Share it

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stuff

Once again I've had a difficult time starting this blog post. I've been on and off this screen to write this for well over an hour now and my brain just hasn't been in the writing mood.

The change I talked about yesterday appeared to be happening sooner rather than later and it looked as if tomorrow was the date. This was going to be great, but then it got rescheduled to next week. If there's one thing more difficult than change it is changing the time frame of change. That's what I am dealing with right now and it has my entire body tired, my mind sluggish, and all in all I'm not in the chirpiest of moods.

So for talking about the change, well, I'm not really in the mood. I can say that two days ago I had an amazing presentation to 7th graders at a school in the Saint Louis area. I still can't believe this is a audience that can instantly grasp what I'm saying and then ask the most intelligent of questions.

Also planned, as I think I wrote, is that I am returning to Vancouver in two weeks. Right now I have two presentations planned and am working on a third that would be open to the public. There's no guarantee on this, but hopefully it all works out.

As for me, today, I'm probably going to spend each second wondering what the change will be like. I have so much to do between now and whenever this change happens and everything is just so overwhelming. Perhaps tomorrow I will explain this all, and perhaps in a video blog as it's been a while since I've done one of those.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Looming Change

If you ever get me to talk about change I will almost always, at some point in time, say, "Change is bad." Right now in my life there is a massive change looming. For most people the change that is about to happen would be a time filled with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. For myself there is none of that.

What is this change? The answer to this I'm going to leave open as I just don't want to have it fall through. I will say it has nothing to do with my job or my blog or anything I do professionally.

Now, the purpose of this blog post isn't just to state that I have a major change upcoming. As 'exciting' as that may sound as a blog post it is not the purpose. In my life, anytime there is a major change looming, all aspects of my life become a bit more difficult. Sleeping, waking up, eating, thinking, keeping concentration, and just about everything else becomes a bit more sluggish. I can deal with small changes, but a big change affects on a system-wide scale.

The #1 thing that comes into play is worry. With change all that is known becomes different. Reread that line... with change all that is known becomes different. For myself I live on knowing what is going to happen next, and will will follow that. This is done my knowing one's environment and when there is a change to it everything that was known and has become safe is altered.

"Can't you just, you know, get over it?" would be a question I'd expect someone to ask and I wish that were the case. I wish I could just quit the worry and quit the way my brain thinks, rethinks, and thinks about rethinking things, but I can't. The sense of safety that comes from consistency and sameness is so needed that when things are about to change the only thing that can be thought of is the change itself even if the change is for the better.

The next 1-2 weeks could prove to be difficult for me even though this should be considered a wonderful change. Right now though I feel tired, worn out, and just overall I feel small and afraid. I think back to a post from 2010 in that I said something along the lines of, "the anticipation of the storm often is greater than when the storm is actually here." I was talking about a literal thunderstorm then, but it is the same way with this change. When this change comes I'm hoping it is a seamless change and life will go on as if nothing changed. However, the anticipation of the change is where I struggle and that's where I am at right now. My goal now is to distract myself the best I can; I'm not sure if that's the best tactic but so long as I'm focused on something my brain can't use 120% of my processing power to worry about. Thankfully I have a presentation this evening and as this change hopefully occurs I will fill you in on more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Answer on Dreams and A Lack of Eye Contact Experience

Last week I had two blog posts on the subject of dreams and whether or not I see faces in dreams. Initially I thought I didn't see faces at all from the dreams I had that previous night but I thought that maybe this had been influenced by thinking about it. Since then I haven't been sleeping well at all and dreams have not been clear. Then, thankfully, last night happened.

So what is it? Do I see faces or not? I'm glad to say that I do, but just as when I'm awake I can't remember them. I found this out as I was dreaming when my alarm went off and as I woke up I quickly tried to recall everything about the dream I was having. I could recall the room, the lighting, and what was being said and I knew I had seen faces. When I tried to remember the people though there was nothing yet I knew I had seen them.

It's been a while since I've blogged about it, and I do mention it in presentations, but I don't remember people unless I am seeing them that very second. All lost on me is eye color, hair color, and any of the thousands of details that make a face an individual.

I've been intrigued for as long as I've realized I have this quirk as to what causes it. That was one of my motivations for running my Sunglasses Experiment (if you haven't read it you can by clicking the picture of me in sunglasses on the right side column) in that I thought maybe this was caused by my lack of eye contact.

Speaking of lack of eye contact; on my way to the office today I stopped for breakfast and as the lady was seating me I was checking e-mails on my phone and as we started to walk I put my phone down and walked behind her. She was looking at me and I in turn looked away and out the window to my right. As she looked over her shoulder at me and took notice that I wasn't looking at her she paused and slowed down walking. One of the things I often don't describe when I write is the fact that, since I use it most of the time, my ability to process the information from my peripheral vision seems to be sharper than most. So this means that, even though I'm looking out the window, I am paying full attention to what's going on in the area that I'm trying to avoid looking at.

I'm not sure the exact time whether it was one or five seconds, but the time felt excessively long as the lady came to a stop and stared at me. My eyes didn't yield from the window but eventually I realized this lady wasn't moving until I gave eye contact. I redirected my eyes and looked towards her and she began walking again and then a few tables later she said that this is where I would be sitting.

Now, this experience I had at breakfast, is the same way I experience life in my dreams. I go back to my sunglasses experiment and I wonder if the lack of remembering faces when out of sight is due to the lack of eye contact I give because, this morning's experience, the amount of time I actually spent looking at her was a fraction of a second. That being so the social experience, for me, involved a semi-truck driving by, a Mini parking, and a glance at the clock on the wall. Those things are what is remembered from this social experience. Not her height, hair color, or even age for that matter; all of that is lost upon me.

So those are my thoughts on this now. This is something that I'm sure I'll write on more as I learn more about.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Nasty Return of Writer's Block

Okay, I must admit that this has been a rather annoying experience. I've been seating at my desk for well over an hour and have started writing today's blog post about a dozen times. I have plenty of ideas but nothing seems right. And besides that I just haven't felt anything would be right.

My initial concept today was to talk about a race on iRacing Friday night. It was a 160 minute race and was the most thrilling event I have ever been a part of. In the early part of the race I trailed the leader by 50 seconds after I got spun by a slower car, but lap after lap I closed the gap. With 40 minutes to go, and after the leader got a pit road speeding penalty, I took the lead. The next lap the pressure of leading got to me and I had a lazy spin and lost the lead and trailed by 12 seconds. It was here that I was going to say this is a great metaphor for life because, so often, when a person makes a mistake in life it is so easy to make another mistake and typically the 2nd mistake is more costly than the first. I knew this and kept my emotions in check and fired lap after lap that was my personal best. I closed enough and the leader began to push the issue with the lapped cars and he got caught up in an incident and I got along side, but the leader spun crashing into me with 20 minutes to go. His car was destroyed and mine had moderate damage and driving in a straight line was difficult. I had a 30 second lead and was now 5 seconds off the pace. 30, 25, 20, 18, 16 were the gaps, but I held it together and took the victory.

If I had written the full blog post I was envisioning for the race story it'd have been much longer, but it just didn't feel right. From there I thought about writing the fact that today starts the final week of my life in the 20's. Next Monday I hit 30, but as I started writing that post I figured I have talked about that date enough over the past four months and for those older than 30 it probably would be annoying to hear about it and for those younger, well, there's no way to understand the emotions that go with such a milestone (you will someday though so HA!)

From there I looked for inspiration on Facebook and saw many of my friends that were at the 24 Hours of Daytona and I thought, "my off season is too long!" Perhaps one of the reasons why I've felt in this major funk is the fact that it's been two months since my last race and it's going to be another two months until my flagging season opener happens in Phoenix. With this off season I have learned just how important it is that I do flag. It's weird to say it, but presenting and flagging go together as they feed off each other and give confidence to the other. And one should never underestimate the need of confidence.

Other topics that I started to write about included my new example I give in my "Game Theory" segment of my presentation but I feel that needs to be a video blog. I also started to write about the fact that I'm returning to Vancouver next month and in a way this will be returning to the place where my speaking career sort of started. Yeah, I had presented before that, but this was the first presentation to a group other than teachers or officers and was given just three days before I became full time at TouchPoint. I'm getting the honor of presenting there again, but more on that as the day draws near.

So I had no idea what to write today so then I decided I'd just write about what I wanted to write about and well look at that! a decent blog post! I might have to use this tactic more often when I'm having trouble with what to write because today was like four blog posts in one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"... If You Couldn't Fail."

Earlier today I once again presented to students. This time it was in Thayer, Missouri and once again it was a magical experience with almost 500 students from 5th grade to seniors in high school in attendance.

I spoke for about 20 minutes then I began the questions segment and once again I was shocked at the quality of questions. I've said this before, but I wish, if you haven't already, you could see one of these presentations and the attention the students, faculty, and parents that attend give. Also, I wish you could hear the questions asked. There was on question today that stood out and hit me on a personal level.

It was near the latter stages of the presentation and a high school student asked, "Yes, what would you do in life if you knew you couldn't fail?" The past two weeks have been very difficult for me but then this question came out of nowhere. On the outside I answered this question seamlessly but on the inside I thought about my entire life in no less than the blink of an eye.

How did I answer it? I mentioned the fact that I came so close to making it as a professional race car driver and that, had I made it doing that, I would be living a life much more about me. Sure, I'd have fame, sure I'd have money, and sure, I'd be able to rattle off a list of sponsors each week in front of millions, but... who would I be helping?

I then continued on by saying that I feel as if there is nothing more important that I could be doing in life than standing right there, at center court in this gym, raising the awareness and understanding of Asperger's Syndrome. If I were racing I'd have no book, no presentations, and all in all I'd be nothing compared to who I am now. I'd never have expected this life, being a speaker, but if I knew I couldn't fail, well, I'd be doing exactly what I am doing right now because this, to me, is all that matters.

Did I answer the question in the way that was expected? Probably not, and I could have probably answered the question with a little bit more daring, but why would I? I may get frustrated with myself on the personal side of my life, but that's just who I am. Also, I could have said many more things about myself or what I want to achieve, but how many people out there can say that they did a big part in helping shape the future? I think I said something along the lines in an answer that, "If we want to change the future we must first reach the present because tomorrow's future is today's present." Okay, so I might have gone a bit hard on the sappiness scale, but it is true, and at the end of the day there is nothing more that I'd rather be doing than what I am doing. The best part of this all? I've got two more school presentations tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Initial Answer on Dreams

It didn't take long for me to get my answer. Last night was a night filled with dreams and in my excitement I woke up every 20 minutes to make sure I remembered what my dreams were. That, and I also woke up several times and looked around the room and had no idea where I was as I'm in a hotel 200 miles away from home.

So, what did I find out? I had many dreams last night and, at least in those dreams, the faces of people were not there. It was just like a real social situation in that the frame of the person is seen, but not the face.

One night of dreams doesn't mean this is 100% always the case because, since it was on my mind, it may have been influenced. Whatever the end result I'm actually really interested in this because I have so many questions. If I don't see faces is that because of Asperger's, or is it because I avoid faces in person?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Question on Dreams

I just arrived in West Plains where I will be for the next three days, but on my drive down here I had a thought about dreams.

I have mentioned that I remember my dreams in full detail, but one thing I have never registered is the fact of, do I remember faces in dreams. I saw someone post a random fact on Facebook that, "the human brain can't create faces therefore all faces in dreams are of people you have met." I have not researched or confirmed that, but if this is the case does this mean that the information about faces is logged in my brain somewhere because, as I've said, I don't consciously remember faces. This means that, take anyone I've known, right now I can't describe what a person looks like at all. If I see a person again I will recognize them, but as I say in a presentation, "out of sight out of mind."

This is something as I go to sleep tonight and then right when I wake up tomorrow I am going to be thinking about and I hope to answer this question as to if I see faces in dreams or not because right now I don't know.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Does it Get Old?"

Where was Friday's blog post? I was going to write on this topic but I still hadn't worked it out in my head. This has been on my mind for a week and I still don't fully know how or what to feel on it.

It started last Monday at a presentation when a parent gave a strong compliment and a coworker asked, "Does that ever get old, hearing comments like that?" Another parent asked a question immediately after so I was unable to answer and that was a good thing because I didn't have an answer.

First, to answer this question, I would have to say "no" because if I'm hearing those comments then that means people are being helped. However, on the personal side, each time I hear something like that my mind has such a hard time grasping what it means.

Grasping what it means? I would have to say this means that the emotional and processing side of my brain has no idea what to make of comments that are strongly positive. But a positive comment is a positive comment, what's there to process? Many things and maybe this is where uninformed 'experts' say that those with Asperger's have no emotions because if I couldn't explain this internal confusion it could be taken that there are no emotions here.

Perhaps another aspect in play is my awful belief that something must be difficult to be good and since presenting is so easy for me now it mustn't be good. Don't get me wrong, I know what I am doing is important. The odd thing about this is the fact that at the same time I know what I'm doing, and reaching tens of thousands of people, is vitally important and yet at the same time I don't put any stock in the fact that what I'm doing is anything special because I am simply doing it.

This seems to be a common thing among us with Asperger's; a complete sense of naivety about things we do well. The story, when I hear it, is always the same; a person can be phenomenal at something but there is no sense of pride or joy because they just do it. There's no effort, it's truly a gift, and at the end we'll look more at what we missed or maybe didn't do to perfection than hear the positive comments.

The thing I've been working through on this is the fact that I've been trying to figure out how I feel on knowing I have this. I mean, is it a small tragedy that I get confused and over-process these comments instead of being able to feel a sense of pride in knowing that I am helping others and changing the world for those people? Although, if I did feel that pride, would I still be who I am?

Would I still be who I am... this is the question that I have been asking myself sense Monday. Well, not so much asking but obsessing on and it seems in my life all the life changing questions are not meant to be life changing. In my 2nd month of blogging I had another example of a question having a huge impact on my life.

So, would I be who I am? I've stared at my screen for 15 minutes now since I finished the last paragraph still thinking about this and I have to say that I think I would not. I do what I do because I don't want anyone to feel as hopeless as I did after I got my diagnosis and this is done through understanding. I partially understand that I do raise this level, but I now believe my mind only allows myself to understand the factual aspect of this meaning that comprehending the emotions of doing this and the response is something that I just can't understand. This is how I can feel that what I'm doing has such an importance and yet is nothing all that special at the same time. This is also how I can present and be on top of my game and 15 minutes afterwards be experiencing a bout of, "forgetting who I am because I am seeing who I'm not." Of course, if it weren't for this would I still write in the same way? Would I still feel as passionate about this cause? Would I still care? The answer is that I don't think I would, or maybe that isn't the right word but rather I would become overly complacent and a bit high about myself.

So in the end, does it get old? This question is unanswerable because every time I hear a comment it is like hearing it for the first time. And each time it does happen I am just as confused as the last. I simply do what I do because it needs to be done.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Random Thoughts on A Sleepless Night

Last night my emotions were raging; there was just too much on my mind. Even now my mind is a roaring highway of thought and anxiety.

It started last night right before I went to sleep. All was fine then all of a sudden I remembered the events at the start of last week and then I instantly felt lost.

One thing about emotions, for me, is that either everything is fine or everything is wrong. There is no middle ground. So, what this means is that when one thing creates a big enough splash the whole system begins to suffer meaning that things that were tolerable become a major issue as well.

When something is on my mind, I mean on my mind to the point of worry, it races around and around and around. This is what was going on last night and then one thought led to another led to another.

The first thing that came to my mind was that the day that I turn 30 is fast approaching. Then I thought about who I was and my dreams I had 20 years ago. It was almost a lifetime ago and yet it feels as if it was the present. These thoughts led me down the road of wondering what Emily is up to these days and that thought led to me think about the fact that I hadn't looked at the dedication page of my Polish book. I got out of bed and found one of the few copies I have of it and I opened it up to find it which, for me, looked so odd yet so amazing in Polish.

(Writer's note: Due to a Blogger error from uploading the photos to my phone the words after this were deleted and I had to rewrite them so it may not make as good of sense as I would like because I never rewrite something and I'm a little irritated at losing my work. I think it was good too, hopefully I can mimic what I did the first time.)

From there my mind started a downward spiral into negative self-talk. This, sadly, is common when my brain is thinking too much. "Why try? What's the point? If failure is a guarantee what's the point in making the attempt?" all all thoughts that go through my head when my mind convinces me that everything is irrelevant. And my mind will have these thoughts on topics that I know I'm capable at. The next stop on my random thought tour was a question I got asked at a presentation on Monday.

At this presentation on Monday a parent told me, "Aaron, for the first time I think I understand why my son is the way he is, thank you." A coworker of mine instantly looked at me and asked, perhaps rhetorically, "Does that ever get old?" I didn't have time to answer but that question has stayed with me because when I receive such a statement I'm confused. I don't know why I have the impact I do as I do it simply to do it. This is the same way with writing; I don't know why it has an impact but if it does great, but should it I'm not going to understand it. Maybe this right here makes myself who I am, and perhaps I should dedicate a blog post to that topic.

Midnight, 1AM, 2AM and 3AM passed and my brain would not relinquish this torrent pace it was setting. I thought about a lot of things, worried about everything, and fretted about the future. It had been a long time since I had such a night which this thought, at about 3:45, led my thoughts full circle. The way I felt last night used to be the norm eight years ago. It was these thoughts, and my brain doing 200mph that inspired me to write. I thought back to my book and the dedication to Emily and thought how appropriate it was as not one word would ever have been written if not for her. As the 4 o'clock hour hit my brain had finally had enough and I was thankful everything happened just so. I'm still in a bit of a worry spree today, but last night, right before I drifted off to sleep, I slipped a small smile because, despite how annoying it is to have a brain that runs wild like it did last night, it's that trait in which I do what I do, but it all started because of Emily, making the dedication, in any language, more than appropriate.
 


 




Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Evasion of Emotion

In my presentations I state the fact that, before I started to write, I was the least emotional person in the world. This can be taken the wrong way if a person doesn't hear the entire presentation because that line, by itself, means that I have no emotions. This is incorrect and last month I heard a lot of commentators on the news mention this fact of, "no emotions."

So, what do I mean by "least emotional person?" In that line I don't mean that emotions are nonexistent; what I mean is that I do everything I can to do deny the emotions. If I can deny them then I don't have to talk about them and that means, over time, I hope those around me will come to expect the answer of, "I don't know" when asking me, "How do you feel?"

What brought about this blog post today? I go back to yesterday's blog post and the intense emotion I experienced while writing it. When I experience strong emotions the effects are long lasting. Okay, I'm sure that applies to everyone, but as with most things about the autism spectrum it is just a bit stronger, or rather more pronounced for us on the autism spectrum.

After I wrote the blog yesterday I felt ill. The rest of the day I was tired to the point that getting out of my chair was a challenge. This is the reason why there can be such an evasion to emotion; if expressing emotions creates ill-effects then why should one express anything at all? That was the logic I used to have.

There are so many unknowns when expressing emotions. Many of those unknowns are how those around me would react. As a child, on the rare occasions I did express myself, there were many hours or sometimes days leading up to me getting the courage to speak up. I had to calculate all the possibilities of how those around me would react. This too added to the ill feeling I felt after I expressed myself.

So I've stated two reasons as to why expressing emotions can be difficult. Yesterday was a rare event because that emotion, well, the emotion of a great loss is going to be difficult on anyone, but the feeling felt very much like I did before I discovered the medium of writing as a way to express myself.

The thing I hoped I can convey through this post is that, for one, never listen to a commentator that says, "All people on the autism spectrum have no emotions." It's sad there are "experts" out there that think this. It isn't that there's a lack of emotion, and perhaps it's the opposite because maybe we have more emotions, but rather it's the lack of the ability to express the emotions. Despite each time emotions always caught up with me I always tried to run away from them and deny them.

It took 22 years but I eventually found a way to express myself and am now at ease expressing emotions as evident by my book, blog, and presentations. Each person may find his or her own way, but one thing to remember is that our emotions are strong despite what any so called expert says about them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Goodbye Never Said

Last night at bowling during the third game I remembered that a friend I used to know had his birthday on January 10th. I haven't seen this person since 1995 but I remember odd things like dates. Anyway, I went to look him up on Facebook and started looking through his photos when I got to a photo of an older lady that said, "Rest in peace..."

This person I knew. Growing up as a youngster I spent almost as much time at her house as I did mine. She was my friend's grandmother and was also my next door neighbor. Almost every day I went over there and when I was in 3rd grade she was my grandparent for "Grandparent's Day" at school.

Then, when I was 10, we moved to Saint Louis and the next and final time I saw her was at my sister's wedding. Years passed, there was no Facebook, and each time I was in Indy I thought, "Well, I guess I should say hi." but I always found a reason not to. Maybe I'd be intruding? Perhaps she wouldn't remember me? Perhaps then was the wrong time, or perhaps she was busy?

About five years ago my sister, nephew, and I started a airport tradition; when my mom flies to Indy for Christmas we go the neighborhood that I grew up in, we drive by the house we lived in, share stories of what it was like, and then also drive by the house that was our neighbors. Year after year there she was, in the window, and she always seemed to spot our car. Just three weeks ago we did this again and as we drove by her house the lights were out, but I thought I saw a television on with the silhouette of a person in a chair. I was sure of it, but the thing I saw on Facebook last night was dated November 3rd. The occupied chair I saw wasn't occupied.

My nephew, each year, implored us to drop in and say hello because, as he said, "Someday she's not going to be there and you're going to feel bad." A sharp kid my nephew is and he was right. There were so many chances to say hello, and to say thank you for being there growing up. I mean, it was so neat to actually have a grandparent there on Grandparent's Day. Mine were alive at that point in time but were all over 1,000 miles away.

She had a stroke several years ago and about 16 months ago she called my dad to chat. I think through Facebook she learned what I was doing and I believe she was proud of me but she also said that she'd love to have me drop in at some point in time.

I had every intention of doing so; I truly did, but there was just something about the awkwardness; what would I say after so many years. A "hello"? Nothing seemed right and besides, there's always the next time, right?

If there's one guarantee in life it's that there is no guarantee of a next time. This is something I think we put aside in our brains because if we always thought about this we would have an obsession sense of nervousness. But, when the finality comes true, we look back and think of all the chances we had to say hello, or to drop in and talk as if no time had passed.

This will be one of the bigger regrets in my life. I had so many chances but always convinced myself that the timing would be wrong and that there would be another time. Then another time turned into another time and eventually all time runs out.

Recently I've been closing my presentations by stating that, for us on the autism spectrum, we have a great deal of difficulty expressing our emotions, especially emotions of gratitude and thanks. This was my block. This is why I always awaited the next time. I felt I had to say something because I never had. I mean, I spent just as much time over at her house than I did mine, she was a barber and cut my hair the first ten years of my life, she took my friend and I to countless museums and other places. All this was great but I'm not good at meeting a person after an extended time so I just never knew what to say so I said nothing at all.

Last night I sent a text to my sister and she said we'll still drive by her place and remember her. I thought right then that she would be my blog topic today because I never did the chance to say thank you to her personally so perhaps a dedication like this enough. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't, but it's the least I can do.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Awkward Gate Experience

I know some people like their job. I know some people want to be different, but I also think there's a limit to how far people should go.

On Friday I flew home from San Antonio and I had a layover at another airport. As I got to my gate I sat down and started reading my book and very quickly the gate attendant came over the airwaves, "Hello, my name is _____ and I'm going to be with you for the next 45 minutes. the plane is on time so who is happy about that?"

Silence.

"Well, is no one happy to be going to Saint Louis? Come on, let me hear you, who is ready to go to Saint Loooooooouis?"

Silence.

"Okay, you all must be tired. I've been here since 7AM" it was 9PM, "but that's okay. I get to spend my evening with you." At this point in time the passengers were looking around at each as if to say, "is this guy serious?" and I sat there confused.

He continued, "What you all need is a pep talk so, well, who wants to hear me sing? No one. If anyone wants to sing you can come up right now." This statement got lots of laughs and I remained there confused. I've never known a gate attendant to speak more than saying boarding zones and would so and so please approach the podium.

The verbal onslaught continued, "Okay, it seems I'm not appreciated." and at this point in time a passenger came up and gave the gate attendant a hug to which he said, "Aw, that just made my day. Maybe my year. I think inspired a song so If you're happy and you know it clap your hands."

What was going on? Everyone now was cheering him on, passengers walking by our gate now were stopped to watch this sideshow go on and I was seated there wondering why what was going on was indeed going on.

After a few minutes the crowds dispersed much to the dismay of this gate attendant. "Where is everyone going? Ah, I see, you all are now trying to tune me out. I can guarantee this though, you will all see me at least one more time. How do I know this? Who do you have to give your ticket to. Ha! See? You will see me again and to those tuning me out... I know who you are."

So is this normal? If this happened to you would you be all for this? Or is this to far? Reading was impossible because this guy spoke nonstop. And all-in-all I didn't know how to react. Was I supposed to laugh? Or did everyone else feel the same uneasiness I did? It was an odd experience and one I hope I don't have again.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughts on 20,000

I did it last night... I reached 20,000 people spoken to in my career. And I must say it was rather unique week to do with the issues I had that I somewhat explained in the Monday and Tuesday posts.

So 20,000... it's hard for me to truly understand what that means. To have an impact is something that I never thought I would have. If my initial dreams had come true I'd be racing up in a professional racing series where hundred of thousands would see me race in person and millions on television. But what type of impact would that have truly had? Week in and week out who would have benefited from however I did on the track?

Also, had I raced I may never have been diagnosed, or perhaps diagnosed at the time I did. Would I have discovered that I was, at heart, a writer? Would I have discovered my ability to stand in front of a group and share my stories getting responses of laughter and tears? I don't think I would have.

And another thing is the fact that I've haven't even been doing this full-time for three complete years. Does this make that number of 20,000 more impressive? I can remember when I started I was consistently presenting to groups of three, four, and five. Slowly word got around in Missouri and five turned to ten; ten turned to twenty; and twenty turned to fifty. Suddenly schools wanted me to present to teachers, then I got the chance to speak to students, and the snowball has been building ever since.

As I sit here in the San Antonio airport awaiting my flight I've been looking through my list of my 322 presentations I have given and I am thankful for each and every one of those that I have given. Sure, the numbers have grown since I began but the numbers don't matter. Don't get me wrong, I'm rather proud of this milestone, but each presentation is as important as the last. Whether there's three, or three-hundred at a presentation each has the same relevancy because getting the information to each and every person is important. One thing, if I were racing, is that I wouldn't be in a position to be able to transform a person's understanding of anything much less give people a better understanding of the autism spectrum and add the much needed word of hope to people's vocabulary. Wow, what a ride it's been but this is just the start!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Living the High and Low Life in San Antonio

What a day it has been so far and I haven't even got to my presentation yet! My day started at 4AM this morning to catch a 6AM flight that eventually led to me San Antonio and now I'm in San Marcos for a conference that I am keynoting at.

I should be excited for today. I mean, I really should be. Today is a special day as I am once again a keynoter and I'll reach 20,000 people spoken to for my career. I'm a big milestone person and I never thought I'd hit 200 let alone 20,000. And yet, here I am filled with so many mixed emotions that I don't really know how I feel because I am both excited and sad.

The past few days have been a major episode of playing the awful game of, "seeing who I'm not and forgetting who I am." It's a rather taxing game because during it nothing can be done right. Think about it; if you only see what you're not no matter what you do it won't be enough because it isn't what you're not... Okay, I think I just earned an achievement for using a quadruple negative; hopefully you can piece together what I was intending to say.

I'm not posting this today to paint a bleak picture, it isn't, but rather this is a realistic portrait of the challenges I face. I'm sure tonight, when I get up on that stage in front of 500 people, I am going to be energetic and excited to give a great presentation, but right now this second I can only think of the topics of Monday and Tuesday's blog post.

I guess the theme of this week is that when there is a major emotional event it doesn't leave easily and hangs around like a bad case of the common cold. I think it is extremely vital for parents to understand this because with our minds liking to hyper-focus and to dwell on just one thing that one thing become the only thing. A long time ago someone told me, before I was diagnosed, "Well Aaron, why don't you just think of something else." My response then was a very puzzled, "I can't?" but I can give a much more articulate answer now.

Why isn't it as simple as thinking about something else? On my flight this morning I was thinking this and I believe it has to do with the processing element of the brain. Things take longer to process and emotions are the most difficult out of anything in life. That's why we on the autism spectrum are often evasive to emotional questions; because, should we start to process it sometimes can take a while. With a major event it has to be processed and reprocessed before it is finally dealt with and sent to the brain's recycle bin.

Thankfully for me it's just about four hours until my presentation. In four hours all of my worry about who I am will vanish. I will be out of the game of seeing who I am not and will be perfectly happy being me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Answering Julie

I'm still in a deep low at the moment, but that's one of the reasons why I love blogging; each week is something completely different. If I can turn a negative into a learning experience for someone else then, I guess, it was all worth it. I did notice that another blog linked to yesterday's post and they deduced exactly what I was talking about.

Another thing of the past two days blog posts is that there have been several great questions asked by Julie so instead of answering within the comments section I thought it best to make a dedicated post answering those questions.

The first question, from my "Flying Blind" post is Is it easier to pick up on social cues of those you know well like family versus strangers? I would say so but this isn't the ability to pick up on cues, exactly. What I mean by that is that it isn't something that is done naturally. And what I mean by that is it is more of a pattern based and not an intuition. Does that makes sense? I think it does, but then you could have a counter question asking, "Well, can't you do that with strangers?" and the answer is no. If I see the exact same thing twice I can pick up on that but it is down with memory and not with a subconscious knowing. And of course, then, the problem with strangers is that no two people are the same; no two people are going to exhibit the exact reaction, or rather facial expression/social cue, than the next person.

In my presentations I have started referring to the social game, if it were a board game, as a confusing place for me. The rules change so often and they can even change by the same person. For someone not on the spectrum it would seem, at least to me, that adapting to these changes comes much easier than it does to myself. So, using the game metaphor, it is easier for you to go from Monopoly (speaking of Monopoly... short rant... did you see the news? They're taking out two of the tokens and replacing them. They're going to decide it via popular interet vote. This is a travesty! You don't change perfection, and they are. I haven't been this worked up about a game since Monopoly took out the 10% on income tax... Okay, rant over) to Scrabble to Chess and adapt to each of those games' rules. Now for myself the social game becomes confusing as, say, I just rolled a 7 and landed my piece on Boardwalk which has a rook on it checking the king on St. Charles Place while there's a triple word space under the rook. Think of how confusing a game that would be! This is what socializing is like because of this trouble with social cues with strangers and even those that I know but haven't known them all my life.

The next question was on yesterday's post, What gets you out of the feeling? I wish I had an easy answer that was quick, but I do not. It seems anything that triggers a major emotional response stays with me a long time much like dropping a gigantic rock in a pool; the waves will be going back and forth much longer than if a pebble were dropped in it. One of the things that does help is when I talk about it. One of the things about this though is that, at least for me and with this answer I implore you to remember that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" is that I can only talk about it when I'm ready. Part of the reason of this is that it takes me a while to process what I am feeling. Once I feel comfortable and want to talk about it the window may not be open for long so, should a person on the spectrum be ready to talk about something emotional and is starting to open up, you've got to try and make the time to listen because in an hour, or maybe even five minutes, when you go to talk about it the person may respond with the all too familiar answer of, "I don't know."

Another thing to remember is that, if something is lingering, we may talk about the same issue for many days, weeks, or in extreme instances months or years to come. This may be frustrating if you don't understand the way our brains work but when there's is a proverbial boulder dropped in our proverbial pool the effects are long lasting. We don't "move on" like it seems those not on the spectrum are able to. That being so we may talk about something that happened several months ago as if it is now because to us it's been just a few minutes.

I hope these answers have been decent enough for those questions. Tomorrow I head to San Antonio to speak at a Lutheran Early Educators Conference and it will be a special day as I believe I will go over the 20,000 mark in amount of people spoken to in my career.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Weathering the Storm

There is a major change in my life looming. I should feel really excited about it, but I don't at the moment because of another incident in my life.

It's weird writing this now because, as when I wrote my first book I was writing about things that took place a year, or years previously. And even when I wrote my books that haven't been published yet I knew there would be years between the event and the words seeing the light of day. With that said I will omit the incident and just focus on the effects.

One of the most difficult things I experience is my great skill at being self-defeating. I know I'm not alone on this front as I hear this rather frequently at presentations from parents and others on the autism spectrum. What is this skill at being self-defeating? I've written about this many times and explained it many ways and each time I experience it I forget just how much of a gut-punch it is. Anyway, to put simply, it is the way the mind thinks and reacts when something goes either wrong or not as planned.

When something wrong happens it is the only thing focused on. This is one of the reasons why I prevented myself from caring about school grades because, if I strove for perfect, a 99% would not be good enough. Granted, elements in life are more complicated than a A, B, C, D, or F scale, but the way I reacted then is the same.

With the example I gave above I guess I could also tie in my, "When you see what you're not you forget who you are." concept because I wouldn't see that I was a person who got 99 out of 100 right but rather I would see, focus, and obsess on that one I got wrong. This is sort of where I am at right now.

Another thing that makes life with Asperger's difficult is that I have an all or nothing system. Either everything is all right or everything is on the level of a catastrophic disaster. When an event is big enough to, say, trigger a major emotional response everything else that was tolerable quickly becomes overwhelming.

The next line of thought that occurs is that how I feel now is how I will feel forever. The ability to think of and understand progression and time is something I have always struggled with. This is the reason why so many of us on the spectrum give answers to questions regrading, "what's wrong?" with "everything" and why we so often say, "things will never get better" because in our minds the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow eludes us. There will be a chapter in my 2nd book entitled, "Past, Present, and Oblivion" that expands on this thought.

So there is a storm going on within me right now. Even though I just wrote the fact that the sun will rise, time moves on, and the fact that the pains of today will eventually become just a memory I feel, right now, as if now is forever. I know, somewhere within me, that it isn't, but I feel like it is and right now, that's the only thing I'm feeling. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Flying Blind

Socially the hardest thing for me is the aspect of flying blind. What does this mean? Despite all the presentations I have given and all the interactions I've had I still find it impossible to pick up on social cues.

It's rather aggravating to experience these moments when I know I should be understanding what is going on only to have no idea. "Is this person bored? Happy? Are they listening?" are all questions that race through my mind. I guess this is better than many years ago when I wasn't even aware of this aspect, but now I am and yet I can't pick up on these cues.

A good way of thinking about what socializing is like for me is flying blind. Imagine flying a small aircraft in the mountains at night in fog. I'm sure there's probably a law against such flying if you're just using VFR, but let's forget that aspect and just concentrate on how difficult of a task it is to navigate a world that you can not see. This is what socializing feels like for me.

As I mentioned, many years ago I oblivious to the other side of the conversation meaning that, if I was having a good time, the other person was having just as swell of a time. Now though, being aware that my previous belief was wrong, now has me over-analyzing every aspect of a conversation.

Between the two I would rather be flying blind than when I was oblivious to the other person. At the same time though I do dearly wished I had the ability to pick up on the subtle cues that others seem to be able to pick up on without effort. I mean, how wonderful would that be? To be able to socialize and then not be consumed with wonder on what just happened. That must be the most amazing, awesome thing in the world.

Okay, I'm sure everyone isn't a Sherlock Holmes in deducing social situations and cues. But that being said I'm in awe of a person that can pick up just 1% of the social puzzle. Does that make sense? I believe one of the main reasons those on the autism spectrum retreat socially is this aspect of flying blind. The reason why is that when the social encounter is over it doesn't end of us, at least for me this is true, as afterwards I am analyzing everything. Despite all the analyzing, however, I stay just as confused as I did during the conversation. Regardless of all the anxiety and wonder that comes from socializing I am a fighter; I may have mentioned how clueless I am as to where I am within the mountains of a conversation, but I'm sure, if you have a conversation with me, you are just oblivious to the strength I am exerting by simply having a conversation. Imagine trying to keep your train of thought when every bit of the person and environment is being analyzed then reanalyzed and the volume of this analysis rises and rises until it is a deafening roar all throughout the body. This is rather an uncomfortable feeling and yet there I am. So, just keep that in mind; I may be somewhat oblivious as to where I stand within a conversation, but I'm sure you too have no idea the internal strength it is taking for me to try and silence my confusion, fears, and anxiety.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Problem With Projects

Yesterday I wrote about the fiction book I'm writing. I got another 1,000 words written yesterday but today, as I think about the project at hand, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed.

This is the way I have been my entire life. I'm thankful that while I was writing Finding Kansas I never let it cross my mind that I was writing a book; I mean, I could never have imagined it becoming a book. But this fiction book I'm writing does have a defined beginning and a defined end and the defined end is tens of thousands of words away.

The tens of thousands of words plus plot twists, dialogue, and the constant thoughts of how to get my story from point A to point Q is rather daunting. With a blog it is easy because I have one story a day. At first this whole blog thing was overwhelming and I can remember having multiple sheets of paper in my office with possible blog topics written out. I mean I had fifty or so ideas just in case I had trouble figuring out what to write. Since then the fear and overwhelming nature of writing just one post a day has lessened.

But anyway, big projects have always overwhelmed me because I'm seeing everything at once. When that happens there is no such that as progression because progression means I'm marching towards a goal. This can be done with say, a completion of a chapter, but when everything is viewed at once a chapter isn't even a drop in the ocean because there's still everything else that needs to be done.

I've got to fight this frustration because I don't want to quit with my story. I think I've created a fantastic story that might just be worthy of being a book. But first I have to write it without becoming overwhelmed. If I could only take it a word at a time, but you see, I have to get the main character to this one place, then another, and then a confrontation with this big government type guy, then there's this, and that, and some more of this, and a few touches more of that, and oh my, there's a lot of work to do. If only I could see the project as one word at a time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A New Writing Challenge: Fiction

I never thought this would happen! I've had a couple blog posts in the past about the belief that I'd be incapable of writing anything fiction. I've had many reasons as to why such as the need to write descriptors about the environment and people. Also, I have pretty much one writing style. I don't think this is a bad thing, but I didn't think it would work for anything fiction.

Then, last summer when I was driving to Hagerstown, Maryland for a USAC race a story popped into my mind. There was no conscious effort on my part to think of the story, or how the story should flow. Truly, the story wasn't there one second and the next it was there.

I've shared my plot line with several people and each time they told me, "you have to write that" with much enthusiasm. So much so that I figured I better stop sharing my story or someone might just take it.

Anyway, it's not so much to have a story but rather the hard part comes in writing that first word. Every book I've written has been that way. My first book, Finding Kansas, was sort of that way but when I started that I wasn't thinking anything I wrote would be a book. The following books, none of which are published yet, were different. I spent several weeks waiting for that right time to start as starting a project as big as writing a book consumes a lot of one's mind and soul.

At least once a week since summer I said, "Okay, today is the day I start..." and each day that I thought would be the start came and went with no words being written. Then yesterday happened.

It was a long time coming but I sat down yesterday and wrote my first word of my fiction book. After a paragraph it felt natural and as I wrote I was able to visualize the story making the writing process easier.

I ended after writing nearly 1,000 words and was rather tired afterwards. I got the same way when writing chapters of my first book. This let me know that my words were flowing. As I mentioned, writing takes a lot of mind and soul and anything decent that I write requires no conscious thought; everything just flows. The side effect, it would seem, is that I get rather tired after writing.

So what is my story about? Come on now! I already said that I have a fear of someone stealing my story but I will say I am including Asperger's Syndrome in the story. It's subtle and not the main topic yet at the same time it is the central point of the story. Confused? Good, now you can't take my story.

The hard part now is taking that second step. I've heard from countless others that they've started a book only to lose interest after that first day so my goal today is to make sure that doesn't happen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Hopes for 2013

Welcome to 2013! I still can't believe how fast 2012 went, or for that matter the years of 2010 and 2011. It feels like I've been doing this forever, but it hasn't even been three years! With that being so I still feel new to the presenting and blogging thing. Anyway, as with 2011 and 2012 I want to do a post welcoming the new year but I feel the importance of my mission is even more so than in years past so my normal posts for the new year would be shallow. So, to bring depth, I want to write my hopes for the new year.

I hope that in 2013 I can do my part to further the understanding of the autism spectrum. We can give the world all the awareness it can handle, but without understanding the mission is only half done. I firmly believe that "understanding is the foundation for hope" because how can one give any empathy or compassion on something they don't understand? This understanding can happen at any age! I was so blessed with the chance to speak to thousands of students in the last two months of 2012 and when a fifth grader asks a question you'd expect a college professor to ask, well, I knew the road to understanding took a giant leap forward.

I hope that in 2013 the stigma of the word autism/Asperger's lessens. The media did a disservice to the autism spectrum in December and while there have been stories in papers offering the real information on autism I feel and fear that the damage to the name is going to take a while to be repaired. This has to be accelerated though! Perhaps the most important comment I've ever had on my blog occurred on my Open Letter to The Media and in it there was this quote, "'Mommy I have that don't I?' and put his head down in shame." Confidence is of the utmost importance for us on the autism spectrum to grow to our full potential. This means if there is a stigma, and we're avoided, we are going to have no confidence and our ability to grow, learn, and make friends will become even more difficult. It doesn't need to be this way! Let me say that again, IT DOESN'T NEED TO BE THIS WAY!

I hope that in 2013 we don't have any stories of autism and teachers in the news at the same time. Anytime this happens, usually, it's a story about some form of abuse or neglect. My heart breaks each time this happens. Stories like this should never happen. Also, when they do happen this furthers the stigma that teachers know nothing about autism. I often say that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." The media never seems to be able to share that aspect of the autism spectrum but also we could say that, "if you've met one teacher you've only met one teacher." I've come across hundreds of awesome teachers that are moved to tears in my presentation because they think back to a student that they didn't understand. The numbers of us on the autism spectrum are growing faster than the system seemed to be prepared for so not everyone has the information they need. This can lead to one of those sensational stories on the news and when this happens I hope we can take a step back and not blame all teachers because there are a lot of awesome teachers that are going to change lives for the better out there.

Most of all in 2013 I hope that you, the media (fingers crossed), I, or anyone can reach as many people as possible and give them the true information about the autism spectrum. I feel we have so much potential but if we let our diagnosis define who we are, and then this is reinforced by the media and the general public, what room is left for growth? Yes, we have our challenges, but isn't that challenging enough? I started stressing the point of, "if you see what you're not you forget who you are" at the end of 2012 and this is absolutely true. This hope, dream, and goal can only be achieved if all the previous paragraphs come true. By speaking to entire student bodies we are changing the future. By erasing the stigma the word autism or Asperger Syndrome won't have prejudices attached to it, and by reaching teachers we are changing the present.

All in all I hope that 2013 is just like 2012 for me. I want to keep doing what I have been doing for the past three years and through my presentations, and blog, I hope to do my part in adding that extra dimension of understanding.