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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dealing with Dealers

I think this is one every motorists nightmares; having to take a car in to the dealer. I did so on Thursday for matinence and an alignment and finally got my car back yesterday. As they were going over the bill I noticed that they did a repair on something they did not have my approval on but I said nothing.

For five minutes papers were shown to me on what they did and why and the only thing I wanted to do was to leave. Talking/listening in that forum is way too much for me and eventually, and after many dollars later, I was out the door.

From one door to my car door I opened my car and was instantly apalled as the weather stripping for my door was not destroyed and grease was everywhere. I wouldn't expect this from a single mechanic garage much less a high end dealer.

I was angry but I was about to drive off when Greg, my car advocate, told me to go back in and complain. Normally I would not do this because dealing with a damaged product, regardless of how much money it could cost me, is easier than dealing with a personal interaction. However, I was still, and still am as I write this today, angry from the events in yesterday's blog post that I walked back into that dealer, angry, and seeking justice... or at least someone to clean my car and talk about the repair that they weren't supposed to do.

Complaining was actually easier then I expected, or maybe it was look of anger on my face, but I was instantly handed over to the manager who, without me having to explain too much, took off the repair that I didn't want. Also, he all but snapped his fingers and a crew went to clean the grease.

Flash forward to today and a new problem has arose. Driving to the office I noticed a noise in the steering wheel that had never been there before. It isn't quite a grinding noise but there is certainly more friction while turning. Also, that repair that they weren't supposed to do? Yeah, whatever they did made it worse so instead of a noise at 2,500RPM that only I was able to hear (the catyalytic converter heat shield was loose) it now makes a loud noise anywhere between 2200-3500RPM. What does this mean? Well, perhaps the worst news of my day because in a short while I'm going back and once again I'm going to have to deal with the dealer. Time to put the anger face on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"One of THOSE People?"

I had my blog all planned out today; I was going to write about the need, at times, for help when talking. I'm needing this right now as my car is in the shop and someone is sort of translating and talking with them because making decisions on my feet in that realm is something I'm weak at. That was going to be the topic, until I got close to the office.

I either slept through my alarm this morning, it didn't go off, or I was able to turn it off without consciously knowing. Whatever the case I was two hours behind where I wanted to be. Because of this I decided to fall back on my old breakfast of a Wheaties Fuel bar and a Red Bull. I stopped at a gas station, which I will not say where, to do this.

A situation popped up even before I got to the door as there was someone walking in close proximity to me. I always panic on this because, do I just walk in and let them get the door or do I hold the door open for them? I tend to keep the door open not because I am doing something nice but I'm trying  prevent them from yelling at me. I may have this down but each time this happens I go deep within myself in regards to thought trying to protect myself from the surge of panic that happens.

Once the door issue passed I walked in and I was so concentrated on what I wanted to get that I became oblivious to what was going on around me. I heard, "Hello" when I walked in my I didn't make anything of it. "Hello again?! Is anyone talking today? Wow, how rude!" Again, I heard this, I looked up in a startled fashion, but I could not respond because I had to find the Wheaties Fuel bar and then decide on a sugar or sugar-free Red Bull.

 After I got the sugar edition Red Bull I finally realized what had happened; the clerk said hello and I ignored her fully. It wasn't out of choice, but it quite literally was because I was unaware of my surroundings and didn't process the spoken words in time. It probably seemed really rude however there was no intent of being so as a string of events that proceeded the hello put me into a state within myself and processing at an appropriate speed became impossible. While that might be so, as this story progresses, I feel my blunder is minuscule to what happens next.

Once my two items were in hand I walked to the counter and she asked, "How are you today?" If you've followed my blog for a while you'll know that this question always sends me for a loop. How did I respond? "Umm... well... yeah... I don't know." I knew she was mad from being ignored and I didn't know what to say. Also, and this is an important thing to remember when around those on the spectrum, or at least me, I don't understand the varying levels of mad. That means either everything is all right or the other person is mad to the point that they are going to hit me. It's black or white and middle ground does not exist.

The clerk then said, "Well, with that answer no wonder you ignored me." She said it with a condescending tone so I then said, "Yeah, being on the autism spectrum makes it hard for me to communicate at times." When I say this I usually want to the conversation to end, but then she said words I may never forget, "Oh, so do you have a job? You aren't one of 'those' people are you?"

Those people?! What is that supposed to mean? Whatever was said there is no way that was intended to be a positive statement. I mean, those people? What people? People are people in my book, every person is unique and I think everyone strives for "normal" with not one person ever achieving it. But still, "those people"? Is this was the autism spectrum is to the eyes of people that don't know it?

I got my two pennies change and quickly vacated the building angry. With attitudes like that one how on Earth could any person on he spectrum or parent of keep their head up? We have enough challenges to keep life interesting that we don't need condescending remarks from strangers. If you could have heard the tone with which that horrid line was said you would be worked up too.

I don't know what this shows; was is simple ignorance of the autism spectrum? Or was it something more? Even now as I write this I am angry to the point of minor shaking. I'm worked up because this is just another case of showing me that the world needs more awareness. No one should go through what I did when they have a challenge. I think I have a bit of a thicker skin that I used to as I turn these negative experiences in life into, usually, a humorous story in my presentations. However, there is no humor here. There is no punchline. To be looked down upon as if I am something less is something that I hope I never go through again. It was as if, since I was different, the normal rules of conversation went out the window and I instantly became a person that couldn't understand an insult and that made it okay to insult not just me, but every person on the spectrum. As I said, there is no humor here and the dark side of the world was exposed to me. If one person thinks this way there are more that do too.

Someday I hope that a job like mine isn't needed. Someday I hope that there full awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum. Will this happen in my lifetime? I'm not sure. I do know that going through an ordeal like mine today is very difficult. I think to parents that have their children with them in public when a behavior arises; what do those unaware of the autism spectrum say? Do they eventually hear a line like I did today? If they do I can now relate because there is nothing more deflating than to be spoken to as if you're guilty or some sort of hideous crime against humanity.

To end this I can only think of one way to do so. I do know that of everyone I've spoken to the vast majority are sympathetic to the autism spectrum. They might not have a full grasp of what it is, but there is some sort of knowledge base there and they don't look down upon the spectrum. However, it only takes one. It only takes one person to destroy the confidence and self-esteem of a person. Try as I might, but I feel a little bit less today. I know I'm different, but to be spoken to as if I harmed that clerk in a way that is unforgivable is all but, well, unforgivable. So, to the world, I want to say this. Who do you want to be? Do you want to be the person that is there for me when I might need a little bit more help? Or, do you want to be one of "those" people that are blind, ignorant, and rude to those on the spectrum? Obviously, if you're reading this, you'll never be one of those people, but they are out there and the only thing I can do is hope that someday they'll change.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Calm Before...

This upcoming week is not the busiest of weeks for me. Typically this would get me worked up as I want to be as busy as can be doing presentations. However, I'm going to savour these first four days of this week because they are the last four days that I have empty until the middle of May!

Yes, the upcoming months are going to be a test for me. It all starts this Frday as I have my first keynote presentation ever at Washington University's Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) Symposium. I'm really excited about this but also a little bit anxious as I will be speaking for about 45 minutes and will be doing without a PowerPoint. What will I say? I'm not sure and I may ad lib it and go with whatever seems to be working. Of course I'll hit my main points, but as nervous as I am I too am excited at the challenge this will present.

After the presentation I will rush to the airport as it's race season! It's been too long of an off season and my flags have set idle in my stand in the main room (okay, I have to admit each time I walk by I tend to waive one or two) since November but all that changes next weekend as I head to Phoenix and round one of the USAC Mopar .25 Midget National Championship. To say I'm excited about that would be about as obvious as saying the ocean has water. How excited am I? Bouncing off the walls would be one way to describe or also to say that this level of excitement might just be outlawed in 13 states.

After the race I'll be staying in Phoenix for the week and then I'll have a car ride to San Antonio for the following week's race. Each weekend in March has a race and between races and presentations I don't have an empty weekend until August!

Also, I have a big string of events planned for April but I'm not ready to officially announce it yet (getting close though) but it might be the toughest thing I attempt so while this week may seem a bit bland it is probably going to be needed because after this week it's full throttle for a long time. At some point in time in my life I may need to find a balance, but right now I'm perfectly happy at the prospect of being busier than I have ever been before.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Breaking Through 2 Years Later

A major event that made me who I am now, or at least instilled the confidence in me, was happening two years ago right now. I can't believe it has been two years since the Vancouver 2010 games and I can't believe it has been two years since I was offered a chance to present at a Rotary Club.

The story of this event was my 2nd blog post of all time and it is a fitting place for my blog to begin because that presentation marked a major event in my life that I can't deny. You see, up to that point in time I had given only one presentation in my normal PowerPoint format and about a dozen police presentations. I knew I could present in the right arena, but that's all I thought I could do. However, after a series of events led to a vacancy for a speaker at the Vancouver Arbutus Rotary Club I was offered the chance to speak.

If it had been up to me I never would have "expanded Kansas" so to speak. What I mean by that is that I would have been perfectly happy to have my 60 minute parent presentation and my 60 minute police presentation without any deviance or change. However, at that Rotary Club, I had 15 minutes and no PowerPoint. For a split second I wanted to say no because, in my mind, who was I and what did I have to offer? The deciding factor was the simple fact that I, if I spoke there, could consider myself an, "international speaker."

Once I said yes I panicked because I had no idea what to say or in what order. Having a PowerPoint is great but it can lead to a presentation that is on rails. Because of this I had to narrow down everything I knew and decide what should make the cut and what should be left out. This doesn't sound like anything major, but back then I was rigid on everything having to be said in specific order.

As much as I wanted to talk the afternoon to the group that just wasn't the case. What I feared though; what I feared and what I thought would be my speaking downfall turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, because I had to look at my presentations and stories and because I had to think on my feet while speaking something changed within me. It was on this day that, for the first time, I was not thinking about what I was saying. And, it was the first time that my humor came through unforced.

Forever I will be grateful for my chance to speak there. If not for that experience I don't know how flexible I would be in presenting. I think I am fairly versatile now, but had I never been forced just a little bit out of my comfort zone I may still only have the same stories and be afraid of trying anything new. It was only 15 minutes on that cloudy February 26th, and the crowd wasn't that big that day, but I will never forget that day as I went from just a speaker to a dynamic presenter.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Hole in the Neighborhood

Yesterday I went to the Saint Louis Blues hockey game (here's a shout to the person who gave me the tickets... you're the best!) and I took my step-brother. It had been a while since I was in the neighborhood that I was in before I moved out on my own and there was a change I saw on the way to the game.

I wanted to stop at 7-11 and get some gum, and some change for the parking meters and as I was coming up to it I noticed something wrong; the 7-11 at Chippewa and Brannon was boarded up. I was so excited to go back there as I had been going there since 1993 and now it was gone. I have so many memories there such as back in the day when they had pinball. I'm sure my dad has nightmares from the time the Star Trek The Next Generation pinball game was there because I could go 90 minutes on 50 cents.

As I drove by I was so saddened; this place was now a shell of its former self. I'm sure others will miss it for the ability to shop there, but it was much more for me. For one, I have worried that when I left home that the places I knew would become lost to time. Change is hard for me and to see change well after the fact is hard. The places I remembered are changing and to see it, well, is sad.

I hate change. Hate it with a passion, and I'm worried that the next time I go back another place that I have memories will be deleted from existence. You see, being able to go to the places, such as this 7-11, keeps all the memories alive. Each time I went in I would remember all the mornings I came in to get a Red Bull on my way to flag and race direct the Saint Louis Karting Association, or the mornings I would stop by on my way to another race, or a presentation, or somewhere, but all the memories were kept in track by being able to go to the where the memories happened. As I said, most people won't have any emotional reaction to a place, a place such a 7-11, but one of the quirks of being on the spectrum is that I do. Time will continue to march forward and things will continue to change. Buildings will be built, places of business will open, and buildings will be razed and businesses will close. If there is one constant in life it is that change is. As true as that is I still will resist it and when it does happen, well, I'm glad I have this blog to make a small memorial of places that, to most people, are nothing but to me they mean so much.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

True Hope

There I was, standing in the corner scared out of my mind as nearly one-hundred 6th graders came into the room. To be honest, I didn't want to be there as, I mean, what can I say to 6th graders about Asperger Syndrome? I've grown comfortable talking to parents, doctors, teachers, and police officers, but kids? "Oh my!"

This was my third presentation talking to kids and the first two times turned out much better than I expected as shown by last year's post Aaron vs. 5 graders. So yes, I was nervous, anxious, and absolutely sure this was going to end in nothing short of a train wreck. With that being so why did I agree on doing it? Well, for one it is my job, but secondly, and more importantly, what if it actually went well?

I was introduced and I stood in front of the room and my anxiety was at a near all time high, a point not seen since my very first presentation. It was one thing to speak to 25 5th graders, but this was almost 100 kids. 100! If I bombed and messed up that would be 100 sets of rolling eyes.

After I introduced myself I changed it up. The hurdle I faced with the 5th graders was that I had no idea how to begin. Today I started by asking them what they knew about autism/Asperger Syndrome. This opened the door for me to share my stories of when I was in school. I kept my sense of humor that I do in my normal presentation hoping that it would connect and it did; one minute I'm talking about the sensory issues of fire drills and the pain it caused and the next minute I've got laughs as I recount some of my odder school moments and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

After about 30 minutes of me sharing stories I opened the floor for questions and this is always a scary time as because, when there are no questions, I have no idea what to say. Thankfully one person asked a question, and in fact this was a great opening question, "Does autism and/or Asperger run in families?" I smiled a huge grin and said, "Wow, great question!" and I proceeded in explaining that, while research may be leaning towards a genetic cause, we don't know what causes autism. This also allowed me to share what the rates of autism are. The shock in their eyes, when I said that when I was born the rates were 1 in 1500 to today's 1 in about 100 (1 in 83 in Missouri), was priceless.

The questions continued and I was holding back tears. Yes tears because I knew they had listened, but not only listened but rather cared! I was warned beforehand that 6th graders don't have the best of attention spans and that I shouldn't take offense if there's small talk or if we needed to end early because the attention just wasn't established. I was sure this would happen, but question after question was asked. And the questions weren't irrelevant, each question was amazing. Even the SRO (student resource officer) asked a question! One student asked, "What are some of the ways you cope when you get anxious?"

I lost track of time and when there were still 13 hands up the school counselor said time was sadly up. It was the fastest 45 minutes of my life, and perhaps the most amazing as well. So many of the kids as they walked by me thanked me. I remember when I was 6th grade and we weren't the nicest of bunch, but this group of kids seemed very sincere. Then, as more kids were walking by, a kid in the front row told me that he too had Asperger Syndrome so I smiled and asked, "Was what I said like you?" He responded with words that I might never forget, "Yes, just like me. JUST LIKE ME! Thank you... thank you!" Once again I held back the tears.

One of my mottoes says that, "understanding is the foundation for hope." A lot of the questions asked wanted to know why I do the things I do. They've probably seen some of the quirks of the spectrum and that was the baseline for the questions. In this forum they didn't ask in a negative way but rather truly wanting to understand the spectrum. This gives me so much hope! If there isn't understanding there can be a lot of friction between the spectrum and the normal world. In my experiences talking with 5th-8th graders is that understanding is possible and wanted. With that being so I have so much hope that this current generation in school right now will have a much better understanding of the autism spectrum. Through understanding will come tolerance and also, when a teacher asked me, "Aaron, if you could go back in time what would you tell your classmates about Asperger Syndrome?" and I stated something along the lines of that I could learn so much from them if they just gave me the chance. I never intended on being mean or rude, but it was that I just didn't know and with a little coaching and understanding I might just learn from them. Without a doubt, from what those 100 6th graders showed me by their questions, is that while I may not be able to go back in time the future generations might just be able to do what those in the past were unaware of a. Yes, once again, I am holding back tears.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stealth, Clothing, and Fat Tuesday

Everyday is like a super secret spy mission for me as I try to remain stealthy. One of the ways I go about this is to dress as blandly as possible. If you've seen me on one day then pretty much you've seen my getup; I'm always in black pants and the only thing that changes is the color of my shirt.

Yes, I did say color in the singular form because I will never wear a shirt that has two colors, has stripes of any sort (I am adamantly opposed to those designs) whether vertical or horizontal, and any other type of design be it circles, squares, wavy lines, or one other color of any sort. Now, when I'm at home, or wearing an official shirt at a race track my normal rules don't apply. But, if I am at work or out the black pants, single color shirt rule applies.

Now, why does this rule apply? My logic is this; if I am as bland as possible and don't stick out then who is going to comment? My goal is to remain invisible and if I look average then no one will take notice. There are days of the year that are tricky, such as what I wrote in the first month of my blog two years ago on Saint Patrick's Day. If one wears green a person will comment and if one doesn't wear green people may comment and they may also pinch. I still don't understand that one.

Today's color choice was black pants and purple shirt. I do have a system for what color of shirt I wear depending on what audience I am speaking too. Whether or not this actually makes any sense I am not sure, but today I went with purple having no idea that I would be spoken to not once, but twice!

This morning I attended the Saint Louis County Crisis Intervention Team Curriculum Committee meeting and when I got in the elevator at the building it is in the person beside me said, "I like the purple, are you wearing it for Fat Tuesday and are you partying later?" I responded with, "Party?" in a tone that stressed that the sheer concept of me and party, together, has the same chances of space monkeys from Neptune coming down and enslaving us all. The lady responded, "Yes, you know, Mardi Gras? Beads? Soulard?" I stared at her as if she was speaking a long lost language and I wanted to be anywhere but in that elevator. I mean, doesn't social protocol require people to be as still as a tree on a windless day?

I was so anxious that I couldn't give an answer as to why I was wearing purple and as soon as the door opened I was out of that elevator car in record time. Sadly, when the meeting was over, I rode the elevator down and this time there were two women in the car. Again, my color brought about a conversation, "Hey, I like the shirt? Going to party later?"
"No."
"Are you wearing it for Fat Tuesday?"
"No"
"Mardi Gras?"
"No"
"Were you at Soulard at all?" (Soulard, I take it, is the popular party spot, I think)
"No"

The last time I said "no" I said it in a tone of sheer frustration. The entire reason I am as bland as possible is to avoid any talk whatsoever about my clothing and with a span of 90 minutes I was cornered in a confined space and was given an interrogation of sorts regarding my choice of color. This was highly unsettling because random conversations paralyze me with fear. I'm never prepared for them and I always over process and my body goes into a turtle defense of sorts as I try to figure out how to say as little as possible and get away as fast as I can. Okay, maybe "turtle defense" and "getting away as fast as possible" shouldn't be in the same sentence, but that's the way it is.

As I say in presentations, "If you see me outside this realm of public speaking you may not recognize me" and while I was driving to the office after these events I couldn't believe how true those words are. In the right environment I am able to answer unexpected questions, but if it isn't the right arena I am instantly paralyzed. Those two events today and the people that asked me the questions meant not harm, because after all it seems everyone likes to talk about clothing. However, it is these events that I struggle with and, of course, how could they have known? And, when I got a bit snooty with my tone they probably thought that I was a jerk, but it came down to trying to end the conversation out of necessity.

For the rest of the day I am hoping I can regain chameleon status and that no one else will try and deduce if I am wearing purple for Fat Tuesday. For those that will see me you now know the answer and no conversation is needed. For those that haven't seen this I apologize in advance for I will probably say, "no" in the driest, most agitated state I have ever said it before.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Music as a Writing Aid.

This week was a big week for me back to 2005 as I wrote a good chunk of chapters that would eventually go into Finding Kansas. While, once I started to write, the words came easy I always needed help to get the snowball running. Back then I could stare at the computer screen for an hour and nothing would happen. However, I found a trick that somehow bypassed the block in my brain. What was it? Music.

And this music wasn't just any music. I have the music from Gran Turismo to thank for helping me write. Each night as I was wanting to write I would put in GT4, go the classical music, and off I went. It was the same play list each night and the first song in the list was Air on G String by Bach and there was something about that song that just let me emotions flow.

I always knew that my emotions were there but processing them and expressing them were always difficult and more often than not impossible. There's something about music though that allows me to access the emotions. It's always been that way and maybe this is why I am so private with my music likes. I always thought it had to do with the "associative memory system" but maybe also it has to do with the strong emotions evoked by music. Whatever the case may be even now, when I'm suffering a writer's block, all I need to do is listen to the right songs and the words simply flow without effort.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cornered Into a Scary Situation

Recently I was in a town for a presentation and I was staying at a hotel. It was a little past 10:30 p.m. and I got hungry so I decided to go to a gas station to get some snacks. As I left the lobby of the hotel I noticed just how junky the weather was; there was a fine mist in the air with a dense, soupy fog in the air. I almost walked back inside because, after all, if I were making a horror film this would be the weather I would have in it.

As I neared my car I saw two people walking down the sidewalk. I calculated in my mind that I and them would get to where my car was parked at nearly the same time. I am usually extra cautious to avoid people because and even more so in this weather because of my horror film concept, but on this night I didn't turn back around and go to my car.

When I got to my car I heard someone say, "Sir, excuse me..." and I instantly froze. Panic ensued and I was sure I was about to be robbed or worse. The lady continued, "my mother and I need to get to Wal-Mart before they close and we've been walking for two hours. Could you drive us there? We'll pay for your gas."

If I were panicking before I was now at Defcon 1. I stood there, staring off into space, processing; I was trying to think of a way I could say no and not seem like a jerk. I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I am too afraid." or maybe "I would if it is daylight" but I didn't know how to put that into words. I then thought of all the stories I've heard of people on the spectrum being taken advantage of simply because we can have a hard time simply saying "no."

In my presentations to police I mention a story of a 16 year old with Asperger's lost in a park. The police were called and when they got to him they asked him his name and he said nothing. They asked him who his parents were and still nothing. He resisted any and all comments and essentially became a statue. Eventually the parents were brought to him and his mom, right away, asked, "Son, why didn't you help the officers?" The son replied, "But mom, why are you mad? You always told me not to talk to strangers." That story was going through my mind at this point in time as I continued to stand there trying to come up with some way out of this corner and I wish I had that 16 yearold's resolve.

I started to shake a little bit and I decided that, if these two were robbers I was going to be robbed whether or not I got into my car with them so, with a highly remorseful voice, as if I were signing my own death sentence, I said, "Okay, get into the car."

I've done some dangerous stuff in my life; I've covered a couple hurricanes, been to Africa three times, and I raced for a decade but this I thought as I headed towards Wal-Mart that this very well could've been the most reckless thing I've ever done.

The fog seemed thicker and as I pulled out of the hotel parking lot I noticed my two passengers had not put on their seat belts. I just about spoke up, but I wanted to say as little as possible. The younger one, in the back, asked lots of questions and to each one I said just enough not to give anything about myself away.

Of course, as we got to the first light, it was red. I reflected on my life and thought about how I got into this situation. It happened so fast and since I have a hard time saying no as well as having a hard time processing on the fly I truly was cornered into this.

So many times I've heard parents tell me that their son or daughter got caught up with the bad crowd on a whim and they couldn't understand how they got swept up in the ordeal. I would respond with an answer of some sort, and it was the right one, but now I know just how easy it is to fall into a trap and be in a corner.

The following lights were green and when we got to Wal-Mart the daughter offered to stay and when the mother got a refund they would pay me gas money. I declined saying, "it was less than a mile, don't worry about it." and they both thanked me saying how wonderful I was and out they went and off I went.

Obviously I survived and obviously nothing went wrong, but it could have. I got lucky. If anything this is a major wake-up call because "no" needs to be in my vocabulary. I may be an autism advocate but I am a horrible advocate for myself. However, this just adds to the things I can speak on from first-hand experience. I've always heard people on the spectrum are very much more likely to be a victim than others. I now know why and I know now that "no" is very quickly going to be used more. Yes, it was probably a very nice thing I did for those two people, but I don't know if it was the safest. Yes, they needed a ride, but on a foggy night is it the safest thing to do? Even if it weren't foggy the answer is no and I hate to say that the world is dangerous, but if one doesn't know a person can they be trusted? Sadly, the world we live in has shown that the answer isn't 100% yes and all it takes is that one time. Thankfully, on that night, it wasn't that one time.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Disturbing Trend or Society Trying to Understand?

Over the course of my blog I've seen this come up on the keyword screen and haven't taken that much notice. You see, I am able to see how people find my blog, or rather what they put into Yahoo or Google to find my blog. Yes, I had this search come up a couple times, but the past month it's been at least every other day. What is the question?

"Are autistic children spoiled?"

After seeing it once, as I said, I didn't take notice. Maybe I should have, but I thought that perhaps it was an isolated incident. Now, after more thought since it's becoming more common, I don't know whether to get angry or get content on the fact that at least someone is doing a search in hopes to find the right information.

With the awareness on the rise we still have a battle on our hands. I mean, I wonder who is doing those searches. I'm going to assume it isn't a parent so is it a neighbor? Perhaps a neighbor? Or maybe extended family?

I once heard a person make this claim, straight to my face, in a early presentation in my career. After that day I had a new conviction within me to try and raise the voice of autism. Of course, I'm just one person but nevertheless I am getting more and more worked up trying to figure out why a person would do such a Google search.

Okay, if they are doing the search then I guess they do want information, so that's a good thing, right? But... what if they find the wrong information? What happens if their first introduction to the autism spectrum isn't a good one and tells them that, in fact, autism is nothing more than a bunch of spoiled children? Is there a site like there out there? I sincerely hope not, but what if there is? Now, what happens if this person is someone that eventually comes across a person on the spectrum? Will they be going in with an open mind, or will they be going into the situation intolerant because, after all, it must be a spoiled child?

I hope you can tell that I am worked up and passionate on this issue. I am glad people are trying to get the information, but if they are doing that exact search then there must be misconceptions out there. In a perfect world all would know that, "If you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" and that, "Autism isn't a choice. We can't turn it on and off at will. It is what it is; sometimes it's a gift, sometimes it's a challenge, but I'm still me regardless."

Maybe I'm looking into this too much. But then again, what if I'm right? If I am we still have a long way to go to raise the awareness and understating level to a point that there won't be these preconceived notions that people on the spectrum are "spoiled rotten." You can think what you want to think, but for me, today, as I wrote this, multiplied greater than I can put into numbers or words. It is beyond critical that the right information is out there and I hope I can do my part to crush the preconceptions because it is from those misguided thoughts that one will believe that "autism spoiled children are spoiled" and in my opinion one person is one too many!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Humor is a One-Way Street

During my presentation yesterday I was astounded at how far I have come as a presenter, and as a comedian should you talk to the right person. When I started out just over two years ago humor was something I tried to avoid in my presentations as I feared comments like, "We shouldn't be laughing at or with these stories."

After giving several presentations to police officers I realized that I needed something to maintain their attention so I had to change my tones as I spoke to say, and oh the irony as this is almost like yesterday's title, "It's okay to laugh."

Two years later the humor just comes naturally; I don't try and be funny and I don't put any thought into how to state something or phrase it, or how my tone should be. Truly, it just happens and I find this odd because I don't understand the concept of stand-up comics. I've watched a few and I sit there, lost, as if I'm hearing a complete history of Greenland.

In fact, I almost get angry when I see segments of a stand-up act because I don't get the jokes. As with a lot of things with Asperger Syndrome humor is a one-way street. I can make a comedic remark in my presentation and understand it fully well, but if the street was reversed I would probably sit there with the look of grim seriousness on my face.

Sarcasam too is something that is a one-way street. If anything this is even rougher than the humor street. Now, if I've known someone a LONG time and have seen how they do sarcasam I can understand it, but if I don't know someone that well often times I will be a cloud of processing trying to determine if the comment was a serious, literal comment or if it was said in jest.

I believe this is just another example at the mystery of the spectrum and teachers and parents could become quite confused or frustrated with a child because things can be a one-way street. Conversations, interests, and of course humor all could fall under this one-way street concept. I do want to write more on this topic, but I also want to think it out more so for now I'll leave this at that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"It's Okay, You Can Smile"

For lunch yesterday I went to a fast food burger place. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me any outing in public has a high degree of anxiety as I try and minimize my interactions. Because of this I am often very flat in the face. Emotions aren't typically shown and I usually have a very stern, serious look about me.

I walked to the counter to order and I ordered my usual which I have ordered it so much I do truly sound robotic in my ordering. The lady rang it up and as she was getting my lemonade she said, "Sir, what type of tea would you like?" I looked at it oddly and replied, "Lemonade?" To that she laughed but I remained flat and emotionless so she responded, "It's okay, you can smile."

There are several phrases I hear a lot. One being "Are you okay?" which I blogged about sometime last year and also the one I heard yesterday of, "You can smile." I've never understood why I'm being told that it is okay to smile. I am fully capable of smiling and it the right environment I often have a hard time not smiling. But there are times, such as being in public, that smiling isn't natural and can't be forced.

After the order I sat down to eat and I looked around and saw everyone acting so, well, naturally. Their movements weren't forced and their smiles just happened. My experiences in public like this are often forced, awkward, and usually taken the wrong way. Just as I have a hard time knowing if someone is happy, mad, sad so too does society seem to misinterpret my emotions. Even though I usually appear emotionless doesn't mean I am without emotions. Quite the contrary actually! However, since I am in a constant battle to keep my environment safe and without unexpected conversations I must appear flat so as to not give anything away.

Often times people take my flatness as a sign that I'm angry, or hurt, or that I'm furious at them. This is usually not the case. Another reason why I am usually flat is the amount of processing I'm doing. If you could be in my shows for just one hour out in public you would understand. I am constantly aware of everyone in my environment as I analyze what could happen. Since I do not function well when caught off guard I must be on guard at all times. This makes all my senses go into hyperdrive and I am hearing everything all at once. If you were processing all this you too would probably be flat in the face.

Another thing I try to do is I try and appear natural. I know, that may seem funny, but it's true as if I can appear "normal" I can avoid situations like yesterday. However, I can try all I want but often times what I think I am and how I actually am are usually very different and it's comments like, "It's okay, you can smile" are a reminder of just how different how I am.

It's in these times that I feel the darkest because, without these social issues, I don't feel different at all. As I said, in the right environment I have no problem smiling. When I get a comment like the one I had yesterday I now fear how different I am and will someone ask me that next time I go somewhere? I thought I was becoming rather apt at blending in with society, but once again I was wrong.

Of course, as I usually say, I'm okay with this happening because I am able to give the color commentary as to why the event happened and what it felt like. I'm sure I'm not the only one that encounters these struggles and with awareness and understanding, well, I hope the world will someday understand that, yes it is okay to smile but I'm in no position to smile because I'm doing everything I can to simply be there without wanting to go home and hide.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A RANT About Drivers

I drove down to Joplin yesterday on Interstate 44 and as with the other two trips I've done this year I experienced the same aggravating event... Bad drivers.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not driving down the road thinking everyone is a bad driver. When I say bad I mean a driver that is creating a dangerous situations. These drivers aren't driving in excess speed (I have to be honest, I was pulled over several weeks ago for speeding and a learned a small lesson. When the officer comes to the window and says, "Sir, hello, how are you today?" it is best not to give the honest answer I did, "Well, I was better three minutes ago.") but rather they are doing 5-10mph less the speed limit in the fast lane.

This is one of the most aggravating things in the world for me because I know the law says one, "can't pass on the right" but the hazard caused by these drivers is so great. It also doesn't help that I-44 across Missouri isn't the safest of roads. Okay, it seems every road, when you talk to people, isn't the safest of roads but there are many turns and elevation changes with little run off room on driver's right and all in all there are more than a fair share of roadside crosses.

Each time I approach one of these slow drivers I panic because I know, regardless of how long I stay behind them, they are going to stay steadfast in the fast lane. And, even though I know that, I can't simply duck to the right and make the pass. I always hope that sanity will prevail and that they will do the right, and safe thing, and get out of the way. In this process a line of cars form behind me and then the highway is stacked with a bunch of cars two wide. When I raced, and even now on iRacing, I love side-by-side driving, but on the interstate it is NOT A SAFE THING! A gust of wind, a piece of debris, or someone answering a text could happen and one slight move by one car and then a pile up happens.

The other thing about these drivers that drives me bonkers is when they do eventually muster the speed to pass another vehicle they never do so in a timely manner. The situations that scare me the most is when they are trying to pass an eighteen wheeler. When I pass one of those trucks I want to do it as swiftly as possible because, well, they're a whole lot bigger than me and I want to get away from them just in case something were to happen. These slow drivers in the fast lane however sometimes take a mile or two to get around one truck and if there are two or three trucks lined up in can be many miles before single file driving can happen again and by that time there are too many vehicles in a tight space and getting thinned out can take some time.

Of all things on the open road this is the event that makes me the maddest and concerned because it doesn't need to happen. There is no reason why an event like this should take place. A slow driver in the fast lane is the onset of one of the more dangerous situations on the road. Every time I do eventually pass on the right (it always feels as if I running a red light or intentionally running a stop sign) I look at the driver and usually the driver is lost in a conversation with a passenger and is 100% oblivious as to the danger they are putting other drivers in.

Okay, I feel better that this is now out of my system. I had to write this because I was furious yesterday as I came across way too many of these dangerous drivers. As for me I now head to my presentation at a school and hopefully on the drive to Springfield I don't come across any of those drivers. If I do I will simply wish that they could read this post, or maybe someday have a driving test and an instructor can witness them doing what they're doing wrong right then and there... Well, I say I was on my way but looking out the hotel window I think the weather has different plans for today. The one day is actually snows...

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Connection Between Racing and Presenting

If you've ever been to one of my presentation you may get the impression that I am in a race of some sort as I tend to speak very fast. The tempo with what I speak is not an accident but at the same time there is no race going on. I do realize some people may have a hard time following my words since they are going to fast, but it beats the alternative.

In conversations, as far back as I can remember, I have always had a fast pace when I am actually having a conversation that I'm participating in. For me that pace never seemed odd because that's how fast my mind is actually going. A lot of times I would actually combine words without any space between just because my brain was working that fast.

Why does it go that fast? I did mention at the start that speed beats the alternative and the alternative is this; if I go slower I will begin to think about what I am doing and saying and if I do that my words....... are........going to........ slow........ WAYYYYYYYYYYY...... down.

It's always been that way in my life. In a conversation I am either fully comfortable and speaking fast or taking to long to think about what to say and by the time I try and talk the window closed and I retreat back into processing. Public speaking is no different and if I don't speak fast I will begin to analyze what I need to say, what I should have said, and what the possible reactions to my line to come will be.

Now, I know you are probably wondering what my title for this post means considering I mentioned that there is no race going on when I present. The connection to racing is that, when I am presenting, I am in that same zone that I go to when I race. In real life, or on any racing game, I am fastest when I don't think about what I'm doing. When the conscious mind turns off and it just happens without thought that is when the fastest times come. If I have to think about what's going to happen in the next corner and what I need to do, well, nothing good comes from that. So too is this concept true with speaking.

I have to admit that I now put zero thought into my presentations when I do them. Much like a race track that I've had 10,000 laps on I can do it without thought. Don't get me wrong, my presentation is always changing with a new story here or a new experience there, but there is no actual thought as to what I should say or when I should say. If I ever get to that point, and it happens occasionally should I get distracted somehow, it can take me several seconds to get back on track and maybe a few minutes before I enter that zone of working in the subconscious.

Many times I have written about my struggles of open-ended conversations and in my various book writings I've always stated that one-on-one conversations are doable for me, but if a third person joins in I tend to shut down. I believe one of the reasons for this is the same concept in this post; with another person comes more to analyze and from that I will over process and be chained within my own mind.

So yes, if you have or will ever see my presentation I will apologize right now because speaking fast is something I must do. I am aware of it, but if I were to slow down I would be flooded with fear, anxiety, and a nasty case of the "what do I say next?" bug because I would be thinking too hard. This too is why I think I get so exhausted after a presentation because I am having to put so much energy to stay at that pace. Again, I know it can be annoying to hear me speak so fast, but if I were to slow down I don't know who much sense I would make because I wouldn't be able to make sense of what I should say next.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Realizing the Impact

Over the past several months autism and law enforcement have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It almost seems like it is happening on a monthly basis with sometimes tragic endings. Of course, what we don't hear, is when officers do have the right training and a crisis is averted.

My first true actions as an employee of TouchPoint was to give, over the course of four months, 36 presentations to various officers of Saint Louis County. Word got around and in October of 2010 I gave a presentation at a Missouri Department of Conservation office in the southeast part of the state. From that presentation I was invited to present at the statewide conference which was held two days ago.

It was a big honor to be able to present there and even more so since the story I read last week about a tragic ending between an officer and a person on the spectrum. Because of this I thanked the audience for allowing me to present because, perhaps, an ending like the ones on the news can be avoided. Then, after I was done, the parent who set up my southeast presentation, who is also a conservation officer, spoke for a couple minutes and what he said brought a tear to my eye.

Just two months after I spoke in southeast an officer got a call about two suspicious individuals walking around. The officer responded, found the individuals, and stopped them. He was in his car with the two people to his left outside the window when a call over the radio came. The noise was a raspy squelchy noise and one of the people threw himself onto the hood in a forceful, awkward way. Right away the officer thought that this was a drug case and he became highly aggravated and was about to make an obvious arrest when the person's friend mentioned, "Yeah, my friend has autism, he doesn't like a lot of noises."

The parent speaking at the conference then said that the officer on that call, had he not seen me just two months prior, would have had no concept of what that was or what it meant. Instead of knowing what to do all the mistakes would have been made and it would not have ended well. What the officer did do was reduce the volume on the radio and made the environment as still as possible and a crisis was averted.

I have no idea my impact even though people tell me. It's hard to accept that what I do has any value because, to me, I simply do it and that's the way it is. However, when I heard that story and that my presentation very well could have saved a person from a traumatic experience, or worse, I was shaken. I heard that story and I wished I could speak to every officer in the country. With the autism numbers the way they are it isn't a matter of if an officer is going to come across a person on the spectrum, but rather when. If they don't know what it looks like, or what could potentially be going on in the brain of that person on the spectrum, then mistakes can be made. If an officer hasn't had autism training the mistakes, at the time, won't seem like mistakes. The need for them to understand is growing day by day and each time I hear one of those stories my heart breaks because it quite simply doesn't need to happen and I am thankful the Saint Louis area, and the Missouri Department of Conservation is so proactive to getting the information to their officers.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Finding My Voice on iRacing

I've been a member on iRacing now for almost three years now. The racing has always been close, exciting, and sometimes frustrating. How close can the racing be? Here's a photo of a finish I had with Travis Powell for the win:

So yes, it's been a fun run, but it wasn't until recently that I utilized one of the features of iRacing and that is the voice chat.

For the longest time I raced in silence; I could hear everyone else but I refused to put on the headset. This was much like when I started playing on Xbox Live in that I was terrified of speaking as who am I to talk? Who am I to say anything? And, if I did talk, would I be yelled at?

I always found it strange that I could communicate so freely over the Xbox, but this new game and new system changed everything. Perhaps this was because I wasn't my gamertag but rather, quite simply, Aaron Likens. Perhaps it was the system in that one must hit a button to key up the microphone and only one person can speak at a time so, perhaps, this intimidated me because I have never been good at timing in conversations. Whatever the case might have been I never spoke. That is, until last season.

iRacing introduced a "fixed set-up" division of the IndyCar and I, for better or worse, became addicted to it. Where as before I was usually running fourth, fifth, or sixth now I was competing at the front. In these races, however, a lot of time is spent under the yellow flag and there are usually conversations during these periods. I would hear the conversation going on and usually I would be compelled to respond, but the only way I could was with my keyboard but typing and driving is something that can go real bad real quickly.

The typing game persisted for about a half week and then I finally gave in and put the headset in. It was a little intimidating at first, now having a voice instead of toneless words, but slowly it became easier and easier to speak.

I'm amazed it took me this long to finally find my voice and I'm surprised that all my years of racing on the Xbox didn't allow me to instantly find my voice on iRacing. I still struggle at times, even more so when there are multiple people engaged in a conversation because, still, my timing is always off. I always feel as if I'm stepping on people's toes as if conversations were a dance and I don't know about you, but I wouldn't like having my toes smashed. However, it's now been about eight weeks since I started speaking and I am much more comfortable now then I was and each race I feel more and more at ease.

Here's what I find odd about this; when I started on Xbox Live I had just been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome not more than four month prior. I knew I was a horrible speaker and my words were always forced or rushed. Now, almost eight years later, I'm a speaker for my job and yet going into a new environment, even though I had spoke over Xbox for many many years, I was unable to speak.

To close I do have to say one thing that bothers me on iRacing. Sometimes, when a person gets wrecked, they expect an apology. This is fine, but often times someone will either say or text, "What, got no mic to apologize? How convenient." Perhaps they do but perhaps they're like me. And this example can be used outside of iRacing, which is why I'm writing this today, but perhaps they have the mic but are unable to speak. Perhaps they are listening but the fear of speaking is too great. With silence you can never tell, but I know I was in that place and trust me, I wish I would have spoken up years ago as perhaps I'd have made new friends as well as speaking after a race enhances the comradery, even more so after a thrilling race, but I was unable to. After being on both sides of the wall I will never get mad if someone wrecks me and doesn't apologize orally because, in life, we can never tell what is truly going on and on the offshoot chance that person on the other end is on the spectrum I know if I get angry they will become less and less likely to find their own voice. I know that's true because I was there.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Extras in Life

Think about how many people you see daily or weekly. No, I’m not talking about your coworkers or family, but rather, perhaps, a waiter where you normally eat or the clerk at a gas station. Much like an extra in a movie they’re there but you don’t give them much notice.

Last night as I got to the place I always eat before bowling I sat down and started doing the South County Times Crossword. This tradition of eating there before bowling stems back over a decade! The tradition started with Emily and me going, but since 2005 my dad has gone with me. Anyway, as I was working on the crossword I got an uneasy feeling; something was wrong. I looked up at the television as it was now 5:00PM and the channels didn’t get switched. Always, like clockwork, the channel would go to channel 2 for the news, but it stayed on 5. This lack of the usual change made me look to the counter and I noticed that the guy who had always been there was not.

As I went back to my crossword I thought back for a moment to the previous times I’ve been there in 2012 and I realized that he hadn’t been there at all. Was he fired? Did he get a new job? He’d been a staple there as he had been taking my order since the first time I went there all the way back when I was with Emily in 2001. “That’s a long time for that type of job, maybe he’s moved on” was the conclusion I drew up.

As 5:10 rolled around I went up to place my order as my dad was scheduled to get there at 5:15. I placed my order in my normal, unsure self and when I heard my total and handed the owner my money I began to stare off beyond her shoulder because I dare not make any eye contact at all and then I saw the picture of the man who had been taking my order for all those years. It looked like a Christmas card, but then I did a second look and read, “In loving memory. The funeral mass for…”

I stood there, stiff and silent, just staring at it. My change was being handed to me but I could not react as I was just staring at the card. My concept of time, life, and loss is different than those who aren’t on the spectrum and at that moment I remembered all the times I’d been there and he was always there and just like that, at the age of 46, he was gone.

After 15 seconds I simply pointed in dismay at the card and the owner looked behind her and said, “Yeah, just four weeks after his last day due to cancer he was gone. Very sad.” My heart shattered. I’ve heard and been asked many times if those on the spectrum have any empathy at all and trust me when I say we do, but it can be different or we may try and hide our feelings.

As I started out this post I mentioned the extras concept and all I can say about the relationship I had with him was just that. I never had a true conversation outside the world of pizza and my dad usually did a bit of small talk, but there was nothing else there. And yet, despite that fact, I couldn’t shake the sensation of deep sorrow for the rest of the night and it persists even to now. Perhaps that is what is troubling me though, the fact that I never did engage in any sort of conversation except my order. Of course, why would I? What would I have said? I can’t think of anything but I wish I would have.

Moving forward that place isn’t going to be the same. As long as I had been going there he was there. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to say that my emotions have any relevance at all because whatever I’m feeling is irrelevant compared to his friends and family. And yet, if there is anything I can learn from this it is that for the extras in life, or those who have starring roles, be careful with the words you use because you never know when that last word you say is the last word you’ll ever have with them. The last words he told me, I believe, was on December 19th when my dad and stepmom treated me to dinner that night. On that night as we were leaving he said his usual, “Have a good evening” as I walked by and in each case he did this I never acknowledged him saying that orally and I may or may not have given a glance back to him in acknowledgment. Looking back I wish I could’ve said, just once, “You too.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

My New Answer to My "Question of the Day"

After spending the weekend thinking about last week's "Question of the day" and reading the comments that people have posted I now feel strongly about an answer.

I'll use my own experience as an example. I was finally diagnosed at the age of 20 and had no idea what I had or what it was about. The way I found out was I turned to the internet and read some horrible "facts" that I have sense learned were nothing but nonsense. However, at the time, I believed it and I went into a denial and a large bout of self-hatred.

Now, let's say I got the diagnosis when I was really young, and my parents were the one to tell me, the control would be in their court. I would have had no prejudices of any sort and still the world would be just as it was before I was told. If time goes on one can have a slanted concept and, perhaps, believe the nonsense I did.

With all that being so I feel that the earlier a person knows the better. Remember though, and I must use this disclaimer, if you've met one person on the autism spectrum you've only met one person. Each person will handle it differently, young or old, so keep that in mind that just because I feel it should be a certain way doesn't mean it will be the right way 100% of the time. Anyway, if parents have control over how the information is given, and at a early time in life, the child, in my opinion, won't be shattered as I was. Truly I was as it was as if I forgot the person I was up to that point in time and as soon as I read the misinformation on the internet I felt like I had died.

Many times at my presentations I'll hear a parent tell me that they, "wished their upper teenage child would come hear me but they just don't want to acknowledge that they have it." Often times these people were diagnosed later in life and the story sounds much like mine and each time I hear this story it breaks my heart. I was there and it was not a good place. If anything my question I asked last week has kindled up a passion within me like I haven't felt. Don't get me wrong, all that I do now is nothing but passion, but for those diagnosed later in life and told later in life it can seem as if life is over. If anything, my passion now is to say, "it's okay to be on the spectrum" and "you are not alone!"

As one parent told me at a recent presentation, "It is almost needed to have spectrum like traits to be great and change the world." This mom was citing a list she read on the internet of people in history suspected of being on the spectrum. During my months of being in that depression I could have cared less on something like that because I didn't care about anything. As soon as I was coming out of the depression though I did read a similar article and could see that what makes us different can make us great.

So, to finish this up, just as early intervention is important I also feel letting the person know earlier is important too. Perhaps the two go hand in hand, but for a child to know early there will never be that one moment where it feels as if life as they knew it ended. However, not everyone is going to get that early diagnosis and for them, well, that's what is driving me today as with increased awareness and understanding I hope the negative perceptions aren't as prevalent. The more voices we have saying this I hope those that are closed off and are in denial might just read the right information and realize that having Asperger Syndrome is just a trait. I mean, I have blondish colored hair, I'm 6"1, I have greenish hazelish colored eyes (I honestly have no idea what color they are) and I have Asperger Syndrome. It's doesn't define me, but it is a part of me, and I wouldn't change a thing since I now accept who I am. It was a long road to get to this point and I hope more and more people will get to that point because I was once at that polar opposite place and it was not a good place to be in.

Friday, February 3, 2012

29 and a Night at the ER

Today will serve as my birthday post. It isn't until tomorrow, the 4th, but this is the last weekday before then. Anyway, I spent most of yesterday thinking about what to say and how to say it. I mean, I was going to compare where I was to other birthdays and reference back to last year's post. However, that was up until my experience at the ER.

My throat got to the point of hurting way too bad with the pain resonating to my ear. I tried to eat a late dinner but the pain was too much. After much thought I drove to a hospital near where I am and I counted over 50 people in there. I then traveled down the interstate and my dad called two other hospitals and they were busy, but then another one down the road said they were, "open".

I traveled to this open ER and when I got in there were maybe 30 in there. I stood at the counter awaiting direction because I had never done any of this by myself. In fact, this was the first time I walked into the ER under my own power in quite some time.

Because of being overwhelmed I was simply unable to ask where I go or what I do. Also, the man behind the counter was in a bitter mood, but thankfully I was in the right spot and the paperwork, or rather computer inputting began. He asked me what was wrong and I said, "I think I have some sort of sore or something growing in my throat/mouth." He looked at me as if I had 13 heads and he asked a follow up question to which I said something barely audible. I did mention right off the bat that I had Asperger Syndrome, but this didn't seem to phase him or give him any light on how to handle this situation differently.

From there I sat down and then about 30 minutes later I got called in to get my vitals. This was odd for me in that I was so overwhelmed with the pain and the noise of the ER waiting room that I was in every thing I've ever described; social paralysis, positional warfare, and whatever else I have named throughout my writing life.

The nursing student asked what was wrong in the triage room, and because I was still fearful of being looked at funny again it took me a lot of time to process the question. I eventually said, "I think, yes, I think, um, I have a sore throat." To say I have a sore throat would to be like having a bowling ball dropped on your foot and to say that your foot is sore. However, in that moment, I couldn't say just what was going on.

The vitals were checked and off to the waiting room I went to, well, wait. And wait... And wait. The pain was immense and after two hours I had had enough. The ER was just as busy as it was when I first entered and I only saw one person go in. I've noticed my emotions have been my volatile since this issue in my throat began, and perhaps what I did wasn't the smartest, but I had to leave so after 2.5 hours I left. I didn't say bye, I didn't say I was leaving, I simply left.

I had to leave. I was sinking into an abyss that I worried that if I descended all the way I didn't know if I could get back out. What I was feeling at that point in time was hatred and a feeling of pure isolation. Why was it taking so long and why couldn't I simply speak up for myself? The thing that was truly bothering me was that I had so much trouble in that environment. I thought back to last month and how many presentations I did and how that's easy for me and yet simply walking into a social situation like an ER paralyzed me.

On my drive home I started to think about my experience and how, I feel, so many people can fall into the trap I was in. It was a two tiered trap as I was waiting for help yet at the same time not able to put into words just how bad it hurt. As much as I hated myself in that ER I began to change my mind as, quite simply, what I experienced was the essence of what I try to educate the world on.

Until there is full awareness and understanding the right questions won't be asked and signals may be missed. We on the spectrum usually make bad advocates for ourselves and I proved it in that ER last night. As the age of 29 rolls around I won't see it as the last year before I hit 30 as that's sort of what I was going to write about, but rather it is another year that I have to get the message out. To tell the world about the autism spectrum and that there is hope, but at the same time there can be hardships. It's in the hardships that the understanding is vital as I experienced that last night. Yes, my birthday is tomorrow and of all my years my direction in life has never been clearer because, through awareness and understanding, perhaps others might not have to go through what I did.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Question of the Day: To Tell or Not to Tell

This is a new segment for my blog; I don't think this will be a weekly thing, but as I hear more and more questions I'd like to get your opinion on what you think.

So, today's question, which I've heard at my last four presentations, "When is the right time to tell my child that they have Asperger Syndrome?" I've heard many different parents give many different answers. Some parents recoil and decide to never tell the child, others wait for the right time, and others talk about it as soon as possible.

Often times I hear, "Well, when is soon too soon?" When I get asked this I recount this story about the time I talked to a 5th grade class. That class, after hearing me, had an understanding of what it is and just this week I got word that the person with Asperger's in that class is doing much better.

So, from that story, 5th graders can understand what it is, but would people in younger grades? I heard a story from a co-worker here at TouchPoint about a 3rd grader who is constantly asking his parents, "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" So from that child's standpoint it is never too soon.

When I am confronted with this question I often say, "If you've met one person with autism, you've only met one person with autism and each person will react differently." I'm leaning towards answering more on the "earlier is better" front because I think back to all the social disasters I had in school and, for me, the blow-ups could not be explained. The only conclusion I could draw was that I must really be bad or people must really not like me. With that being so, how could I work on the right things to say when I didn't know anything was different and that everyone else in the world didn't have the exact thoughts I did.

This post isn't about my thoughts though, what is yours? If you are a parent did you discuss it as soon as possible, when the time was right, or are you still waiting for that right time? If you are on the spectrum when would you have liked to hear it?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Not Much To Say

I don't have too much to say as my throat is now hurting worse and I'm not in the best of moods as swallowing and eating/drinking are almost too much to bear. I was going to blog about the fact that I am now speaking on iracing, but that would seem wrong today considering I can barely talk.