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Friday, March 29, 2013

8 Years Later

Tomorrow marks the eight year anniversary of the scariest event of my life. I've been thinking about this blog post for about two weeks. I may not mention it much, and when I do sometimes I will tell the story in jest, but when an event like this happens it stays with a person.

I was going to write something more in the matter, but the blog post I wrote in 2010 says everything so instead of rewriting perfection I will simply give the link to it: http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/08/march-30th-2005-kisumu-kenya-day-i-was.html

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Brake

One thing that I should probably touch on in my presentations that I don't is self-stimming behavior. I'm more than willing to touch on it if someone asks the question, but to fit it into the flow of my presentation as it is right now tends to be difficult. A couple days though a parent going through TouchPoint's ADAPT Parent Training program asked that and I gave my best description yet.

In my answer I referenced my personal behavior which I once referred to on my blog as "The Dance of the Fingers." Each time I answer a question like this I do mention that, 40 years ago, the mentality of experts was that any sort of behavior like that is "wrong" and must be "stopped." Over time, however, it was learned that those behaviors are our ways of managing our emotions; take it away and you may get a more serious behavior down the road.

As I was answering this I quickly had a side thought about the races I'm going to be working soon so my analogies quickly turned car talk, but it is so apt! First, real quickly, I do my finger dance when I get highly excited or happy. If I don't my emotions escalate, accelerate, and amplify to a highly uncomfortable level. This is where the car talk comes in; think of it this way, if I don't purge my emotions with my fingers I keep going faster and if I were a car, think of it sort of like having the accelerator stuck. What that means is, you may want to slow down but the accelerator is stuck to the floor 100%. And, if you're approaching a red light, slowing down is rather important.

That's what, for me, the self-stimming behavior is; it's my brake. It's the element I have in life that slows my bodies racing emotions down. Emotions so easily for me get hung wide open and with each passing quarter-second it grows bigger and bigger until it feels as if I'm going to explode.

Each person can have his or her own "dance of the fingers" and when answering this parent I mentioned that mine, over time, has changed. When I get nervous I twirl my belt loops but it started out as twisting my shoelaces. That always got an odd look as I was standing in place with one foot up twisting shoelaces. At that time in my life I couldn't describe why I did that, but I also knew that I didn't like the odd looks so I discovered belt loops and that is much easier to fly under the radar with. I answered this because, sometimes, these self-stimming behaviors can be distracting for those around us and might bring an unwanted level of attention our way so, over time, it might be a good thing to try and find something else that can act the part of the brake. At the same time though, just saying, "STOP THAT!" and demanding a complete halt might not be the best approach because, again, that behavior may be acting like our brake of our ever accelerating car towards a busy intersection.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Time Ahead

Coming up with something to write today hasn't been easy. It's just that I am so excited about the upcoming weeks and months. For one, next week is crammed with a presentation in Columbia, then a presentation in Jefferson City for the autism rally, and then it's off to Phoenix to flag round one of the 2013 USAC Generation Next Tour.

Being as excited as I am being creative just isn't happening. The good thing is I do have some ideas for tomorrow, Friday, and Monday, but as for now this is all I've got.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time Flies

Wow! Yesterday marks one year since my crash in Nashville. I remember that day as if it were yesterday and everything from that point on until today seems like it happened today. Honestly, that point, to my tour, to all the races I did, and presentations seems like it was all right now.

Speaking of time, I'm between presentations right now and have two minutes to finish this, but this year is shaping up to be just as hectic. For those of my readers in Southwest Missouri I have a slew of presentations lined up and here are is the flyer for it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nintendo Power of Old

Over the course of the snowy weekend I resumed my seemingly everlasting unpacking process. Okay, so it's everlasting because I haven't done it... at all. It's been a process though; moving a box a week from the kitchen to the furnace room. One of the boxes, however, that got moved read "Nintendo Powers" so I decided to open it up and relive the memories.

I became a subscriber in 1991. It was absolutely awesome to have a magazine come to my house, at the age of eight, and each month I awaited in anticipation for the arrival of that's month's edition. I mean, my parents had Newsweek and I had Nintendo Power.

In my room I had a cabinet that I would place each month's magazine so I have every issue so as I opened the box that had all the issues I was able to go back to those days in 1991. My first thought was, "wow, gaming has come A LONG WAYS!" as there's a preview for Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge. To think racing games went from that to the graphical bliss that Gran Turismo is or the realism and structure of iRacing, back then, would be impossible.

This trip to the past was more than just about the games as it took me back to those places and times. The games that were previewed back then that I got I remember getting. In that first issue there was a review of the game Monopoly for the Nintendo. I remember my parents getting me that game. It wasn't on the most pleasant of occasions as I noticed the game under my dad's seat in the car. I didn't mention anything about it because we were on the way to the hospital and I was about to have my tonsils removed. I treasured that came ever since, up until early 2009 when I sold my NES and the 80 games I had because I needed the money to pay my credit card bill.

Another thing that I remembered was, as I mentioned, the anticipation each month for the issue to come in the mail. As the end of the month approached the last few hours of each school day felt like years as, once we were released, I'd run home (I only lived three blocks from school) to either find utter disappointment of sheer elation. That's one thing that I don't think anyone today can feel. What I mean is, think about information on games or anything. Why wait an entire month for reviews or information on games. One can go to ign.com or metacritic and get as much or as little information as they want when they want it. I don't know if this is good, or bad, or either, but there was something about being able to hold the magazine and feel the materials of the magazine.

As I went forward in time and I got to the time that the Super Nintendo was released I went back to that era. Of all the systems that have been released I was most impressed with the Super Nintendo. From Super Mario World, to F-Zero, to SimCity and Pilotwings, I had seen nothing like it. It also probably didn't hurt that it was a birthday gift, but I felt a strong sense of happiness and sorrow all in one. Happy for the memories that were, but sad in that these memories were from over 20 years ago and yet, for me, it felt as if it were five minutes ago.

I eventually got to the issues of the N64 and that era, for me, is one that I don't fully remember as vividly as the previous. School was getting near impossible for me and no one knew why I was different. There was one issue that I won't forget and that is issue #110. Five months prior there was a challenge for the "highest scores in one round on Wheel of Fortune 64." To do this one would get a high score, take a picture (with film and have it developed. Remember those days?) and then send it in. I came up with a slight "trick" to do this and I ended up with the 2nd highest score with the winner doing the same trick as myself, just a little bit more (I didn't want to make it too obvious, the winner did.)

In the end as I scanned my final issues, which was in the 2002 year (Nintendo Power's last issue was December 2012) and I went back to the beginning and noticed the letters section and that did it for me; I was now overwhelmed. Looking at the names of those that wrote in, and some of the pictures of kids dressed as Mario and, well, I felt a wide array of emotions as I wondered who those people are now, what they're doing, and what type of life they've had. It's an odd feeling, it truly is, to be overwhelmed by such a thought like this for people I've never met, never known, and will probably never meet. Perhaps this all was all due to the fact that I don't like change, I struggle with accepting the passage of time, and what more could possibly show all this than being able to go back and visit the past in the form of a magazine. You see, websites can be updated; heck, I can go back and edit any of my blog posts going back to the beginning. My blog has also had several different looks to it over the years and for many people I'm sure web browsers have changed, monitors have changed, but for those magazines, they are like they were on the days I first got them in the mail. The world has progressed, time has moved on, but for a magazine they are frozen in time, and forever will be, and there's something special about that. This is something that, maybe in 100 years, will be unheard of.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Writing Phases

Being a writer can be difficult and there are certainly phases in being able to produce material. The past month has been difficult in getting my brain into the place where writing becomes easy. If I have to think about writing I can't really do it. This is where I've been the past month or so.

I think everything goes in phases such as my presentations the past month have been, perhaps, my best and most energetic. I don't know how after 360 presentations I am still learning the craft and fine tuning things, but I am. And yet, as a writer, I feel as if I am getting weaker.

Another thing that could be playing into this are my emotions. All my great writings come from my soul and my sadness. This is why I say that, if I have to think about writing that it isn't good. My emotions right now are so frayed from various stresses but primarily the stress that has come from my place.

Over the history of my blog there have been these phases and each time I think I'm done as a writer and have lost the talent I'll go on a two or three month streak with great material and then there will be one of these phases; I don't exactly want to call it a slump like you would for a batter in baseball who may be 0 for his last 40 at bats because I think yesterday's blog had a great deal of relevance. But yet, at least from my standpoint, there is just something missing. Perhaps it is soul.

So as I said, there are phases and right now I just don't feel I am on the same level as I was, say, three months ago. Maybe I am and just don't know it, but since these posts haven't come effortlessly I feel just something is missing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

1 in 50

Did you hear the news yesterday? The autism rates were altered a little bit with the government now saying 1 in 50 school children are on the autism spectrum.

Read that again. 1 in 50.

I had a conversation with a coworker at a school just a week or so ago about how I felt the 1 in 88 number was way off per seeing just how many kids in the schools state that they have a form of autism. Even still, at least for the past six schools I've presented in here in Missouri, 1 in 50 isn't the number I think it should be.

So what do these numbers mean? What does it mean that we now have 1 in 50 kids on the autism spectrum? For one it means we are nearing a point in time where autism awareness isn't something that a school can pick and choose whether or not they want something like a presentation but now it is going to be a necessity. Okay, I know some of you will have always thought it should be a necessity, and I agree, but there are still some mindsets out there that, "it's not that big of a deal."

It is a big deal, though, and not just because of the present. I've heard so many professionals in the field talk about the cliff. What the cliff is, it states that we always hear about kids with autism but what happens when they grow up? For those with Asperger's, according to this article from two years ago from Forbes, the unemployment rate is 80%!

There are many reasons as to why the rate is 80% but I am sure one of them is the fact that, if one was constantly mentally, and perhaps physically, beat up in school, and if everything they tried as a person failed, then what motivation is there to keep trying? This is where educating the students is so important. If we can raise the awareness and understanding of students today then the whole school process may be smoother for those on the spectrum, a fail-set thought process may not set in, and aspirations may remain.

I've said this each time there are new autism numbers, but it is important not to forget; lost in each releasing of numbers isn't the 50, but the 1. For yesterday when the numbers came out, and today, and perhaps the following weeks to come, autism has been reduced to a number. There isn't another way to release numbers, but in doing so the human impact is lost. I don't think the average person can even conceive of just how many people 1 in 50 are.

If we want to change the future we must reach the present. There is no other way around it. If we want a world where there is acceptance of those on the autism spectrum, and true inclusion, we must reach the students. I am so thankful, grateful, and honored to have spoken to the thousands of students I have spoken to because this is the only way, I feel, to lower that unemployment rate in the future.

Of course, this is more serious than an unemployment rate. Much more. I didn't blog yesterday as I had an early morning presentation to a group of students. some of which were on the autism spectrum, and after my presentation one student came up and he told me, "I just wanted to say that I didn't believe in hope until I heard you so, thank you." That's what this is about. When a person lives in a cold, non-understanding world how is there room for hope? How can one speak up for one's self if the only thing there is going to be is admonishment? When one truly needs help but is afraid to speak up, well, the downward spiral of misunderstanding grows and grows and hopelessness sets in. It doesn't need to be this way and I hope, to answer my question, I hope this is exactly what these numbers mean.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Impact

I've been staring at my computer screen now for almost an hour. It used to be easy, this whole blogging thing, then I moved into this place and if you've followed my blog for the past month you know it hasn't been a smooth experience.

So, I've been sitting here and the only thing on my mind are the issues at hand and I don't want to bore you with the same feelings day in and day out. Yet, just because I haven't said it I am still feeling it day in and day out. So many aspects of my life are now being affected because of this.

The first is sleep. I'm trying to keep my hours on track but the only time I can actually enjoy my place is after 10PM when the neighbors go to sleep. This is the only time I feel alone in my own home and no matter how tired I am my body finds an unknown source of energy at this feeling of actually being in a place of my own because at most other hours it's like sharing a place with two strangers I can't see. Then, when I do go to sleep, it doesn't last long as the neighbor starts playing music at 4AM all the way to 9AM. It's heavy in bass that comes through the wall so any sleep I get is chopped up between songs.

The second is my blog. Before being in this place I had only missed three weekdays. I think I've more than doubled this in the past month simply because I have nothing more to say than state just how rotten I feel and after a while that surely would get old.

The third thing is my self-image/self-esteem. This is about the lowest I've felt in at least seven years. I keep telling myself, "If only I were normal..." which that line of thought produces nothing positive. I can't counteract that thought process, though.I am absolutely seeing everything I'm not and have lost my self-image of who I am and what I do. Thankfully, my presentations haven't been affected and that's about the only time that I'm still myself without all this negative self-talk getting in the way.

Another big aspect of this is the feeling of being trapped. I don't see any way to change the environment I'm in and there's no way to get out of this place. The trap that I feel I'm in, and this is important to realize for anyone that knows a person on the autism spectrum because this is a common event, is that I can't imagine anything will ever change. In my hopefully soon-to-be published second book I have a chapter entitled, "Past, Present and Oblivion" and in it I state that I know what was, and what is and whatever is will always be which means the future is nothing more than a void-filled oblivion. Understanding that change for the better can happen is something that my brain can't do. All I know is what is and what is will always be which means I'm going to be trapped in this noisy residence with paper thin walls forever.

Thankfully the race season starts up in three weekends. I can't express how much I am looking forward to this as I need it. I simply need it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Questions

Once again this past Friday I had the honor of presenting in a school and once again the entire 100 minutes was filled and the questions were amazing. Often times, when I am talking to someone that doesn't understand what I do, or what the benefit is in me presenting to students, I tell them the questions that I've been asked. I love the look on their face when they try to understand that 6th graders are asking such spot on questions. I think students of any grade are never given the credit they deserve so here's a list of questions that I've been asked along the way. At some point in time I should do a month's worth of blogs to these questions, but for now I'm just going to share some of the questions that I've been asked from students aged 5th grade to seniors in high school...

Are seizures common with autism?

Is there any research in scanning the brain to see if the people on the autism spectrum think differently?

What's your take of Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory?

Do you get sad when people made or make fun of you?

Why are people with Asperger's so dang smart?

I'm visiting my aunt who has autism, what can I do to make her more comfortable?

Does autism run in families?

My 9 year old brother has Asperger's and he gets very upset anytime something doesn't go according to plan or goes his way; why is this?

Are the rates of autism going up because doctors are being better educated?

Are you happy having Asperger's

Would you take a cure if one were made?

Can being hyper-sensitive to your surroundings sometimes be a good thing?

Are vaccines the cause?

This one was last week by a 6th grader I heard in the DSM-V that the name Asperger's is going away. What's your opinion on this?

If there isn't a cure what is there?

This one was from a sharp high school senior in Chesterton, Indiana and the only one to ever ask this, Okay, you have an associative memory system so does this mean you have things linked to Emily?

Can Kansas change over a lifetime?

How can I better react to my classmates that have Asperger's?

Wow, I'm now drawing a blank on the rest of the questions, but I think the point has been made. These amazing questions come about after just hearing me speak for about 20 minutes. Anytime a school says that they aren't interested in a presentation I wish I could throw this list of questions their way. The telling thing for me, and I just started doing this two weeks ago, is when someone asks a question directly, or it's a question I can use the stat with, on, "how many people have autism" I give the stats going back to 1980 to today and then I ask, "Okay, how many people here knows someone or knows someone that knows someone that is on the autism spectrum?" Each time I have done this in my 8 school presentations the past two weeks I've had at least 50% of the students raise their hands and in my past two presentations it's been over 75%.

From the depth of their questions this is something that they do want to know more about. Statistically, each and every student will encounter a person on the autism spectrum in their lifetime and if they have a classmate that has it, well, the need is even greater.

I know I've said this many times, but I don't think there is anything I've done in my life more important than these school presentations. I am so thankful to each school that has taken the time out of their day to let me present. My presentations may be an hour or two, but what these questions have shown me is that the impact from just that hour may just prove to be something that is with these students for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Time Flies

A year ago right now I was preparing for the release of my book and a nationwide tour. One of the things I also did on this tour was to give media interviews and just now, while I was doing some Googling, I came across the interview I gave at WGN last year which, if you didn't see it, it can be viewed here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/videogallery/69328982/News/Author---Aaron-Likens,-Finding-Kansas

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Hey idiot, don't talk so much the next time!"

On Monday's blog I talked about the 110 minutes I had presenting to students and the question I was asked along the lines of, "Are you sad when people make fun of you?" What came to mind, and I didn't give the story at the presentation,  was a personal example of just that which happened back in 2004.

In 2004 I was in a fragile state. I had just been diagnosed and didn't know who I was as a person. Also, my confidence was at an all time low which led to highly awkward social situations. One of these occurred when I went to a video game store to pick something up.

I walked into the store where the two clerks instantly greeted me and asked if they could help me find anything. With a odd head shake I implied that the answer was no and I'm fairly confident I wasn't confident in this gesture. All I wanted was to get my item and leave. I'm better at store interactions now, but back then I did everything I could not to be seen at a store. When, as I call it in Finding Kansas, the "4th wall" is breached I have a rough time reacting. As I said, I'm somewhat better now, but back then I did a lot of ignoring as I had tunnel vision to the item I wanted.

While I was browsing one of the clerks tried to talk to me and I wanted nothing to do with it. I did respond with quiet responses and I never once visually acknowledged him. I'm sure this had to be confusing for them as I was truly doing everything I could to not look their way.

Eventually I got my items and proceeded to the checkout counter. I'm not sure where on my body I had a sign that said, "Please, I insist, talk to me! I want a conversation." but that's what they saw and now both of them were pushing a conversation my way. The more they pushed the more withdrawn I got. It was getting to the point that breathing was becoming difficult. And of course they slowed down the process of the purchase further lengthening the whole ordeal.

I wanted out of there. It was the only thing I wanted. I couldn't figure out why I was being spoken to and I couldn't process what I should say. I know I was being defensive, and quiet, but I don't think I crossed the line of being rude. I didn't tell them to be quiet and I think it was obvious that being spoken to was rather uncomfortable. Then again, perhaps it wasn't and that is why they kept pushing me.

Eventually the sale was complete and I as I headed towards the door one of the employees said, "Hey idiot, don't talk so much the next time!" To say I was hurt would have been the understatement of 2004. Being as uncomfortable as I was wasn't a choice and I wish the employees there knew just how hard it was for me to walk into the front door and risk a social interaction. As I said, I'm somewhat better now but back then the only way to describe an encounter like this was total social paralysis. To compound the employees confusion, I'm sure, I had no visible markers that said "Asperger's" not that many people had heard of it back then the way society does now.

When I got home I went into the backroom and cried in silence. At that point in time I felt alone and was confident no one could have any idea the loneliness and isolation I felt. I vowed never to leave the house again because I didn't know why those employees got so mad at me. What did I do? I know I was quiet, but I didn't say anything rude to them (I wanted to) and was simply quiet. Yet, they just had to belittle me.

As my hour of sadness continued on I decided I was going to call the corporate office. This is something that, even to this day, I still can't believe I did because I HATE using the phone to talk to people I don't know. This phone conversation, come to think of it, was the first time I advocated for myself. I kept demanding, ahem, asking to speak to someone with some authority and eventually I got some mid manager customer relations rep and I told her the story of my experience and, for the first time ever, I mentioned Asperger's Syndrome. By her reaction I don't think she knew what it was but she mentioned that an experience like what I went through is unacceptable.

It took three years before I would go back to that location but the next time I went to a store of that chain there was a mysterious $50 credit on my account. I had to think that this was from my complaint I filed. However, credits aside, I wish I would have used that story last Friday when I was asked on if I get sad when people make fun of me because there are so many points I can make from this story.

1. Those with Asperger's don't have signs that says what we have. Maybe to the employees I was in fact being rude because they took my coldness as a sign that I didn't like them, or that I was ignoring them. This wasn't the case as I the fact of the matter was that I couldn't respond to them.

2. Words hurt. That line I heard as I left the store stuck with me for many years. Every interaction thereafter was a roller coaster ride of fear as I was convinced I was going to make everyone angry for unknown reasons. So yes, words hurt but those that may be a little quirky around you might have a diagnosis you don't know about. To mention it, or point it out, is to bring about a troubling amount of self-awareness.

3. Those on the autism spectrum need more time to process questions. These questions were being asked in a game show lightning round fashion. It takes my system a while to get over the shock of being asked, "Can I help you?" as I process what it means and what I can say to say no. The problem in this story was the pushing. It was question and question and comment after comment (there was more conversing than I wrote but since I don't recall the small talk exactly I omitted it) and it was too much. The more I got pushed the more I pull back and that probably would be confusing and perhaps be taken as a sign that I don't like you or maybe even a sign that I'm the one being rude.

4.. Those with Asperger's have so much potential. As I've written this post today I have relived that experience in greater depth. Back then one word answers were difficult, much less getting a downpour of questions. However, and this is why I so badly wished I would have given this answer to the 550 students, here I am presenting to audiences now. I know I never imagined being able to do anything like this; this presenting to crowds. Those with Asperger's may have some quirks, may have some differences, but just like everyone else we are human. We are trying to live our lives like everyone else. We do have so things which are harder and some things that don't come naturally and sometimes people may just be mean, rude, or downright insulting. I'm glad I broke my vow in 2004 as I told myself that I was never leaving the house again. What a tragedy that would have been. So remember that, words hurt. That clerk at the store almost got his wish; I convinced myself that talking wasn't worth it so I was going to speak less next time. For classmates, and anyone in society, those like myself, well, you're not going to be able to point us out. So in other words you aren't going to know that a person has it or not. What a person may think is a funny remark, may have long time effects and may make a person question the point of even trying the next time. I made it through this episode, somehow, but the next person, well, that's why episodes like this shouldn't happen.

Monday, March 11, 2013

110 Magical Minutes

I seem to be writing about this quite a bit as each time I present to a school I seem to always leave impressed, but once again I couldn't believe the response to my presentation at a school.

It was at the Dexter Middle School and I was scheduled to speak to the entire school for 110 minutes. I was worried about the length of time because sometimes the questions can tend to break down after 60 or 70 minutes. I made this point to the principal and informed him that should this happen I don't know if the full time would be worthwhile.

My presentation began and I've pretty much have my school presentation down as to what I say and when I say it. I only speak for about 20-25 minutes and then I open it up for questions. I was worried because this meant I'd have an hour-and-a-half for questions. That's a long time for any group.

Once the questions began there were no shortage of questions. And as usual the depth of the questions were nothing short of amazing. And it's these questions which, as a presenter, I live for. I have no idea what's going to be asked and while in other forums this might scare me I love the ability I have to be on top of my game. Also, my improv comedy skills shine through which I never thought I'd be funny in any way, but a student on Friday asked me how I react to questions since her brother, who is on the spectrum, craves sameness. I mentioned a story that happened two days prior when I had a classroom of my own for a day in a school. This student asked me if I was in my 20's and I said that I wasn't and that I turned 30 just last month. Her response was, "30? Ew!" and without and delay I came back with, "Wow, way to make me feel old!" The teachers got a bang out of this and while this student was trying to find the words to apologize I kept going, "So, yeah I feel old now but I'll tell you this; someday you're going to turn 30 too and I hope you remember this day." Again, she was trying to find the words to apologize but I wasn't going to let her so with a smile I quickly said, "next question" and that was that.

When answering questions I lose track of time because the questions require so much thought and very much like I was when I raced I go into this subconscious state. My movements and answers are done without thought, if that makes sense. I mean, I guess it would be like going into "the zone" in that everything is done naturally without thought. I do think of the answers but they come naturally.

As time progressed I had no idea where I was with respect to time. The questions were not breaking down and the depth was remaining. I got asked my opinion of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, was asked if there's any research in scanning the brain of those on the autism spectrum to see if there's any difference, and if seizures are common for those that have autism. Those questions I'd expect to come from med students or parents, but these were from 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

Near the end I got asked, "Do you feel sad if someone makes fun of you?" I thought about it for a second and answered something like this, "Yes but not for the reason you may expect. I'm 30 and if a student in a school like this were to ever do so I wouldn't be mad that they made fun of me and here's why. I'm comfortable with who I am. Remember, we're all different. However, not everyone is like me and not everyone is content with being on the autism spectrum. This means that if someone makes fun of me they will probably makes fun of someone else that is just trying to live their life like everyone else. They may, beyond words, crave to be normal. If someone points out a quirk, or makes fun of it, the sadness this may cause is deeper than you can probably imagine. I used to be there after I got diagnosed, I know how it feels. Now, I'm comfortable being me but please be aware not everyone is and words can hurt more than you can imagine."

As I answered that question the gymnasium with about 550 people had an absolute eerie silence to it. There was my voice but nothing else. When I hear this silence I know I'm being heard and that's my goal in life. After a few more questions I was informed that time was up and I thanked the school for having some of the best questions ever and then I got what was without a doubt the loudest round of applause ever. Many students in the 7th grade stood up while applauding and I wanted to cry because for one it was over and two I knew an impact had been made.

Afterwards the principal told me he couldn't believe how well the students' attention held. He went on to say he wished they could have assemblies like this more often but keeping attention spans for nearly two hours is something not many people can do and he ended with saying, "thank goodness you didn't make it in racing because you have found your true calling." I responded with saying, "Thank goodness!"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Post #799: Reaching the Future

This is my 799th blog post and once again I am in the midst of presenting to students. This has been something that has been becoming more and more common for me over the past six months and it's a group that I never would have thought I would ever present to much less a group that would hear my words.

I know I've written it before, but beyond a doubt I believe that talking to this group will have profound impacts that can't be measured. I had two smaller presentations at a small high school yesterday but the response was just the same and the questions were just as sharp.

Here's the thing, and this is so obvious that I feel bad writing it, but today's students are tomorrow's leaders. Yes, I know that was too obvious, but still it's true. Today's students are tomorrow's business owners, social workers, researchers and doctors. There was a student yesterday, maybe a junior, that is already working with a person with autism at Taekwondo. The questions she asked, and observations, were spot on and as I write this I wonder what the impact would have been if someone like myself did what I'm doing 40 years ago.

This is where the impact may not be able to be calculated. Also, I think back to yesterday's blog about being quiet about the sensory issues I had when I was younger. This is important because, if I would have felt more comfortable with who I was and from that, perhaps, I would have been more willing to speak about the issues I had. Another student came up to me and said he could relate to every story I told and concept I shared. If I had heard a speaker that sounded much like myself would I have opened up? Maybe, and if I had would years have been saved in misdiagnosis? Maybe so.

There's so many positives from spreading awareness and understanding to students that I wish I could speak to every student. Truly, on so many levels, I don't know if there is anything that I have done in my life that has had the same or more importance as presenting to students. Once again today I get the chance to stand in front of a classroom and share my story and insights. In fact, I get to do it five times, and I must say it's and odd feeling; to think that the place I most want to be now is the place that I did everything I could to avoid when I was a student. Like with most of the way my life has turned out I never would have thought that, nor would I have ever thought I'd have written 799 blog posts and yet here we are. I want to extend a MASSIVE thank you to all of those that have been reading for a long time, and also welcome those who are new, and here's to the next 799. As for today, I'm off to school.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fireworks at Supercross

After missing a couple years of missing the race the tradition of attending the AMA Monster Energy Supercross series returned this past weekend. My dad and I always go early and watch the practice runs and we were even on the CBS telecast, albeit for just a flash as this photo proves, from Ryan Villopoto's GoPro camera (I added a small arrow to point myself out.)

As the actual program began the normal array of lasers and pyrotechnics occurred and I thought back to all the years I found "excuses" to leave the seating area during this segment.

I've never understood the need to unleash concussion fireworks on the public. I mean, at the end of the night, what are people going to remember most? Will it be the thrilling main event that has 20 riders competing for the race win, or will it be the obnoxiously loud things that go boom? I'm probably in the minority in my distaste for those boomers, but back in 90's when we attended I had no real way to describe just why I hated them so much.

I was much more prepared for them on Saturday night than I used to be. I can remember the 2nd year we went I was so nervous as I didn't know when they would be set off. I knew they would be at some point in time because I made sure to be on the look out for the people that set them up but the exact point I was unsure of.

There's two points I need to make before I keep writing and eventually forget to make the points I want to make. The first is that this, obviously, is a sensory episode. The concussion boomers are not kind to my system. However, they are much worse, and this is my second point, when I don't know when they are going to happen. This raises the anxiety level and I'm pretty sure a raised anxiety level increases the level of discomfort for sensory issues.

Now let's go back to the 90's. This was before I was diagnosed and before I even knew what a "sensory issue" was. What could I have said to, well, anyone on how I felt. At that age of 13 or 14 wasn't I supposed to be "over" being "scared" of such things? Wasn't I? I certainly felt pressure to "be normal" yet at the same time the crushing anticipation of the exploding fireworks wore on me all day. I was good though at my timing of having to use the restroom, or having a headache, or needing fresh air.

Today I am able to verbalize these issues, but back then I felt ashamed about it. Without knowing what I had I had no one to blame but myself. And yet, when I say blame, I sort of knew that there was no "off switch" to this fear and anxiety that I experienced but I still thought I could just "be normal" like everyone else there.

I go back to my question I asked, what do people remember at the end of an event like Supercross. Is it the concussion fireworks? The racing? I know I left Saturday night thinking that the racing I saw was one of the more intense Supercross events I've seen. This was a much better feeling than that which I used to leave with. The feeling back then was confusion and a lingering question of, "What's different about me?" Thank goodness I found that answer out.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Marathon Week

I live for weeks like these! I truly do. In just a bit I'll be hitting the road headed to Poplar Bluff where, for the next three days, I have about a dozen presentations. This will be the most intense week of presenting I've ever had.

This week couldn't have come at a better time. During last week and this week I haven't slept all that well because of the noise so it's going to be wonderful getting away and living life on the road again.

Well, I was hoping to have a longer blog post today but I have a bunch of stuff to get done before I can leave town so I should get that done.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mission Restated

Okay, I can't lie, the past week-and-a-half has not been easy with the noise issues at my place. I've been feeling defeated, angry, and directionless. It's amazing how something as seemingly small as noise can derail one's direction in life and skew one's image of who they are. I've been playing all the horrible games this past week of, "chasing normal" and "seeing what I am not therefore forgetting who I am." Yes, it's been a rough week but then I got an e-mail.

Tomorrow will start the 4th year of my mission with TouchPoint to raise the awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum. I don't think anyone could have envisioned just how dynamic this mission has been the past three years for myself taking me coast-to-coast several times. The fuel behind my energy and passion for this stems from the night I got diagnosed.

So what about that e-mail I mentioned? Yeah, I'm working on getting to it. Anyway, the night I got diagnosed, and if you've read my blog a long time then you already know the story, but I had this thing called Asperger Syndrome and I had never heard of it before so I did a search on the internet. The first page I clicked said that, "Those with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." To state it simply, it wasn't the best of introductions and my life essentially was frozen for 16 months as I descended into the depths of depression that no one should have to endure. This eventually motivated me to write because, at the time, I couldn't speak about my emotions but I found out I could write them.

Three years ago I started a journey to spread awareness and understanding to as many people as possible. I now know that my original introduction to Asperger's was not the truth and, sadly, there's still much misinformation out there. That's where this e-mail comes in.

Yesterday I was in a bitter mood and I got an e-mail from outside America. It was from a fellow person with Asperger's and in it they told the story that was my biggest fear after the tragic events of December. Then an odd thing happened; they read my book and realized the media reports and the generalizations that can be found on the internet weren't all true. Through my words this person could relate perfectly and then, they didn't feel alone.

It was the most timely e-mail I have ever received. My bitterness vanished and I remembered who I am and why I'm doing what I do. Also, it was timely because, as mentioned, today concludes my third full year and tomorrow will be the beginning of my fourth. When I first sat down and put my thoughts on paper I could never, and I mean NEVER could have imagined becoming who I am and having an influence in languages I don't even speak. Yet it has happened.

My mission is one of the utmost importance. For those 16 months after I read that hopeless website I felt alone. I knew no one could understand how I felt. Any time my dad tried to have me watch a news story about autism, or read a book like Temple Grandin's or Tony Attwood's I would do everything in my power because what good would it do? I knew the truth and the truth was there was no hope. What good would it do to try in life? I stayed that way for 16 months and it wasn't until I began to write that I slowly learned that there is hope. I still find it odd that I am the one saying that after adamantly denying hope for so long.

Do I have all the answers? No, and as of right now if someone claims to have all the answers then they probably don't know the autism spectrum all that well. However, there still are "experts" and websites that have "all the answers" and that also spread damaging generalizations and words of hopelessness. My mission is to try and give as much realistic information that I can of what it's like to be on the autism spectrum. I firmly believe that understanding is the foundation for hope. There is no magic pill to cure autism, but through work and understanding the lives of us on the autism spectrum can be all the more productive. For about a week I forget this as I endured my sensory issues, but from a person I've never met, or corresponded with, I was reminded the gravity of this mission. Sometimes I may forget, or downplay, what I do but make no mistake when I say that no one should be in the place I was in for 16 months and I will do anything and everything in my power to get my voice to be heard.