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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aaron vs. Motorcycles

I've remained in Indy this week after the 500 as I'm working a race in Kalamazoo, Michigan this upcoming week and it's been a much needed time of decompression which has been one of the reasons, I think, my blog is back to the quality I expect of myself. Anyway, yesterday while walking towards an entrance of a store, I happened to pass two motorcycles and the riders had just gotten on to them which means one of the scariest things I know was about to happen.

Motorcycles and myself have never gotten along. A friend I had when I was young had a dad that rode a motorcycle and so many times I was asked if I wanted to ride along even if it was just for 1,000 yards. My answer was always no (and sometimes a sobbing no) because of the scariest aspect of them; noise.

At the store as I walked behind the motorcycles my anxiety and internal defenses were on maximum alert as I waited, waited, and waited for the inevitable moment where the engines roar to life with the noise that shakes the earth. Even to this day the noise bothers me albeit not as bad as it was when I was younger.

When I was young I remember one instance I was standing with my back to my friend's dad's motorcycle and the engine was turned on and I proceeded to run as fast as I could away from that place screaming. I was in a state of pure panic and thinking back I can remember the responses from those around me in that there was no understanding. To everyone else there was nothing abnormal about an engine being turned on. Was it louder? Sure it was, but loud enough to induce the state of being it put me in? To those around me the answer was clearly no.

This was my fear as I was even with the motorcycles as I didn't want a repeat of twentysomething years ago. The other thing I thought was this; it's odd that I can work at a race track with zero issues but just two random motorcycles in a parking lot on the north side of Indianapolis was creating an anxiety event. There's a difference, and I mention this often when inquired about it at presentations, and that is when I'm at a race track I have ear protection. They work amazing and you'll never see me at a track without them.

Back when I was young I had no idea how anyone tolerated such unfiltered and loud noise that is the roar of the engine from a motorcycle. For those around me they too couldn't understand how the unfiltered noise created such a severe response. It got to the point that if the motorcycle was parked out front I would no play outside, or even go over to the house, because of the threat of the noise because it was that bad.

Yesterday I made it past the motorcycles before the engines turned on and I was right by the door when they did fire up but I was in the clear as the doors swooped open. A great relief came about me and the anxiety buildup that was there was quickly receding. A miniature crisis had been averted and I was elated. Perhaps it isn't very often one has to deal with something that scared them when they were a child, but when it comes to sensory issues it isn't a fear in the sense that one might fear the boogeyman or any other ghastly being. Instead, this issue is one of the brain in the way my body reacts to it; I don't simply hear the noise I feel the noise and the feeling is one of pain. A couple weeks ago while in extreme southwest Missouri I was riding with a coworker and a school district director of special ed and they had heard my presentations several times in which I describe a sensory issue as, "comparable to being in a car and having a near miss; that feeling of extreme adrenaline that creates a sensation as if the bodies insides are trying to jump out" and in the middle of my second day of presenting we were driving from one school to another when this pug ran out into the street. The dog looked as if it was going to get to the other side when it froze due to a car coming in the other lane (this was two-way, one lane each way road) and quickly darted into our lane. Instead of running to safety the pug froze in out lane and the driver stabbed the breaks as we all feared the outcome for this poor little pug. We came to a stop just inches away from the dog and luckily for us the semi-truck behind us stopped inches from going through our car. Not missing a beat I said, "That feeling you're feeling... that's the one I feel in a sensory issue." In might have been a bit more tasteful to wait 15 minutes or so, but since everyone was all right I wanted to drive the message home as to what the feeling of fear, panic, and pain a sensory issue can create.

Going back to when I was young there was no way anyone could've known what was going on with me. And why should they? I was unaware of myself and couldn't describe the feeling and if I did what type of response would I have received? Tough it out? It doesn't hurt? Actually, I had a music teacher tell me "it doesn't hurt" one time when I complained about the class in which we learned what bass was. And that's the difference between back then and today and this is why awareness and understanding is oh so vitally important. If a child isn't diagnosed how could the parents possibly know why their child is having the reaction to a loud noise, like a motorcycle, without a proper diagnosis?

This title of this post may seem like I'm anti-motorcycle but I'm not, I'm just against them firing up when I'm standing behind. This is something a lot of people probably aren't a fan of, but for myself it is something that, as I look back on my life, is one of the greater things that caused deep issues. Even today, if you were unaware of the autism spectrum, this is something that might be hard to grasp. For myself, others on the spectrum, and family members of those that are on the autism spectrum this is something that may just be all too familiar. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Giving My All

Back on Saturday night I got to be the assistant for the USAC portion of the Night Before the 500. This was my first time doing this event since 2010 and I was EXCITED. I got even more excited when Tom, the chief starter, informed me that I could flag qualifying.

Why would I get excited over flagging qualifying which, if you didn't know, is just one car at a time for two laps? Because, well, it's flagging! I get excited over any event I do and when it's an event as prestigious as the Night Before the 500 it just adds to the excitement.

Whenever I do something I do it to my all. At presentations I may seem laid back, but in whatever I am doing I do it to the best of my ability. Once again it's an all or nothing, black or white system which this system is one of the reasons I do have to deal with extreme exhaustion from time to time. I do have a video example of myself putting my all into this as here's a video of one of my checkered flags from Saturday night.






As you can see I really get into it even though it's just one car coming by, but that's the way I operate. I don't simply want to do something for the sake of doing it; if I care about doing it I'm going to try and give more than I am capable of. This, along with many other potential aspects of being on the autism spectrum, is one of those things which is a strength and a weakness. First, there will be those not on the autism spectrum that, when they are passionate about something, will give it their all regardless. Maybe everyone does that, actually, but for myself there is no middle ground.

It's obvious how this could be a strength but how on earth could it be a weakness. For one, the exhaustion factor can be great. When I have a string of races, or a string of presentations, I am usually unaware of the state my body is in. If my voice, or body needs a rest I will often be unaware of it until I'm so exhausted that I can barely function. There will be times that I will need a break and it will take me hours of thinking about it before I am able to. I was proud of myself back at the SKUSA race in Dallas on the final day when I was able to say, "Hey, can someone fill in, I need a short break" and I have to admit I was fearing some sort of wrath such as, "How dare you require a break!" but after 28 hours of flagging in three days in 90 degree weather I did need a break and there was no wrath, no anger, just a, "Wow Aaron, you went this long without one! How'd you manage that?"

The next problem with this can be attitude from coworkers. I experienced this at the video game store and the bank I worked at because, at those jobs, I did give it my all and after the manager saw my numbers of efficiency the manager began to expect more from others. This created a little bit of tension because my coworkers didn't like the fact that I was making them look bad. I had no intention of making them look bad, but if I'm dedicated to something I'm going to do the job just well enough to get by but rather I am going to do it to the best of my ability with no questions asked.

There is another aspect to this and that is if I don't buy-in to something. I experienced this at the video game store when the rules of sales were changed slightly and numbers I didn't care about became important. The sales numbers they were looking for I found irrelevant so I kept going about my sales the way I always had. Perhaps it was the change I didn't like, or maybe I thought that this new system was just irrelevant, in any event I didn't even try to do what they wanted me to. This was confusing to the manager because I had always done everything without question beyond what anyone had expected and now I wasn't even trying. This, again, is an example of an all or nothing system and can be one of the confusing aspects to a teacher, perhaps, if they have a student on the spectrum who can do a couple subject amazingly well, but when it comes time for another subject, perhaps one that they find zero interest in, there will be no buy-in and the student will want to go back to what they want to give there all in.

So there you have it, another aspect of the autism spectrum that is a strength and a weakness. I've noticed recently at schools I've been asked many times, "Aaron, you've talked about the struggles but what are the strengths?" and I love that students from 4th grade to grade 11 are asking these things and I hope to highlight more of these over the upcoming time because we can, as a society talking about anything in general, focus on the negative side without looking at the positive. Sometimes, like this blog, a strength can be a weakness at the same time and it has to be explained or it isn't going to be understood and I can only hope I did a little bit of good on this post to explain it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Line Between Hope and Dream

If there is one emotion I've had trouble experiencing throughout my life it is hope. For many years I lived in a hopeless world as I allowed my diagnosis to define who I was an with that came a state of supreme hopelessness. I did have one hope in that time and that was that maybe, just maybe, my dream, or rather hope to become a race car driver would play out.

Times have since those days but hope is still something that I have trouble comprehending. The wording now is different as I don't live in a state of utter hopelessness, but understanding that what is now won't always be and things can and will get better are something that I struggle with. However, there is a line here as I still have ambitious dreams that, as I did the math the other night, are actually more difficult to come true than when I wanted to be a professional racer and this is where the lines get blurred and a dream can create a problem with hope.

I can't speak for other people as I only know myself, but in my mind hopes and dreams are two different things but when a dream seems less likely to come true then it makes the concept of hope harder to understand. For your knowledge I should explain my definition of hope; I believe hope is the understanding that who a person is today won't be who they are in the future as things will get better, more of life will be understood, and that there will always be an increase in one's ability to cope, and even thrive with what life brings. In other words hope equals the understanding that growth is not just possible but is a fact of life.

One of the keen strengths and at the same time one of the greatest weaknesses I have with being on the autism spectrum is singular thinking; that is that whatever is is the only thing that is. This can create a problem with anything at anytime because if dream X doesn't come true, or event Y doesn't happen then all of life is going to remain stagnant and all is lost. It can happen that fast, as fast as it took me to type this sentence for things to so quickly change. Unless you live with this then this may seem foreign, or even downright impossible, but it's something I have to endure day in and day out.

The other problem with singular thinking is that we can have a destination planned out in life without the road map to get there. It'd be like driving from Indianapolis, Indiana to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and just having directions for the final two blocks. Yes, that will get you there, once you're there, but you'll be driving blind up to that point. This is a common problem I've heard from teachers with students with Asperger's as the student has their mind made up on what they want to be so why should they learn something outside their desired expertise?

What truly is tiring for me, more tiring than you can imagine and I hope I don't come across as whining, is when this line between a hope and a dream collide. When this happens it's as if all that I've done is forgotten and the only thing that matters is what isn't happening, or going to happen. I experienced that a couple nights ago and it was as if the previous five years didn't happen. In my presentations I always try to state that, if you saw me five years ago, you would not recognize the person I am today as there's been that much growth. However, so quickly I can go back to that time and it doesn't take much.

The problem is this; if something is difficult or impossible the singular thinking of getting to that point gets reversed which means, instead of seeing the final two blocks of the trip it is realized that the trip is impossible and therefore the trip isn't worth making. This is why this singular thinking is my greatest gift and greatest challenge because I can be overly dedicated to achieving a goal yet at the same time I can be extremely deflated and not even try to achieve a goal because it is impossible. This impossible thought leads to a avalanche of other self-loathing thoughts and by the end there's just a pit of bitterness and self-resentment.

I don't have an answer as to what to do to fix this, but understanding this is of the utmost importance because it is something that can pop up in many different ways. What might have seemed as a minor set back, or even just a minor inconvenience to you might have been a devastating blow to me. Whatever I find important is going to be, perhaps, the only thing I'm thinking about and if it doesn't come through then the whole system crashes. So again, I don't have the answer but understanding how this mind process works, I hope, may lead to a better reaction around us should this situation arise.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Another 500, Another Day of Countless Memories

Yesterday was the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 and was my 21st running I've been to and 18th in a row. To say I wait all year for this race would be to sell it short. However, while I mentioned race it's much more than just 33 cars hoping to be the first to cross a yard of bricks after 200 laps which comprise the 500 miles.

Going to sleep the day before the race is difficult as the anticipation is almost too much. Flashes of previous years' races go through the mind. Flashes of the people met, and the almost "pilgrimage" made to the track just adds to the painful anticipation of what the next morning will bring. Then, morning comes.

With morning comes the rush of activity that, for me, is the best day of the year. It starts with the drive to the track which isn't as easy as it sounds as 250,000-300,000 other people are making the annual pilgrimage to the same hallowed ground. The next step is parking which also isn't as easy as it sounds because this entails finding the right house at the right price and parking at the right angle that gives the best exit.

After parking, the walk to the track among thousands, no, tens of thousands, of people is my favorite walk of the year. It's more than a walk, this is a walk that is getting me to the biggest "Kansas" of the year. This walk brings me to the brink of tears.  Tears? This walk gives me flashbacks from when I was six and making this first trek to the track with my entire family. This walk gives memories from when I was nine years old and needed about ten layers of clothes to combat the bitterly cold weather (seriously, great finish, miserable day that year) and then as we get a little closer to the railroad track bridge I think back to the walk of 93 when my dad, sister, and I walked to the track which that year was my last year as a native "Hoosier" as my dad, mom, and I moved to Saint Louis later that year.

As we come out from under the bridge the years start flying by and I think about how many more times I'm going to make this walk and how many more times those around me will be making the same walk. I think of my dad who introduced me to the Speedway at the age of four and in my life that might be the most defining moment that set so many wheels in motion to place me where I am today.

Once the navigation through the sea of people is complete, and reaching a gate happens, there's this magical moment when the "Yellow Shirts" (the Speedway's staff) takes the ticket, marks it, and then I'm on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on race day! This moment is just another moment that brings chills.

We quickly go to our seat to wait. However, while waiting doesn't seem like the most memorable of things to do this wait is one I anxiously look forward to as a quarter full grandstand eventually turns into this.


The time passes and the stands fill up and there is this collective anticipation as everyone is awaiting the same things. The waiting continues until one hour until the start of the race when the radio broadcast begins. Then, the schedule of activities are scheduled like a religious schedule and for many of us, this is just as sacred as one.

When the program begins I am a shaky mess of emotions because, for the most part, it's been the same process each year. It's the same songs, the same anticipation, but I'm a different age and the year is different.

The driver introduction kicks off the program to lead up to the race and from there "America the Beautiful" is sung. While there is usually a household name singing over the PA they are usually joined by most in attendance. From that song there is a military address marking Memorial Day and then God Bless America is sung.

Then, soldiers take to the victory podium and do a 21 gun salute with then a trumpeter taking the front and playing Taps to which, as he begins, every conversation that was being had ceases and instantly a quarter million people all are hushed and the silence outside of Taps is eerie. When Taps ends there's a hushed applause. A minute later the National Anthem is sung and the tension is building as we're now just minutes away from 11 rows of three coming off of turn four to start the largest and oldest race in the world.

Before the call to start engines is made there's one last song to be sung and each and every year this song causes me to cry and this year it was even worse as this would be Jim Nabors 35th and final time performing the song, "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Speedway. This puts into perspective what I thought of when making the walk to the track that we only have a finite amount of times to enjoy race day at Indianapolis and as I heard on the television broadcast, "The Indy 500 was here before we were born and will be here long after we're gone."

I know I wasn't the only person having trouble with emotions during this song but when it was over that only meant one thing and that was the call to start engines was just a moment away. In a stunning twist the Speedway allowed Jim Nabors to say along with a member of the Hulman-George family (they've been the only ones to say "Gentlemen (or lady or ladies when appropriate) start your engines!" which was the first time a non-member of the family said it on race day since the 50's.

The engines fire and there is an extreme roar from the crowd; the race, after a year of waiting, is about to begin. It takes a moment for the engine temperatures to get to a point that they'll roll the cars, which this time seems to take as long as the previous 364 days, but finally, finally! the cars roll off. We were seated in turn two and the marvelous blur of colors rolls past and the sweet smell of ethanol fills the air.

One warmup lap, then a 2nd, and this year a third before the starting field was given the "one lap to green" signal. On this final lap, the lap leading to the race, there is tension in the air because the start of the Indy 500 is one of the most dangerous and unique starts because, as I mentioned, they don't start two wide at Indy they start three wide and the groove in turn one barely supports two wide.

The eleven rows of three made there way to turn three, then turn four and then the green flag flew and all the emotions of the previous three hours were lost in the blur of speed, the smell of exhaust, the thought of strategy, and the thrill of one of the greatest races ever ran and another year of countless memories will be filed away and will live on forever.



Friday, May 23, 2014

Conquering the Past

One of the defining moments of last year was the Terror on the 10th tee box incident.. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and it has been something that has stayed with me. One of the worst things that can be said is, "it's not that difficult" and when it happens it that moment, despite the passage of time, lives on.

I've golfed on with the fears of that moment being repeated. I love golf, but since that day I've been hyper-vigilant on doing everything I can to avoid a repeat. While there hasn't been a repeat I've felt as if I needed to go back to that course; to finish a round; and to overcome my fear. 

Back on my Christmas trip, one day, I drove by this course and was overwhelmed by fear and the memory of that day. That being said, when I booked a non-refundable tee time I was, well, worried. 

Would I be able to go into the clubhouse? Would I be able to simply pull into the parking lot? What would I do if I saw any of the cast of characters from that day? 

I started driving towards the course and my nerves got tense. I often talk about the "associative memory system" in terms of objects but places can hold just as much if not more power. "This is a mistake... This is a mistake" I kept saying aloud. 

I got there and as I pulled into the parking lot my eyes were instantly transfixed to the point I had parked 11 months ago. "This isn't then... This isn't then" I was relegated to saying because it felt like then. All the feelings of then were now. Why was I doing this to myself?

Why? Because I had to. I had to conquer this feeling that's been with me for 11 months and I don't know if it was the right thing to do, but it was a must for me. 

I parked, got out, and tried to distant myself from where I was. My focus was on my golf game and how to cure this awful slice I've had this year. However, as I walked into the clubhouse, there was no ability to distance myself because the reality of now was all too powerful. 

My fear was this; what would I do if I came across someone who remembered the episode? What would I say? What could I say? 

I checked in and all was normal; there were no words or familiar faces. For the six people in the clubhouse it appeared as if I was the only one who knew the drama of eleven months ago. 

The course was rather empty, and each ghosttown compared to last year, so the pace of play was great. I did come across a couple large groups and each time I did I feared that this would initiate the repeat, but each time the people were more than friendly and perhaps the most friendly golfers I've come across which was one of the more major moments I've had in a while. 

Major moments? I wrote something long ago that stated, "other people are mean, cruel, and not worth knowing." This was a truly grim view of the world and while I don't believe this on a daily basis the event from last replanted those seeds of thought, but now, in the same location of last year's disaster, people were being nice. 

The holes flew by and I made it back to the infamous location; I was on the 10th tee box. Eleven months prior I had been reduced to a hyper-ventilating heap of mess and now there I was, back. 

Since I had time to prepare I wasn't overwhelmed and I grabbed a tee, grabbed a ball, and stood up on that tee box and went through the motions and I had a drive that was a sight of beauty. This alone was a symbolic event that showed me that time moves on and I had, indeed, grown over the past year. Things got better as my 2nd shot was great, third shot got me close, and on this par 5 I got in the hole in 4 for a birdie. 

A birdie! I didn't think this event from lady year could ever have had a happy ending, but it couldn't have been scripted much better. I had come back, persevered, and after that birdie my golf game did somewhat fall apart, but it didn't matter because this was more than just a round of golf and that was more than a birdie and it may have taken eleven months but time, finally, has moved on. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The annual Indy trip

It's that time of the year as Sunday is the Indianapolis 500. This trip couldn't come at a better time as this week is about rejuvenation. Tomorrow I'll write more about the trip and more about what Indy means. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Trunk Full of Memories

I did something I haven't done in, well, since the entire time I've had my current car from when I said goodbye to my previous car back in 2011 as I cleaned my car's trunk. It's amazing how much stuff, besides books and my golf clubs were back there.

Actually, in all honesty, cleaning out my trunk was rather difficult. I've been putting it off for some time now because I knew memories were lurking. When I started to clean I started by consolidating my three boxes of books and DVD's but as I took them out I instantly saw what I was up against; memories.

Memories? What do I mean by that? I've kept an area of my trunk to these various things that have memories tied to them and, well, there were a lot of things. There were many "presenter" name badges from presentations dating all the way back to 2011. There were several cards of thanks, several cards, and many other small trinkets that, to others, may have seemed irrelevant but to myself they mean the world.

Now, why were all these things in my car's trunk if they mean so much? Well, the easiest answer is that's the first place I go when I'm done with a presentation as I open my trunk and put back the box of books, my projector if need be, and if I'm wearing a name tag I take it off and I put it in the secure corner of my trunk with all the others. I think this was half by accident and half by purpose because, as I was cleaning, each name tag and each conference program or flyer I saw reminded me, in absolute videographic detail, the place that I was in and the people I met. This was a severe episode of the "Associative Memory System" and I was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

I make reference to cleaning in my presentations that, "cleaning is something that I may do once every half year" and in this instance it was longer but the problem with cleaning is that in invokes such strong memories because seeing everything that was can be downright overwhelming. Why? To see those name tags, and to hold them, makes me feel as if that moment is now. When I held the tag from a Lutheran Educator's Conference from Las Vegas back in 2012 that I did the day after the SKUSA Supernats it made me feel as if, right then and there, I was back at that moment and all those memories weren't memories but were the present.

I love my memory but at times it is so hard to deal with and I've found that the more people I meet and the more presentations I do the harder it is when an event like this cleaning episode occurs is to deal with. All I can say is, now, that I'm glad the episode is over, but while the trunk may be clean those memories are right where they began. I didn't know what else to do with them but keep them in their rightful spot so, if history repeats itself, be looking for a blog post very similar to this in, oh, about three years.

Monday, May 19, 2014

After the 13 Hours of Nashville The Band Played On

This past weekend saw my fourth trip to Nashville in as many years for a USAC Gen next race. It always seems that the Nashville race gives me something to write about and this year was no exception.

My view of the racing on Saturday, as proven by the photo taken from my stand, is one of supreme awesomeness. However, with 218 cars and a total of 54 races to flag it made for one long Saturday. How long? For myself it was a 13 hour marathon of flying flags. After about ten hours I will admit I had a passing thought of, "Why do I love this again?" and then I realize that my devotion and passion for the sport is beyond words. Even today as most of my arm and leg muscles hurt my love is unwavering.

Now, let me get to the topic of today's blog which actually starts after the 13 hours in the stand. Dinner was at a Waffle House (not much open at that time of night) and after that there was little energy to do much except think about how awesome going to sleep would be. As much as sleep was needed and wanted there was one major hurdle to getting there.

When myself and the series director entered our hotel room it felt as if the room was shaking. Actually, I think it might have because outside our window and across the small parking lot was a bar that had an outdoor band playing at an astoundingly high level of decibels. To add to this chaotic noise there was also an occasional loud revving of engines which came at random intervals. Sleep, it would seem despite my body being at the brink of collapse, would be a challenge.

This noise was so great that even those not being on the autism spectrum were having issues getting to sleep, but eventually they were able to. Myself, being as hyper-sensitive as my body is, would not let me. We turned the air conditioner unit up to max to try and drown out the noise but this didn't help. I then played an album that has relaxing music on it I have on my phone and put ear buds on but while I could no longer hear the music I could still feel the music. This was what was keeping me awake; it wasn't so much to hear the noise but I could feel the noise (lots of low level bass noises which my body has a hard time dealing with) and this was the difference between myself and others; the other people could drown out the noise but there is no drowning out the feeling of sound.

The band played on, and on, and midnight became 1 became near 2 and aggravation set in, but finally, and mercifully, the music ceased and within a minute of that sleep was achieved. It made for a groggy morning, and others in the morning complained about the music, but they were able to tune it out by other means. Myself, I wasn't as fortunate and while I haven't written about them in quite some time the ever present potential problems with sensory issues came forth. Once the racing began on Sunday, though, I was back to prime form, but I'm just thankful I knew why I have issues with these noises as when I was younger I just would get angry at myself.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Trouble With Exhaustion

It won't be out for many years, but in writing my 5th book I have highlighted the fact that if an emotion or feeling is being felt it will be felt to an extreme and unfiltered. This also goes with the way the body feels.

It's been an incredibly busy three months for me and driving to Nashville yesterday so I can work the USAC Generation Next race here I finally hit the proverbial wall. It was awful! And it shouldn't have been as I am coming off one of my best weeks in terms of reception and performance (I wish all could have seen my presentation in Springfield, or could have seen my presentations to students in the Macdonald County R-1 school district) but as the miles were logged and I began to get sad.

Sad? While driving to a race? What was going on? The sadness started with a small hole and began to widen with each mile that went by. At first I couldn't isolate the problem as it was everything. Honestly, everything was making me frustrated and sad and I didn't have the ability to shake these feelings. And to make matters worse, the feeling of being sad within itself made me sadder.

"What's going on!" I said aloud as I crossed over from Illinois into Kentucky. Not only was I feeling horrible by concentrating also became difficult. After another 30 miles of this I finally called my dad to try and express how I was feeling and he was very quick with a response, "Aaron, you're exhausted!"

Exhausted? Was this the answer? I somewhat agreed with him on the phone and after I hung up I began to think about it and I realized he was 100% right and I thought back to the way I felt years and years ago when I was in school. This feeling was identical and yet, when I first realized this halfway through Kentucky, I was still in a position of hating myself.

Hating myself? Oh yes, most certainly! While I was sad I kept saying to myself, "Aaron, how can you be so sad? I'm supposed to be strong, right? How can I feel this way?" This is part of the problem with exhaustion as it distorts one's ability to grasp what can and can't be done. In this haze that was this sadness it was lost on me what the previous months have been. In the past eight days I've given 17 presentations, driven 2,000 miles, and in the year in total I've given 67 presentations to 7,900 people, have flown over 10,000 miles, flagged four races, driven or ridden over 5,000 miles, and all in all I've had the busiest first five months of a year of my life. Am I complaining about it? No, most certainly not, but at the same time that has to be a counter-balance and that's something I have not had.

As I crossed into Tennessee I finally allowed myself to feel okay with the fact that I was simply exhausted. I was trying to fight this thought off because I should be stronger than that, right? I should have an abundance of energy because I love what I'm doing, I truly do, which is what furthered the sadness because I hated this feeling I had.

It took a while once I arrived in Nashville, but when I went to dinner with the other USAC staff I finally had forgiven myself for feeling so rotten. Perhaps this was a momentary bounce of energy, but with exhaustion comes thoughts which could be cloudy and misguided. Misguided? Yeah, what I mean by that is, since exhaustion has an impact on everything, it can be difficult isolating and determining what the actual cause of the sadness or emotion being felt.

This is something that moving forward I am going to have to figure out how to better balance things. I love what I do and I realize the gifts I've been given in being able to be a loud voice in the field and this adds to what I do and there is rarely a moment that goes by that I'm not thinking of ways to have a bigger impact, or what to blog about next, or what the day will look like when my 2nd book hits the market, or this YouTube series I want to make, or retooling my new presentation, or working on the planning on my next set of presentations, or dreaming about my next national tour, and keeping track of all that plus so much more is, well, tiresome. Again, I must say I love it, but at the same time balance is a must and this is something I'm going to have to look at because I'm not going to slow down any time soon, that's for sure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

You Aren't Alone

In speaking at so many schools recently there's a theme I am seeing and is one I had to deal with for many years. After my diagnosis, as I've said many times, I went into the deepest pit of despair and depression possible. As one of the lines in my book states, "I write for the purpose that maybe, just maybe, the world won't hate me as much."

Please, read that quote again. Imagine living in a world where you are the only one who experience the world you do and normal is this far off impossible fantasy that is dreamt of nightly. Imagine being told, "I understand" from people that couldn't possibly understand. Imagine saying that you can't sleep because of a noise outside that is so quiet no one else can hear you and yet you can. Imagine being told making friends is "easy" when, for you, the seemingly simple act of a, "hello" induces a fear one would feel as if they were going head-to-head with a charging bull.

For those with Asperger's they may feel like the way I did in that I believed no one else experienced life the way I did because, when I would describe it to a doctor or the like, there was the usual empty, "I understand." When I'd tell others outside my family there would be times I'd be told to just, "get over it" or that, "it's not that difficult." When told this enough times I eventually believed it and didn't want to tell anyone else because, if it were so easy, it would show how weak I was.

From all this the feeling of isolation grew and grew, and why wouldn't it? To make matters worse I didn't help the situation because my dad tried to get me to read Temple Grandin's book, or material written by Dr. Tony Attwood but my eyes and ears were closed because, after all, I was the only person who thought the thoughts I had and had the issues I had. When one feels as alone and isolated as I did there is minimal room for growth or understanding because the amount of self-hate that is there puts a massive road block in the way.

In all honesty, I didn't really start to know that I wasn't alone until I started presenting. When I started hearing questions from people that were almost identical situations to events I had to deal with I began to learn that my struggles are shared by many. It's amazing what this did to me and how this allowed for much important growth to enter my life.

I wish you could see it, I really do, when at a presentation a person comes up to me afterwards and, in a voice that I would've done back when I thought I was the only one in the world to have this issue, tell me a problem they have with maybe a certain sound, or a social situation. My reaction to these is one that I'm sure the person who is telling me this isn't expecting because I break out in a gigantic grin and say, "oh my goodness, most certainly!" and then proceed to tell a personal story of mine which is comparable to theirs. Perhaps they've been used to hearing, "I understand..." but as I tell my story to them I can see that gleam in their eyes that they are not alone and someone else has gone through what they have.

Besides getting my diagnosis, and discovering a way to write as an outlet, the most important event in my life was that moment that I realized I wasn't alone. I go back to part of my motivation to write, so the world wouldn't hate me as much, because that's the way I thought the world was towards me. I saw the world has having it so good, so perfect, and my difficulties were nothing but a burden on everyone else. When I learned I wasn't alone that thought about the world hating me slowly began to subside and my confidence level began to rise; albeit slowly, but growth is growth and progress is progress no matter what gain it is.

It can be difficult to reach a person to get them to understand that they aren't alone. Back in the days of my deepest sadness I'd protest adamantly if my dad tried to get me to read or watch anything. It took nothing short of a miracle for my dad to get me to go see Temple Grandin present all those years ago when she came to Saint Louis. It was a miracle because I convinced myself it was all a waste of time and no one would say or share my experiences with the world. Now though, I know this to be false, but each time I see that gleam I talked about I get sad because, despite bringing this understanding of not being alone to one person, I think of the next person out there, somewhere, who is where I was; in a world where there is no hope and only a void filled with the understanding that what is now is forever. I've learned there's hope, there's always hope, and it's vitally important for a person to know that they aren't alone in their struggles, fears, and worry. I feel so blessed to be in a position to share this, but at the same time there's so many people that are where I was that my heart breaks. This is what fuels me, plain and simple.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Drama

My mom probably isn't going to be a fan of this post, but this is a great example of how fast a mind on the spectrum, or any mind perhaps in this instance, can run to a worst case scenario mindset.

Around 1PM yesterday I sent my mom a "Happy Mother's Day" text. Okay, yes I should have called or done something more, but give me credit for at least sending a text. Each year I normally would get a response within an hour, or a phone call, but yesterday none came. I thought nothing of it and went about my day.

Later that evening I got a text from my sister wondering if I had heard from mom. I called my sister and informed her that I, actually, had not and now a tidal wave of fear hit me. She had been dealing with a cough the previous few weeks so was it worse? To make matters worse there's 1,000 miles between my mom and myself so this wasn't something that I could just go and make sure everything was okay. I was powerless.

When I hung up after talking to my sister I tried to call my mom and the phone rang, and it rang, and it rang. With each ring the anxiety level kicked up a notch because had it gone straight to voicemail that would've meant that my mom's phone was dead and that would have been an easy answer as to what was going on instead of the fear that a major health episode was going on.

I tried to call again and still nothing. Panic now went to grim acceptance as I plotted when I would drive out to Nebraska. I now accepted that the worst case was fact and did everything I could to distract my mind. There wasn't anything I could do except accept and wait. And wait I did.

It seemed like hours since my sister alerted me to the fact that no one had heard from mom, but about 45 minutes later, after a friend of my mom's was alerted to this situation, my phone rang and the caller ID showed up as "mom." I held my breath because this could have been one of two people. It could've been my mom, but I was much more certain I was about to hear the voice of a police officer, a doctor, or so friend who was about to give me the grim news.

As it turned out it was my mom, all was fine, and my mom's phone had been in another room all day. There was no grim news, no actual drama, and all my worry was for naught. Perhaps anyone in this situation would have been in a state of panic like I was in. Maybe, right? After the fact I thought back to the days before instant communication and text (remember those days?) and how a situation like this never would have happened 15 years ago. While it might not have, the fact of the matter was it did yesterday all from simple imagination that the worst case scenario was fact.

This has been a staple in my life; this going from all's fine to all's wrong in an instant. When an event triggers the change my mind goes into a hyper-drive of logical reasons as to why whatever is wrong is, indeed, fact. The weather was this way with me as a tornado watch meant death within a few hours. Could this be a fact? It could, but the chances are rather small. And yet, with this phone issue, my fears could have been true, things could have been much worse, but they weren't. As my dad told me many times in my life, specifically when I was around 10 years of age and worrying about the coming deaths of my then four year old Maltese and my one year old brother/sister cats, "Aaron, you're paying interest on a loan you haven't taken out yet." While those words were lost on me then, as time has gone by (and real life loans) I've come to understand this and the payment to these future loans are much harsher than the payments of a real loan (although, at different times in my life, this might actually be somewhat debatable.) You see, by having such worry in truly can get in the way of enjoying what is at this moment. The fear of loss in the future, or fear of anything really, clouds what is now and for those 45 minutes yesterday there was nothing but angst, worry, and any other adjective you can think of to describe the epitome of anxiety. Again, my mom probably isn't going to be happy or proud to have made this blog post possible, but then again to describe this event, and the concept of the interest on a loan not yet taken out, I feel made the whole ordeal worth it. Not only that, but after such drama Mother's Day, well, maybe next year I'll send more than a text.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bittersweet

After a keynote at a college in Saint Louis and a quick trip to San Antonio to work a USAC .25 Gen Next series race my thoughts go back to the 5th and 4th grade I spoke to on Thursday. This isn't to take away from any other presentation I do, but the questions and statements that the age group of 4th and 5th graders asks me seems to stay with me longer and gives me so much to ponder.

During the questions segment a student stated, "I have to admit, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think the form of autism you have is almost awesome and really interesting because your brain can do things mine can't." I've had parents, and even a police officer hint at these thoughts, but it was never stated so precisely but it as pure as that thought was a student in front of the student who asked the question, who very well might have been on the autism spectrum, simply said, "You're right but it's bittersweet."

When he said that I let the words hang in the air. How could I say it better, or worse? Also, how could I say anything at all because, while I mentioned that adults have hinted at that, what I talk about, would kind of be "cool," I was processing what this all meant.

As I give a presentation I'm in a mode that I can't fully describe or give justice to as I am fully conscious but I'm so in tune with what I'm doing it's effortless and it takes A LOT to jar me out of this zone and the initial question had done so. I never thought about the fact that what I describe could be considered enviable. I do mention the strengths I have and please don't get me wrong that I spend my entire presentation talking about all the difficulties; I think I do a good job of sharing the joys and hardships.

The words started to dissipate so I responded that, "bittersweet" might be one of the best words I've heard to describe it because yes, there are tremendous strengths that we can have. I talked about the joys of being within Kansas, my ability to hyper-focus and the potential advantages, and I spoke about how I believe being on the autism spectrum has always kept me sticking to my high ethics and morals. However, as I mentioned in the presentation, there can be extreme social hardships and sometimes we aren't even going to understand why we made others around us mad. We may be oblivious to the fact that our sometimes endless stream of obscure facts we know may make those around us irritated. We may not read into the fact that a person is upset, angry, or doesn't share the same interests as us. We may also have to endure more difficulties with sounds, lights, or other sensory issues.

When I wrapped up my explanation of bittersweet my mind was hard at work thinking that this could be the perfect example of the fact that, "life is always better on the other side of the wall." For those that are "normal" it might seem awesome to be able to think outside the box, have a photographic memory, or have certain subjects or tasks that are difficult for others come naturally for us. For those on the autism spectrum we can look over and wonder how people who don't know each other can converse with ease, or wonder how you aren't irritated to the point of distraction by a flickering light, or perhaps even wonder how you aren't driven to the point of extreme anger by a person breaking a simple rule. Either way you look life would seem better on the other side of the wall.

Is this all what it means to be human? We are all different regardless of autism spectrum or any other diagnosis including whatever normal is. And with that, if you're like me, you see others and think, "wow, they have it good!" while at the same time they may be looking back at you thinking the same thing. So yes, isn't this humanity at its finest; wanting to be more than we are? And when we do this our side of the wall, whichever side that is, is going to seem darker because the other side is just so much brighter. And I wonder if, in that moment when I was asked the question, and the other student answered the question for me, if both sides of the wall met for one moment and in that one brief moment I wonder if, perhaps, there were no walls and there was a moment of understanding that there are, in fact, no walls and that we are all different and at some point in time we all wonder and think that everyone else has it better which in turn, for that moment, made everyone normal.

Blogging for another Blog

Autism Speaks asked me to blog about the award I received so you can read that at http://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2014/05/07/i-have-autism-and-won-award-leadership

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fire!

I had a picture for yesterday's blog of the fire but video is always better.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Weekend to Remember: Fire!

I've seen a lot things over the years while flagging and just when I thought I've seen it all Sunday happens.

I was outside Dallas, Texas working the SKUSA Spring Nationals when what was a small fire turned into a rather large one. A trailer had caught fire and flames were now visible from where I was standing. To make matters worse winds were 20+mph and the area was really dry. Quickly, the on track activity stopped and the drivers on track had no idea why the red flag was out until there looked over the grid area and saw plumes of black smoke. The picture was taken from the score tower and was something no one had seen before.

Because of the fuel in the pits this was an extremely dangerous situation. As mentioned, the winds were high so there was a risk that this fire could quickly spread from pit to pit. Because of this the order was given to evacuate the entire paddock area to the race track opposite the race track.

I had been talking to the drivers who had been on track but when I heard people weren't really moving out of the pit area I went over there to start ushering people towards turn one.

So I thought I've done it all at a race track but as I started using my yellow flag to point the way we wanted people to move was odd. It's just something I never thought I'd do, to be a director of foot traffic during an emergency. Also, I was very forceful with my voice imploring people to move. Well, I say forceful but I also was saying, "please" as well because people wanted to take photos of the fire.

The delay was about 45 minutes and from the photo to the left you can see that a lot of people had invaded my "office" and not only people, but there were also quite a few dogs. Again, this was something so different, so unexpected that the only way to describe the feeling was odd.

Since I had a radio on it seemed every other person wanted an update to which I just mentioned where people already knew. And when people asked, "When can we go back?" I could only mention, "When the all clear is given."

I write about this because I am amazed how fast my, "Alias" changed from being the chief starter to a helper in getting people out of a potentially dangerous situation. It was seamless and felt natural. Maybe the Alias didn't change all that much because I flag to keep those who race safe and this evacuation was just an extension of my already existing Alias.

The all clear was eventually given and the track became empty minus the 40 karts that were about to go racing again. And when the race began the oddity of the fire and the amount of people on track were quickly pushed aside because it was time to focus again.


Photo by On Track Promotions
This event marked the last time in 2014 that I plan to use my autism awareness checkered flags and using them on the track surface, well, I think the creators of the checkered flags got it wrong because the blue/white look so much better as this photo, I hope, shows you.

As with the USAC .25 races, we did a raffle and over the two days $1,100 was raised making the overall project of The Blue Wave bringing in a number north of $3,400! This year's planning was very short notice so next year, well, I think next year The Blue Wave will shatter this year's total! Until then though the memories of the SKUSA Spring Nationals will not be forgotten for a long time, from the fire, to almost being hit (it was VERY close) to the intense on track action it was one for the ages.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Going Forward in the End

So yesterday was May 1st and for most people this marks just another day and another month passing by. For most people the day has no meaning except another marker that time is moving forward. For many, however, it means that Autism Awareness Month is over. But what does this mean?

From my observations, each year, Autism Awareness Month always starts out strong and media outlets report about autism at a fever pitch, but by halfway through the month the "month of awareness" gets cut to a week or so. I'm not expecting a month long of headline stories as I understand that there could be over-saturation of any given story. Why am I saying this? We can't leave it to the media to promote Autism Awareness Month.

If we leave it to the media autism will be headlines for just a few weeks of the year. It's up to everyone involved with autism to keep the progress moving forward despite the end of the allocated month. I'm sort of doing my part in Texas this weekend as I work the SKUSA Spring Nationals as the chief starter. While Autism Awareness Month is over I will be using my blue checkered flags for this race. This will be my last race of the year using these flags as next race I do I'll go back to the black/white flag, but for me this is symbolic as the month is over but the mission is not.

We have a mission that we must forge forward with. We can't relent, we can't rest, and we must win. As we move forward with awareness and understanding we will eventually get to a point where ignorance is no longer an excuse. It shouldn't be now, of course, but it is still used. We are making progress, at least I'd like to think we are, and each year I hope we get closer to that day. Again, we must strive for that day, we must.