep last night I looked up a lot of jingles from the time I lived in Indianapolis (the Indianapolis garage sale still uses the same jingle from when I was 7!) and maybe that's what created the night of dreams.

Memories, for me, can sometimes be overwhelming and this night of dreams did just that. When memories are fresh in my mind it is like they are right now and it is like reliving it all over again.

So, with that being said, today's original blog idea will have to wait as I am overloaded by what used to be.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Chaos

I was going to do another video this year, but when perfection is done like last year's nothing would come close so here it is once again, last year's video blog regarding the scary world of food touching.

By the way, you can follow my aunt's blog at http://honeysucklebreeze.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wanting to Exit the Exit Row

Okay, so yesterday I rode with my dad towards Washington D.C. with a stop over in Indianapolis to pick up my sister and nephew and all in all it was a fun ride with lots of hilarity and hijinks, but I want to go back to two days ago when I was flying from Salt Lake City to Saint Louis.

After a wonderful three hour layover (there was no sarcasm in that, I love layovers; even more so now that I don't have to worry about partaking in America's fastest growing sport, the 100 gate dash) it was time to get on the plane and I sat down in my aisle seat. As I sat down I noticed a college student staring at me. She then spoke up and said, "Would you mind switching with me? My boyfriend is in your row and besides, you can have the exit seat which means more room." More room? That sounded great, and besides that I couldn't say know. No, honestly, in that situation to maintain a level of social safety I have to say yes even if I didn't want to and I didn't really want to move. My ticket said a specific number and that's where I was supposed to be, but regardless I had to say because if I say no this person could say something nasty, become hostile, or yell. All of these are too much for me to bear so I said yes.

It's a traveler's dream, this Eden of a land known as the exit row. With extra spacing for legs one can stretch the night away. That's what I've heard, but as soon as I sat down something was wrong. What was wrong? I had space to move and instantly I felt insecure. I'm used to the close quarters and the minimal ability to move my feet, but in this exit room I could extend my legs all the way out and this sense of freedom created a prison within my mind.

Typically I have no fear while flying. However, instantly, panic set in. I thought of all the horrible ways a plane could go down and then I noticed I was sitting on the wing, which is the fuel tank, and I began to shake. All the while I was trying to get my legs in a position that gave me some sense of security, but there was none. I looked over at the boyfriend/girlfriend and gave a small snarl as while they were living the dream I was no in a state of red alert panic fearing anything and everything.

So... What happened? After flying more times this year than any other in my life and having no issues what created such a change? I can only theorize that the pressure, or tightness of a normal seat creates some sense of safety within my mind. Perhaps this is similar to the squeeze machine Temple Grandin made. I have a blog post somewhere about the time I tried the machine, but it didn't do anything for me. However, we must remember that if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. Just because the machine did nothing for me doesn't mean that element is out of play completely.

Being in the tight quarters I often forget I am on a plane as my body as the constant sensation of pressure from my legs being against the seat in front of me. This was now gone and the takeoff scared me to an extreme level. Time felt like it was taking longer and I was sure we had an engine problem and were going to sail off the end of the runway. Every motion felt stronger and each crack in the tarmac was felt. Life, I was sure, was over.

Obviously those fears were wrong and after take off I was able to retreat within a television drama show on DVD I had brought along and after the two episodes were over the true drama began as we entered some very rough air. This was the type of turbulence that makes your stomach drop. Each time this happened I said, "This is it, goodbye world... Whew!"

I did mention I was on the aisle seat and this too added to my fears I think. Being in the window seat allows me to see what is going on. The guy seated beside sat in a forward posture which prevented me from seeing anything outside. The unknown isn't a pleasant thing as well so all the elements were in place to make this flight a nightmare.

The routine of landing began and I had flown into Saint Louis enough from this direction to realize that we were nearing the airport and when we did a steep bank to turn left I knew we were over Forest Park. The landing was soon, but when I finally got a glimpse outside all I could see was the gray abyss that is dense fog.

Time, once again, seemed longer to me. I knew we were descending, but surely we weren't going to land in this soupy mess. I went into a hyper mode of looking around much like a cat that is following prey, or a laser pointer. I once again knew that something was wrong with the plane and we were descending into the ground and all was lost.

When I convinced myself that this wasn't happening I stared off to nowhere in front of me and then there was a thud. I thought this thud was going to be the last thing I ever felt, but it actually was the ground; we had landed. The fog was so thick it was hard to make out anything outside, but there I was and I had survived the flight.

I have learned from this experience. The first thing being is that pressure on me does make a difference in the right environment. Well, perhaps it is the pressure or maybe it is the safety of close confines. And the second is this; very shortly after I agreed to take this seat the flight attendant asked each of us, "Do you realize you are seated in an exit row and if so, do you accept the responsibilities and are willing to do the tasks and follow directions as directed?" Next time I ever hear that question I am going to look at the flight attendant in bewilderment and I'm going to say, "Heck no!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seeing What Becomes of What Was

I, much like most people on the spectrum, don't like change. Coming off my favorite week of the year at the Supernats is always a rough experience. I mean, not to take away from anything else I do all year, but when an event is so intense for five days and takes every ounce of energy and concentration that I have, well, the event certainly sets itself apart.

However, it is over and when I got up and headed to the elevator it began to hit me that it was over. At this point I wanted to avoid any reminder of what was. My goal was to get to the taxi without seeing or feeling anything, but still in the lobby were many karters and crews with their various team attire.

In the taxi, as seems to happen every year, the cab driver asks, "what brought you out to Vegas?" and I can never lie and give a non-answer so I always talk about the race, what I do, and how I can't wait until next year.

At the airport, as I sat with my laptop writing, I saw many winners walk by me with their trophies. The event is international with over 20 countries represented so it is no surprise to see so many people in the airport. Each person I saw I smiled on the inside because I knew exactly how hard they had to work to win that and what it represented and yet no one knows who I am or what I do there (except for the TSA agents that once again inquired about my flags. It works great when the checkered flag comes out first, but yesterday the black flag with white X came out first and that got a strange look as if the flag represented some sort of anarchist movement (it doesn't, NASCAR and Indycar use it as a stronger version of the black i.e. run all you want but you are no longer getting credit for the laps you are doing, and I've introduced it at the USAC .25 races as the 3 strikes flag). Anyway, seeing people at the airport too is a saddening experience because this is just further proof that the event is over as everyone is heading home back home.

 The spectacle that is the Supernats is amazing. From the temporary track to the jammed pits with karts everywhere is amazing and that's how I want to remember it; full of life. Slowly though each Monday after Super Sunday the life is seeped away. The trailers leave, the drivers leave, and eventually it will become a barren parking lot that is primarily used during the World Series of Poker.

Eventually it was time for my plane to leave and my seat was on the right and as we took off I could see the Rio and the back parking lot. The gigantic trailers and tents were gone and the only barriers left on the track appeared to be the main straight that I am stationed on. I'm sure now the only remnants that there ever was a kart track there is the rubber on the road (If you have Google Earth you can actually see rubber on the road from previous years!).

So now, the marvelous spectacle that was is gone. It hurt to see the lot I saw just 20 hours previous to that be full of life and spirit be reduced to simply a parking lot. Of course, that is what it is, but to me it is more. Each year I feel like, no, I know I grow as a person at that event. To me it isn't a parking lot but the site of the hardest, yet best five days of the year. While I will be counting down the days until November 2012 rolls around that lot will remain lifeless. Cars will come and cars will go, perhaps a semi will park in it, but it won't have the smell of engine exhaust in the air, the sound of "Book it!" won't be echoing around the PA system (karters will get that reference) and there won't be any international attention to it. After all, for 51 weeks of the year it is just a parking lot, but 50 weeks from now or so, well, the magic will happen again and the people will come from Europe, Australia, South America, and everywhere else to take part in the most fantastic karting event in the world and that lot will go back to the state that I remember it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In The Shadow of The Rio

It's over... today is the saddest day of the year as today marks the point in time I have to wait until the next one.

This year's SKUSA SuperNationals race had some difficult times and Friday was long. During the day the on track activity went well, but as soon as the sun started to go down the winds picked up and odd things just started happening.

Saturday too was a long day (15 hours on track!) but I enjoy every second of it. Even when things go awry and it becomes a challenge I relish those moments as I must hold back emotion and frustration to continue doing the best job that I can. As the photo to the right proves, I usually have an unemotional expression as I am always in a state of concentration. As physical as it is, to stand all day as the chief starter, I have to keep track of all the karts on track. After a while, paying attention that long becomes expensive. (sorry, I couldn't have that line!)

Super Sunday came and the aspect of the competition became secondary because there was a tribute to Dan Wheldon. This hit me hard because I was there last month. Ekartingnews' Rob Howden spoke about him over the PA and quoted Dan's line that, "Karting is the purest form of motorsport." Dan had raced in the Supernats every year that I have done it and he was entered for this event.

The tribute was more than just words though as 11 rows of three karts took to the track for a two lap memorial. The front row of karts had two karts Dan raced in previous years and the kart he was supposed to race this year. All the corner workers waived their flags, as did I, and in this video you can see me as the karts come by the finish line:



I tried to keep stoic but as the field came around a second time and I waived my two checkereds, well, I'm just glad I had my sunglasses on because it was powerful. Other people on track admitted that they too got misty eyed so I'm glad I wasn't the only one. Of all the things I've flagged that final double checkered of the tribute was the hardest thing I have done. Even though there was a song playing (I couldn't make out what it was because of  my headset, but I'm sure it was a song in honor of Dan) and even though the backside of the track was lined with drivers, crews, and spectators, and even though the sound of 33 engines were in the air, there certainly was a deafening silence. Call it remembrance, call it the effects of a beautiful tribute, but it was a sensation I have never experienced before.

After the tribute I felt... better. For a month I have struggled with intense feelings about that race last month, but that tribute, and being part of it, well, it did a lot. Last month I said I started writing my fifth book, and I am starting with moving into my new place and the road trip I did, but I quit writing it when I got to the day of the race last month. I tried to put it aside and ignore the emotions, but yesterday I finally felt emotion again and I think I can write again.

Emotional revelations aside, once the tribute was over it was time to go racing. I've said it many times, but it is such an honor to be allowed to do what I love. The first race up was a standing start and the way that works is the field grids up, the race director points to me and the lights, and for that zero to five seconds I become the most powerful man in the world, ahem, the track. When the director points at me I turn the red lights on and then in that 0-5 second window, when I decide, I turn the lights out and the race is on:



Contrary to that paragraph, the power doesn't go to my head, but it is just so awesome to be the one who pulls the trigger and starts the race.

Super Sunday, as it is called, was from my end a smooth day. As I said earlier, I try to remain unemotional when I flag, but on Super Sunday I do give a smile as the leader comes off the final corner and takes my checkered flag.

With each race that passed I was inching closer to the end. This event is my ultimate Kansas and if there is a point in time when I am "normal," it is out there on that track. I am on equal footing and part of a team. As I sit here in McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas I must admit that I do have tears in my eye writing this. To experience such bliss, such normality, and to have it end is rough. The person across from me just asked me, "are you okay?" and I simply nodded.

I find it odd that I have Asperger Syndrome and one of the symptoms is, "impaired communication skills" and yet what makes me such a good starter/flagman is the way I communicate through the flags. I do communicate to the drivers by my eye contact and the manner I display the flags. I think the drivers appreciate it as over half the drivers on Sunday, in the morning warmup, waived to me as that would be the last session they would be on track that wasn't in the heat of battle. And here in lies the small tragedy for me; on track for those five days which totaled 64 hours, I am the best communicator, and once it is over I go back to my reserved, socially unaware self.

Well, I'm getting hungry and also getting kind of tired of people asking me if I'm okay so I will end this here. It was an amazing five days on track and it's a long day for me as I get home late, and it will be a longer day tomorrow as my dad and I head to Washington D.C. for Thanksgiving. This year will also see my sister and nephew, Kimberly and Caden, coming with us so that should be interesting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Day in Paradise

Yesterday was day 2 of the 2011 SKUSA Supernats and, as the title of this post suggests, it was a great day. Yes, it was a great day, but also a long one. We started on track at 7:30AM (I had to be there at 6:30) and I walked into my hotel room at 8:15PM. The hours are long, but the time goes by fast because there is so much for me to keep track of. However, there are times that my mind has time to simply think and analyze and yesterday I analyzed where I am in the world.

This might be exactly what I wrote three days ago, but I don't remember things I write, even what I wrote yesterday, but what I thought of was, well, my life. I thought back just three years ago and how much internal anger I had. I kept it hidden, but I still was upset with the way my life was going. It was three years ago this month that my book came out, but I still believed that hope was limited for those on the spectrum like myself.

Just a little over half-a-year later from my first Supernats I went through TouchPoint's Parent Training Program and from that I got my current job. I know these are odd thoughts to have while at a race, but when I am perfectly content and happy I start to make sense of everything.

"What if...?" That question used to plague me. I kept thinking about that question when I had a few moments when karts were buzzing by me and I smiled because I don't think that anymore. This concept is how I end my presentations now, in a way, as there is always hope. Did you read that? There always is hope, It may take longer than what we may want, but, well, listen to this story.

My first Supernats was three years ago and the person I am sharing a room with worked that one. He didn't do the 2009 or 2010 installments, but he's back (he also was one of the first persons to buy my book) but he has said that I am much more open and "out of my shell" than the person he saw three years ago. His words were, "Yeah, back then any loud noise startled you and now you are on top of the world with your ways."

Those were just some of the thoughts I had on track yesterday. I know at some point in time I might play the what if game, and when it does I hope I can remember this blog post because I can counteract my what if game by playing the what if game as what if I had never been diagnosed? What if I made it as a race car driver? What if I didn't have all my social quirks? If any of those didn't happen I wouldn't be me and I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing right now. You wouldn't be reading this and my life might be much more self-centered.

Well, it's almost time to start the day's on track activities. Today we start qualifying and heat races so the intensity level is going to amp up greatly. There is no video from the event, but there is an internet radio call and trust me when I say that you can feel as if you are hear should you listen to Rob Howden's call of the event. To listen live go to http://www.ekartingnews.com/live/.

I might update tonight or tomorrow, and then again the next update might be when I am at the airport on Monday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Welcome to My Office

I wish everyone who has even seen me in an awkward social state could see me in my office. Which office am I referring to? Take a look at this picture:

Yes, this is my office at the 2011 SKUSA Supernationals. I serve as the chief starter for the event and even though I may be on the autism spectrum there is no overload at all. What I mean by that is I have constant radio chatter in my ear, I'm keeping track of time, and displaying all flags that need to be displayed to all 40 karts on track at a time.

Now, let's contrast this. Several times here at the Rio I have had awkward elevator experiences. I don't know where the sign is, but somewhere on me I have a big sign that says, "Hello, my name is Aaron, what's your story?" Honestly, and this has never happened in my life, people have tried to strike up conversations in the elevator. I may not know social rules, but isn't talking in the elevator one of the biggest social sins possible? Anyway, each time I stumble about trying to think of something to say while in the back of my mind I'm processing, "okay, why is this person talking to me? Are they a stalker? Do I know them?"

In my office I am firm. My voice is clear and it is like giving a presentation. In an open-ended environment when I see something and I want to discuss it, I will wait several minutes until I can talk to a person one-on-one about it, but while in the office I have to be abrupt and instant on all discussions. I'm sure every person on the spectrum wishes this, but I truly wish each person I went to school with, and everyone else that has ever thought I was slow or incapable could see me in my office.


As night descended on the first night (last night) of the 2011 SKUSA Supernats, I smiled during a break as I realized that, to all the drivers, there is no label, no talk or thought of the autism spectrum, in fact I'm sure maybe only 10 of the drivers even know who I am or what I do, but that's great. It shouldn't be a story as I'm simply me doing what I love. When I am in my Kansas (new to my blog? Check out my glossary page on the upper right) I may appear perfectly normal. It is, for example, when I enter the elevator, that it may show up. It is on that point that I think a lot of people with Asperger Syndrome may struggle because to the outsider it could be hard to understand that I am able to function without any issues at the world's largest kart race (we have over 500 drivers from 30 or so countries!) and yet something as simple as an irrelevant social situation can derail us.

Well, the sun is coming up and day two of five of the 2011 SKUSA Supernats is about to begin. In just an hour or so I will be back at my office and in command of my position. It won't be long before I go back to having confidence and walking tall, but until then I may appear uneasy, on edge, and not all that talkative. If you see me like that and think I am ill at ease, I say, "just wait" as you're about to witness a transformation, as I described it on my Facebook page yesterday, head towards my office, playground, and canvas. It's going to be another great day!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Today is the Day!

It’s here! It’s finally here!!! Today is the start of the SKUSA Supernats. I know I’ve mentioned this many times, but for me this is the pinnacle of the year.
Today marks the 4th year I have been chief starter of this race and as I landed two days ago I felt as if I have left this place from the previous two years. It’s an odd feeling and this probably goes back to the statement I make that says I have a different concept of time, but truly it is like I have never left.
I went to the buffet here in the Rio and the waiter was the same one I had last two years. Of course he didn’t remember me, but I asked if he had worked here a while and I am sure it was the same. If you have been to a presentation you know I say that, “I don’t remember people in my memories” however, if I see a person again often times I will recall them and be able to place them. The waiter though seemed freaked that I would ask such a question and I too was somewhat freaked that I would ask a question seeing that I usually won’t ask anyone for anything.
This race will mean more to me than the past because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I kept this a secret minus a couple references on Facebook, but over the course of last week I developed an infection, most likely MRSA, on my right arm. Last Thursday I had a minor surgery to remove it and the pain was immense last weekend. To be honest I never doubted my ability to make it, but I was worried about the level of discomfort. Missing this race was out of the question and while I still have a band-aid over the area and a minor tinge of pain I must say I have flagged worse off before.
So, it is almost that time. The sun is rising and soon the Las Vegas morning will be greeted with the magical sound of kart engines. Over 500 drivers are here and today through Sunday it’s going to be amazing. I wish all the drivers safety in their pursuit of one of karting’s grandest prizes and it is such an honor to be the one to greet the winners as they flash by the finish line.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thoughts from the Trip

Yesterday, in all my excitement in anticipation for the SKUSA Supernats, I became reflective while in the airplane. Three years ago I flagged my first Supernats and that was also my first national race of any kind. However, on that Tuesday that I flew home, it was also the day that my book, Finding Kansas, became available.


What a three years it has been! I state in my presentations that, “if you would have seen me three years ago you probably wouldn’t recognize the me of today back then. The amount of growth I have experienced has, perhaps, been the highest of my life.

Three years ago the only place I talked with confidence was at the racetrack. There was no public speaking, no job, and I barely left the house. I still was sad about my diagnosis as I tried to find my way in life. Where I was wasn’t where I wanted to be; although I didn’t fully know where I wanted to go.

As I sat on the plane yesterday looking down upon the world I thought of all this and that realized that I am truly happy. It has been a long journey and a journey that has seen many hardships. However, without the bitter the sweet just wouldn’t be as sweet. Without the bitter I might not have the passion I have to do what I do.

My current focus at the end of my presentations now is to say that, “there is always hope but sometimes it might just take longer for things to get to where you want to get it.” I have been beyond blessed to have the chance to speak to groups about my experiences.

The journey I am on still continues on. While I will be in racing heaven this week my mind will still be thinking about the need in this world. So many battles people face on the spectrum due to simple misunderstandings don’t need to happen. In my presentations I don’t state that the world needs to make drastic changes, but I feel if others simply have an ounce of understanding about those on the spectrum the right choices will be made. If we can avoid the needless misunderstandings people, like myself, can have more room for growth.

Right now I don’t know if I’d change one thing about my life. Here I am, in Vegas, about to flag the largest go-kart race in the world while also having the best job in the world. Three years ago I stood on the track directionless. I knew my book was coming out but I had no idea if anyone would ever read my words. I remember writing a chapter that I said something along the lines of, “I hope someone, someday, will read my words so they just simply understand who I am.” Never would I have thought three years ago I’d be where I am at today. I have a blog with 634 followers, my book is being rereleased by a division of Penguin, and I am a speaker that has spoken to over 7,500 people.

Life is a long twisty road. Where we are today we know, but where we will be in three years is anyone’s guess. I firmly believe that I am where I am because those around me understood me, believed in me, and helped me become who I am now. It was a long road, but it starts with understanding.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Today is the day I wait for all year as today I head to the airport and head towards Las Vegas. It's been one month since I last flagged a race and this is the longest stretch since February. Four years ago I just did six races and this season, well, it's been blissful.

Anyway, this week is the most intense week for me and while I wait for it all year long it is a challenge. There will be several 14 hour days from sunrise into the night time. Typically I'd lose all energy a quarter of the way through if it were 14 hours doing something else, but when at a track I find energy I didn't know I had.

Sorry for the shortness of today's post, but I do have a plane to catch after all so stay tuned this week as I write from the SKUSA Supernationals.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Large Impact of a Stolen Pencil

This morning I gave a presentation to 200 middle school teachers and during my segment that I mention a soda can and the associative memory system I had a memory back to 5th grade. When I give presentations I always try to use examples that my audience can relate to and I had long forgotten this story until the middle of today's presentation.

As I've said many time, I don't remember people in my memories. Because of this I need to remember people through other means and the #1 way I do that is through physical items. In 1993 my family moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis. A lot of people were lost in my memories, but I had a couple pencils that I remembered them by. The pencils were from the school I went to and had the name on the side of the pencils. Through this item I still felt a connection with where I came from.

On my second day of school in this new place my classmates wanted to "test" me. I had been warned that this group always played some sort of small prank on a new kid, and I thought I was prepared, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

For one reason or another I had to leave the room, and when I came back all my pens and pencils were gone. Normally I could have cared less as the best way to prank a prankster is to not give them the benefit or acknowledgement of the prank ever taking place. However, my pencils from what was still home to me were gone.

At that point in time I was not diagnosed and I probably couldn't have explained to anyone what was going on or why, but what everyone saw could only be classified under one word, "meltdown."

I became so frantic and irate that no one wanted to claim responsibility. I tore that classroom apart until I found my pencils which someone had placed under the teacher's podium. They say a person can't make a good second impression as everything is based of the first impression and this was true. From that point one I was a social outcast in my class because no one was able to understand why I reacted the way I did.

This story had not been thought of for many years and when I thought of it today in the middle of my presentation it furthered my passion to do what I do even more so. I mean, what if my classmates had been able to understand that I didn't just "flip out" over an irrelevant pencil, but rather my means of remembering a place I no longer lived at as well as the friends that were there.

See, spectrum and not, we aren't that different. Everyone has those items that remind them of someone, someplace, sometime, but for me it can be a seemingly irrelevant item. Those items, whatever they may be, become highly valued and to simply lose an item, like the day I described in 5th grade, creates a sadness that can only be described by explaining it would be like someone deleting your memories. On that day I felt as if that had happened and that's why I had my seemingly overreaction.

As with most things like this it was a misunderstanding on many levels and this states my purpose and passion. If there's just a little bit more of understanding in the world perhaps an incident like what I went through can be avoided, or at least better understood. I wasn't given a 2nd chance by my peers, but I'm okay with that now because it motivates me because it doesn't have to be that way. By you writing this today maybe I've come a little closer to creating a better understanding and for that I thank you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Awareness on the Rise

I was at the TouchPoint booth for the 2011 Parents as Teachers national conference as I had been the past two years. In fact, the 2009 installment was my first task as an official employee of TouchPoint. Anyway, two years ago it seemed like the #1 question was, "autism, what's that?" Or, "Asperger Syndrome? What exactly is that?" This year the questions of "what" changed to "why". Also, instead of asking the question I heard many people walk by the table and say, "Asperger Syndrome, I have a student..."

I'm amazed at how far we've come in just the past two years if I use this conference as a barometer. I was happy two years ago when just a slight percentage of the population knew what it meant compared to when I was first diagnosed; truly I can't tell you how annoying it was to tell people I have Asperger Syndrome and then they say, "Wait, did you just say you ate a hamburger?"

Each year the amount of awareness is going up and just when I think it can't get any higher it seems to do. However, as I've said many times, it isn't so much just to be aware of it but we need to bridge the gap in the understanding of it. Awareness is a multi-dimensional goal as before someone can understand it they must first be aware of it, but I feel we have a long way to go on the understanding goal.

Of course, raising the understanding is my primary mission and I know from my conversations at the conference, and elsewhere, that people want to understand. There's a lot of people out there though and also a lot of misinformation that can give people the wrong ideas.

So, the mission continues, but it just creates such a joy to know that the awareness is on the rise. We are on our way and who knows where we'll be in another year!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Most Thrilling Start in Racing (At Least From My Viewpoint)

It's just a week away! The 2011 SKUSA Super Nationals in Las Vegas start in just one week. Of all the days of the year I look forward to those five days the most. That isn't to say all the other events I do aren't as thrilling, but this is a five day event with a couple of the days being 14 hours long! Also, there is no bigger kart race in North America.

For the fourth time I will be the chief starter of the event and last year I used this picture to illustrate what I do there. This is a rolling start and for the entire field to have a chance to see me I have to be almost in the middle of the racetrack due to the slight turn that is there. In other words, if I were over to the side only the front row would see me.

I'd like to do one better this year and not only give you a photo, but this year here is a video of one of these rolling starts:




After seeing that I hope you understand why I call this the most thrilling start in racing although I'm sure any start would be this exciting if I were in the middle of the race track.

This will be the final race of the season and I still can't believe I've had the honor of flagging as many races as I've done this year. There aren't many things I enjoy more than flagging, and to have been able to do the SKUSA Pro Tour and the USAC .25 midget series has been a dream. As I've said many time on here, and in my presentations, when I was young the only thing I wanted to do was to race. There was nothing else. I would watch the races on television and be transfixed at the fact that one weekend they'd be racing in town A and then the next week they'd be across the country in town B. "That was living!" I thought. While I may not be behind the wheel I still found a way to be a part of the sport.

I still can't believe it is just seven days away. I'll be counting down the minutes and I'm sure, with this blog post today, my mom can't wait for it to be over. (she isn't a fan of the whole concept of me on the race track. I wonder why...)

There is one downside to this event and that is, when it is over, it is the longest amount of time before the next one. Also, this race marks the point that race season is over. I've lost count of the miles I've driven/flown and the amount of Monopoly games that have been played on my phone while traveling (Kyle, you are going down next year!) but I'm ready for more! It will be a long wait, but even before the 2011 season is in the books I'm chomping at the bit for 2012.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The daylight savings blues

Each year when the clocks are rolled back one hour I always have a major bout of tiredness. I'm not sure if it has to do with my internal clock, but for usually about a week after the change it is hard for me to wake up.

This year is no different but I do want to add something that I think helps. When I was living at home I slept in a pitch black dark basement. Except for a sliver of light from a window it was hard to tell noon from midnight. In my new place, however, there are plenty of windows. There is no mistaking the AM or PM and from that waking up has been a lot easier.

Well, I'd like to add more on this but I'm writing this on my phone at the patents as teachers conference and they just opened the doors so I must end this here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Stop at Home

It's been one month since my first night in my own place and I have had no disasters yet. I haven't burnt the place down due to a microwave error and there have been no floods, spills, stains, or anything else that would not be good.

Still though it feels as if this is just a temporary stop for surely I will be returning to home sometime soon, right? As much as I've traveled this year it does feel as if this is just a stop over despite having all my "stuff" here.

Yesterday was the first of three days of the 2011 Parents as Teachers conference. On the way home I stopped by "home" where my dad made stew. Walking in was weird as this felt as if this were the return home. Yet, contrary to how I felt it should be, my stuff wasn't there. It was home, but yet it was like a home of yesteryear.

The first thing I did when I got inside was to say hello to Teddy the Yorkie. Being on my own, petless, I have discovered just how much pets mean to me. The sense of happiness and contentment I had just holding him was something that I have missed very much. "Get a dog" you say? Yeah, that would be nice but as Rob said when he was here, "Aaron, if you get a dog or cat they will grow to hate you since you are gone so much." Maybe someday.

It was nice to eat a real meal that didn't come pre-made in a can and it felt as if the past month didn't happen. I wanted to go into the back room and hop on Bejeweled 3 and try to better my score, but as I looked back there the room I remembered was gone.

Time passed and it was time to leave. I said goodbye to the Yorkie and headed... headed... home. It still feels weird to say that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Conference Mode

It's been a while, one year to be exact, but Sunday through Tuesday I will be in conference mode as the annual Parents as Teachers national conference occurs.

I love conferences because of the interactions. It's hard to have a prolonged one-on-one conversation at one of my presentations, but some of the conversations this conference the previous two years have been amazing.

To be honest, I've been watching the months tick by looking forward to these upcoming three days. I see a conference as a challenge because there is that one-on-one interaction, but also because of the scope of conversation. If there is a conversation chances are questions will be involved and questions are my favorite aspect of anything I do because it makes me think. Sometimes answers are straight-forward and other times it requires a good bit of thought and those are the ones I like.

I don't know what more to say as I am so excited for Sunday to get here!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When iRacing Goes Bad

Parents ask me all the time, "Do you have a tough time losing at a game?" It seems those on the spectrum often times become enveloped within a game. Myself? I love playing games for the sake of playing games unless it is something I truly want to compete at and iRacing is one of those.

The past two days will go down in my books as the roughest stretch of that game. It started two days ago when on lap 2 of the Indycar series at Texas a car spun right in front of me and I was collected and finished last. Next race, lap 77 out of 110, a lap car on my outside hit the wall and bounced into me. Last night I was in a four car breakaway and we had 16 seconds on 5th place; truly this was just a leisurely 220mph drive waiting for the end, but one of the best drivers in the game hit the wall by himself, I went low to avoid him, but another car hit him and deflected him into me. I then did a modified race and the streak continued as I was following a car that spun and I could do nothing. I went back to the Indycar and on the last lap I got cutoff and crashed. As if that all wasn't bad enough, when it came time for my final race that I had entered my internet died with one minute until the start. Because I was registered it counted me in the race so I got last.

Quite the run of luck, right? Just four days ago I almost had my iRating to 4,000, but now I'm at 3,300. There aren't many things I "have" to win at, but when it comes to iRacing I am very competitive with my iRating. Going back to what parents have asked me I will say I don't know what to do when it comes to that, but I can describe the feeling.

Imagine this; whenever you do a game of some sort imagine it becoming the only thing that matters. This topic will be covered in my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th books, but it is so fitting for me to say this now. Anyway, because we on the spectrum can hyper-focus on something, when we play a game it feels as if the entire world ceases to exist except within the confines of that game. So, 10 minutes ago doesn't matter, yesterday doesn't matter, and tomorrow doesn't matter. What this means is that of course we're going to have an emotional reaction when it doesn't go however we hoped it would. Last night I felt sick to my stomach after just two of the bad races. I wish I could learn when to not try anymore because everyone has a night that just isn't their night, but I enjoy it too much.

When I look at it objectively I don't know why it matters. iRating is gained and lost, races are won and they are lost, and sometimes the internet just decides it wants a one hour breather.While I may know this when outside the heat of the game once I am in the game the only thing that matters is that race.

As with most things on the spectrum there is no grey area; I either don't care or it becomes overly important. Again, I wish I could state a strategy to cope with issues like this, but since I can't I hope that just being able to describe it in these words allows you to better understand where we come from when we are in the midst of the game.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chef Boyardee and Me

As a child there was no worse face to look at than that of Chef Boyardee. There he was, staring at me from the can while I loathed the minutes as dinner was about to be served. You see, I was, and still am, a picky eater and I didn't care for anything Chef Boyardee. My parents, however, used Boyardee's ravioli as sort of utility meal. If there wasn't time for something good, I mean, something else they broke out the Chef Boyardee. I will say it wasn't that I fully disliked the ravioli, but where was the stew, or pizza?

Since the days of my young childhood the Chef Boyardee ravioli, and entire line of food, have been out of the food rotation. Each time I walked down the supermarket aisle and I would see his face on cans I would instantly get a sinking as if I were back to my young childhood and I wanted pizza but instead there would be ravioli.

A funny thing happened yesterday. I went shopping for some more food and was walking around, aimlessly I might add, around the aisles. I then ventured into the aisle that had the Chef Boyardee products and then I got that same sinking sensation. But then I noticed that the Beefaroni was on sale. I have turned into a bargain lover since I have been living my own and I couldn't pass it up. In a way I felt as if I were betraying my lifetime of morals and ethics, but then again who doesn't like saving a dollar?

Yesterday evening I decided to bypass my shelves of soup and go straight for the Chef Boyardee. I laughed as I put it in because I know my mom, when she will find out about this (hi mom!) will laugh hysterically because this match up, Chef Boyardee and me, is something that she never would have imagined.

The food was better than expected, but the sauce was just as I remembered from when I was a child. I hated that taste when I was young, but yesterday the associative memory system kicked in and even though I was at my own place it was like family was all around. It was an odd feeling, and I felt as if I lost some sort of lifelong pact to hate Chef Boyardee, but last night I lost that pact. It's weird what the power of taste can do to conjure up memories and who knew that one simple can, with that smiling Italian Chef, could have so much power?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It Happened Again...

Yesterday I gave a presentation to about 200 paraprofessionals. This is the 2nd time in about two months that I have presented to this type of audience and going into the presentation I once again felt a lack of confidence.

I'm not sure what causes this, but very often, and this isn't the first time I've blogged about this, I doubt if my message has any relevance. Maybe it's this lack of confidence that keeps my presentation sharp, but each time going in I go in with no assumptions that what I'm about to do will be good at all.

I am not alone in this feeling. I've heard from many parents about their kids on the spectrum that are really good at a certain activity or subject in school and yet each time they are about to do it the parents describe that their kids share in the doubt I experience.

At my presentations I am sure that this doubt does not show. As soon as I begin to speak and go into speaker alias my mind does not have the availble processing space to think about doubt. Of course, I'm not jumping for joy on the inside either as I have to put of a tremendous amount of energy to keep focused and not dig myself into a speaking hole.

An interesting thing happened yesterday at this high school At first I was quite angry at myself, but then I realized that this is a great example of being on the spectrum. What happened was this; several times during my presentation the class bell (more like tone) blurred out and a couple times people were called over the intercom. Each time this happened I froze like a horse, ahem, a deer in headlights. After the sound stopped it took me a good 3-5 seconds to regain my composure and then another 1-3 seconds to remember what I was talking about and where I was going with it. As I said, I felt bad I couldn't just power through it, but then again I realized that for the audience to see me in full speaker mode talking a mile a minute and then to see me get derailed was probably an unique thing to see and perhaps in their careers moving forward they will be able to see that in others.

Once the presentation was over I got a higher than usual amount of personal thanks with one person telling me, "You have no idea how needed this presentation was; keep doing what you're doing!" Each time I hear comments like this I am shocked as this goes against the doubt I feel beforehand. Now, I know you may be thinking, "Well, Aaron, since you always hear this shouldn't the feeling of doubt go away?" You would think that but now. The "stage fright" has gone away and I get no sense of nerves going in (except three weeks ago when I faced the 5th graders) but I still have that odd doubt.

In the end I think I want this doubt to remain. I am oblivious to whatever it is that I do but as long as people want to hear what I have to say I'll keep saying it. Right now it is working and when I give my next presentation I'll forget about all the thanks and accolades I heard at my previous one but I'm okay with that because, and maybe this is the reason, I feel that I am only as good as what I'm doing right now. The past doesn't matter; the presentation I gave X amount of days ago does no good for those in my audience of the present. Yes, perhaps this is the root. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, in any case I'm still loving presenting and can't wait for my next chance to talk to paraprofessionals, teachers, doctors, or even... 5th graders... GASP!