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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Drive Home

I'm currently headed back to Saint Louis. Yesterday we drove from the LA area to Grand Junction, Colorado. Today we will make it somewhere in the middle of Kansas (the actual state, not my metaphorical place.)

The traveling tour is over but I still have a jam packed time the next two weeks. I've got three big presentations in Saint Louis and then I also have some traveling across the state presenting to schools. 

This drive home has been hard as it was 10 years ago today I was making this same drive home from being a race car driver instructor in Vegas. I had so much hope back then that the drive would be the first of many that would see me driving across the country racing in front of thousands. Obviously, that didn't happen but on this drive that sense of hope, or the remnants of it, have been stirred up. 

Don't get me wrong, this new race I'm in is much more important and it feels so odd to be on this road with similar feelings yet 10 years apart. Right now I have that same feeling I had 10 years ago in that I hope this isn't my last trip. This month I spoke to over 7,500 people which I think is an incredible feat and I hope I can do this again. Even though I have all these events planned coming up, in a way, I'm afraid this drive home will be an end instead of just the closing of one chapter. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The White Flag

It was just one month ago I was in Lancaster waiving an actual white flag working the Streets of Lancaster race. That race seems like it was just a day ago. Where has this month gone? Already I'm on the white flag of my 2013 National Autism Awareness Tour (white flag meaning one lap to go if this were a race.)

An audience of 1,500 at Lutheran High School of Orange County, Orange, CA
Yesterday I experienced my largest audience ever with 1,500 people spoken to at once and it feels odd to be able to say that I did this without fear at all. I think back to another time I had a white flag in my life, back in 2003 as I was about to head home from a month of instructing at the Derek Daly Academy and the feelings I'm feeling now are about the same.

Today is my final day on tour. After my presentations today, one at a high school, two at a university, and an evening one that is open to the public, tomorrow will see the long drive home. Just as I did in 2003, and on last year's tour for that matter, I feel worried as if this is it— as if this drive home is the end. Yes, I know I have open to the public presentations in Saint Louis next week, then a trip to speak at a school in Rolla, Bourbon, and Springfield, but still there's this feeling as if today is the final lap coming to the checkered.

That's one of the things I've always struggled with in my life. It's been something talked about on my blog many times going back to the day in which I gave my last POST training to police officers in 2010. Sure, I still present to officers, but that string, or era as I called it in that post, was over. So too now as after today, well, let me explain.

My brain can handle the now, but there's a different concept of time which creates this future anxiety. There will be a chapter in my 2nd book (at least I think it is in there) talking about the concept of "past, present, and oblivion." What this means is I know what was, I know what is and whatever is is forever which means the future is in no way understandable. What does all this mean? This means that with change comes a future that simply isn't. It is impossible for me to understand change, to see it and to calculate it. This month I've had a calendar to go by and I've been able to go from town to town to town and follow the directions and go to the hotels. You may think this traveling is difficult but it's actually rather easy because there's a schedule to go by but after today it is gone.

This isn't to say that the end of this tour is the end of the world. It's going to be nice to be home, to be in my own bed, to be able to actually see my girlfriend and go out for dinner and see a movie, but at the same time, professionally, it feels as if this is an end and that I'm never going to have this chance again.

It's awful the way my brain handles these things. Instead of seeing the fact that I will have spoken to over 7,500 people this month I'm worried about the fact that something like this will never happen again. In a way I feel robbed because I'm not actually able to enjoy the moment as I'm looking forward towards oblivion. However, in each case I've feared the white flag would lead to the final checkered flag, I have been proven wrong each time. I thought I never would present to officers again (referring to the blog I linked to) and I still do. I thought I'd never have an audience over 200 again when I achieved that, and I have. I thought I'd never go out of Missouri to present, but I have many times. I thought I'd never go on a national tour again after April of last year and yet here I am, once again, closing out what has been a most phenomenal tour in terms of people reached and impact. Will I get to do this again? I hope so and while my brain is telling me today is the end, I'm battling it, thinking that this is just another end of one race and the next race will be at a bigger venue with more people and an even larger impact. While my brain may be thinking that, I do have to get going to get to today's presentations which will mark the end of my tour on the road.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hello World

I don't know if it is possible to measure the impact of this tour. And if we could, what would the criteria be? It's impossible to know what a little bit of autism understanding will do for a person in a week, a year, or maybe even two decades from now. However, there is one thing I can measure and that is the questions that are asked and, in what was my most memorable venue and stage ever, I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

Faith Lutheran Middle School/High School, Las Vegas, NV
When I present to schools I don't use anything flashy, no PowerPoint, it's just me and my words for 20 minutes. After that it's open to questions and this is something that never goes the same way twice. The final question of the first presentation on Thursday in Las Vegas, by a student all the way in the top row, was, "Yeah, you've spoken about the depression and sadness you felt and how hard socializing is so what made you want to come out of your world and into ours?"

I may have been on a stage, I may have been in front of nearly 800 people, but at that moment my entire being was not in that place but in all the struggles I had to go through to get to be on that stage. I began to think back of all that had happened and then, realizing I needed to say something, I smiled greatly and said, "Wow! That might be the most profound question I've ever been asked." From there I talked about my passion that, for some reason, I'm able to write and I am able to stand up there on the stage, give my story, and give others a much needed increase in autism awareness and understanding because there is hope through understanding.

If it had been up to me I wouldn't be doing what I am doing as I'm shy and quiet, and yet I stand in front of big groups and present. I added this in my answer, but I said my mission is more than me and I know there are others out there that are where I was and it doesn't need to be that way.

There are many moments I remember from the nearly 450 presentations I've given, but this question and answer, in that I explained my reasoning for breaking free of the shy and quiet me and for proclaiming, "HELLO WORLD," will be a moment that remains with me forever and just furthers my belief that speaking to students is more important than anyone can realize.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Need For the Race

Yesterday was an important blog post; perhaps not for you but for myself. There was one thing missing, however, that as I thought about it today I realized I didn't lay out a good, valid reason for this race I'm in and to do so I'm going to do something I don't normally do and that is playing the hypothetical game.

So okay, I wanted to be a race car driver. 10 years ago this month I was an instructor at a race car driving school, I had a sponsor, and I was just about to sign with a team. Let's say this team wasn't as they turned out. Let's say I impressed some important people with my driving skills and I started moving up the racing ladder. Had this been happening I would never have been diagnosed. Without my diagnosis and self-awareness the amount of social pitfalls would have been numerous.

One thing about being a race car driver today is the fact that one has to have good people skills now. There are many social functions whether it is meeting fans or engaging with sponsors that are an absolute must for any driver at the top level. Would I have been able to do this back then? As I think about it, and how timid and shy I was as an instructor outside the actual instructing, I'd have to say that my implosion in this process would have been catastrophic. Why? I would have been under the mindset that racing was just about that; going faster than everyone else around me. This aspect of mingling with others, establishing relationships with the crew and other drivers would've been lost on me. I'd probably have been called silent, arrogant, or maybe even downright rude and I would have had no idea why.

This is the essence of the race. If the information isn't out there, if those that need the diagnosis don't get it, then what happens? For myself, before I was diagnosed, there was only self-hatred. "Why were others different?" I thought to myself on a daily basis. I often hear questions of, "but isn't a label bad?" and I have to go back and tell you to think about what would have happened if I was racing cars and if I would've had my crack at the big time. Without knowledge of what I had, which is a big part of what makes me who I am, I would have become more and more bitter and I'm sure I'd eventually grow to hate myself, or everyone else around me.

My race has many dimensions; the first is awareness, but the second is the pursuit of early diagnosis. While I haven't blogged about this as much as I should have, it is a major factor in my presentation. It is known that the earlier a person on the autism spectrum gets services the chances for a faster rate of growth increase. In the tour that I am doing right now, in speaking to thousands of students, I firmly believe that if we want to increase this we need to educate the students of today as the students of today will be the doctors, nurses, social workers, and teachers of tomorrow.

Today is a big step in my race as I'm now headed to present two times to speak to almost 1,600 people. I'm looking forward to it and I do have a tad bit of nerves as I'll be presenting to an absolute packed theater... twice! If ever the race were in overdrive today is the day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Race

Just over four years ago a person asked me, "Now that you have a book out do you still want to race?" I end my presentations with this and my answer in that, "Yes, I still want to race now but it's a new race; the race is to spread as much autism awareness and understanding as possible because there is so much hope out there only if people are made aware of it."

I'm back in Las Vegas and it feels weird. 10 years ago I was an instructor here at a racing school at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and driving in from Phoenix, as we drove through Henderson, I was almost breathless as we drove past the exit I lived off of and the hill with the radio towers. I was taken straight back in 2003 and the feeling of freedom I felt. And pride, yes pride as this was my first real experience away from home and I was living my dream as being a professional race car driver. I was a professional, right? Since I was being paid I think that is the apt term.

One thing that also is major about my Vegas experience 10 years ago was that was the last major event in my life before I got my Asperger's diagnosis so that era is even more major in my memories. Of course, the racing career didn't pan out but I go back to what I told the person four years ago that, "I'm in a new race now..."

There are many types of races. In the Olympics one of the events that captures the greatest attention is the 100 meter dash. The distances go all the way up to the length of a marathon and then is the world of auto racing there are races of varying distances. At the lower levels sometimes it simply 30 laps, then when you work your way up the professional ladder 100 miles, then 200, and for most drivers in America the most special race to win ends in 500. There are also endurance races which last from 2, to 6, to 12, to even 24 hours. In those longer events there's a team of drivers that take turns behind the wheel, of course, but the race I am in is even more demanding than all the famous 24 hour events put together.

Being on the road for this month as been harder than last year. My first tour I was very much awed by the entire experience and this go round I've felt much more ambitious about everything. At the same time I've been wondering what my life would have been like if I had made it in motorsport. I never really wrote about it this month, primarily because of the inner conflict it was creating, but I was going down the road of chasing normal.

Anytime a person on the autism spectrum "chases normal" bad feelings usually ensue. Sure, being a race car driver is by no means normal but the concept is the same. It's been a while since I've talked about this concept, but several students at my presentations have asked questions that unlock the answer that allows me to explain it. Anyway, what chasing normal is, is that, "if I see what I am not I will forget who I am." My race is one of extreme endurance and this period of chasing normal slowed down the pace greatly.

I had four days of downtime in Phoenix and I was left to my own thoughts and I kept thinking about how much more I could be if I were a racer. What does "more" mean? I can't answer that as I don't know, but I was just sure that what I am doing in life had no meaning or relevancy. If you haven't chased normal then I'm sure my words might have just made you mad because you, wherever you may be, may be thinking that, "how could you think that? You're on a national tour speaking to thousands and getting to see more of America than most people will ever see." I do have to give you that point, but the core of chasing normal is the fact that, if I see who or what I am not, then who I am is irrelevant. I hear this from so many parents and from some very self-aware students who are on the autism spectrum.

Very rarely will a race go perfect. Perhaps a pit stop was erred, or maybe at some point in time the handling might go away, but the winner of any race is the one who might not have been the fastest at the start, but rather the one who pushed through the problems, learned from what was going on, and was there at the end. My race, right now, is sort of like that. I just went through that period of yearning for those days of 2003 when the possibilities were endless as to what my racing legacy was going to be. I am driving out of that funk now. The possibilities are still endless, but this time it is to what I can do for the world. Will there be a legacy? Will I have a room dedicated to the trophies I have collected from winning races? Probably not, but I now see who I am. I am not a race car driver but I still race and I'm racing harder than I ever have before. The race I'm in now is one that can't be lost and I can't be slowed by being saddened by the past, or by seeing who I am not. This race must be won. There is so much hope out there but it can only be obtained through understanding. I don't know who I seem to be a conduit that this can occur, but I must go on with a stronger will and passion than ever. I'm over 440 presentations given and I still am developing my craft. Someday I'll have my 2nd book out on the market which will mean a new presentation. The challenges will remain, but I must see who I am; I am the Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals: Life Skills and my race, which may seem like it's in the mid point or nearing the checkered, is just getting off the starting line.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

10 Years...

I started the month by talking about contrast in that 10 years ago this month I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy in Las Vegas. It's somewhat that today I am driving to Vegas for my ongoing tour, but 10 years ago today I was instructing when we got word of a tragedy.

One of my first instructors was an up and coming driver by the name of Tony Renna. He wasn't my primary instructor, but he was my secondary and if anything my dad spoke to him more much more than I did. A year or so later I went back out there and once again he was a secondary instructor and once again I think my dad talked his ear off, but later that year Tony got a call to drive in the IndyCar series as a sub. He impressed with a 4th place finish but when the season was over he once again was rideless.

For the 2003 Indy 500 Tony drove the "Cure Autism Now" car and my dad and I were at the Circle City Mall in downtown Indy and Tony was going to make an appearance but we didn't hang around to say hello. A couple days later he would finish 7th just missing out on Rookie of the Year honors as Tora Takagi finished 5th. After the race he once again didn't have a ride.

Just as I was about to head out to instruct I saw on the racing news that Tony Renna was announced as a driver at Team Ganassi for the 2004 season. For those that don't know racing, Team Ganassi is one of the best teams and is one of the more coveted rides. When I got out to the school all the other instructors were buzzing about it. Then October 22, 2003 happened.

It started out as a normal day at the Academy but as noon approached I could tell there was something apprehensive with the manager and chief instructor. I said nothing but a half-hour later the rumors they heard were true; there had been an accident in a tire test at Indy. Details weren't solid, but what was known was Tony Renna's car got sideways, became airborne, and hit the catch fence at a critical angle. Survival was not a possibility in this crash.

As I mentioned, Tony had been my secondary instructor and I didn't have much interaction with him. I called my dad to inform him the news and I could hear a sadness in his voice. The staff at the school took it roughly and there was deep somberness for the rest of the time I was out there. For myself, this was my first time ever being in the midst of something so tragic. I didn't know what to say, or what to do, so I just kept to myself and did my job. All the local news stations sent crews to our facility to interview various instructors and mechanics about what type of person Tony was and what type of potential he had.

I know my blog has little to do with autism today, but I just felt it right to tell this small story as most racing fans have never heard of Tony Renna, but he was in line to make a name for himself. It's odd, I write this 10 years later but it seems like yesterday; the apprehension, the rumors, and then the confirmation of the loss. It's one thing to hear a story on the news, it's another to be there with people that called Tony a true friend and were there when he was rideless and then when he got the best news of his career. It's a sensation that just can't be forgotten.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Stress Does

After several days off I return to presenting today but the previous few days have not been good for me. It's amazing what stress can do for those of us on the autism spectrum. Don't get me wrong, stress is something that affects everyone, spectrum or not, but it seems for us it can quickly become the only thing felt.

One thing I used to say is that whatever is can quickly become, "the only thing that matters" and couple that with the mindset of, "whatever is now is forever" and it's a perilous coupling. Once the ball gets started it just grows and grows and grows. This is what I've been going through and it's been obvious to those around me that I'm just not myself.

As the stress continues those around me want to help and it's hard knowing that my discomfort is affecting them. I know they want to help, but when this mind cycle gets spinning there is little that can be done except to weather the storm.

I used to experience this severe level of worry, angst, and stress much more often, in fact I think it's been years since I experienced this level (ever been in a car that went over a hill and had a sudden drop? That dropping sensation has been in my stomach all weekend) and I have to admit I forgot just how overpowering it is. Nothing matters except the problem. That's it, and remember the key concepts of the second paragraph in this post; when the only thing that matters is what will be forever that means there is no room for change. To be able to conceive of the notion that things can get better; that things can change must be a wonderful asset as it is something my brain struggles with greatly.

Once again, I'm sure this post is not limited to those on the autism spectrum. As a coworker of mine says, however, "autism is human behavior except taken to the extreme" which means this is something everyone deals with but for those of us on the autism spectrum the storm is stronger, longer, and the ability to realize that a sunny sky will occur after the storm is something we may not see.

As my girlfriend told me yesterday over the phone, perhaps getting back in front of an audience is exactly what I need. This morning, here in Phoenix, I'll be speaking to students and then in the afternoon I'll have an open to the public presentation. To share my story and see the response might be exactly what I need to get out of this storm that I'm currently in.

Friday, October 18, 2013

RANT About Drivers


Yesterday Rob and I made the drive from San Antonio to Phoenix. The drive was about 1,000 miles but it had to be one of the more infuriating drives I’ve ever had.

I’m not sure what this post will have to do with autism other than to show how I believe rules need to be followed and when they don’t I can get just a tad bit bothered.

So early on in the drive, just as the sun was full on the horizon, the tempo of the drive was set when the fast lane was clogged with slow cars. It was someone discouraging that the state of Texas puts up so many signs that say, “keep left except to pass” as it seemed the majority of travelers simply ignored this.

I have blogged about this before and I said that I-44 between Springfield and Saint Louis was the worst for this but now I know what I thought was bad wasn’t that bad at all. From Texas, to New Mexico, to Arizona we had more encounters than we could count of slow cars in the fast lanes. Rob had no problem making a pass on the right but I struggle with that. The rules state that passing is supposed to take place on the left and I truly cringe making a pass on the right as if I’m running a stop sign. It got too much though! When the speed limit is 80 (yes, I said 80) and a car is doing 70 in the fast lane there is a problem.

This post isn’t so much a rant but a plea; cars like this in the fast lane are dangerous. It creates a bottleneck and a backup then jostling for position and it’s just not a good situation. Beyond that, it’s 100% avoidable! As Rob and I called it, “there’s no reason to be partying in the fast lane.”

It takes quite a bit to get me angry but Rob got to hear my impassioned pleas, in somewhat of an angry tone, for some magical driving lesson to come about to everyone. Already on this trip, in 4,300 miles, Rob and I have come across four overturned semis and six car accidents. On my 2012 tour we saw no accidents and had no close calls. This year we’ve see all those accidents plus we’ve nearly been in an 18-wheeler sandwich a couple times. Has America forgotten how to drive? What’s going on? At this rate I feel like going on my tangent that helmets should be mandatory in cars. The driving I’ve seen out here on the open road has just left me scratching my head. So please, and I know I’m a bit off my normal topic but the racing/driving instructor in me is coming out, but please know the rules of the road, don’t party in the fast lane, and just be safe. Okay, my rant is over.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More on Game Theory

From when I began presenting to now my segment on "Game Theory" has changed drastically. Originally my presentation stuck to how I wrote it in my book but as I progressed in my understanding of it, and my presenting skills increased, the information given differs from the book slightly. Make no mistake though that my original concept holds true. 

As I had my few days at home my dad cooked a big pot of stew and invited Rob, my girlfriend, and myself over. After dinner we played a friendly game of poker which I acted as dealer and essentially the host of the game. 

Before I continue on I must restate what Game Theory is. What it is is this; in my chapter I stated that, within games, I come alive. Because there are rules, and when playing a game everyone's focus is on the game, I feel more comfortable and am able to socialize in a group more normally. 

Anyway, while we played I had to explain the rules several times and other nuances to the game and I had no trouble doing so. All in all it felt great. 

After the game I ebbed a bit and became much quieter and not as energetic. This is normal and my girlfriend pointed that out. Also, she mentioned that I said her name many times in a short while within the game. This too is the power of games as I try not to use names. As odd as it sounds I feel using names is just too personal but within a game it is a necessity. 

I'm glad I have the best girlfriend in the world as she understands this all and has no problem with the moments I do ebb from those times I have no problem commanding a game. And this is the point I'm wanting to make; understanding is so vital because if this is not understood it would be massively confusing as to how I can go from active, and talkative within the confines of a game to silent, quiet, and highly reserved.  While my segment on Game Theory has changed the core concept holds true today just like it always has. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Back At It

After an intense start of the month I had several days off so from Seward, Nebraska Rob and I drove to my home in Saint Louis. It was a much needed rest as I had done 15 presentations in 10 days but at the same time the return home allowed me to think for the first time.

Think about what? I go back to my dedication blog and the fact that I haven't had time to feel anything since I wrote that blog while flying to the Streets of Lancaster race. The way I can describe this feeling is that of running; running trying to stay in front of these emotions. I can feel this grief, and sense of loss within me, but at the same time it's much like a shadow that is seen out of the corner of the eye and whether or not it was there or not is anything but a certainty.

Being home was a weird feeling as if the previous ten days had not happened. I had been go go go and it was such a twist to, a couple days ago, go pumpkin picking with my girlfriend. And now I'm back on the road in Joplin headed down to Texas.

The feelings being back on the road, for me, are mixed. Once again I'm back in the race; the race of spreading as much awareness and understanding to as many people as I can, but I still have this sense of loss within me. It's still there but there's nothing I can do. Perhaps this is just another illustration of the fact that it's easy for me to experience the emotion than to express it, but in this case the experience is so deep that the simple acknowledgement that it is there is almost too much.

Today's blog isn't long, and it's been since Wednesday since I've written and the reason for the delay have been these emotions, but I don't know if I've ever said so much in so little as I have today. Speaking of today it's now time to head to Texas where tomorrow will be a busy day with what I think is a triple header.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Never Give Up

As I have mentioned, this month, 10 years ago, I was a racing instructor at a racing school. I know I've repeated this many times, but it's the core of who I was as I knew I was going to make it big in racing. The same time as that fell apart was a few weeks after I diagnosed and I felt as if all were lost.

The other part in the mix, and I've written about this many times, is the information I got when I looked on the Internet when I was diagnosed which was, "those with Asperger's will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy." Obviously not the best of introductions, but between those two events I lost all my drive, fight, and a lot of my soul. I often wondered what the point was; why try if failure and misery is the only outcome?

It was odd yesterday as on the drive from St. Paul to Omaha we stopped and saw the movie Gravity in IMAX 3D (okay, I don't think I've ever stated anything about a movie, but if you can make it a point to see this movie in the cinema, and if you can in IMAX, and if you can in 3D) which a big theme of the movie is not giving up. I am fully against giving anything close to a spoiler, but there's one moment in the movie where all seems lost and it brought tears to my eyes; not the actual events on screen but my remembering where I was just a little under 10 years ago.

Imagine a world where the only thing thought of is, "each minute, hour, and day that is passed is simply counted. There is nothing more than this and will be nothing more than this." as that's where I was for 15 months. I don't really know how I came out the other side and I thank God every day that I discovered the medium to communicate my emotions through writing, but before that I didn't care about anything except the fact that hopelessness was a fact.

I've already reached over 2,000 people on my tour and one of the reasons why awareness around us on the autism spectrum is so vitally important is that through understanding a person may not be driven to that brink of darkness where hope is something that can't even be comprehended. During my 15 month pit of despair there was no such thing as hope, or understanding that things can (and do) get better. If you told me that things would get better I'd laugh at you. I told one counselor, "that's just cruel to say" because in my mind all was lost.

If you look up my book on Amazon the lead line that is used is, "All I want is someone to understand..." and that's all I wanted but initially I thought no one would be capable of such a thing. I mean, how could anyone understand what it is like to feel like I'm on a deserted island, cut off from all humanity, when I'm amongst others in a crowd? How could anyone understand what it is like to always think of the best thing to say five hours later? How could anyone understand what it is like to have a mind that is literal? How could anyone understand what it is like to miss social cue after social cue? These were the questions I asked, pondered, and dwelled upon. In my mind I was alone with this struggle and no one would ever be capable of understanding so I always came full circle and believed that hope was something that was as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Things are different now and I realize that hope, and the will to never give up, is critical. One thing my dad did, when I did give up, was he doubled his hope. I may never have acknowledged it, and I questioned the logic of it, but that helped a lot. It's easy for anyone to simply say, "never give up" but there will be times, I'm sure, when hope seems lost; when life seems like a game that's stacked against you and the odds are so greatly against you that the thought of even trying is a joke, but times change and those around us can have a major impact. We might not ever let you know the impact you had, but trust me when I say the support that those around us can give can prove to be the difference from a world that is dark, bleak, and the word hope has been stricken from the dictionary to a world where difference is understood; a world where hope and acceptance is and it is within this world, I hope, that more people than not live because I lived in the other world. I lived there for 15 months and no one should have to feel alone, defeated, and useless in this world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

30,000

Yesterday I talked about the month of what could have beens and it was fitting I would say that on a day that truly was a milestone.

When I started, and I say this on each milestone, I never imagined I'd have done 10% of what I've done, but yesterday my career numbers of people spoken to reached 30,000. 30,000! I still can't believe I've spoken to 1,000 much less 30x that. It all started small though and this is something I remember in every presentation. Anyone can get caught up in numbers, but I got a great question yesterday asking when someone inquired, "What can I do to increase awareness?" Here's the thing, it doesn't matter if someone reaches 10,000 or 1 as each person who gets the knowledge and understanding is going to talk to people that thereafter will talk to others. The difference in 1 and 0 is great, and each person has that chance to reach one. As for me, now, I'm leaving Minnesota and headed to Omaha for another round of presentations so here's to the next 30,000.

Here is an update of where I will be with new events on the west coast:


October 15th: Tomball TX (Houston area)

October 21: Phoenix

October 23rd: Las Vegas

October 28, 2013: Orange County, CA

October 29, 2013: Irvine, CA

November 5th: Saint Louis

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Month of What Could Have Beens

I'm now in the twin cities in Minnesota and the town of Minneapolis has haunted me since 1999 as this is the town that a major chapter in my book Finding Kansas took place. This month also has been unique because it was 10 years ago this month I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy racing school in Las Vegas.

I can't state enough what this month means to mean. October 2003 was an amazing time and I remember all as if it were right now. This chapter of my life is also a chapter in my book but two things about it is that it was the first time in my life I was on my own and secondly it was the last hurrah of my racing career and my life not knowing about Asperger's Syndrome.

In my presentation I do stress that I was on the path to racing stardom. And I was! I was 20, an instructor at a racing school and I had a sponsor. All was right with my world. Then, the month ended, and the following month I would find out I had Asperger's. I thought life was over.

Thinking that was my life was over led to a deep depression and led to me always thinking about what could have been. What could have been had I made it in racing? How much fame would I have? How would people see me? What would my trophy case look like? Then, I also thought about how Asperger's affected my relationships and what my life would have been without it. These thoughts; this what could have been mentality, was not good at all. Nothing mattered in my life except what wasn't and what could have been.

I've said this many times, but when one sees everything they're not they will forgot who they are. This is where I was and it was from that pit of despair that the current me was born.

I live that life, to a degree, now. I wonder what could have been if people, back when I was young, had the awareness that is now coming about. I don't want anyone to live in the place I did. I was able to come out the other side but others might not. It is from awareness and understanding that I firmly believe the foundation for hope is built on. If those around us can understand us then all of our lives will be made all the more rich. It can be done, it doesn't take that much to do so!

Part of my message is that, even though life may not turn out the way we expect it, and even though in the depths of night all seems hopeless, there is hope. I know not everyone is going to be able to hear my words as I know I wouldn't have listened to the me of today back then, but that's okay. Perhaps someday those words of hope will be heard and understood, but if those around us know us and understand us then maybe hope will be experienced earlier rather than later.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why This is Important

I'm on day three on the tour and I've already met so many people and have heard so many stories, but so far there is one moment that has stuck out more than any other. This was from a school presentation and involved a story I tell that happened to a police officer.

The story involves an incident where a police officer pulled over an 18 year old with Asperger's and the officer asked, "Sir, can I see your licesne?" to which the person with Asperger's flatly said, "No." The incident kept going and eventually the individual was arrested. The problem that happened, of course, was the literal mind; think about it! If you think literally and someone asks you, "Can I see your license?" this is a yes or no answer. Understanding the implications of the question is something that a person on the autism spectrum may not see and whereas most people would understand this is a directive and not a question, but for some of us on the autism spectrum we may not see that.

Now how is that story relevant? I use this story when I present to almost everyone now whether it's to universities, parents, teachers, or even students. One thing, and I've written this before, that is so magical about my presentation to students are the questions and answers segment. One of the first question I took the other day, from a middle-schooler, was, "What would have happened if the officer would have worded it differently such as 'May I see your license?' or 'Could you hand me your license?'" I wish you could have seen my face at that moment because, if someone would have asked what the officer could have done, I would have given this answer the student gave.

And all of this is why speaking to students is so important. The ability to understand is there and from understanding comes the foundation for hope. In just hearing me for 20 minutes this student was able to understand how better to interact with someone on the spectrum and was able to give the perfect answer as to how the officer could have better worded the question.

My tour moves forward tomorrow with a stop in Milwaukee and I'm looking forward to more and more of these types of moments.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Out of the Gate

I've only spoke at three schools but my 2013 National Autism Awareness Tour has started strongly out of the gates. Yesterday I was in Fort Wayne and spoke to over 900 students and the response was wonderful. And then again, today, I spoke at a school in the Chicago area the response was just the same.

I know I have a month of speaking, but after each of these presentations I realize the need for this more and more. I wish you could see one of these presentations and the amazing questions. I wish you could see the smiles, the laughter, and sometimes the tears from students when they hear my stories.

Already I'm fearing the end of this tour. I know, I know, it only begun yesterday, but reaching teachers and students has the potential to bring about more change than one can comprehend and it is such a blessing to be able to do this.

Well, that's all I've got time to write today; I've got to head to my open to the public presentation now at Concordia University Chicago and then tomorrow it's onward to Milwaukee after a presentation to a social work class at the same university.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting There is Half the Fun: The Tour Day 1


My National Autism Awareness Tour officially begins today but the journey to get here was a journey that gave me many frustrations. This story begins many hours after my video blog from Sunday at the Streets of Lancaster and begins as I got the LAX. I normally love flying, but when it comes to airports LAX, or at least the terminal my airline was in, is awful and I had six hours to kill.

Killing time proved to be difficult but there certainly was a cast of characters to help it. For one thing this guy across from me got out his French horn and started playing. I guess when a person has to play they have to play, but this was something I have never seen before.

After working the race weekend I was rather tired and was counting down the hours until my 12:55AM flight and by 11 I just didn’t care about much anymore in terms of how depressing the terminal was. I had to conserve power because power outlets were nowhere to be found so I couldn’t blog, but finally it came time to board the plane and for the first time in a long time I quickly fell asleep on the plane. How fast? I was asleep during the taxi portion of the flight. The sleep didn’t last long and I then ended up bouncing in and out of sleep and when we arrived in Dallas I was getting excited to get home, see my girlfriend, then pack the rental van and start the tour. Things, however, did not go according to plan.

I got out of the plane and walked to the monitors of departures and my eyes looked around then I found Saint Louis and the time and on the status it said the worst word a traveler could see, “CANCELLED”. This was a first for me and I had no idea what to do and the pressure of getting on the road in a timely manner to get to Fort Wayne crashed upon my mind like dropping a piano on a car. I wandered back to the gate I came out of and asked the agent, “Um, what do I do know, it says cancelled.” She was unaware of any flight cancellations and she wasn’t all that helpful but eventually she told me I was on standby for a flight an hour later and she quickly went back to printing papers. I tried to ask again but she either didn’t hear me or chose not to hear me.

Next, I walked to the gate that I was supposed to standby not knowing what that means and I waited in the long line and after a while it was my turn to talk to the gate agent and when I did my words were slightly choppy as I was so dearly worried about the fate of my tour. I mean, would I be on standby for days? I asked what it meant and she explained so I asked what my odds were for getting on the flight and she said, “Let me see here. Okay, there are 60 people in front of you so it doesn’t look good… at all.” After that, though, she said I had a guaranteed seat on a 12:45 flight. This was some relief but I still worried about what time it would put me into Fort Wayne which is the first stop on my tour.

It was still dark outside but I was starting to get hungry so I got some food and while I was eating it these two people on this raised bar seating started talking and it was obvious they didn’t know each other which amazed me because it is hard for me to conceive of the notion that people that don’t know each can talk to each other. I was amazed as several minutes passed and they chatted away as if they knew each other for many years. As I finished up eating so too do their conversation and as the guy stood up he said, hey, my name is Karl, what’s yours?” There was an answer and then Karl said, “Well, I wish the best of luck to you.” And just like that a random conversation between two strangers was over. This haunted me, in a way, as thinking about the finality of what I witnessed saddened me.

 

I was starting to get extremely tired as the sun was now starting to break horizon and I tried to sleep in the chairs but this just wasn’t going to work as the arm rests are solid and tall. After being in the LAX terminal for so long I saw people sleeping on the floor and as I had been up for almost 24 hours without actual sleep I decided to try it.

This was something that I thought I’d never do as I always feared that if I were asleep someone would come and steal something of mine, but I was too tired to care. I went to a gate not in use and went towards the window and laid down. I used my laptop bag as a pillow and I put my phone under me, as I was listening to music to drown out the exterior noise, and quickly I was asleep.

I woke up sweating and I didn’t know why. I opened my eyes and immediately closed them due to the brightness. The slightly bright sky I last saw was now replaced with a radiant array of sunshine without a cloud in the sky and the sun’s heat was magnified through the window I was sleeping next to. My music was still playing and I looked at my phone and I couldn’t believe it as three hours had passed. Three! What had been an empty gate was now replaced with a hustle and bustle of human activity. Somehow I slept through the transition and I looked at my clock on my phone at it was 11; just one hour until my new flight was to board and even though I slept I felt as if I had not. I still had so much to do with getting the rental van, saying hello to Rob from Vancouver, unpacking at my house from the race and repacking for a 33 day trip across the country, and then making sure I didn’t forget anything (I failed on that front.)

So now, after all that drama from yesterday, my tour is about to begin. This year there is a major emphasis on speaking to students which is why this is the National Autism Awareness Tour: Building a Foundation for Hope. Yesterday morning I didn’t know if I’d make it on time, but today is the day! Today is the day that my cross country journey begins and I look forward to every stop, every presentation, and every story that unfolds and I look forward to bringing you those stories here on my blog.