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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Start of the Blue Wave

My first race of the year is in the books and what an event it was! The competition on the track was amazing as the USAC .25 series put on an amazing show in San Bernadino, California. While I was there in full capacity as the chief starter there was another aspect to this race as it was the first event that I was using the Blue Wave checkered flag.

As drivers were registering I had the flag displayed and many of the drivers, and parents, asked, "What's that flag?" which is exactly the response I was looking for. I didn't go into full presentation mode, but I did say April is autism awareness month and in honor of it I would be using a blue and white flag instead of the traditional black and white. Responses were along the lines of, "Awesome!" "That's cool!" and "Super!"

Another aspect that I came up with was to use a new flag at each event and raffle off the flag used at each event and have the main event winners sign the flag with the money going towards Easter Seals Midwest to promote autism awareness and understanding. I do have to admit it was an odd feeling for myself having the worlds of my full-time job and fun-job combine, but at the same time it gave me this strange sense of conviction and confidence.

At the driver's and handler's meeting on Friday I was given a few minutes to explain the flag (I did have to tell all the drivers what was going to be used as the checkered) but also the reasons as to why the checkered would be different. While I did explain what Easter Seals Midwest does, and the new rate of autism which had just been announced, I locked up when I wanted to state, "And this cause, for me, is personal as I do have the diagnosis of Asperger's." as I was in my racing "Alias." What I said worked, but I felt as if I failed afterwards to explain why this project means so much to myself.
The rest of the two race days I felt as if I let someone down; I didn't know who, but whenever I want to say something and don't it tends to haunt me.

Despite the haunting of my lack of words it was a great feeling to have flags in hand and to have a job to do at the race track. It had been over four months so I was elated to be back and it ended all too soon when it did, but when the final checkered flew it was now time to give away a flag.

At the podium ceremonies each time a winner stepped of the top rung of the podium they walked over to left and signed their name on the flag. In watching the drivers sign the flag I couldn't help but smile as, and this might sound a bit egotistical, just how awesome of a concept and raffle this was. In the end we raised over $600 which I think is an absolutely amazing total and I am so ever thankful that USAC has allowed The Blue Wave to take place over this past weekend and at several upcoming events as we're going to be able to continue to raise some money, awareness, and visibility of the autism spectrum. And not only that, but for one family they're going to receive a priceless memento. Speaking of the memento, when the winner was announced I was told to pose with the winner which I am not used to being photographed at a racetrack (unless I have a flag in hand) much less in victory lane, but here it is, the first winner of the Blue Wave.

Friday, March 28, 2014

1 In All


Did you hear the news yesterday? The CDC released the new incidence rate of autism and the numbers are now 1 in 68. Just 17 years ago it was 1 in 500 and back in 1980 we were at 1 in 1,500. While there is an ongoing debate on why the numbers have gone up this post is not about that. Instead, I want to talk about the numbers pure and simple.

I think back to when I was diagnosed and it was something I had never heard of; that being Asperger’s. I had heard of autism but I wouldn’t have been able to describe any trait of it whatsoever. Quite simply, to myself and many others, autism was something that was just “out there” and something that would never be encountered or experienced.

Times have changed and every two years the rate of autism grows and grows. When I began I was stating that autism was 1 in 110 and that number has almost been cut in half. What will the rates be in four more years? 1 in 50? 40? 35? Whatever these numbers may be I now find them to not be of much circumstance because I’m looking at a new number and only one number matters and that is, “One in all.”

What is one in all? This is the target for autism awareness and understanding in all fields of society. The era of ignorance must come to an end. When it was 1 in 1,500 it was something that was out there and that most people would not come across. Now, however, we’re nearing 2% of society being on the autism spectrum. For teachers this would mean a student on the spectrum one in just over two years if an average class were 25. For police officers, which I am ever so thankful that the Saint Louis area has been so ahead of the curve on  autism training, the need for training is as paramount as ever. I haven’t said this in presentations to them but maybe I should in that, “if you haven’t had an autism call yet in won’t be a matter of if but when.”

And for doctors, well, autism training there is still of utmost importance. I said I wasn’t going to get into why the numbers are going up, but perhaps it is better education of medical staff, but when I began working part of my job was to visit doctors and give them materials on autism. I did meet some amazing doctors who were dedicated to the core on providing whatever assistance they could for families and I also met doctors who didn’t know a single thing about it. Again, the era of ignorance must come to an end.

It pains me to think of the damage of ignorance to autism because, for one, it doesn’t have to be. Secondly, since early intervention is critical it is safe to say time lost is growth lost. There is always hope but the more time goes by the more work it will take. Also, since we on the autism spectrum can often be our own worst enemies, we often we seclude ourselves from society if we are picked on for things we do which may be out of our control. This is why speaking to students bodies is something that has given a new meaning to my role as “Autism Ambassador” because, maybe, the amount of bullying can be decreased.

As I’ve traveled and presented to schools, and I’ve mentioned this before, there will always be a question asked of, “How many people are on the autism spectrum?” and before I give the answer I ask back, “How many here knows someone or knows someone that knows someone on the autism spectrum?” and at my 500th presentation earlier this week I had over 90% of the 425 students there raise their hands. It was the highest number I’ve ever seen and it was so shocking to the students that I had to allow for almost 30 seconds of processing and chatter to happen before I could finish running off the numbers.

What that middle school response was, to me, was this; autism, I think to many, is still something that they may think is still something isolated whether it is a cousin, an uncle, or a niece, but whomever it is it is isolated therefore it is something that isn’t brought up. And to think of it, why should it be? I can’t think of something in school at recess that would bring up the subject of autism, and even if it did would one be willing to mention that a relative has it? This is the ongoing stigma of it all, but in that moment when all the students saw most everyone with their hands up that gigantic wall ceased to exist.

It seems with each passing year my role seems to get more important. And while that last sentence may sound I’m being egocentric I’m not as I’m just stating how I’ve felt. When I began at TouchPoint now Easter Seals Midwest I didn’t really know who I’d be speaking to or what I’d be doing but now I see it as a battle. This battle is to reach a one in all of autism awareness and understanding. Call me a perfectionist but everyone associated with the autism spectrum should have this goal. With ignorance comes the potential for the fail-set mentality to take hold and what could have been just a mild misunderstanding could balloon into a life-changing for the worse experience. With ignorance comes time lost and human potential squandered. We’re at a crossroads now and we must PUSH PUSH PUSH ever forward until every police officer, first responder, doctor, teacher, and any person who may work with a person with autism knows what it is and can better handle the encounter because, after all, it’s not a matter of if at this point but rather when, so again, the era of ignorance must come to an end.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Part of the World

Today is the day I head to LA and the first round of the USAC .25 series and with it comes my first airport experience of the year. Unlike so many I love the experience of travel and always have. From when I was young I was always intrigued by the airport and I can remember many weekends where my dad would take me to the airport to watch the planes coming and going from Indianapolis. I always wondered where all the people were going or coming from. 

In the 2000's after I got my diagnosis the only time I felt I was part of the world was when I was traveling. That may sound like an odd statement, but when I was home I never left the house outside to go bowling or work a local race. That was my world and I was convinced that this was all there was in my world at home. However, when I traveled, I felt as if I were a part of the world that I so often would watch pass me by convinced I would never be a part of, or accepted by. 

Times have changed but I still get just as elated being dropped off at the airport. I've been here for just 50 minutes and I still have the biggest grin as I hear the gate change announcements and witness humanity in motion. 

Here's the thing I felt back then and still today; at an airport I feel in the midst of humanity but the 4th wall usually stays intact. People are so engrossed with their gate, their conversations, their books, their music, and whatever it is that they're doing that one is almost invisible in a crowd. This is a safe feeling for me which is why I look forward to every trip and of all my years this year might see the most travel of them all but it all starts with today's flight which will take me to my first race of the year. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Season is Almost Here!

I've been at my office desk for almost two hours staring at my screen trying to come up with something regarding hope, or the relevance of my 500th presentation and 40,000 people spoken to but only one thing is going through my mind and that is cars and flags.

It's been four months since the SKUSA Supernats and that was the last time I was at a track with flags in hand but in less than 24 hours I'll be on a plane headed to California to work the first round of the USAC .25 tour. Am I excited? Excited doesn't even begin to explain just how much I am bouncing off the walls on the inside.

The past two months have been rough as I've waited for the race season to begin. Flagging is much more to me than just displaying flags but rather it is a test of perfection. Of course, I do some stylish things with the flags but it's the intense hyper-focus that I crave.

There's more to these first several events I am working besides racing as I'll be using my autism awareness checkered flag in place of the black/white checkered. To be honest I'm a bit nervous about this because I'll have to mention this in the driver's meeting as well as explain about the fundraiser that will be going on.

I'm really thankful that USAC is allowing me to use this flag and after each even in April (and hopefully one in May) as at these events we will be selling raffle tickets and the winner will receive the flag used that weekend with an added bonus as we are going to have the winners of each class sign the flag. It will be a timeless keepsake and a prize that I think is almost irreplaceable which, I hope, will help raise lots of money to further the cause of autism awareness and understanding. If I wasn't excited before I wrote this, which I was, I'm now buzzing with elation awaiting the start of the season!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Speechless

I've been trying to come up with something to write about today but it's been elusive. I think this is so because my mind is trying to put into context the meaning of the milestones I'll hit tomorrow. Not only will I be giving my 509th presentation but I'll also be going on the 40,000 mark in terms of people spoken to. I'm very much a milestone person so this is a little overwhelming considering I never thought I'd be a public speaker and to hit these numbers has left me speechless today. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Writing: A Product of My Environment

While this will go up in the morning US Central time I am actually writing this in a hotel room outside Kansas City after a three hour drive. Why is this relevant? I've learned more in the past month about my ability to write is highly reflective on the environment I'm in and for the best results in writing I have to have complete control of my environment.

I go back to when the first time I wrote willfully; it was after midnight and I was still living at home. Since it was so late everyone else had gone to bed and I was having trouble sleeping as usual. It was during these sleepless nights that my thoughts were able to go without interruption. Things just made a little bit more sense during these hours. This isn't to say that company was bad, but when I had a lot of thoughts, emotions, and fears going through me my mind took (and still does) longer to sort things out. When I was alone at night I could hyper-focus on things and this led to me sitting down to write these thoughts.

This is probably a given, is it not? I mean, any artist of sorts whether it's an artist, musician, or writer has to have control of an environment to be able to go through the creative process and come out the other side with a work of art. This is how it is for me, but in writing the works I have done for my 5th book I've also learned that this process is much longer than just the time it takes to type the words as I have found myself thinking, perhaps all day, of what I would later be writing. During this time of thought I've had this craving to be alone to sort out thoughts and to put concepts to use to describe the reason as to why something may be the way it is.

When writing I am very picky about how I sit and what type of noise is going on. One thing about my writings is that about half of my blogs and I'd estimate over 75% of every book chapter I've ever written had music playing in the background. However, as with everything else about writing, I'm rather particular about the music being played. For the most part all the music I listen to are wordless as hearing words of any sort, song or not, is a major distraction. There have been exceptions if the song lyrics are in line with a topic I'm writing about which helps channel the emotions, but usually I need primarily classical songs to help bring out the words.

On my drive I was thinking about this blog post and how it has any relevance to anyone else and I think the important thing here is this; my writings are written my the depths of my conscious. While talking about emotions for some are easy they aren't for me despite what it may appear. Before I found writing as an outlet it took a perfect storm of events for me to be able to express anything of emotional relevance. In other words, you couldn't just start talking about emotions and expect me to respond with no issues. So too now with my writing; if I'm in a place where's there's chatter, or distractions, it can be hard for me to write. There have been exceptions as I've written in airports, or at malls, but those blog posts are usually about the place which then the place becomes like the music in that the place gets channeled to words. So yes, there are exceptions, but if I'm going to talk about what I feel, instead of what I'm seeing, I need complete control of my environment because to speak from the soul there is a need of full trust in all things around me. I see my writing ability as windows opening and they aren't open for a long time. In everything I've written, blogs or book chapters, I've only stopped in a middle of a chapter and came back to finish it at a later point in time once! That's incredible, isn't it? Four and a quarter books, 1,003 blog posts and only once was I able to pick a chapter up later when stopping in the middle which is a great example of what talking about emotions are like for me. If I am talking about something on the emotional level and there is a break there's a chance that window may close. And it might not even have to be a break but a change in the environment may do it (such as a new person entering the room, or a loud, distracting noise, or perhaps just a feeling of being uncomfortable) and make it hard or impossible to go back to that place where I felt as if I could express myself. Sometimes I may be picky about where or how I write but there's a good reason to this because I either can or can't write as there is no middle ground to what my environment will allow me to do.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why Kansas?

A common question that I get in presentations, and when I began presenting I had the story in my presentations, is, "Why Kansas?" My book is called Finding Kansas and often people wonder why I chose that name.

I also use the cover of my book on my iRacing Indycar and there too do I get asked, "Why Kansas?" Things I've been asked at while racing have been, "Do I run a travel agency for the state of Kansas?" No. "Do I have any affiliation with an organization called 'Finding Kansas City apartments?'" No. "Am I geographically challenged?" Most certainly not! "Have you found Kansas?" Sort of.

While people are normally far off on why it's called Kansas the and, unless you've read my book you're not going to know that my definition of Kansas isn't the physical state (check my glossary for the definition if you do no know it) but rather a concept. However, there is a reason why Kansas got the nod for the name but it's probably not for any reason you can imagine.

It was 2006 and I was still writing out my life in chapters and coming up with concepts to describe the things I have to deal with being on the autism spectrum. It was springtime, racing season had begun, and I was the flagman and race director for the Central States Super Series which was a regional kart series. We had a race in Carrollton, Missouri but on our race schedule it was listed as Kansas City because most people would have a hard time finding Carrollton.

During the race day we had a slight delay between two sessions so a couple of drivers came up to ask questions and we started chatting. When I was race directing I was like I am at a presentation as I was energetic, potentially humorous, and able to respond in a timely manner. My "Alias" concept was in full swing (again, check the glossary if you don't know that concept) and I wasn't Aaron Likens but simply Aaron the race director who needed to be confident and firm.

The race day progressed and when it was over those same two drivers came up to talk to me but now things were different; the role of race director had gone away and I had no strength in Alias. These two drivers though, despite my answers of least resistance (think single word answers) kept trying to talk to me. They were really confused and eventually one of them looked at me and asked, "Are you sure you're that same guy we were talking to earlier today?"

Never had I been asked a question that hurt so badly. Before that point I didn't realize the difference between being in Alias and being what I was about to write about in being in my Kansas. It was about a four hour car ride home and when I got home I went straight to my computer to write a chapter entitled, "Situational Handicap." The words flowed as I typed but then I had to come up with the name of the concept. Originally it wasn't called Kansas but Carrollton but then I remembered the reasoning of the schedule saying Kansas City because no one really knew where Carrollton was (except those that live there, of course) so I then went with the name Missouri but my poor state, Missouri and "misery" sound way too close together and a concept of finding misery just didn't sound good. What was I to do? I still had the race schedule in my pocket and I looked at it and saw Kansas City so I named the concept "Kansas City" but that didn't have any sort of ring to it so I dropped the city and the concept of "Kansas" was born despite having nothing to do with the actual state and the story that inspired it actually happened in Missouri. And that's the origin of why I chose Kansas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hope in Questions

Earlier today I presented to about 20 police officers from various towns within a county. This presentation had the highest average rank as there was a chief, an assistant chief, some captains, and some lieutenants. While this is a neat fact the thing that I came away with in this presentation were the questions. 

Usually questions are rare in a group setting when it comes to officers. Afterwards, 1 on 1 they'll ask, but not in group. Whilst that is the norm today was anything but as in the middle of examples there were questions. My police presentation usually goes 50 minutes as they're somewhat strict on the 50 minute mark but with the amazing and insightful questions the presentation was 70 minutes! 

I left the police station today with more hope for the future than ever. Autism awareness and understanding is vital for those on the spectrum and this is needed all across society. Hopefully the police will never be needed, but should they have a call and autism is in play I hope those officers will have had the same enthusiasm and inquisitive nature of the officers I spoke to today. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

My 1,000th Post: What's the Point?

Here it is! It's been four years and thousands of hours of work, but I've made it; my 1000th post. During the past two weeks I've been wondering though, "What's the point of it all?" I've been frustrated because every time I think we're making progress I hear something and I feel all has been for naught. This happened last Monday when someone asked me, "What do you do for a living" and I responded stating that I am a writer and speaker on the subject of Asperger Syndrome and he responded with the most catastrophic generalization I have ever heard. It was so bad I do not want to share it but it was about as dark, hopeless, and downright wrong thing I've heard.

I'm a perfectionist of sorts and I call it my job, this being an Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest and being a blogger and author but this means much more to me than a job as this is my passion and I have a hard time accepting that there's people out there that aren't aware of the autism spectrum, or rather they think they are but are totally wrong. I'm not saying that every person needs to be able to take a Masters level test on the in-depth knowledge of the autism spectrum, but at the same time we should not be in a world where those people put those on the autism spectrum into a box of some sort.

When I get frustrated like I did last Monday I thought to myself, "What's the point? If we can't get to a level of 100% awareness and understanding then there will always be someone somewhere that will be painted into a box and then they may just go ahead and let the box define them." These thoughts kept going on and on and then I realized I was having severe black and white thinking. Will we ever reach 100%? No. But can we get the percentage as high as possible? Most certainly! So what's the point then? The point is that autism awareness isn't something that can be toyed with, or thought about, but rather we're at a point now that it has to be pushed. I came across the extreme end of an ignorant statement but what if more people have that sentiment? What if these myths and rumors grow? This isn't something that we can sit back and say, "Well, maybe next year it will get better" because each day that any given person out there is unaware of the autism spectrum and are in a position where they might be encountering a person on the spectrum each day the possibilities of things going wrong are high. And the point is, it doesn't have to be this way! The point is that, while understanding may be the foundation for hope, misunderstandings are the way human potential can be lost. Misunderstandings within society can lead down a path of depression, isolation, and a world of extreme hopelessness. If you are reading this then you probably already know this, but no matter the time, effort, or cost I am going to forge forward. I may have been frustrated at the comment I heard last week, but out the other side I now know that the battle is still great and hitting my 1,000th post should be a celebration but instead I see it as just the beginning because our work is great and the road is long, but it's a road we have to travel.

Friday, March 14, 2014

#1 of the first 1,000: An Aspie's Dream

From about post #800 I knew I was going to do a top 10 of the first 1,000 and back then I had this post picked out. I got more private emails about this than any other and this even ran in a book published in Australia entitled, "the AUTISM experience." This post is the core of what I do. This post explains my hopes, dreams, and my message in a direct manner that is easy to understand. We all have dreams, and the dreams put forth in this post remain to this day. I feel my dream is closer to reality than ever before but we must continue to push to achieve this. And, the closer we get, the harder it will be to make progress but we must be not grow tired, or complacant, because we all have dreams and for some the dream is, quite simply, to be understood.

Monday, September 13, 2010


An Aspie's Dream

Last week I wrote about my experience being apologized to for having Asperger Syndrome. This led to a lot of emotions and it got me to thinking about the fact that I am probably not the first to have this happen to them. Furthermore, how many parents have said that their child has autism and then they were apologized to? All week I thought about this and it has inspired this:

I want everyone to know that, for the most part, I am happy. It is my dream that people learn this. I may have some challenges, but I am not defective. I don't deserve or need your pity and am happy being me.

There are times when the world tries to get me to fit in, and sometimes I try, but there are other times when a social situation may be too much for me. I have had situations in the past where I have been called weird or odd for not trying to fit in. It is my dream that the world begins to not only know about us on the autism spectrum, but begins to understand us.

We have a lot to learn from each other. I look at, sometimes completely perplexed, how two random people can have a random conversation. I know others look at me, completely perplexed, when I get excited about a random fact that I recall about auto racing or when I have the ability to learn some new obscure facts. It is my dream that the world comes to realize that socializing can be difficult the same way it would be for you to recall minute details from the 1992 Indianapolis 500. We are the same, but different.

It is my dream that I never get apologized to again. This can only come from understanding. Being on the spectrum isn't something to look down upon! Yes, it has its challenges, but it has its blessings. Each person is unique and let's cherish the uniqueness and not look down upon it. To be apologized is to tell me, or parents of a person on the spectrum, that I am defective and something is really wrong with me. In my mind an apology like this is reserved for something really horrible and I don't see it that way and I hope, and dream that, eventually, all will see this.

I dream what everyone else dreams about. I want to have a full, productive life. I want a family, a career, and the ability to live my life to the fullest. Some people seem to think that an autism label is the end and that to dream such things is a waste of time. No dream and no person is a waste of time. Yes, we may need to work harder at some things, but if we're not given a chance then how can we succeed? There is so much potential in a mind on the spectrum, but if not given the chance how can one dream of the things that I dream about?

Finally, my biggest dream is the day where the word autism doesn't draw a repulsive reaction for those who aren't affected by it. Autism has to be one of the most misunderstood conditions, but understanding is coming. I haven't had to debate someone on what autism is for quite sometime and when I say Asberger people don't think of a food item or Olympic venue (sad, but true!). Everything in this world started as a dream, and my dream was already started by countless thousands of people before me and I hope I can do my part in fulfilling it. I know I am not alone in my dream and all of us can do some part in educating some one, whether it is a school, politicians, or a random person in a grocery store. I feel the world is listening and is open to learning about us. In all reality there isn't that much that separates us; we're all people, we all have dreams, and for us on the spectrum we just have different traits. We have feelings, we can be scared, and most of all we just want to be understood. This is my dream.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#2: The Great Sunglasses Experiment

In 2010 I came up with an experiment on eye contact. For the month of July I wore nothing but reflective sunglasses. Originally in the process in nominating posts for this top 10 I disallowed this experiment but since so many people referenced it, and remember it to this day, I had to include it. What part to include though? Being myself, I decided it was all or nothing so it here it is, from my first USAC Battle at the Brickyard to the almost annoying saga of myself trying to give a book to NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray and to the several profound moments where I realized other people exist. This month had almost everything so sit back, take your lunch hour, and enjoy The Great Sunglasses Experiment in its entirety.

The Great Sunglasses Experiment



To make this experiment I did more readable I put the entire project in one page. The photos that went along with the stories did not make the transfer. If you would like to comment on any individual story you can by going to that day on my blog by using the archive on the right hand bar.

Saturday, July 3, 2010 The Day Before "The Sunglasses Experiment"


(This is the start of a long sequence of posts. There was no easy way for me to link them so if you want to continue reading after this post you can click on the archive to the right and go to July 2010, or scroll under the comments and click "newer post" to go the next day. This is one month I will never forget and I hope you enjoy my journey!)

I must admit I am getting just a little bit nervous. Tomorrow I set forth in wearing sunglasses in all social situations for one month. This is not a small task, and add on top of that I will be writing about it all.

I am also nervous to see if there is any change in social interactions. While watching the NASCAR Nationwide Series race last night I remembered the day I first wore regular glasses. I had been working at a video game store for about three months and was doing good in the sales department. Customers trusted me and I could up-sell almost anyone. At the same time my eye sight was slipping just a tad so I decided to pursue eyeglasses. My logic was this, the stereotype for glasses is smart people therefore if I wore glasses at my job people would buy more from me. Odd thing is, I was right! I don't recall the exact numbers, but I was already the best in the area and I furthered it by a landslide.

When I first got eyeglasses the change just wasn't with me, but also the customer themselves. The interactions were different, the dialogue sharper. I don't know how to fully explain it, but I am wondering if I am going to have a similar situation with the sunglasses, and here why; When I don't make eye contact with someone, say, in a store I think they too get defensive. If the other person assumes I am making eye contact will that open up a new line of dialogue that I am not accustomed to?

I will say again that I am nervous. This experiment was made possible by a person who attended a presentation and heard about this in talking with me afterwards. Without asking she said she wanted to make it happen, and tomorrow it will, but I am still nervous. I want to crack the dilemma of eye contact. Why is it so hard for me? Will I be able to make eye contact with my mirrored sunglasses?

Oh the suspense! Just 24 hours from now we will hopefully learn just a little bit more about this. Yes, in case you haven't caught my drift, I am nervous.

Sunday, July 4, 2010And So It Begins


Today is the 4th of July. It is Independence Day here in America and while so many people will be enjoying fireworks I will be thinking of ways to put myself in social situations. Today is the day I start my "Sunglasses Experiment" (If you are unsure what it is look at some of my previous entries)

It is early (3:47AM) as I write this and later today I may make a trip to 7-11 to compare what it will be like with sunglasses..

Yesterday I went to 7-11 for lunch and while I was getting a hot dog the clerk told me that the ones behind the sign were still cooking. As he said this direct eye contact was made and I was thrown off. My thoughts went racing and my balance suffered. All I could think about was, was, I'm not fully sure. All I knew was that my anxiety was high and I could not think straight.

All this anxiety from just one simple meet of the eyes. Why? I so badly want to know why because so many times in my life I have had a situation much like this one I had at 7-11. All is fine and as soon as eye contact is made my brain goes on a processing frenzy over the ramifications of the eye contact.

So yes, later today I will return to 7-11 to see if there is a difference.

As the month unfolds I will be writing and I may be doing more than more than one post a day! After my trip to 7-11 I plan on writing and posting about it. Wow, who would have thought that a simple trip to 7-11 would be a highly anticipated event?

I can't believe today is here. One month behind the sunglasses should prove to be interesting and I do have a nice blend of experiences this month. It should not be boring and I hope to bring everything to you to the best of my writing ability and I hope we can share in some new thoughts and ideas as to why there is such a mystery regarding eye contact.

Sunday, July 4, 2010Sunglasses Experiment Day 1, My Trip to 7-11


As lunch time neared I got excited as it would be my first taste of sunglasses. I wanted to duplicate yesterday's tension filled trip so I went to the same place I did yesterday, 7-11.

I left the house and silently complained about the oppressive humidity and heat here in Saint Louis today. "Sticky" would be an apt word to describe this weather.

My car ride was only 3 minutes and then I was there. I have been to this 7-11 near 1,000 times probably since 1994, but this time I had more purpose than my usual Red Bull or nacho run.

I entered the store somewhat secretly wanting someone, anyone, to notice me. This is a complete opposite of my usual life that has me wanting to be invisible, but now I wanted to be seen.

I grabbed a Red Bull and then a hot dog and proceeded to the cashier. No other customers were in the store which is somewhat of a shame because I wanted to see just how much eye contact is made by random strangers.

At the cashier I was yearning for eye contact, or rather the chance to make eye contact, but the sales clerk was busy inputting inventory and his attention was elsewhere.

As he was scanning my items I stared at the clerk. I took notice of the lines in his face and the subtle features that sets all of us apart. I don't usually take notice of anything about a person's face. I see it, but it doesn't really get processed. As I stared though I was flooded with information and just like yesterday's freeze up of sorts when eye contact was made I too today was somewhat frozen. It wasn't anxiety, but more like a flood of information that took so much brain power to make sense of.

As I gave him the money he looked at me and as a reflex I looked away. I tried, and as he handed me the change I made eye contact! ... for a split second and then I looked over him and the advertisement that said, "Buy fresh products from FarmVille here at 7-11" which confused me. There was real food under the sign so I thought, jokingly, "Is there anything technology can't do?"

So that was my first experience. I didn't expect to be able to drill the eyes on day one, but this is a good start. Should I have another experience today I will most certainly share it, but it is the 4th and fireworks will be going on (I don't like them at all. Big ones downtown are fine, but the ones people buy and set off scare me to no end) and the weather is "Sticky" so we shall see.

Monday, July 5, 2010Day 2: The Grocery Store


I must admit I laughed as I put the title of this blog like the "grocery store" is some daunting place, but in all reality it has been for me. I don't have anything against the place, or the food it offers up, but rather walking down the aisles has always been challenging for me because random eye contact seems to initiate a random conversation.

Because of the challenge of the grocery store I felt it right to have my second outing with the sunglasses be at a grocery store (and, to be honest, I wanted carrots!).

Schuncks (the name of the store) is close so just a 2 minute drive in my car and I was there. I was hoping for more contact than yesterday's 7-11 outing as I walked through the doors and walked straight to the carrots.

Two employees of the store were discussing produce placement and I looked at them, while walking, and noticed just how much communication is done without words. I can't recall the words that were said, but the minor twitches and the look of understanding as if to say, "yes, we can do that" amazed me.

From the carrots I went to get some milk, then a Red Bull, and then I proceeded to check out.

For this experiment I did not use the express self check out lanes (these lanes have been a Godsend!) but instead I used the conventional. check out that uses real people.

I entered the line and the person in front of me instantly asked me "how I was". I got tense because this is something that usually doesn't happen. After a few words it was their turn to checkout.

When it was my turn to pay the cashier asked me the same thing, "how are you?". I, again, am not used to this. What struck me though was the level of niceness in the tones. These questions were not labored from the clerk as they usually are.

I didn't hear my total answer because I was thinking so hard upon what this weird level of niceness was. I thought, jokingly, "Wow, do I have a sign on me that says 'talk to me'?" Then I realzied that it wasn't that I had a sign that said "talk to me" but instead I don't have the sign that says "don't talk to me".

In just that short experience at the store I can surely say that when I go into a situation and don't make eye contact the social environment becomes hostile in a way. Other people get defensive and that just furthers the gap. With the sunglasses people don't know I'm looking away so they don't get defensive. Honestly, and I know this has only happened once, I feel as if a new dimension of socializing has opened up because I am not starting behind.

I often feel as if I am starting a proverbial race two laps behind because there is a different tone from others and this can only be from me looking at everything but them. Today I experienced the race starting on the same level and I could not believe the difference.

Later today I will be going to lunch at The Olive Garden, alone (if you have read "My rules > Your rules" you will understand the size of this act) and will write about it when I return home later this afternoon.

Monday, July 5, 2010Day 2: The Olive Garden and Video Game Store


I broke a rule of mine today; I went to the Olive Garden by myself. To know the rule you should read this entry.

My goal at The Olive Garden was to try and sustain eye contact with the waitress when I ordered. It was a simple goal, but a multitude of obstacles got in the way.

As I drove there I was going to take along a small notepad to take notes. When I sat down and got my drink I realized I had left it in the car, and because my mind was thinking of the notepad I was preoccupied and made no eye contact when I ordered my Cherry Coke and manicotti. In fact, my eyes had the natural reflex to look away as she looked my way.

I ran to the car to get my notepad and when I returned I saw a look, a look of dismay as if to say something was wrong. I am hyper-sensitive to that type of look and I was fearful.

In my presentations I use the Olive Garden as an example. I have a saying that states, "whatever happened first always has to happen" thus meaning whatever I ordered, or was ordered for me, the first time I go to a restaurant I will always get that. Manicotti was ordered for me when I was five and it has been the only thing I have ordered since. I joke that Olive Garden's name in my mind might as well be Manicottiville because to me it is the only thing they have besides the great salad and amazing bread sticks.

Last week at a presentation some people asked me what I would do if the Olive Garden told me they were out of Manicotti. I stated I would drive across town and go to another one because it has to be ordered.

The look of dismay was frightening. I had no idea what, but as I sat down in my booth I heard the grim news, "Um, sir, we just got new menus and we no longer carry Manicotti".

Heart-broken is the only way to describe my emotions. I was there to carry out my experiment, and instead I get dealt this extreme blow. Before you say that there are more important things in life you should know that I have an associative memory system. Manicotti is more than Manicotti. It represents the time my grandma and aunt came in from Gordon, Nebraska when I was nine years old and I ate five bread sticks that day (I was quite proud of myself). Manicotti is wrapped up in so many memories, like my first "official" date with Emily (read my book Finding Kansas for that story) and it also is going to the Rumble in Fort Wayne race with my mom. Each time I ate Manicotti those memories would be refreshed, but now, they will lie stagnant. How could you do this to me Olive Garden? Bring it back!

My disappointment aside I decided to stay because I had no choice of other places to get Manicotti. It is gone, and if I weren't doing this experiment I probably would have stood up and left silently, but I have a job to do.

The menu was returned and I struggled. I had no idea what any of those Italian sauce names were, or what I would like. I decided to go with something the waitress said was like Manicotti.

While I waited for my bread sticks and salad I watched the family that was right across from me. I was amazed and astounded at how much eye contact they made with each other. It wasn't short spurts like I give, but this was constant unabated eye contact. Furthermore, they showed no signs of discomfort. I have never looked at eyes for more than a few seconds and I could not believe that other people just sustain it like it is nothing. I wanted to stand up, walk the few feet it was to their table, and ask them, "Excuse me, how exactly do you do that?" I hope by day 30 of this experiment I can get close to what they did.

If removing Manicotti from my life wasn't bad enough the waitress brought out the lasagna before the salad and bread sticks (I have a distinct order of how I eat food.) and I was simply livid. She apologized and as she walked off I thought about complaining to the manager, but then it struck me that I still had not even looked at my waitress. The reflex to avoid eye contact with waiters or waitresses is so strong I didn't even know I had done it.

Avoiding eye contact for me must be like making eye contact for others, such as the family that was across from me. Because the order was messed up I realized this revelation so I wasn't as mad, but when I got done with my food I was at the mercy of my waitress to ask me if I was done because I didn't know one physical attribute about her.

She came, got my food, and took another 10 minutes for the ticket and I was starting to get irritated, but I kept telling myself that this is all for the experiment. Everything happens for a reason and perhaps someone out there may relate to this, or perhaps understand their son or daughter a little bit more so that calmed me down and I did not cause a scene, although secretly I wanted to because I have never done so.

I left The Olive Garden and went to the GameStop I used to work at (see book for that story as well). I wanted to judge how dealing with a sales clerk would be with the sunglasses on, but just like the 7-11 yesterday the clerks were all preoccupied.

There was one big difference though that I did notice and that was confidence. I had a "buy 2 get 1 free" coupon and I had found four games I wanted. I had done this in the past when I find four items I want I would take them up and the cheapest item would be the free one. This time though I stated I wanted to buy the three most expensive items and buy the cheapest separate. I felt so confident in saying this whereas before I would simply pay the extra money because spending more was easier than speaking up.

I tried to make eye contact with the employee, but he was having all sorts of issues with the computer and for once I noticed the difference in eye contact. The roles were reversed, I was the one making eye contact and he was not and it was weird because I felt offended in a way. Perhaps offended isn't the right word, but my view of the situation was different. Perhaps this is the sensation I have given other people by my lack of eye contact.

So that was my day. I don't think I am headed back out today, but tomorrow things will start to get really interesting. I will be headed to the office in the morning, and then will duplicate my trip to Taco Bell and then I will be headed to Indianapolis to flag the USAC Quarter Midget Battle At The Brickyard race. I can't wait for that event and I can't wait to bring it to you and all the excitement of the challenges of eye contact.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010Day 3: Thinking Outside the Bun; My Trip to Taco Bell Sunglasses Edition


For those that have followed my blog since the beginning I am sure you remember the original Taco Bell entry. For those that are new it is an entertaining read and can be found at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/thinking-outside-bun-my-trip-to-taco.html.

20 minutes ago I went to Taco Bell to duplicate that experience to see if there was any difference and here is my experience...

I waited in my office as the lunch time neared and as it came I waited. I wanted to hear footsteps in the hall so I had someone to walk by. I waited, but then hunger won so I left my office.

Unlike in April, I walked down the halls with confidence. Even if someone sees me that won't truly see me. I do feel my confident in that I have more power on avoiding a lock-up due to eye contact. Should I come across someone, they won't get mad that I am not looking them in the eye.

When people's posture or tone changes due to eye contact I begin to fret and stress about it. I want to remain somewhat invisible, and if I am noticed due to lack of eye contact that means I will have more things to process and processing like this slows down all other activity.

Today I would not get any interactions in the hall, or the front part of the building as today was a clean break (How come I can't get a clean break when I want it, but when I want an interaction I don't get it? Life sure likes being funny like that!)

I proceeded to walk towards Taco Bell with the memory of the Escalade that stopped last time. I wondered how different that encounter would have been had I been wearing sunglasses, but today there were no cars about and I made it all the way to Taco Bell without seeing anyone.

Inside Taco Bell I maintained my rigidness on walking around the soda fountains and then through the little corral that forms the line. There was no need to do this and the sales clerk lady pointed me straight to he counter, but lines were meant to be followed therefore I am going to follow it.

Instantly the lady asked for my order and as she looked up I looked away. It truly is a reflex as if my life depends on avoiding that eye contact. As I looked up to the menu, my typical defense to avoid eye contact (I think they have seen through that defense because I order the same thing every time) I cracked a grin as I know they can't see me and still I look away.

Through my grin though was some self disappointment. I knew I was going to do that, but I tried to prevent it, but failed. All was not lost though as I caught myself and then made direct eye contact the reminder of the order.

Sustaining eye contact like that gave me a wide array of sensations. It truly was weird and felt like going down a roller coaster of emotions. I began to realize that this person was indeed a person and not just a figment out of the corner of my eye. I don't mean that to sound cold, but being so involved in protecting myself from the world I often forget that the world is filled with people, real people that are more than just persons whom I try to avoid. I know this paragraph may sound cold, and it is not, it's just that I become so enveloped in protecting myself that I forget that other people have feelings and each person has their own likes and dislikes.

I became lost in thought after the sustained eye contact and became confused. Sustaining that eye contact flooded my system with emotions and made me wonder if other people have thoughts like I had.

I took the cup the clerk gave me and got my drink and before I knew it my order was done and out I went. I spent maybe one minute in the Taco Bell and I was gone, but it felt like hours as the rush of wonder consumed me.

The walk back to the office was uneventful and I made another clean break into my office.

As I sat down I wondered about that eye contact. I was not anxious or stressed like I usually am regarding it. I felt confident in it once I got past the reflex, but was amazed at how much feelings are associated with sustained eye contact. Usually I will give eye contact in spurts, but sustaining it flooded me. Perhaps this is feeling a connection, or perhaps a sense of empathy towards another person? I'm not sure, but I think I am onto something and I can't wait to continue this experiment.

In a couple hours I will be driving to Indianapolis, only a 3.5 hour drive, to flag the USAC quarter midget "Battle At The Brickyard". The race is going to be held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for me this is going to be one of the most moving events of my life. I will write about it of course as well as the continuing experiment. I may have an entry tonight should I have an interesting experiences on the road with my sunglasses. In any event I am beyond excited for tomorrow's event that will last until Saturday. It will be racing bliss!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010Day 3: The Drive to Indy


After finishing my article on TouchPoint's parent training course (see right bar and the TouchPoint logo if you are interested in reading it) I left the office to head to Indianapolis.

I wasn't expecting too many exciting events to happen, well none really, but quickly things turned serious in Illinois right as I got onto I-70.

Over a crest I saw one car on the left shoulder and the doors came flying open, I slowed and saw an overturned car in front of the car that had stopped. I slowed and pulled over to see if I could assist in any way.

By the time I got out all the persons in the car were up and accounted for (which is a miracle, the car was squashed) albeit it sore and shaken. As I heard that news I turned to my car and noticed that semi-trucks were still doing 70+ past the accident scene missing my car by inches and the family who had been in the wreck by 6 feet or so. Being the race director and flagman I am I decided to put a stop to it.

I ran back to my car and unlocked the rear doors and got out my trusty green bag. Inside the bag I unrolled my racing flags and, because I was in a rush, I kept grabbing the wrong one (I actually have nightmares of being at a race and constantly grabbing the wrong flag) but on the third try I got my yellow flag.

Once I had the yellow flag in hand (if you don't know auto racing the yellow flag means slow down as there is a dangerous situation on track) I walked to the back of my car and started to waive it. I can waive a mean flag but I didn't want any drivers to suffer target fixation and drive into me (that's happened before with a kid kart) so I just lightly moved it to catch their attention. It worked and the cars started to move over leaving the whole right lane free of vehicles.

The person who stopped in front of me walked to me and asked me if I was from "911" (must be the glasses) and I, still in experiment mode, looked away. I couldn't help it. I know I have stated it, but it is a reflex, a complete reflex.

After saying that I wasn't from 911 traffic started to slow down a lot as people looked in awe of the upside down car. Once the ambulance arrived the cars were barely rolling so I figured my job as flagman of I-70 was done. I also didn't want to be yelled at by any police officers for directing traffic. I may have been the a presenter at a police academy but I don't think that qualifies me to actually do their job, but those cars had to slow down.

After the odd start I continued on and stopped at Steak m Shake in Effingham, IL. Once again a place that serves food would be in play.

I walked in and had to wait to be seated. The hostess came and said if there was just "one of you" I could sit anywhere. I was frozen. My experiment on eye contact was thrown aside as I tried to envision where the best place to sit is.

Every Steak n Shake looks the same now and I have memories tied to so many tables. Those thoughts went through my head and I couldn't decide. The hostess asked me again and I finally said, "you pick or I will never decide".

When my waitress came I gave my robotic like answer and didn't look at the menu which meant no social interactions. I meant to order something different, but I was still thinking about flagging commuter traffic as well as tomorrow's quarter midget race so I goofed and eye contact was not made.

So here I am now, in Indianapolis, getting ready for bed. Tomorrow will be a day to remember as I flag on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This may not be the Indy 500 but it still is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That track is the ultimate Kansas ( Definition of Kansas; Kansas, noun, That area of interest or activity that a person with an ASD is fixated on to the possible exclusion of other things) for me and is considered to be as holy as a place can get without being a religious place.

My day is long tomorrow so there may or may not be a post in the morning, but I will post tomorrow evening after the first day of racing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010Day 4: Sunrise at the Brickyard and Sunset at the Speedrome


Wow! What a day! I am thoroughly exhausted, but I must tell you how my day went, and it started early.

My alarm went off at 5:27AM and before the clock hit 5:50 I was out the door. I was told to be there by 8, but this is an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I was going to make sure I got there early to soak it all in.

The Mopar Point .25 series Battle at the Brickyard started today and it runs through Saturday. I had no idea what to expect in terms of the track or where it was on the grounds. As I drove down Meridian Street and pulled onto 16th I had memories of all the Indy 500's I had been to. Today traffic was empty unlike the 500, but for me the anticipation of the event was all the same.

The sun was just breaking as I saw the track on my right and as I neared I slowed down and pulled into the tunnel. I have been under than tunnel many times, but it was different. I wasn't a spectator at the world's greatest race course, but rather I was the starter for an event on the grounds. To say I got butterflies would undersell the experience for me. Goosebumps and chills were just the start of it, but the final emotion as I pulled out of the tunnel was elation; pure elation! What added to the elation was the almost cinematic scenery as the sun was now coming up and the mist from the grass in the infield golf course made it seem as if this moment was simply made to be.

I don't care what event it is, if it is at IMS it is a big event. The track was established in 1909 and legends have been made there, and who knows, perhaps one of the kids racing this weekend is destined to carve out their legend on the big track someday.

My sunglasses experiment was somewhat hard to do during the event because I am rather isolated on track, but the few encounters I had still showed that my reflex to avoid eye contact is there, but my reaction time to re-establish eye contact is getting faster.

My day on track was long and hot. I am not the world's best sunscreen applier (I HATE sunscreen, it's so gritty and so yucky) and I have the burns to prove it right now. It was a great time however and I enjoyed flagging an oval event for the first time.

I could talk about racing all day, but my day in terms of sunglasses experiment took a great turn as I was told to go the Indianapolis Speedrome for tonight's Regional midget and Ford Focus midget series race.

I would not be in the flag stand and once again, like my experience at Tri-City speedway (see story at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-journey-home.html) I didn't know what to do exactly. Here's where everything gets interesting and I am open to suggestions as to why this was. During the time I did not have direction I was not in my positional warfare. Was it that I was just too tired to care? Or, was it that I knew no one would know I didn't know what I should be doing because of the sunglasses? I need to think about this one some more.

What I do know is walking to a group of two or more people was easier than before. I didn't have to worry about that initial eye contact. I say in my presentations that I am better in reacting to a conversation that initiating. That being so eye contact seems to be a needed skill to make that initial contact, but with sunglasses that element is taken out of the equation.

I hope someone out there is proud of me when I say I made, "small talk" today. On several occasions I was able to just make witty remarks or other small talky like comments and I felt fluid in it. My mind was able to focus on what to say easier than normal, and I do think it was because I didn't have to worry about the eye contact.

The night flew by and eventually the sun went down. I did find a position within the USAC team and I was opening and closing the track gate outside of turn one. As it became dark the sunglasses had to come off and my normal glasses came on. This is when things get interesting.

As the feature races concluded and the winning cars were pushed through my gate I had the same reflex of avoiding eye contact, but I instantly re-established it forgetting that I no longer had my reflective shields known more commonly as sunglasses. Just in 4 days of use I already have noticed that eye contact, after the initial reflex, was easier.

After I realized a few times that the shields were down it did become hard again, but there is hope because I was able to establish it. Now I wonder if 26 more days of this will reduce that issue after the initial reflex. Will it, or won't it? Only time will tell.

So that was my day. I am burned and have grease all over my arms so I think it best to take care of myself and then get some much needed sleep. I need to be at the track by 7:30 so maybe I can convince myself I don't need to be an hour early. In any event I will post tomorrow, and once again in will be a late post as will, probably, most of my posts until Sunday.

Thursday, July 8, 2010Day 5: The Seemingly Unavoidable Hurdles


Once again my day started early and pulling into the track in the early morning hours with a cause is something that I could write about for hours, but that would probably bore you so I shall flash forward through the day to events I am all too familiar with, sunglasses or not.

I had a rocky start getting used to the 6 to 8 second laps, but within a few heat races we were a well oiled machine. 36 total heat races were on tap today and on top of that it was hot.

All was going well until the final race. A perfect storm of events happened and I still don't fully know what occurred and how it occurred, and I won't try and explain because what/why is irrelevant. Nobody in the race was upset, but it was still a blunder of sorts and I believe perfection is a virtue. There should be no mistakes, and I made one, sort of, I think, but nobody was mad but nonetheless I was upset with myself.

Doing the sunglasses experiment or not, I struggle with dwelling on mistakes. I analyze the what and why, and in this case I can't really do it because it was all so confusing. I have always done this with dwelling and one small mis-step, just one small blunder can ruin an entire experience.

This dwelling on a blunder is a must understand topic, I believe. This does tie into eye contact because if I make a mistake in eye contact I will just think about the eye contact and miss everything else that is going on around me.

This happened to me today as well as while I was taking down the caution lights and walking back to the trailer a person was blocking my entry so I do what I normally do and that is wait. It is so hard for me to say, "excuse me" because I am always sure it will make the person angry with me. His response to me was, "why didn't you yell at me instead of just standing there?"

Why didn't I yell? It is hard if not impossible to ask for something. On top of that I was elsewhere in my mind contemplating just how bad of a screw up I had made, if at all, and my mind was not really there in the physical sense because I was thinking so hard.

It is a shame that this blunder occurred in the final event because I, more now than ever, believe that "whatever is now is forever". So, using that logic, if this had happened at the start of the day I would have had to brush it aside to move on to the next event, but now I have all night to fret if I will ever get to flag another event after this one (I know I will, next week at the SKUSA Pro Tour race in Shawano, Wisconsin).

How did the glasses work out today? I noticed I remembered people's name and that is a huge deal for me because I am the worst person with names. Could I not remember names simply because I don't look at people and I looked at them yesterday? Perhaps.

So, as I look outside right now, it is rainy and simply miserable looking outside and is a great symbolic resemblance of how I feel right now. I may feel bad, and I know I will be thinking about that blunder all night, but I have to go on, I have to move on. One other official said, "If that's the only mistake of the day it was a good day." and maybe tomorrow I will believe that, but perfection is a virtue, and sadly, like everyone else, I am not perfect.

Friday, July 9, 2010Day 6: Redemption At The Brickyard


My night last night was short. After I wrote my story I stayed up for a little bit and I think I was asleep by 7:30. This was good because it limited the amount of time I had to worry about that day's performance.

Today was early, again, but I was refreshed with the awesome amount of sleep I got. Driving to the track was shaky for me because I was worried about how bad the initial reaction of the guy in charge was going to be. Was it going to be mad? Would he tell me to head home? I was prepared for the worst as I pulled under the tunnel and returned to the greatest race course in the world.

The clouds were thick and spitting a fine mist when I drove in and right away I saw the guy in charge. As I approached him I was shocked. There was no tone of disappointment and I didn't get the news that I had been replaced.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief and somewhat chuckled at myself of being so rigid on my expectations and the almost outlandish thoughts I have on how other people will react. Yesterday's story, as well as my fear I had before the fact today is something that isn't isolated to this. This is common and to say, "just don't worry about it" doesn't really console me because my mind is great at playing out the possible reactions and, well, I'm usually wrong but still I worry.

The rain continued on and we had a rain delay. I followed the staff to registration office which is an office in the garage area of the speedway. Normally I would have shied away from something like this as eye contact and small talk usually can't be helped, but I felt stronger socially.

Small talk came easy as we watched ESPN and it seemed NOTHING happened in sports yesterday EXCEPT LeBron James signed with some team somewhere else. It was the only thing they talked about for over an hour and I guess his former team's fans were mad because they were burning his jersey in streets. Yes, I had many small talk chances with this and got some laughter out of the group.

Did you see that word "group"? I don't do groups, or at least I didn't. For one, coming up with what to say to appease the entire group is hard. Yes, public speaking is a group, but it is a one-way conversation, an open-ended group has been a high hurdle for me. The second part that is difficult is trying to keep everyone in check, so to speak, meaning knowing where everyone is looking without making eye contact. Since I could look around without that fear conversing with the room came easier. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, but it was easier than the impossible that it normally is.

As the track dried I pitched in and helped by using a backpack leaf blower (I had never used one before) and if this had been anywhere else I would have been running away from the hideous sound of six of those high pitched whiny noise makers, but this was a race track and there was a job to be done and by golly we got that track dried.

18 races were on tap and starting out I kept thinking, "Oh my, what will I screw up today? How bad will it be?" But, as soon as the first USAC Point 25 midget took the track I stopped thinking such useless thoughts. There was a job to do and that was all that mattered. I can only do as good as I can do and worrying about it wouldn't do me any good. Now only if I could keep that mindset outside an event!

Race after race went by and no mistakes or blunders were made. Again, with my experiment going on, the race isn't the story, but today was redemption for me and it felt amazing!

After the event I stood around with other members of the staff and was just "one of the guys". I know I have said it, and I must say it again, taking the mysterious game of eye contact out of the equation has been huge because I would have just sat in my car, or simply headed back to the place where I am staying. Talking to people after the day's events is something I HAVE NEVER DONE!

To be part of a group is something I have never truly felt. I have been in a group, but never part of the group. To feel it for the first time is something that is somewhat shocking. "So this is what it is like" I thought, and I smiled, and couldn't quit smiling.

What will tomorrow bring? I don't know and I am afraid to ask, but you can watch it as it unfolds for me by watching tomorrow's racing action at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/usac-25 (I will be the guy across from the camera waving all the flags). We should start racing around 9AM US EST. If the feed isn't up when you go there try back in a bit.

Once again tomorrow's post will be later in the afternoon or early evening, and hopefully I will have something triumphant to write about and not another one of those seemingly unavoidable hurdles.

Saturday, July 10, 2010Day 7: In the Shadow of the Pagoda


Today, driving to the track, was the hardest of all four days. It was harder than yesterday when I was fearing the end of everything because today was the end, the last day.

Going to bed each night knowing I would be working at the best spot on the planet is something that can't be duplicated.

It had to come to an end (well, not really, they could race quarter midgets year round, couldn't they?) and today was it. I was determined to bring it home with a stellar performance and no mistakes, but today I was thrown a curve ball.

The first race, of 18, went smoothly, but at the end of the race I had to hand the winning driver the checkered flag while they were at a reduced speed (not an easy task!) and then I helped direct them to the exact spot where their car needed to be. This meant I was going to interact with the drivers and parents.

I knew I could handle the parents just fine, but there's one thing I have never been good at and that is talking and being around kids. I never have been good because, for one, the eye contact game, but secondly I simply don't know how to be around kids. Do I need to be more goofy, or less smart? I always hated, when I was a kid, when adults would dumb themselves down around me. I don't want to make that same mistake, yet I know some of my words I use may go over their heads so all that being so I simply state the facts around kids and nothing more.

Race after race went by and some of the races were intense and could have been a prime chance for a blunder, but each race went without and errors. Kid after happy kid came to the victory area and I had a few interactions, and after a while it wasn't so hard to say a few words. One winner had the hardest time getting his car in the proper spot, then he couldn't pose properly so I told him, as he was pushing away, "See, winning was easy, this is the hard part." He laughed and smiled and said, "thanks, I know now this!"

As the day progressed I realized I was free. Totally free of all the normal thought processes and worries I endure. On top of all this I was part of the team and not having to

play the eye contact game and because it was sunny there was no odd looks as to why I was wearing sunglasses.

I knew though that with each race gone was one race closer to the end. I cherished each moment I had to actually think how great of a time I was having, which wasn't often because of the extreme amount of work and attention these races required.

It finally came, the final checkered flag and the day went without any issues at all. My fears from two days ago were all for not as parent after parent thanked me for such a brilliant display of flag waving. Normally I would be running away from any talk after an event, but eye contact was not an issues being behind the sunglasses.

Driving away from the parking lot where the track was towards the tunnel to 16th street was painful. On the first day as I came into the track my breath was taken from me, and again this time it was too, but not because I was in awe, but rather this time it was sadness. Leaving a place one finds to be the best place on Earth will always be hard, I guess.

I drove to Noble Roman's on 10th street as I have been going there for as long as I can remember. My saddest thing of leaving Indianapolis and moving to Saint Louis at the age of 10 was that I would no longer be able to go to Noble Roman's.

I celebrated the week and savored what had been a once in a lifetime event. I was just the starter for the event and had little influence in how awesome of an event it was, but being a part of something at the Speedway is something I have wanted to do forever and I did it. Along the way I also discovered that the sunglasses have made a difference because I did things I don't normally do. Will this trend continue? Of course only time will tell.

Tomorrow morning, early, I will be driving home and will write something up if I get creative with a place I could go to test out another sunglasses social setting. Once I get home I don't think I will be going out as I am thoroughly tired and want nothing more than a quiet day.

Waking up tomorrow will be difficult. I will be headed home and not to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The past four days will only be a memory now and I hope I get the chance to do it again, someday. If I don't I will always remember the highs and lows flagging in the shadow of the pagoda. What an amazing time!

Sunday, July 11, 2010Day 8: What I have learned so far


As I drove home from Indianapolis this morning I began to ponder what I had learned so far. First, and this is a big first, I realized I don't remember what people look like because I don't look at people at all. I was shocked and amazed at how much detail there is to each person.

Yes, I do know everyone is different, but I never took the time to look at the person other than the extreme edges of a person. I have always been horrible at guessing someone's age and this is probably the reason as well.

I also know that the avoidance of eye contact is a reflex. Was this a learned trait or have I always been like this? I am unsure, but avoiding eye contact is the same as breathing to me, it's done without thought.

I also have learned that making eye contact is vital to establish a relationship. I never knew what the big deal was until I wore the sunglasses and saw a new dimension of niceties and conversations. I always assumed since eye contact doesn't matter in my book it didn't it anyone else's. I guess this is the first time I have ever been wrong :)

Now, let's talk about what I still don't know. I don't know which way contact is scary. I still want to know if it is that I am looking at you, or is it that you are looking at me? I really hope to understand this is the coming weeks.

Sorry for the short post today, but I just spent two hours writing the final chapter to my 3rd book and I am tired from the drive.

Monday, July 12, 2010Day 9: My Trip to CVS and Further Questions (With a Big Revelation?)


Waking up today was difficult. My body is letting me know I spent four days flagging and on top of that I forgot my tennis shoes so I did all those races in dress shoes. Believe me when I say I will NEVER make that mistake again!

After multiple returns home due to forgetting numerous items, I finally made it to the Interstate that leads me to the office. Once there, at the red light, I realized I forgot my phone, but I wasn't making a 4th return trip. I can't tell you how exposed I feel without my phone. I hope I don't get any important calls today because that always seems to be the case.

On my way to the office I needed to stop at the CVS to get a mailing envelope. This, I decided, would be a great place to write about because everything else in my research project has been food related.

Walking into the store, I went unseen. No "hello" or "How are you, can I help you?"

I walked past the counter towards the drinks section because I, more than most days, needed a Red Bull to kick-start me out of this zombie like state and noticed the employees behind the counter. Oddly, neither of them looked at me.

What makes this lack of them looking at me relevant? In my mind, I am always being looked at. Using my line of "I think therefore you should know" applies to this. If I am afraid of being looked at this means I assume everyone is looking at me and because I never look at people this has never been proven to be false.

I got my drink and mailing envelope and proceeded to the checkout counter. My goal was to fight the reflex that has been prevalent so far in this experiment, avoiding eye contact. I wanted to fight it, but the cashier never once looked at me. It was odd for me to be the one sustaining eye contact and having the other person be the one looking everywhere except at me.

If I had been wearing my normal glasses I would NEVER have known the other person wasn't looking at me and assumed that they were looking at me the entire time.

My secondary goal was to try and remember features of the sales clerk, but as I left the store I instantly forgot her details. I don't even know what color her shirt was, what color her hair was, or even her height. This saddened me, somewhat, because I was trying to remember, but my mind, when it is thinking, doesn't put a large emphasis on remembering the people around me.

So that was my trip to CVS, but this entry isn't over because after I wrote yesterday's "What I've learned" article I continued to dwell on the mysteries of eye contact and I have a few hunches.

I am a private person. I won't tell you what I like (I can go on all day about stuff I can't stand, like the music in EA's NHL 10 video game) and I don't want you to know if I find something interesting. With that being so, could my eyes reveal to the person I am with that I may like something of find something interesting?

That could be a huge statement, I think. I am mostly afraid to ask for something and I know, from observation not practice, that when one person wants another person's attention eye contact is made. For me, asking is difficult and eye contact would simply add to the degree of difficulty. Could it be that if I don't make eye contact it allows me to make it impersonal?

I think this line of thought that spurred this question could be monumental. Could it simply be that eye contact, in my mind, allows you to know too much about me? If this is the case, it isn't that you are looking at me, but me looking at you. I never knew which way the issues were, but if this example of asking for something and the need for privacy goes across the entire board, then it is 100% me looking at you that is the issue.

As the next 21 days progress I may change my mind on this, but for right now I will continue thinking about this and hopefully will be able to provide my insight on this as the experiment continues.

Later today I will be returning to the police academy to give my presentation on Autism to the class currently going through Crisis Intervention Team training. This will be a moving experience for me because this will be my first time back since my last in-service training (http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/05/end-of-my-in-service-police.html) and I know I owe my ability to make presentations to those presentations I gave. If I have any more experiences or thoughts today I will most certainly share them with you later today.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010Day 10: Presentation and a close call


Before I start with day 1o of my Sunglasses Experiment I would like to go back to yesterday and talk about my presentation I gave to the C.I.T. officers at the police academy.

I decided not to wear my sunglasses at presentations because it might just be too distracting for those in attendance. Yesterday's presentation in front of 62 officers was the first time my eyes have been exposed in public since July 4th.

How did it feel? I felt vulnerable and exposed. I scan the room when I give a presentation and I didn't realize just how empty my eye gaze is until yesterday. I may be looking around, but I am not looking at any person. I may look past a person, or perhaps through the person, but my eye will never meet. It was rough and I stumbled a few times in my presentation because of this.

Today I gave a presentation to parents that are currently going through TouchPoint's parent training class. Again, the sunglasses were off, and once again I felt open to the world. When my eyes are uncovered it is like having a computer with no firewall; anyone can come in and access the data and do what they please with it. This is what eye contact is like for me. If we make eye contact it is like you knowing all my thought, wants, and needs.

Again, as with the day before, I had several stumbles because of this. I never knew how strong this urge to avoid eye contact was until I wore the sunglasses.

After work it was time to go to the video game store to pick up NCAA Football 11. The store I was going to has been a thorn in my side of quite some time because I have had bad experience after bad experience. In 2004 the store refused to acknowledge that their website said that there was a special sale going on. A few years after that on a day that speech was difficult because I was so stressed saw the employees mock me and say, "What, why don't you say anything? Are you that big of an idiot?" and when I left the clerk said, "Bye idiot! don't talk so much next time!" I complained to the national office after that episode, and yet I still go back.

My last time at this store a PS3 fan boy cornered me and I was subjected to an hour's worth of information on why the PS3 is greater than the Xbox 360. I wanted to leave, but was powerless to say anything or walk away. I looked all around as if I were disinterested, which I was, but the onslaught of PS3 continued. Mercifully his shift ended and as he clocked out I did a vanishing act. Nonetheless that is one hour of my life I can never get back.

I figured because I have had so many issues there that this would be the perfect place to see what happens when the sunglasses are on.

The manager there knows my name and as I walked in I was hoping that he would not recognize me, but he did and even commented on the "shades". He was in the midst of a customer so the other clerk rung me out.

Once again it was I who was making the eye contact with him focusing on the computer. I was hoping for some sort of epic eye contact showdown, but nothing happened. No conversations, no eye contact, just ring, pay, leave.

When I left the store I was walking to my car and this random person said hello to me. This has been happening quite frequently since I started wearing the sunglasses. I started to think about this and I was thinking about this when I started my car and pulled away. What did this hello mean and why have I been getting so many of those? Is the lack of eye contact that detrimental to a conversation?

I was thinking these things as I looked left, then right to make my turn to the road that would lead me to the road that would take me home. Normally I look left, right, and then left, but not today.Today I was thinking about all these hellos and then that's when it happened, "CAR!"

I slammed the breaks as did they and I can honestly say I never saw the person when I was looking that way. The lady driver wasn't upset with me as I had the most petrified look as both my hands were in the air that showed that I had no intention of creating such a dangerous event. Our cars didn't touch, but it was real close to being a severe impact. That will teach me to think and drive!

Coming up tomorrow will be another presentation, this time three separate ones to the same CIT officers. If I come up with something in the morning to share I will, if not tomorrow afternoon will be my next post before I head to Wisconsin on Thursday (I hope the hotel has Wi-Fi!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010Day 11: The Potential Downside to Sunglasses


On my way to TouchPoint's city office today for the C.I.T. tour of our building I stopped at Steak n' Shake. The place was really busy so I sat on the bar stool expecting a nice quiet lunch. I was wrong.

As I have said, I believe people are more friendly when eye contact is made. When I have my normal glasses on and am looking to the ground people generally avoid me. With the sunglasses on people won't know if I am doing this or not.

That being so my normal defense to avoid conversation is negated. Sometimes I don't want to be noticed and eye contact is the #1 way to stay hidden. If I look to the ground and not at you I hope you will not take notice of me. Sometimes I want to be social, but most the time I prefer to stay hidden and by avoiding eye contact I can achieve this.

Today I was in the not talking mood, but when I sat down my normal defenses were not there and the person to my left started talking to me.

Normally I can just give a nod and look away and the conversation ends, but today I could not do this.

I truly was not interested in what this person was saying and at times the language was vulgar. I kept nodding as to not make him mad, but I could not, with my eyes, convey the message that I did not care about his car troubles or relationship issues.

Even while I was eating I still had a sign that said ,"talk to me, please!" because the one-sided conversation continued. What could I have done? This has never happened to me before and I believe the sunglasses played a part.

I may have an odd usage with eye contact, but I know how to use it to my advantage. I know how to make it look like I am not listening (I am) or how to make a person feel like I want to be alone. I found today that with the sunglasses I use eye contact a lot more than I knew, but it is a defense and without the ability to look away I may get stuck like I was today.

Tomorrow I will be heading to Shawano Wisconsin for the SKUSA Summer Nationals to flag. I don't know if I will have internet so my next update may come on Monday, but if I have internet I will provide updates.

Thursday, July 15, 2010Day 12 of Being Behind the Sunglasses: The Drive, The High, and The Low


What a day! What a long day!

My day started in Saint Louis early this morning and I ate breakfast with my dad at the Courtesy Diner. What lay ahead was a 500+ mile drive to Shawano, Wisconsin. The purpose of the trip is to flag the SKUSA Summer Nationals, but before that I had breakfast.

I always try and do something with my dad before a trip because one never knows when something really bad may happen. During this breakfast my dad commented that he felt a stronger connection to me because of the sunglasses as he didn't know if I was looking at him, or outside to road so he just assumed I was looking at him. I knew from that comment that the sunglasses work!

After a yummy breakfast I hit the road and started my drive. Quickly I found out that the ENTIRE state of Illinois is under construction. Honest! The whole state! Or at least that's how it seemed.

In the construction zones in Illinois they have two signs posted. One is that the speed is photo enforced, but I seemed to be the only one who believed this because I was a hazard doing 45 in a 45 zone, and secondly a sign that truly confused me. "Cell phones illegal in construction zones". Does this mean the sheer fact of having a cell phone is a crime? Or does it mean being on a cell phone? I dwelled on this for several miles and decided that the intent is saying being on the phone. Someone, if you are out there, please tell someone who will tell someone to phrase it differently so people like myself aren't confused. Thank you!

I usually love long car rides, but today I must admit I was sad. Well, maybe sad isn't the word but anxious. I was thinking of things to write so I can make a bigger impact. "How can I raise understanding even more?" was the thoughts that swirled around my mind at a pace that shouldn't be possible.

I made several stops today, two hours worth in total, because I was just to tired to drive. This led to many social interactions and again people talked to me and I was unable to show them I wasn't interested. This is a slight downside, but I think the positives outweigh this.

Slowly I made my way to Wisconsin and still had four hours to go. I became stressed about a potential event up here. NASCAR driver, and 2010 Daytona 500 champion, Jamie McMurray is racing in this race up here this weekend and Jamie is a huge autism supporter. I feel like I have to give him a book, but I am fearing I won't have the nerve like the event that happened two weeks ago with NHL announcer Joe Micheletti (for that story visit http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/06/harsh-reminder.html).

That stress never went away and is with me as I write this, but between that I finally made it to Shawano.

Usually, when checking into a hotel, I am nervous. Through my job at TouchPoint I have had many hotel experiences in the past two months, but even still as I walk through the doors I panic. What if my name isn't on the list? Who will I call? Will there be a room anywhere? Will I have to stay in my car that still has glass everywhere from a crash I had with a horse two years ago?

This time I had confidence though. The receptionist would not sense the weakness in my eyes or my timidness. It seems everyone thinks I'm Mr. Confident because of the sunglasses, and I am perfectly fine with that.

The receptionist asked for my name and panic set it. She looked and looked, but found no reservation for Mr. Likens. Think Aaron, think! Without sunglasses I would have wandered out of the hotel wondering what to do. Honestly, I would have because I have had that situation happen before, but now, being able to hide my panic, I asked if there was a reservation with the last name of the person I am sharing a room. Success!!!

After that ordeal I settled into my room and then decided to see if they had Wi-Fi. Obviously they do because you are reading this. Then I decided to see where the track was in relation to where I am staying. "Wow, 4 minutes!" I exclaimed and I decided to see what the track looked like in person.

USAIR (I think it is United States of America International Raceway) is an amazing facility and seeing this track makes me wish I was racing this weekend. Gawking at the track didn't last long as I went to registration to say hello and sign in. I asked for the owner and president of the series, Tom Kutcher, and was told he was around.

Eventually I found him and he was with a group of six people. This is the "high" of the story. Normally I would not approach a group. A group is a scary dynamic because I can't judge what each person is going to do and the #1 fear is eye contact. I can't hide my eyes to that many people and all it takes is one glance, one minor twitch of a person's eyes towards mine to throw me off. Today I was invincible!

Confidently I neared and was greeted warmly. I was introduced to the group and said hello to Tom and got tomorrow's schedule (1st practice session 8:15AM). Is this how normal people do it? Is it that simple? Walk up, say hello, shake hands and leave? What was impossible was possible today. Was it the sunglasses? I'd have to say yes 100% because I'm learning all the initial fear is with the eyes. Take that fear out and I am able to get to the second step of a conversation.

I returned to the hotel afterwards and just started to wind down. There is a social function going right now though. This very second I hear familiar voices down by the pool outside my hotel room. It sounds joyous and festive like a bunch of friends that haven't seen each other for a long time. I want to go, but can't. (If you can't tell this is the low of the story)

The party, if you'd want to call it that, is indoors. For the first time I am wondering if I could pull off the sunglasses indoors. It hasn't been a problem because I am always coming from the outside. Could I say I left my normal ones at home? But then, well, I'd have to repeat that story over and over.

For all I know Jamie McMurray is down there, but there's so many people and music. The sunglasses have worked wonders, but they aren't the magic cure that will get rid of all anxiety because I am here writing to you.

I could be sad that I am in my hotel room, but remember how I wanted to think of a way to raise awareness even more? Through the high and low of today I think I have done just that. I can only hope that this is the case.

Friday, July 16, 2010Day 13: Either All or Nothing

Today was a long day, again. It may have been long, but flagging is much better than yesterday as today I was flagging day one of three of the SKUSA Super Nationals. As the photo to the left shows I have a flag stand at this track so this time there will be no stories of me jumping over karts.

My goal today was to get a book to Jamie McMurray. During the day my attention was on the track and keeping track of the time. Thinking about the challenge of getting him a book was not in my mind as I had a track to watch.

Today is a great example of the "all on or all off" trait of the autism spectrum. During the day my flag waving was pristine (it was difficult too with the winds. Was there a tropical storm nearby?) and attention to the time of each session was spot on. Flagging takes 110% of one's attention span, and I do it without issues.

Once the on-track activities were over SKUSA held a bratwurst party. I was tired and wind burned (I swear to everyone I DID apply sunscreen today, there is no defense against wind) but I thought about getting that book to McMurray.

Flagging is a lonely job. Rarely will I interact for more than 20 seconds on a typical race day, and I like it like that. All communications are done over the radio and things move fast. At the end of the day the rules change and people like to talk. I never have been good at this and even the sunglasses didn't help me as the "alias" went away. (Alias is a concept I set forth in my book. I'd explain it here but am too tired and it would take too long.)

Slowly the entire population of the track was near the food and I began to panic. I moved from a picnic table to standing inside the registration building. And then there he was, Jamie McMurray standing right outside the door. I was no less than 3 feet away. He was in line though and was talking to other people. Who am I to interrupt?

Who am I? This question plagued me. I have a hard time understanding that people garner hope and understanding from what I say and write. Every presentation I fear I will be laughed at or mocked by what I say simply because I am what I am and that's the way it is, why is there any relevancy to it? I know I have dozens of comments that counter my thought and sometimes I allow myself to believe I am making a difference, but it is a struggle because what I say is simply who I am and is 100% pure and without outside influence.

The line crept by and I was within 3 feet of McMurray for almost ten minutes, but in the end I was powerless. The line moved on by and I went back to the hotel with the feeling of failure.

Today, if someone were to ask me, "What's the #1 thing you would want someone to understand about the autism spectrum?" I would answer with this example. I am blessed with being the head flagger of a series like the SKUSA Pro Tour. I got the position because I have always worked hard at the race track and can pull the job off with ease. It's a tough job, but it suits me. However, as difficult as flagging may be, once the race day is over it's like I am a different person.

Living this dual life is beyond difficult. To be able to fly one minute and be grounded the next is something that is quite sad. It's hard enough, and why I want people to understand this is that I don't want someone adding to the already burning fire. I want to socialize, but when there's that many people I tend to think it is impossible. If you know someone who does something like this please don't overly push or make an obvious statement. If someone would ask that, "Wow, Aaron, why aren't you talking?" Or, "Aaron, why don't you go and talk to some more people?" the end result would not be good. I know I have this challenge.

It's difficult to be able to do certain things without effort, like writing. I don't have to think or try to write, it just happens. Yet, other things such as talking in an open ended environment among many is something that is impossible.

I have two more days to figure out how to give McMurray a book. I do not want to fail on this, but I'm afraid. I know I can keep track of many racers on the track and flag to the best of anyone's ability, but off the track I a shaky. My skills are all on nothing and I must get that book to him. I must.

Saturday, July 17, 2010Day 14: Another Day, Another Disappointment


The weather was amazing today and the on track action at the SKUSA Summer Nationals in Shawano, Wisconsin was intense, yet I am disappointed.

I said last week that perfection is a virtue, and today we had perfection on track. That's great, it truly is, but my goal today was to get a book to Jamie McMurray and once again I failed it that effort.

At one point in time I was walking side-by-side with Jamie and all I had to do was say something. I've seen him be very open with anyone who has approached him. Surely he would have a second for someone on the autism spectrum, right? I don't know and that is the problem. I'm afraid I'll offend him some how.

This is the problem I always have. I know I am able to talk. I know I can hold a conversation, but I know I struggle at initiating. What's more is that I am fully aware of the issue and am still unable to simply conquer the unknown.

I have one day left. Jamie's class is the last class tomorrow so I know he will still be on-site at the end. I have created a worst case scenario guarantee way to get him a book. One, I am going to sign the book to him tonight. That way I either get him the book or am stuck with an already autographed book to a person and most people don't want a book signed to someone else.

Tomorrow is the day. Will I have success, or will this block, this annoying wall that hinders me in initiating a conversation over power me?

Sunday, July 18, 2010Day 15: A Tense Day


NEVER AGAIN!

Never again will I put myself in this situation because it was horrible! All I wanted to do this weekend was to give Jamie McMurray a book. On paper it sounded simple, but the previous two days only resulted in failure and frustration.

I woke up every 30 minutes last night with a new plan on how to get him my book. Words of encouragement rung through my head and dreams as "just do it" and "don't worry about it!" buzzed about.

I had not done it yet and people need to learn never to tell me "don't worry about it". I do worry, and I was worrying as I drove to the track this morning.

It was a cloudy morning with spots of drizzle here and there. The weather was a perfect metaphor for how I was feeling. I practiced what to say, I envisioned the posture I would have, but nothing felt right. I was doing the opposite of all the encouragement I had received because I most certainly was worrying about it.

The pits were mostly empty as I arrived as I had this plan of catching him when he got to the track. Then, there he was! He was walking with three other people though and as he walked by I was able to get out a faint, "Jai" but did not have the power to finish it. It was so silent I think I may have just thought I said it, but however loud it was it wasn't enough because Jamie and company walked right on by. Opportunity lost.

Loitering became my next tactic as I stood by his pit area. I was waiting for the right moment, but I was unsure what it would look like. The problem was I was sure I would intrude and anger him and I don't like making people angry.

7:30 came and it was time to start practice. Mother nature had different plans with a few lightning strikes so we were delayed. Unlike NASCAR, we race in the rain, but not with lightning. This gave me more time in the pits.

I was carrying my book in a protective plastic sack just in case I had the right moment. During a meeting with the track workers Jamie walked right past me and was no less than two feet away. "J" was all I was able to say. Again my presence was not noticed and my attempt to say something was heard only by me.

The lightning quickly went elsewhere and it was time to start the day. As we started it started to rain. Not much, but enough to be noticed. I was now angry at myself for forgetting my rain gear at home because I was starting to get soaked. Again, metaphorically speaking, this was a great example of how I felt.

During Qualifying I was beginning to panic. To want to do something and to be unable is the worst feeling in the world. I had to do it, but it was also impossible for me. I was being torn up and it takes a lot for me to become aggravated with myself, but I was there.

Then the bottom fell out, of the sky that is. A drowning rain poured down and it was enough to put a temporary halt on the on-track activity. During this time I realized I needed help as I would be unable to live with myself if I didn't achieve this small feat of giving Jamie a book.

I sent my dad a message telling him I would not be able to do this by myself and he got in touch with Rob Howden, owner of http://www.ekartingnews.com/, and the trackside announcer to help me out. He agreed and said he would get it done at the end of the day.

The end of the day was 8 hours way! My mind went wild with possibilities. I did not doubt Rob's ability to introduce me, but what if Jamie left early? Oh, the possibilities!

Race after race flew by and again, like yesterday, it was a work of perfection. During the TaG Senior final Jamie was right by me as I exited the score tower to give the green from the track. "---" is what I said. I opened my mouth, but not even a faint "J" was heard. This was rather saddening to me. You see, I have learned to place myself it situations where this won't happen to me. I have learned to cope with the challenges and will avoid situations I know I can't do. I had to do this yet I couldn't. If this were a play I think it would be called tragic.

The thoughts of sadness were quickly washed away because I had a race to start and being on the track I must have full attention or risk being hit. After I threw the green I rushed back up into the flagstand and watched the race wondering if I would ever get the chance to hand Jamie that book.

The final race of the day came, and it was the race Jamie was in. I found it ironic that I have no issues communicating to the drivers. If anything I communicate more to them during the race than anyone else. Through my movements and flag waving I express what is going on, in a way. If someone is over the line my posture is my strict. I know how to do this all and it isn't vocal. What I needed to do was vocal, but I was prepared for failure so I flagged that race with a new found vigor.

If I was going to fail I was going to fail, but I was going to flag with passion. I know I can do that so I might as well go all out (well, I go all out all the time, so I went over all out if that is possible). I knew my time was running out, and while I didn't doubt Rob's ability to get me to Jamie, I just doubted if Jamie would still be there at the end as it would take several minutes to get across the track.

It was over. The final checkered flag flew and the SKUSA Summer Nationals were over. I rolled up my flags and took in my amazing view one more time. I was thankful it got dry, but my mind was still in that downpour. I walked into the score tower with my breath held as I hoped Rob will talk to me first about this.

Self advocating is not in my list of things I can do. So many hardships in my life would not have happened if I could simply speak up for myself. In this instance though it was the first thing Rob said and I began to see a sliver of hope. Now, only if Jamie was still on-site (my mind would not allow me to see the logic that Jamie would get out of his suit, get his kart loaded up, and get off-site all in less than ten minutes. In my mind it could happen).

The walk across the track is something I don't remember. It only happened 90 minutes ago, but I don't remember the walk from the tower to the pits. I know I was talking with Rob, but what, exactly, remains a mystery to me. I was prepared for failure and what to write on here and how to defend such a, well, personal failure. I can present to crowds nearing 100, but giving one person a book proved to provide such a hardship.

I don't remember waking to Jamie's tent, but I do remember Rob introducing me to Jamie's dad. It's a shame that I don't remember much, but my mind was racing so fast with anxiety that I guess the ability to process everything was reduced.

After meeting his dad, Rob and his dad introduced me to Jamie McMurray. Rob mentioned that I was the starter and also had Asperger Syndrome and that I was an author. Then he proceeded to tell Jamie that I wanted to give him a book. Jamie saw the name and was amazed that I had written it. He looked through it and appreciated the personalized autograph. He was genuinely grateful and asked the question most people ask when they found out I wrote a book, "How long did it take you to write it?"

The conversation wasn't long as the day was long and karts don't pack themselves. Jamie thanked me again, as did Jamie's dad, and much like a sappy Disney sports movie everything worked out in the end after great hardship.

I was amazed at how warm the reception was from Jamie and his dad. Perhaps people I have heard of (i.e. famous people) intimidate me, or maybe I think they all aren't fully human, if that makes sense, but they were real people, real and thankful. In my mind I am irrelevant. It is hard to put any value in what I do. I don't know why this is, but that being the case I worried myself to a frenzy about giving them my book, but in the end they were happy and thankful.

The 2010 SKUSA Summer Nationals are in the books and there was some amazing racing on the track, but 20 years from now I won't remember any of it. What I will remember is the amazing gesture of Rob Howden introducing me to Jamie McMurray and the fact that it was in the last possible moments that I was able to pull off what seemed to be simple, "A book for Jamie".

Monday, July 19, 2010Day 16: Reflections on the McMurray saga and my drive so far


Hello from Rochelle, Illinois. I am currently stopped outside a hotel using their Wi-Fi. I have been thinking about the weekend on my drive and the difficulties I had. I wonder how many times my story has been repeated in other people's lives? To want to do something, to want to be a part of something, but to be unable to.

I told myself I would not ask for help. I was going to get that book to Jaime McMurray by myself. I was sure of this. As the story turned out I did ask for help, but asking for help is something that I don't do often. I must have looked silly standing by Jamie's pit for 30 minutes yesterday morning. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing by constantly checking my phone and looking at the clouds coming in, but in all reality I was socially paralyzed. I knew what I needed to do but lacked the skills to do it.

Again, I'm sure my story has been repeated many times and through all the hardship and my declaration yesterday of, "NEVER AGAIN" I am glad it happened because, perhaps, it will give you an insight into the struggle and pain that goes on.

I hope you what you take from this is that there are times I will want to say something but will need help. Asking for help though may just be as hard as what I am trying to do so sometimes don't expect me to ask. I am afraid of asking for various reasons and each time the reason may be different as to why I am afraid, but please know that I may want to say something, but words may elude me.

So, as I said, I am in Rochelle which is about four hours from home. The weather was ultra foggy this morning and I was sure I would have a run in with a deer or horse, but all went well. (I've hit a horse before, but never a deer.)

An interesting event occurred though and this is the real motivation behind this article. About an hour out of Shawano I started following this blue Chevy Cobalt. I don't know where they were going, but the passengers in the rear had Milwaukee Brewers caps on so perhaps they were headed to a Brewers game. Anyway, I followed them for almost two hours and the child in the rear kept looking back at me. This, in a way, was kind of odd, but having my sunglasses on I felt protected.

Mile after mile clicked by and eventually their exit was not my exit. As I passed the driver, one of the passengers in the rear rolled the window down and waived to me. This shook me. Sound silly maybe, but I instantly felt a connection with them.

Connections with people are rare, but it happened and happened suddenly. In my yet to be published 2nd book I talk about a similar situation, but this is a strange phenomenon as this isn't the first, or second time this has happened.

I now wonder who they were and where they were going?. How much did they talk about the black Nissan Maxima with a knockoff hood behind them? Will they ever remember me? I, for at least a second, was a part of their lives, but then, just like a off ramp, was out of their lives when the road parted.

The next 200 or so miles will be filled with thoughts as I return to my normal life and the sunglasses experiment. There will be no NASCAR drivers that I will be trying to get my book to nor events that require perfection. Yet, through it all, I bet I still will be thinking about that family in the blue Chevy Cobalt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010Day 17: What I Have Learned and The End.


It has been over two weeks since I started the Sunglasses Experiment and I think I know everything there is to know about it.

The SKUSA race had two similar situations that were revealing for me. On Thursday, I walked up to someone I knew that was in a group and normally I would not have done this. Yet, the few days after I could not go up to someone because I did not know them. What does this mean? What this shows is that the sunglasses are only effective in situations with people I already know.

These sunglasses have made everything I already know easier, be it food ordering, talking with people I already know, or trips to retail stores. Are they the magic cure? No, but they do reduce the amount of anxiety with events and people I already know.

I don't know if I will blog on the remaining 14 days because it may be more than 14 days! Why would I want to go back to normal glasses? I can now make eye contact in longer spurts and when I do wear normal glasses I often forget that the other person can actually see my eyes. On Sunday, during the rain, it was too dark for my normal glasses. As I stood and loitered around Jamie McMurray's, pit I forgot I was not wearing my sunglasses.

So again I ask, why would I want to go back? If I wear these for longer than 30 days would this forgetfulness increase in strength?

My next question is this; Would it be considered rude if I stayed behind the sunglasses? For others it would appear, from my observation, that eye contact is essential for there to be a connection between two people. This is fine, but for me I can't stay drilled on another person's eyes, but with the sunglasses that person won't know if I am resetting myself by looking away. Rude or not, I don't want to go back to never feeling a connection. It would be hard to explain to someone in a short sentence, but really, by me wearing these sunglasses I am trying to feel connected with them and without the sunglasses it is just so much more difficult.

I wouldn't call today the end of my Sunglasses Experiment but rather the day I realized that these are an effective aid in my ability to socialize. I don't think I will end it as it will continue on. Maybe someday I will try normal glasses and of course when it is too dark I will obviously be forced into it, but why would I want to go back. I am better at recalling a person (I am not good, I just said better and going from a vague image is better than when I could just remember a blurred out foggy image) and I now feel a faint sense of a connection.

So, my findings are profound and I like it. I didn't think I would be this comfortable with them. There is a sense of safety I have never had before. I no longer feel as though you know what I am thinking and it feels wonderful. These sunglasses are a barrier of sorts and I need it. Again, maybe someday I will feel this way without them, but for now the sunglasses experiment will be the sunglasses life. Perhaps the name of my blog is fitting because this is just another example of the wall between us. However, you could consider this a nice portal that allows the two sides of the wall to interact and I think I like it that way!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010But Wait, There's More: Day 18!


I have been thinking since I ended my experiment that I still haven't answered all the questions I wanted to answer, so starting today I am going to revert back and wear the normal glasses for several days to see if there is an increase in anxiety.

Knowing what I know now will it be easier or harder to make eye contact? Will I be able to avoid the reflex of looking away? Today I will hopefully find the answer.

Can I do it? I was curious as to what life would be like after the experiment so I must do this. I don't fully want to do this, but this is something that has to be done. I hope this unlocks more answers and gives me a better understanding about eye contact and myself.

My first article on life without sunglasses will be either late tonight or early the next day. I have a full day today as I am starting by attending the Saint Louis County Crisis Intervention Team's three day course for Student Response Officers and then at 6PM I have a presentation in Washington, Missouri.

There should be some stories I gather from today so I am off to start my day and will let you know how life is like with the world being able to see my eyes once more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010Day 18: Which way the issue is gets discovered!


Today was a hard day. My day itself wasn't that bad as I sat through the C.I.T. youth training and then I drove to Washington, Missouri to give a presentation. Coming home from Washington was interesting as a car crossed the center line and missed me on my right hand side! That could have been REALLY bad.

What was difficult today was living without sunglasses. I did not have any clue as to how easy life was with the sunglasses until I took them off. I ate lunch at Lion's Choice today and made no eye contact with anyone. I didn't even look at anyone's face as to assure myself eye contact would be avoided.

The trend continued at dinner as I was overly aware of eye contact because I never knew how easy it can be.

During my Q & A session at my presentation a person asked a question that allowed me to think about which way eye contact is difficult and I am now leaning towards the fact that it is you looking at me.

When direct eye contact is made it feels as if you know everything about me. My thoughts are your thoughts. This is probably a theory of mind issue as it is a "I think therefore you should know" event. If I know you are looking at me, truly staring into my soul via eye contact, then you know what I think about you and also all my secrets.

Should I avoid eye contact it is much like you aren't there. I may be able to hear you when you talk, but you aren't staring into my soul. If this is the case why does the sunglasses work? Is it simply the fact that I know you can't see me eyes?

I was able to make longer spurts of eye contact while wearing the sunglasses, but prolonged exposure to another's eyes wasn't done easily.

I will once again go without sunglasses tomorrow and will see if I find anything else out, and also hopefully miss any drivers on the road that venture into my lane.

Thursday, July 22, 2010Day 19: Avoidence


How much power is the fear of eye contact? Outside of the C.I.T. training I went to today I was able to avoid all social situations today.

Perhaps I am just tired from the constant "go go go" but I did not want to interact today. This could be eye contact, or it could be the tiredness.

If it is tiredness I want to let everyone know that if I need to be by myself it is something that I truly need. Processing takes a while longer for me and being alone allows me to process all the information I need to without being interrupted.

I can't truly judge what it was today so my findings today are probably not worth all that much. What I can say is something that I will be doing on Saturday. I am getting a new computer for my room and I need to rearrange the room. This is no easy task!

I am looking over my laptop in this room I am in most of the time when I am at home and I am looking at the 2005 Indy 500 program. I placed that program there 5 years ago and it hasn't moved! So, rearranging the room will be a difficult task as I move things and, throw things out. I will have pictures on Saturday and will make it an interesting event. If you are unaware, small items carry a lot of merit in my life so it will be an emotional time.

Friday, July 23, 2010Day 20: A Terrorizing Experience at the Grocery Store


(For the previous 17 days I have been wearing nothing but sunglasses. With the sunglasses eye contact and social situations were easier. Today I went back to normal glasses and this is that story.)

I just got back from Schunucks (a local grocery chain) and my heart is still beating fast. I am breathing fast and feel 100% drained of energy. I feel nothing short of abysmal. Did something bad happen? Well, depends on how you define bad.

Today is another day I am going without the sunglasses and I went to the grocery store to get my morning carrots and some soda. Because of the soda I was getting I needed a cart so I got one and instantly from the cart corral I felt different.

I had to pass three other shoppers to get my cart and I was looking down. One person said hello, but because I wasn't looking at them I don't know if this was directed at me. The onslaught of anxiety filled instances was just beginning.

From the corral I slowly walked to the carrots but I took another path because I wanted some Seneca Foods Apple Chips (my favorite snack! I have 7 bags stockpiled in my desk, but I'm not in the office today) but could not find any at this location. As I came to that conclusion a worker walked past the intersection and I made the mistake of making brief eye contact. He then said something, but my mind was analyzing the eye contact so I didn't hear him.

A second or two later I was still caught up thinking about what the man said that I did not see the other worker following behind the original one. I came within a few inches of pushing my cart right into him. He too said something, but by this point in time my mind was not receiving any external input. I was scared and had to much to process.

Quickly I got my soda, put into the cart, and walked with a brisk pace to the checkout. It was decision time. I normally use the self checkout, but the machines always yell at me to put the soda in the bag, and I had three 12 packs. Because of this I went with the traditional method of checkout.

As I wheeled the cart into the lane the worker lady was standing in the checkout aisle. She looked at me and instantly said, "You're going to have to go back!" What?! I froze. What did I do wrong? I looked at the checkout light and it was on so why was I being yelled at?

Every possible emotion related to fear was experienced. Tenths of a second seemed to go by at a pace a snail would find slow. Truly, I wanted to be anywhere but there. I didn't know what was going on or why I was in trouble, or if I was in trouble at all.

Because I was not looking at the person I only had the words and tone to go by. As a few seconds passed the lady who told me I was going to need to turn around asked another worker, "Hey, is it Pepsi or Dr. Pepper that has a buy 3 get 1 free coupon? Sir, if it is Pepsi you can turn around to get another."

I was confused. I heard the words but they didn't make sense. I was so scared and frightened that nothing was really being understood.

She finally got behind the counter and I, hesitantly, put the soda and carrots on the checkout counter. I did this slowly because I still was trying to think of what I had done wrong. My only thoughts as my knees went weak with anxiety was that I want to be home. The soda rolled down the conveyor belt slowly, and instead of just checking out and being done with it the lady asked the other worker what deals Pepsi had going on. The man looked through the coupons and found one. He gave it to the lady and she said, "Sir, you can go get a bag of Tostitos with this buy 3 get 1 bag of chips free coupon."

I was still dazed and I looked over my shoulder to see where the chips may be. "Aisle 2" I thought to myself, but that was a good 10 second walk. I was paralyzed with fear and did not want to walk. I think the man offered to go get them, but my only want and need was to leave that place of fear. I had to leave, needed to leave, and finally I was able to.

What can be learned from this? I feel all this was triggered by the initial eye contact issues at the cart corral. If there is a stumbling block in any social situation I do the events following that are always harder. I then go into a subconscious state processing and if something happens in this phase the hole gets deeper. By the time I got to the checkout counter I was frazzled. I think if I could have looked at her face when she said that, "I would have to go back" I may have realized it wasn't an actual crisis as I took it.

What I have learned from this is I can't wait to be behind the sunglasses again. The event today that I described as always happened to me, but I don't think with that many events in such a short time span. Can the sunglasses perhaps minimize these? I think so, and again, I can't wait to go back!