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Friday, August 30, 2013

Me? You? And How I Felt 10 Years Ago

I had a great comment on yesterday's blog speaking about the topic on how I felt after my diagnosis in terms of, did I know I was different and if so, what was it like to finally have a name to it. I have blogged about it in the past and I just said, "Well, I never thought to much about myself beforehand because it wasn't I who was different, but rather it was everyone else. That's what I said but approaching the anniversary of that era and reading the comment there is much more to this than my one line answer.

It is true that, growing up, I never thought of myself as the different one as it was everyone else that was different. I didn't see myself better as everyone else but rather I thought other people put their interests in misguided areas as mine were the best and everyone else interested in different topics, were, um, different. I thought this alone was the reason that I didn't fit in and also I couldn't relate to those my age. Don't get me wrong, I had some friends and I often omit that, but it was a friendship within the shared interest and the friendship really was only within the walls of that interest. Again, I thought nothing was really wrong. Also, I was being misdiagnosed and with each diagnosis came an "answer of the week" of sorts.

I've never spoke about this "answer of the week" which think of it this way; (and perhaps I should say answer of the month as it wasn't as frequent as week... but week sounds better) if I keep being told it is something different, and there's a pill to be taken to "cure" whatever it is I have, then once again why would I think there was anything that radically different with me? When I got my Asperger diagnosis it was the first time that, instead of handing me a slip of paper that was a prescription, I was simply told, "good luck."

At first I didn't care about my diagnosis. And why should I? It was just another diagnosis in the seemingly unending barrage of them. When I got home something seemed "off" because I didn't have any information and there was no prescription. "Okay..." I thought, "what does it mean if this is the right diagnosis?" That's when I did my search and read that awful information (no job, friends, or happiness) and below it, and I haven't mentioned it since this is rather mundane in terms of presenting, were the signs of Asperger's and it fit.

Imagine a moment when your entire belief of self-image is trashed. Imagine that singular moment when everything you've believed in that being different wasn't even a consideration and now there is a label to be attached to a difference that I didn't even know was there. Imagine a moment when a life filled with potential came to a screeching halt all because of a doctor's telling me "good luck" and a website that was not a good introduction to Asperger's.

During my 15 months of deep depression I replayed many social situations in my life over and over and much like a movie with a plot twist at the end that makes everything beforehand make sense (i.e. The Sixth Sense) I all of a sudden realized that I truly was the different one. Instead of being proud of this difference like I am now I was ashamed. Normal, whatever it was, was what I wanted beyond anything you could imagine. To say I yearned for it still does not give it justice as I couldn't sleep as I just hoped and hoped that normal would just pop up and all would be okay.

There is a big difference between then and now. One is that I no longer carry around a "label" like a curse. I now understand EVERYONE is different, but my difference just seems to have a name attached with it. I may say, "if you've met one person on the autism spectrum then you've just met one person..." but truly we could say, "if you've met one person then you've only met one person." This isn't to downplay being on the autism spectrum as there are differences, but I learned that I have to live with them instead of in spite of them. It took a long time to get to there, but the more accepting society is and can understand us I hope that, for others, they don't go through the 15 months of agony I went through.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dreams, Dreams Trashed, and Other Events of 10 Years Ago

I am a milestone centric person and I always have been. How many seven year-olds do you know that cried when the year changed from 1989 to 1990 because, "There will NEVER be a "198X ever again"? And don't get me started about 1999...

So anyway, the anniversary of the most incredible and yet darkest era of my life is coming up. 10 years, this week, I learned that, for October, I'd be going to Las Vegas to be an instructor at a race car driving school. Awesome? Oh yes! You see, 10 years ago I was on my way to being a professional race car driver and becoming an instructor just reinforced that fact.

When October comes it will be difficult (but just like 10 years ago I have a special life event planned which I hope to announce soon) but it just wasn't the trip to Vegas that was important but also the quickly deteriorating relationship with Emily. And not only that, once I got home at the end of October my life would never really be the same. The person I am now was born when I returned home from Vegas. When I arrived back home my dad stood on the front porch and waived a checkered flag which was fitting because, unbeknownst to both of us, an era of my life was ending and a new life was beginning.

Later, in November, the process of being diagnosed began and after my doctor told me, "good luck" in regards to what Asperger's was I was relegated to looking it up on the Internet (big mistake!) and the start of December marked the start of the saddest 15 months of my life.

What added to my pit of depression was the quickly crumbling racing career. I had a sponsor and had a deal signed with a team, but the team proved to be a couple crooks that just wanted the sponsorship money without providing services and my sponsor left the sport leaving my outlook on life rather dim. Well, not dim but a lifeless void that had more pull of light than a black hole.

My 10 year writing anniversary of the first time I willfully wrote, and the first chapter that ended up in my book, will be February 2015. Essentially, for me, 2004 was a wash. I didn't do much because, well, why should I? I had this diagnosis that, according to a website on the all knowing Internet, stated that, "a person with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." With such a dire destiny what was the point in trying to overcome it? What motivation did I have? The only thing that mattered was racing and that was becoming less and less likely so why should I even try?

I stayed that way for 15 months. It was somewhat cruel that life would let me get a taste of my dream as, how many people can say they were an instructor at a race car driving school and getting paid good money to drive fast? Also, that was my first experience living away from home. Now granted, I was staying with one of the warmest families I've ever met, but I was still away from home. Then, after my diagnosis I felt I lost that ability to ever live on my own again, I lost my dream of being a race car driver that I had had since the age of three, and I now had this diagnosis which meant I would never be "normal" and would never have the chance to be happy.

Life works in odd ways, though. If it weren't for that era 10 years ago I never would have written and obviously, if that were the case, you wouldn't be reading this. I wouldn't be a speaker, and I wouldn't be able to share just how dark of a viewpoint I had and yet I came out the other side. It took a long time, but here I am.

Every aspect of my life is going to feel slightly more special as all these 10 year anniversary dates are hit. In fact, in October, it looks like I'll actually be in Vegas so perhaps I might make a stop to the track that I instructed at to relive the person I was. I never could have imagined that October 2003 would be such a dream and yet the closure of a dream and the start of something I never could have dreamt of. When I hear people tell me that they, or someone they know feels hopeless it is hard for me because of two reasons; one, I know exactly how it feels and secondly I know there is little I can do in a straightforward fashion. My dad tried to get me to read Temple Grandin's books but I wanted nothing to do with it because, "how could anyone understand me?" My mind was closed on receiving information and if information were presented I'd do everything I could to vacate the area. Eventually, after writing, I became receptive and I learned I'm not alone and this fact, alone, was ginormous. However, I sort of had to learn this on my on terms when I was ready and that's what I hope I do now. I've got almost 900 posts now, and a book, so if someone is ready to learn who they are and that they aren't alone I hope they can find my material instead of the hopeless material I found. Here's the thing, had I been racing and taking checkered flags first on the race track I wouldn't be doing this. I'd never have acknowledged the fact during my 15 months of supreme depression, or have open to letting my mind think that good things were coming, but that checkered flag my dad flew in the air when I came home from Vegas marked the beginning of who I am, and all the work that I'm doing and I couldn't be happier otherwise.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A New Line of Questioning

For the first time I mentioned my new girlfriend in a presentation yesterday. This felt odd since, for 400 presentations, the only thing I've had to tell about relationships is the fact that I broke up with my only girlfriend on Christmas via text message. Obviously not the best of stories in terms of a healthy relationship, but I did mention my new girlfriend yesterday and all of a sudden the questions at the end were different.

My favorite part of presentations has to be the questions segment at the end. Usually the questions remain in the same area but every so often there will be a new one that really makes me think. Yesterday, though, those in the audience were really interested about my new girlfriend to which I wasn't really prepared on answering, and there were some really good questions such as, "Looking back on your previous relationship what do you think you've learned that will help with this one?"

The other thing about the answers segment of the questions is that I don't really remember what I say and I don't know what I responded with yesterday. Thinking about it now I don't know how I will respond in the future because I have no issues talking about what was but talking about something that is current feels completely different as I don't want to say the wrong thing. Does that makes sense? It's one thing to talk about a relationship that ended almost a decade ago but to talk about something in the now feels different.

This is something I'm going to have to weigh in the future because I know my current relationship will become the new center of attention in the questions and I just don't know how I feel about that. I'll also have to ask my girlfriend if she is okay with the fact that there are going to be some very curious people about us and if she's aware of Aspergers, and if she knows of my previous relationship, and where we met, and any of 1,000 questions. I love new questions, but I don't know how I feel about this.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Exciting News coming

I don't have too much to write about today except that in the coming days I will be announcing an awesome event upcoming in October. I'm super excited for this and it should be a platform to increase autism awareness and understanding to so many people.

Also, since I don't have much to talk about today, don't forget to follow me on Facebook as well as helping get a good start as I just started using Twitter.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Senses, a Cold, and a Shopping Experience on Sunday

One of the blogs I wrote that got a lot of response, and I still get e-mails to this day about, was 2010's The Fever Effect. In that blog I stated that, when I have a fever, I feel better mentally as my brain slows down. Other parents, and some on the spectrum, stated similar sentiments. That blog mentioned a fever, though, but yesterday I seemed to have the opposite effect.

This morning I woke up with one of the worst headaches I've had in several years and neck pain that was downright absurd. Yesterday afternoon I started feeling a little bit "off" like one does when they first notice a slight pain that shouldn't be there. Then, later in the afternoon, my girlfriend and I went shopping to pick up a cooking pan and some food. I knew stores were busy on the weekend and very quickly I remembered why I try and stay home on the weekends.

Hectic would not be a strong enough word to describe the chaos that was at this first store we went to. It also didn't help that there were more university students there than one could count as I'd have to assume that it was move in weekend. Once we parked and walked into the store my senses went to a hyper level of vigilance as I began hearing everything and the ability to focus on one thing, or the act of buying a pan, just wasn't there; it was as if every ounce of energy had been vacuumed out of my body. I was awake and alert before entering the store but after about 30 seconds of navigating around the crowds, and handling the ambient noise, I became exhausted and couldn't quit yawning. This morphed into myself being highly skittish and quite edgy.

Another thing that may have played into this was the fact that I had never been to that store which new places tend to cause a tick higher bit of anxiety. During this episode I was worried on how my girlfriend would take this because gone was the confident Aaron replaced by a quiet, and rather edgy Aaron.

From that store we went to another store and this place was even more chaotic. It was the definition of people overload and navigating the thin aisles was very much like trying to dodge rain in a downpour. I thought it odd that I can talk to a thousand people at a time without any hint of anxiety and yet, this store was on the brink of bringing about a sort of paralysis. The reason as to why though was that in this store there was no order; maybe that's why I like the concept of racing as everyone is headed in the same direction. In this store, however, it was a mish-mash of randomness and trying to process who was going where and at what pace so I would not cross paths with anyone was an overload within itself, but then add the noise of the place and I almost fell asleep standing up because it wore on me so greatly.

Checking out the clerk started up a conversation (I once blogged about this store and their radio ads which they proudly proclaim, "You won't find any automated checkout lanes here because we encourage our staff to engage you in conversation" and I proudly stated, "That sounds like the scariest concept ever!" I know, that's a very Aspergerish way to view the world) and I was not prepared for it at all and I think I mumbled out some words having no idea what I was saying. My only thought was freedom, ahem, checking out and getting back home.

On the ride home I wasn't talkative and I was just recuperating from the sensory bombardment I had just endured. And then, when I got home, it took about an hour before I got my strength and attention back.

So yes, that happened yesterday but then this morning, as I awoke with this horrible headache and neck pain, I wondered if the onset of this cold made the chaos of yesterday worse. I know when I have a fever I become much more relaxed, but could the onset of an illness make a situation worse? It's something I don't have an answer to and it's kind of hard to know as I've never thought this and I only this one time to go by, but I'd have to think it played a small factor because I haven't had an overload situation like this caused by just a normal situation in a rather long time.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Kansas Countdown

In each presentation I give I mention this but I have never written this so I thought it would be good to share this about Kansas. To begin though, since some of you may be new to my blog, I need to explain Kansas and mention I am not talking about the physical state.

Kansas, by my definition, is that area of interest or knowledge that a person on the autism spectrum is obsessed with and will talk about it nonstop even if no one else really has any interest. Because of this I use the concept of, if you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas, where would you want to live? Obviously the answer is Kansas and for us on the autism Kansas is a haven.

One of the beautiful things about Kansas is that each person's Kansas can be unique to his or herself. Remember that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." However, there does seem to be Kansases that are more popular and common than others. This list I'm about to give is not scientific by any means and is only an observation from what I've heard parents, or others on the autism spectrum, say.

1. Dinosaurs

2. Trains

3. Sharks

4. Weather

5. Movies

6. Military/airplanes

7. Games, electronics, video games specifically the game Minecraft

Those are the top seven and Monday night at bowling I was having a conversation with a retired news anchor that is on my bowling team and he mentioned that, "those are topics that anyone, really, could be interested in." A great observation and then I mentioned a line that one of my coworkers says and that is, "Autism is human behavior simply taken to the extreme. It's something everyone does, but those on the spectrum do it more." So what that means is that we may become so engrossed in our Kansas that everything else becomes irrelevant. The term, "hyper-focus" would be very apt at describing what can occur when we start with our Kansas.

Another point I'd like to make is that I just mentioned the top 7 things Kansas could be, but Kansas could be anything! Often times it's heavy in facts because if we are talking about facts we're talking about something right or wrong, black or white and in that world there is no middle ground, or gray area and it's within the gray area that we struggle. As I said though, it could be anything whether it is world history, math, famous people from Portugal, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, auto manufactures, or even door know manufactures; whatever our Kansas is we are going to feel a level of safety when talking about it or learning about it. Truly it can come down to my concept of being paralyzed in every state except Kansas and if that were the case the answer of what state you'd want to live in would be obvious. So too, for us on the spectrum, we will do everything we can to steer the conversation towards our Kansas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Understanding is The Foundation For Hope

In yesterday's blog I let my words from the past give a glimpse into the hopelessness and dark world I lived in. As I've said many times, part of the reason I got into such a dark place was my introduction that those with Asperger's will, "never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." Okay, so that wasn't a good introduction but there was more to it than that; for the first time in my life I questioned normal and whether or not I was.

The reason I wrote so many bleak entries in my journal was the fact that I didn't feel normal and quickly normal became everything I wasn't. Society, and the media, bombards us with images of normality. Now, whether or not those images are true is irrelevant, it was the perceived notion, and the belief, that what everyone else had I would never experience.

In 2005, on the television show The Apprentice, Autism Speaks was featured.  One of the semi-finalists had to set up a fundraiser for them and this was the first thing I had ever seen on television that had anything to do with autism that wasn't just a report on statistics or potential causes. This was the first time I ever thought that, maybe, I wasn't alone in my struggles.

My abyss of despair was also fueled by this feeling of supreme isolation. I knew that no one understood me and if anyone used the line of, "Oh Aaron, I understand what you're feeling," I would tune out every single word that person would say thereafter because I would think, "You understand? Really? How could you? How could you possibly understand how I feel and think since no one else has these struggles I have?"

Since I have been blogging, I have written on so many occasions that, "understanding is the foundation for hope." What does this mean? In the previous paragraph there were two things going on; one was the fact that I would jerk back from anyone who said they understood me and secondly, because of my perception of normal, I didn't understand myself. If I always saw what I wasn't, and if I always compared myself to this illusion known as normal, then how on earth could I ever measure up? I set a standard for myself that was destined to fail. Then, as I mentioned, by seeing Autism Sepaks featured in 2005 I, for the first time, thought someone outside my family cared. This too was a problem; I knew my family cared but what good would that do outside the walls of home? Just the thought of someone out there wanting to increase awareness and understanding planted a seed that would sprout become the person I have am today.

Understanding is a two way street, though. As I saw more and more stories about autism and Asperger's, I began to feel, and maybe not feel but rather believe, that I wasn't alone. This changed my belief about normal and I no longer chased the illusion of it. So here's what happened, as I felt society was trying to understand me I in turn began to understand myself.

If a person doesn't understand who they are then there is no room for one to be content. I'm sure this is broader than the autism spectrum but for us on the autism spectrum we seem to be in that state rather often. I've seen it though; I've seen the changes in students with Asperger's at presentations I give to entire student bodies. It's amazing to see the spark in their eyes when my story sounds like their story and the feeling of being alone on an island in the midst of an infinite ocean vanishes. On top of that their peers are learning about it and are engaged so, what was misunderstood, is now something that is being talked about, out in the open, as if it were something "normal."

There are many other reasons as to why understanding is the foundation of hope such as society needing to know about the potential to take things literally, the possibility of sensory issues, and the fact that we may talk about our favorite topic to the exclusion of everything else. However, understanding is much more than that because, with the understanding of those around me I will begin to understand myself and feel as if I'm not so alone. I think we still have a long way to go to achieve maximum understanding, but from where we were 9 years ago I think we're off to a good start building the foundation for understanding that leads to hope.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Words From the Past

It's been a long time since I had a case of insomnia but here I am. This may not be the best of things for myself, but for you, the reader, it usually means a highly insightful blog post. First though, why do I have this insomnia? I'm not fully sure but this is the first time in a long time I haven't had anything scheduled and on top of that I've been in the midst of a writing explosion (I think this may have been the best two week stretch of my blog to date.)

There is another thing I have been thinking about and that is words I've read from my past. Over the weekend my girlfriend and I went through my calendar journals from 2004 and 2005. While 2005 was the year I started to write both years were the darkest years of my life as I just had been diagnosed and felt there was no hope. It's easy for me to recall those days with my memory but instead of trying to describe how I felt I thought it right, because I've mentioned those days numerous amounts of time, to let my words from back then be heard today:

Ate alone, am alone, will always be alone

I'm unlikeable and will always be unaccepted

Sad sad lonely sad, but can I ever be not sad?

People are mean, they don't understand, is it even worth talking to people then?

Let's just forget these days

Did nothing, am nothing

All I want is for someone, anyone, to understand who I am

All I do is watch the days go by, why am I even alive? What's the point? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Those are just some of the ways I described my days back then. Now the question probably is, "Why are you sharing such depressing states of beings?" I think, to put simply, to show the fact that there is hope. Granted, back then, there was no convincing me of that. I don't know if I've ever written words that have such a direness to them, but that's where I was.

For those that may stumble upon my blog now, or may see me in a presentation, it may be hard to fathom that this was where I came from. Even after I started to write in 2005 I still had some pretty bleak entries. I didn't just pop up as an author and speaker as happy as can be as one might think if they were to just one blog entry or get a glimpse of my presentation.

There was a resounding theme throughout my entries and that was one of understanding. I don't think I even knew who I wanted to understand me because I wasn't making an attempt to socialize, but at the same time I knew no one would accept me so why even try in the first place? That was my logic and I know, right now, there are others with Asperger's that are exactly where I was. To those I wish I had words that would say, "it gets better" but I know, because I lived it, that when one is where I was words like that will never be heard.

As my girlfriend and I went through these she stated that she felt sad for me and I responded by saying that everything was okay. I told her that what she was reading, in all of its doom and gloom, is what inspires me to keep going. I started out writing, not knowing that what I was doing had any value or worth (I still struggle with that to this day) because I just wanted to describe to my dad why I am who I am and why I am. Little by little I wondered if others felt like myself, and if so, what would the value of just a little understanding be?

I came from a world where there seemed to be no hope. I came from a world where I thought, because I had read it on the Internet about Asperger's that, "A person with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." I came from a world where I had given up as all signs pointed to that. And yet, despite that world, I'm here now proclaiming that there is always hope. Sometime last year a person at a presentation called me a, "liar" in that he didn't believe that I came from such a dark place but after talking I stated just how long I spent in that world and the sleepless nights where I wondered if I'd ever get a chance, or even live in a world where there would be just a hint of understanding. I eventually convinced him and he said, "thank you" but I wish I would have had those words to tell him. While I may not have had those quotes it is the ideas behind them that is behind who I have become. I've pushed myself these past three years presenting and I will continue to push myself in an effort to better society's understanding of the autism spectrum. While my depressing words from the past may just be words on a screen to you they are the burning fuel which drives me and are the essential essence of the life I used to live. I was there, I can still feel the confusion, anger, and sheer hopelessness, but here I am. While often times my blogs mention what I am doing, and my presentations have a lot of time talking about myself, this whole passion of mine isn't about me, it's about those that are where I was. That's all there is to it and it's bizarre reading my words from the past knowing that, somehow, that was me, but despite my belief that all was hopeless I now know that there is always hope.

Monday, August 19, 2013

PPH Decreases MPG

I'M EXCITED! Okay, did I just YELL that? I'm sorry, but I finally have a way to describe something I have talked about for many years. I've known this for a long time and wrote about it in my book, and have made reference to it many times on my blog, and have answered many questions at presentations regarding this topic. The topic is this; I believe that the concept of time is different for those that have Asperger's. It isn't so much to say that though, and I've said it for a while, but I've always wondered why this was and once I came up with a theory as to why, I would then be able to explain it and thankfully, finally, I am able to do so.

So okay, the concept of time is different and I'm thinking you're wondering, "What does that mean?" What this means is that the passage of time seems to take longer and thus means that I get mentally tired faster than others. I've encountered so many teachers and and parents that have seen this same phenomenon that I encountered in school and that is the fact that school is easy for the first two hours and then there comes a point which is very much like slamming a car into a brick wall at a high rate of speed. Again, I've always wondered about this and have simply said that the concept of time is different without an explanation.

What would make the concept of time different? I believe this isn't just a random fact but consider this: what if, since the brain with Asperger's can hyper-focus and be hyper-sensitive to its surroundings it is processing more than the brain without Asperger's? In other words the processes per hour, or PPH, is greatly higher, which in turn greatly reduces the mental endurance of the brain, or the proverbial miles per gallon or MPG.

Think of it this way; the brain with Asperger's is almost like a finely tuned race car when it comes to thinking. Like a race car, however, gas mileage isn't something that is a priority because it's about power. The greater the power, typically, the shorter the distance one can go and what if the mind with Asperger's, in a way, is like this?

I believe every element that I have ever written about plays into this concept. The fact that we're often hyper-vigilant increases the PPH because we're constantly overly in-tune with our environment. We may hear every whisper, footstep, and any other noise that most people don't pick up. When it comes to socializing we may seem disinterested but we're still on alert for any tension that may be in our environment. I believe this was the cause of my greatest increase of PPH when I was in school because I was constantly scared of a verbal outburst, or any bit of anger those around me might have because I could never predict what would come after it although I would try and try. Predicting the future, though, is like trying to fathom infinity; imagine that! Imagine trying to constantly predict the unpredictable. It would become exhausting after a while, especially when there were other things that needed to be focused on. But my brain would try and do both and eventually my ability to focus on anything became overwhelming. In other words, I ran the proverbial fuel tank dry and I had nothing left.

As I said, I'm excited to finally have a concept to describe this but one thing I don't have is the "what to do about it" part. However, I believe understanding is the foundation for hope and I think just being aware of this aspect that plays out in the lives of those on the autism spectrum has extreme value. It wasn't that once I hit that brick wall in the day that I suddenly got lazy, or became less caring. It was that I just got extremely tired from my brain's own processing.

Maybe it's because I just thought of this concept, but I feel as if this is one of the most important concept I have described to the world to date. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I feel a deep conviction that what I have put forth in this post today explains some of the struggles I have faced on so many levels and I dearly wished, 20 years ago, people in my school, and family, understood this.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Processing: Please Wait

If there were a theme to my life yesterday the theme most certainly was processing. It's weird how life can work that way and the first part of the story occurred at a restaurant on the way to Rolla.

Anytime I drive through Sullivan I have to eat at this one place. I've done it every single time dating all the way back to my first trip for TouchPoint back in 2010. Yesterday, though, was the first time I actually ordered a combo meal so I was a little off my normal pace as I thought about what to get as I didn't want the fries. Because of this change I wasn't all that responsive to the cashier's conversation as she talked and talked and talked (I think it was about food allergies) and I gave no indication I was listening to which she then said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I'm talking your ear off as you obvious aren't listening."


 Was I trying to be rude or disrespectful? Not at all! However, after the fact I could see how I came across the way. The problem was I had just got deciding what, of the ten or so items I could have instead of fries, I was going to have with my combo so my mind was coming off a deep processing session (okay, maybe for you ordering something isn't considered "deep" but when I've ordered the same thing for years on end a slight change instantly gets put into the "deep" category) and I just could not catch up with the conversation the cashier was having. The bad part about this is the fact that I don't really have a sign that says "Processing: Please Wait."

When one is doing an update, or anything it seems, on a computer there will, at some point in time, be something like the image to the right. For those of us on the autism spectrum there is nothing like that. The lady at the place yesterday had no idea the amount of processing I had just done for what would appear to be a simple task, but for myself it took a little bit more effort and she had no idea my brain was in the midst of going around in circles processing what had and was about to happen.

The later yesterday, at my presentation in Rolla, I heard from three parents who each had an issue with a teacher whom did not give proper processing time. One teacher went so far to yell at the student and it was all over the misunderstanding of processing. As I say in my presentation, "We truly live in a society where everything is now now NOW" and that is a major disadvantage for us on the autism spectrum when there is no understanding. If we aren't given the time to process, and if we're then scolded for "staring off" or "not paying attention" then our anxiety levels rise which increases the amount of processing taking place and this within itself creates more processing and then I'm processing so much that I can't even make sense of what I should be listening or paying attention too.

Because of the way society is now, in terms of being a now society, it would be hard to imagine that a person does need some extra time to process. The more at ease, at least for myself, that I am the easier it is to process. If I'm scared, and overly aware of my processing time and I know the other person has no patience for the time it's taking then I can almost guarantee that the interaction is going to suffer. It's a vicious cycle and one that shouldn't happen. However, it does because we don't have a visible marker. We don't have a spinning icon informing the world of the processing taking place. And on top of that we don't have the understanding from a lot of people that need it that processing is taking it place. It may not look like it, it may not seem like it, and it may seem we aren't interested but only if the world in general could know just how much processing is taking place and how difficult it is to come up with an answer when I'm analyzing fifteen different things as well as hearing everything else in the environment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Interesting Question: Socializing in a Job Description

Last night I gave a presentation to employees of Life Skills going through training. Last night as I was talking about my "Alias" concept I got asked a question that I have never thought of and have never been asked.

First, you need to know about Alias. What this concept states is that the reason I am able to thrive in certain environments is because of the fact I have a role to play. In kindergarten I had no ability to interact with peers on the personal level, but I could easily play the role of meteorologist or a news reporter covering a race. When I give a presentation I'm not really Aaron Likens but simply, "Aaron the Autism Ambassador from Life Skills TouchPoint who also just happens to be an author and knows a lot about living life on the autism spectrum" which means that, even though everything in my presentation is personal, it is the least personal thing I do.

During my Alias segment I mention my time at my third job which was at a video game store here in Saint Louis. My job interview was the worst of all time (I said "I don't know" to every question asked) but somehow I got the job. Once the rules of the job got established it was easy for me as I saw sales as a game and the only thing that mattered were the stats. However, working at a mall at the age of 18 with a young staff the traditional concept of working to work just wasn't there. What I mean is, it seemed the percentage of keeping the job were this; it was 25% how well you did your job and 75% how well you conversed with your coworkers. I didn't understand this dynamic at all and the only thing that mattered to me was the art of the sale. I was aloof, uncaring, and the harder my coworkers tried to get me to interact with them the harder I pulled away.

So here was the question from last night; what would have happened if in the job description it said that one of the requirements was to, "socialize with coworkers"? What would have happened? Would it have been accepted? Would it have allowed Alias to seep over because here was the way it did play out; to the customer I was simply Aaron the nameless Game Advisor whom they may never see again whereas coworkers saw me each day. Would this knowing of the rules helped if it were established that it was a requirement?

In my answer last night I went back to the kindergarten story and being able to be the weatherman or race reporter but there was never anything personal. When I was working at the video game store I was there to work. I took it very seriously and, as I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I held myself to perfection. Using my value system socializing on the job is not a high priority. Now, if we were talking about a better way to see used games, or a different approach to obtaining game reservations then I'd be all for that, but to socialize by talking about the latest summer movie, or rumors from Hollywood, or anything other thing I don't understand nor care too I could not fake it.

If socializing was a posted requirement I don't know how I would have reacted. All I wanted to do was to beat each day's sales record percentages. I made my job a game and everything else was a distraction. You'd think this would be the makings of a model employee but I was driven to a fault, I guess. The social politics of the job, at the time, made no sense at all and even if it'd had been on the application in the job description I don't know if it would have mattered because, at the time, I had no self-awareness to even know what that meant. I may have taken that line as being something meaning "discussing work with coworkers" when so often I'd hear, especially from the manager, "Aaron, do you talk about anything other than work?"

Thinking back, as I write this today, I think it was just like kindergarten in that I tried to socialize, but only in the way I knew how. My logic in kindergarten was, "if I find something interesting you do too" and at the job my logic was, "since I'm at work and you're at work let's talk about work."

I often wonder about my time there and how much different it might have been had I already been diagnosed. It'd be obvious that everything in my life would be different so I'm glad I didn't know, but just what if? Would I have been treated better? Would there have been more understanding? I've heard from so many other people with Asperger's that get burned out in a way because they had the same work ethic I did and understanding that others may not have the same driven attitude is hard to understand. Also, it's hard to understand that people enjoy socializing. Again, if I like something or dislike something, in my mind, you have the same likes and dislikes. Of course all of this may play differently in each person but it's something I just wanted to share today as the question last night sparked so many thoughts that I just had to write about.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Perfection is a Virtue

I remember the last time I wrote on this subject, perhaps it was two years ago, I had a comment along the lines of, "that is so sad, I feel so sad for my child." The last thing I want to do is to do is create an aura of sadness yet at the same time this aspect of being on the spectrum is one of the major hurdles that I have to deal with.

In everything I do I do to the best of my abilities and per the rules. A great line was said to me by a fellow USAC staffer Saturday night when he said, "Aaron, are you always this serious about anything you do?" and the answer is most certainly yes. However, not only am I serious about it I demand perfection out of myself.

Here's the problem though; last time I checked perfection is something that can be aimed for but rarely achieved. Sure, a person can score a 100% on a school paper, but this is deeper than just a score on a piece of paper. I've heard this so many times from parents of children with Asperger's that experience the same thing as I do and that is, whatever we do, we may do it better than anyone else but if there is one slight mess up, no matter how slight, it will be the only thing remembered.

Let's take this story from two weekends ago. I was working the USAC Little Hoosier 100 and the final race of the day was a 100 lap race with an Oakley watch going to the winner. My flagging had been perfect all weekend (speaking of that weekend, we had a MAJOR storm roll through on Friday and I took video of the incoming clouds that can be seen here) and I had received numerous compliments from drivers and parents all weekend but near the mid point of the race three cars came together off the final corner and one car started sliding my direction. I jumped back, perhaps a little hastily but when you've been involved in three accidents in 17 months I assure you you'd be a little jumpy too, but as I jumped back my yellow flag which I had under my left arm briefly flew in the wind. I didn't know if any driver saw it or not, but it's a major disadvantage if one driver thinks it's yellow and all the others continue at race speed so I had to announce over the radio, "Yellow yellow, I accidentally displayed it. My fault." What do I remember most about that weekend? The compliments? The storm? My interactions with the drivers asking what it was like to display the green at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for practice for the Indy 500? Nope. The thing remembered most is that one mistake. Perfection is a virtue and I don't just strive for it but rather I require it.

It's hard for me to take a compliment and my usual reaction is, and I said it on Sunday after the race in Hagerstown when I received a compliment on being "the best flagger in the country," my usual reaction is, "I don't know, I just do it. That's all."

Do I take pride it what I do? Absolutely, but do I cherish it or feel good about it? I'm not sure. My level of self-critique is demanding. Here's a distinction though; I wouldn't say I'm a perfectionist. My hair doesn't have to be perfect, my car doesn't have to be sparkling, and if I'm playing a game I don't have to win. However, if I am doing something of relevance perfection is the only thing that matters. After presentations, regardless of questions or compliments, I will almost always remember one or two lines or stories that I omitted rather than what I did say.

From what I've heard from parents there are two ways this plays out in individuals. There are stories like mine where I will beat myself up about one minor mistake and not take stock in the fact that 99% of everything else went perfectly and then there's the type that may not try the next time. It is highly difficult to manage the emotions and to come back from a mistake. Sometimes a mistake, like in my presentations, won't be noticed by anyone except myself but that's all that matters. I was able to come back right away and brush it aside for the moment at the Little Hoosier 100 but there will be others that will become consumed by a mistake like that. The ability to rebound may not be there and either more mistakes will follow or the person will just give up and quit the activity and may not partake in it again.

I think this is one of the more difficult concepts to understand if you haven't lived it. I'm sure everyone, spectrum or not, has had an instance in their life that they made a mistake on the job or socially that has hung around. Now imagine that amplified, sustained, and obsessed upon. All the encouragement in the world may not mean a thing because perfection is a virtue, I wasn't perfect, therefore all was lost. Again, I stress, I think this is so difficult for others to understand because we can do amazing things, but that one minor mistake will become the only thing that matters. I know I hold myself to a standard that is almost impossible to obtain, but that's what makes me who I am. While others may settle for an A- effort I only will accept an A++; while others won't reflect on what they could do better I may obsess on it. Perhaps I've painted a sad world; a world where happiness is lost on the pursuit of perfection, but that's what I strive for. It can be frustrating at times, but it's what drives me. My writing stems from this, my presentations are constantly getting better (somehow) and that's what keeps my passion in flagging alive. It might be a futile pursuit, but in my eyes perfection is a virtue that is well worth pursuing.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Dirty Story of Sameness

Ha! Okay, with my title you're probably thinking I've crossed some sort of line in sanity and am going to, well, say something dirty. If you were hoping for that I have to apologize because that isn't happening. 

Over the course of the weekend I made the annual trip to Hagerstown, Maryland to flag at a dirt track and as dirt tracks go they are dirty. I'll have a picture of myself at the end (it's hard to put photos in place from the Blogger phone app) but the story here was our nightly dinner at Barefoot Bernie's. 

First, for this story, you've got to understand that change is bad. If I do something one way one time I'm probably going to do it the same way each time. This applies to the food I eat as well and on the first night in Hagerstown I ordered the small sirloin, a ceasar salad, applesauce, and one breadstick with the salad beforehand. To me this was a great combo, well, it was great because this is what I got first and I liked it and because I liked it why would I try anything else?

The 2nd night I got a little ribbing as I heard, "Aaron, you got that last night!" and then the third time I got more and last night it was funny as while I was ordering others were saying my order to the exact tone and tempo I was. 

I've always said that, if you could hear me order at a restaurant, I sound almost robotic because I know exactly what to say in as little words as possible to make my order. This comes from the fact that whatever I ordered first I've probably always ordered. 

As with Friday's blog misunderstanding is a two-way street as I don't understand how the other USAC staff tried something different each day. Isn't sameness the spice of life? I mean, sameness is awesome! If whatever you got the first time was great why venture out to uncharted waters? I guess, in the end, this misunderstanding will continue to exist because it seems those not on the spectrum tire easily of the same thing over and over and myself, if I like something, won't venture out because I know what I like and sameness is super cool therefore, once again I declare, change is bad. 

Now how dirty was I this weekend? Here's the photo:


Friday, August 9, 2013

Change is bad

Despite what Kyle, the USAC .25 series director, says I firmly believe change is bad. What type of change am I talking about. Well, any change really but there's a unique thing I'm experiencing now as the series has returned to places we visit each year. 

My memory is a great thing, it truly is, but it's also tiresome as I'm able to remember where we've been in previous years. I think I should state, and probably should've begun with it, that I'm in Hagerstown, Maryland for the next to last round if the USAC Generation Next tour. Hagerstown has been a stop the previous two years and on the drive yesterday I was able to say, "and that's where we stopped in the middle of the night whilst out of gas and the attendants said they'd be open in an 'hour or so' and oh oh oh that's the..." I get really excited at sharing these tidbits and don't understand how others don't share my enthusiasm. 

Anyway, this is my third time in Hagerstown and I found out that we were staying at a different hotel than the previous two years and this immediately created a high level of apprehension. It's hard to bottle this up and not share it. I understand, somewhat, that other people don't have my memory and don't share my insistence on sameness. 

Instantly I was worried about the hotel and I think Kyle picked up on that but here's the thing; it didn't matter what hotel we were at and it could have been the best hotel in the world and I STILL would have felt a high level of apprehension. That's just the way I am. If I do something once then I know what to expect but when there's a change it throws off my whole system. 

The other aspect on this is that I have a hard time understanding how others DON'T have the memory I do. I mean, how do you not remember that we stopped at THAT gas station, or that we ordered that food on that day? This is what I deal with on a day in and day out basis. I like sameness down to minute details but then when no one else understands, well, I don't understand the lack of understanding which is why I've written this blog to maybe increase the understanding of these misunderstandings. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Back on the track

Yesterday afternoon I ventured to an indoor kart track in Indianapolis. It had been awhile since I drove anything as fast as I could drive it so I was highly looking forward to getting in the driver's seat. 

The track I went to is on a split level and it felt amazing to once again experience the feeling of speed. As I was driving I paid attention to the g-forces along with the secure feeling of the belts that held me in the seat with a high sense of security and I realized that I felt about as safe and secure as possible while I was zipping within inches of the walls at a high rate of speed. 

For those of you that don't know my story I'd like to mention that I raced karts from 1995 to 2003 as well as being a race driving instructor in 2003. One of the things, well, the thing I loved most about driving was the feeling of becoming one with the vehicle. It's a hard feeling to explain but when I was turning my fastest laps yesterday everything in life made sense. It was more than just living in that moment of trying to shave a tenth of a second off my lap time. Yes, it's more than that as the sensory feeling from the forces puts my body at ease and minimizes the amount of anxiety my mind has from thinking. 

I could write more about this but it's something that, quite honestly, unless you've experienced it this is something that you probably can't understand. I mean, how odd is it that an environment where there are g-forces trying to push your head over, the bumps makes breathing difficult and one wrong move can lead to a painful crunch into the wall is the environment that I feel the safest and most secure. As I said, how could I explain that as it would seem to make no sense but for me, well, I can't wait to go again. 



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Evolution of Video Games and Kansas

As with yesterday's blog, I am talking about the Thompson Center's study that states that those with ASD or ADHD are more prone to video game addiction that those who are normal. Yesterday I stated that games often become a 'Kansas' state of being for those on the autism spectrum and from the age of three I craved games. Remember this quote because it's important; within a set of rules everything is known and the worlds of video games have very defined rules.

My experience started in the arcades at a young age with the games of Pole Position and this rollerball bowling game at Noble Roman's (a pizza place) in Indianapolis when I was really young. Then I got my first Nintendo and Super Mario Bros.
This was a very straight forward game; you start with three lives, 100 coins gets an extra life, a mushroom makes you big, a star gives you a short-lived invincibility, and there was just a sense of joy squashing those goombas. Each world had four levels except the last one that had three. When either the end of the levels was reached, or your lives were over, so to was the game.

Over the years games have become deeper and deeper and so to has their allure in becoming a major 'Kansas.' One thing about that study is that it mentions that those on the spectrum are more likely to play action or role playing games. According to the article I linked to on NPR, it states that the researchers (I don't know which study they are talking about because it mentions another) conclude that for ASD boys action and role playing games (RPG) are chosen over first person shooters because FPS's are more audiovisually intensive and faster paced. I must say I disagree with them on their conclusion. Over my journeys talking to students and the students that have admitted that they were on the spectrum there is a wide range of games enjoyed and FPS games are right up there with others. Of course my method is not scientific at all, but let me explain the allure to action, and more specifically, role playing games.

One thing games have done in the past decade is they've become more and more open ended. What that means, going back to Mario, is that whereas when Mario was complete, it was over  Some games today are now getting to the point of where there is no end. Take the hit game of the past few years Minecraft. I personally don't understand the reason why it is such an Aspie magnet because I like close-ended games and I also don't like building things. But while I may not understand many people do. If you don't know what it is, think of it sort of like a mix between LEGO's, a game of survival, and a world where if you can imagine it you probably can build it. Oh, and at night zombies come out in a randomly generated world. But everything has a logic to it. You start the game with nothing but then you go get some wood and with that you can build a pickax and get rocks and upgrade your pickax and then iron and then find diamonds and it just goes on and on and on. And best of (or worst of in my) all (or worst of in my case) there is no end. There is no story, no reason, just mine away and use your imagination.

Another genre that is popular is the role playing game (RPG). These too are getting deeper and got their start from Dungeons and Dragons. My first experience with this type of game was Final Fantasy on the Nintendo, but besides the stats of the games (any gamer will be able to tell you what HP or EXP means) the RPG's of today aren't anything like the worlds that first were created. Take the hit game Skyrim. With the fabulous soundtrack and the world that has more to do than anyone can imagine it is a game that truly packs hundreds of hours of game play. Why is this good? One, it has dragons, but again it's a world that one can play and become engrossed in. The game is one of a long running series and has more lore to it than you, unless you've played it, can appreciate. I believe games are an art form and this game is one wonderfully crafted piece of art. It is also one of the games that a person on the spectrum can become, as one might say, addicted to. Why is this? First, while the game may have a story, once the main story is done the amount of side quests you can do are endless. The game has its own economy so you can try and become wealthy within the confines of the game, or you can commit crime after crime and become feared throughout the realm of Skyrim. Now how awesome does that sound? To have the ability to become someone else in a world that has limits and rules and one can be a hero or villain, without fear or any bit of social anxiety, is certainly an enticing proposition.

Within the past decade social gaming has also become a major factor. I'd be curious to know if the percentage of video game usage has always been the same in the 80's or 90's or if the development of the games of today have added to this. Anyway, with the advent of the Internet, people can now game together. Yes, I'm stating the obvious but this is another factor that if it hasn't been looked at it should because this is one avenue that many people on the spectrum socialize. There are some games where one may only converse as his or her character, or there are services such as Xbox Live in which one can communicate as if it were a telephone service. Most of my friends I have now have come from this and I actually learned how to have a conversation through this method. Think of the safety of it though; for one, if you are playing a racing game like I normally do and am talking to those I'm racing with there's a good chance I already have something in common with those that I'm talking to. Also, if someone becomes mean, I can simply mute them. And another aspect you probably wouldn't think about is the fact that the physical appearance of a person is taken out of the picture which takes out a lot of the processing element of life.

 What does the future hold? I think as games become more open ended without any defined end and as game developers create stories that have the depth of best-selling novels and sparks the imagination of those who play it I think the situation may become worse. In my 2nd book, which is yet to be published, I have a chapter entitled "Faking Kansas" where I talk about this very fact. It's a perfect storm really as we are talking about a mind that has the tendency to obsess on one topic and we're also creating a world that is safe, predictable, and is interactive. The real world is sometimes unsafe, the rules are ever changing, and it is anything, and I mean ANYTHING but predictable. What motivation is there to leave it? I mean, in the Mass Effect universe you get to be Commander Shepperd and your actions will determine the fate of humanity; in each Final Fantasy installment there's a world to be saved, and even in the world of iRacing there are races to be ran and championships to be won. Whatever one's real life Kansas is there's most likely a game that reflects that. As I said, it's a perfect storm and I think there have always been things those on the autism spectrum have flocked to, I don't think anything has ever had the impact of video games and as games become deeper and more complex it is something that I feel we will be talking about for some time to come such as, is this a good thing or a bad thing? I know I've grown within games and my sister says that I actually bonded with her when I was five when we played the NES game of pinball. So within rules everything is known and within these worlds there can be growth. And yet, since "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" the next person may become stagnant in these worlds and will not want to leave the safe confines of these worlds.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Explaining Kansas and Games

A study by The Thompson Center came out last week proclaiming that those with "ADHD and ASD are more prone to overuse videogames."

I begin with that study because it is once again time to explain my Kansas concept. Besides a boring state to drive through (my apologies to anyone in Kansas, but I-70 through there has to be the most boring drive anywhere) it is part of the title of my book Finding Kansas. In the book there is little reference to the actual state but rather it is a concept to explain the aspect of the autism spectrum of, "a person on the autism spectrum with have an area of interest or activity that they will want to do or talk about to the exclusion of everything else."

So think of it this way; what if you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas? If that were the case where would you want to live? In my presentation I have a state that is the anti-Kansas but as to not offend anyone, should that state actually exist, I will omit it, but yes think about that. In Kansas everything makes sense but outside the state nothing makes sense, everything is overwhelming, and what is easy for everyone else is simply too difficult to do. With all that I once again ask, where would you live?

For those on the autism spectrum Kansas is that area of interest or knowledge that we will perseverate on something all day and getting outside of that area of interest can prove to be difficult. And obviously, using my metaphor, you can see why.

Often times Kansas will be something factual because within facts we are talking about something that is right or wrong, black or white with no middle ground or grey area and it is within the grey area of life that processing takes place and processing for us on the spectrum can take a bit longer, and can create a high does of anxiety, therefore processing is bad. However, within Kansas, all is known. If I know all the facts about something and I know all the rules then we are taking the processing element of life and tossing it aside.

Now, going back to that study and games, the question probably is, "why games?" I'm going to blog more on this tomorrow in regards to video games and the evolution of them but within games there are rules and within rules everything is known. Think about that, within rules everything is known because all the boundaries of life are set. When playing Monopoly there is nothing you can do on your first roll that will create a game over situation. In life this can happen in terms of relationships, friendships, and jobs.When playing a game there is order to the madness of life. When playing a board game the order of play is dictated by the rules and play proceeds clockwise. This makes sense! There is a logic to the madness.

With many games there's a defined beginning and end. I'll talk more about this tomorrow as I write about video games and the way they've changed over the past 30 years, but in many games there's a defined beginning and a defined end. Again, this makes sense and just knowing this is something that alleviates so much stress and anxiety. Think about a social situation. What is the defined beginning of it? Is it a hello? Is it when someone asks something personal? And here's an even deeper question, when is the end? I still have no idea what the answer to this is. And I'm sure, autism spectrum or not, many people struggle with this as I don't think there's anything more awkward than a conversation coming to an end. You know, that awkward time when one person wants to walk away but they're unsure if the conversation is over? Yeah, that's awful but this is even worse for us on the autism spectrum because we have a harder time, as it's a non-Kansas moment, to understand this dynamic. In a game, however, there is a defined end whether it's a time limit, or if there's just one player left, but regardless the method there is a set in stone hard line of when it is over.

For many of us on the autism spectrum games are a major Kansas because "within rules everything is known." Within rules I can operate. I know the boundaries, I know the beginning, I know the end, and I can operate more on an even level because my mind isn't analyzing everything at once and trying to figure out the rules of the current situation.

Today's blog is the first of two and tomorrow I cover the video game aspect and the reasons as to why I believe it is such a Kansas for so many people.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blog Reset

Blogging isn't the easiest of things to do on this world and is even more difficult when one blogs as frequently as I do. With that being said I have something that adds to the difficulty. 

My entire life I have hated to repeat myself. When I blog I often think, "didn't I use this example 2 years ago?" And if I have I usually will strike the example from the current blog that I'm writing. But here's the thing; blog readers come and go and you'd be surprised at how rare it is for people to go back and skim through what has been written in the past. Truly, from my experience, the medium of blogging is a medium of right now. 

Now, with all that being said, I still struggle with repeating myself because I operate under the code of,  "I think therefore you should know" which means since I know I'm repeating myself so do you and since repeating is I think repeating is bad you'll think my blog is bad. 

This is a struggle but today I've come to the conclusion that repeating is okay because it's information that is needed. So today on forward I will have no qualms about using concepts (how long has it been since I spoke in depth about Kansas, positional warfare, and alias among others?) that I have already covered albeit a couple years ago. So today, consider this a reset and hopefully I will stick to my newfound belief that repeating is okay.