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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Link

I'm having a bit of writer's block today and I'm still processing from a blog I stumbled upon over the weekend so I will share that with you here

Monday, July 21, 2014

Will vs. May

This post was inspired by a police officer that went through my training last week and asked, "I see the media talk about autism and Asperger's but there's always a savant gift, this isn't true, is it?" The media often, whether in news stories or depictions of fictional characters with autism/Asperger's, will often use the word "will" instead of the much needed "may."

There's a big difference between the two words and it's within these words that understanding must take place. Let's start with the facts from Wikipedia: Asperger's is a form of autism characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication alongside restricted and repetitive interests.

What you read above is the "will" of Asperger's per the diagnosis. However, after that it opens up to a world of "may." A world of "may?" Yes, let's start with point one of difficulties: social interactions. I've heard some parents tell me that a professional told them that their child can't possibly have Asperger's because, "he can talk." That right there is the start of the confusion between may and will. Some people with autism are nonverbal, some are not. Some people with Asperger's can be very shy, and some may actually be talkative to a level that could annoy those around them. I know this because, when I was in kindergarten, I would go on and on about specific weather stats that no one knew, nor cared about, but I went on and on anyway. However, each person's ability to understand the social dynamic varies and the possibilities are endless on how it could play out.

Thesecond point plays very much into the first one and I want to skip ahead to the interests as this is one that seems to confuse people. According to that fact, a person with a ASD will have, "restricted and repetitive interests" but what does this mean? Does this mean a person will have just one interest forever? Does this mean a person will have an interest a year? Can a person have two interests? Three? I've heard some misguided experts give questionable answers to this, in my opinion, as to state that a person "will" is to categorize all people on the autism spectrum as the same. When it comes to the criteria of diagnosing then yes, it's a requirement, but after that the way it plays out can be radically unique. One person may have several interests, but those interests are the only thing that matters. Another person may have an "interest of the week," so to speak, while another may have one sole interest for all time.

If you've heard my presentation then you know I state, rather boldly I might add, that the most important thing you can ever remember about autism is that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." That being said, using the word, "a person with Asperger's will..." is countering the, "if you've met one..." Let's look at it this way; if we go back to the officer that asked the question, he later referenced news stories and television shows, such as "The Big Bang Theory," in that all people on the spectrum must be good at math/science because that's the way it is shown. I even heard an interview once where an "expert" said, "people with Asperger's will be good at math and science." Can a person be good? Most certainly! Can they be exceptional? Absolutely, but the dangers of saying "will" is that the person who isn't good in those, well, what will they think of themself? Another time it was art and that, "people with autism will excel in art." Can they? Oh yes, but then you'll have a person like myself which managed a grade of F in first grade art, and trust me when I say I deserved the grade.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when the word "will" is proper as in the aspect of being diagnosed. From that point on, however, the playing field is infinite in possibilities. One thing I do say in presentations, which when I began I must admit I did use the word "will," is that I say, "We on the autism spectrum may..." It is vital to understand this and, in my opinion, adopt this language because those already associated with the autism spectrum, I hope, already understands this. The hurdle we face is with those unaffiliated with the autism spectrum. It could be rather confusing if a person heard, "All people with autism will hate bright lights, and loud sounds." That would mean, if they came across a person who craved such things, that it can't be autism because of the concrete nature of the belief of "will."

Moving forward I am going to be even more conscious of the world between will and may because it's a wide, vast chasm and could be the difference between confusion and understanding.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Story of a Raccoon at a Musical

Yesterday was a big day for my girlfriend and I as a year ago on July 17th we first met and we went to The Muny, which is an outdoor musical amphitheater here in Saint Louis, to see Les Miserables. To mark one year together we decided to once again go to The Muny and on stage was The Addams Family musical but from where we were sitting there was a lot more drama to the production than anyone had in mind.

The weather was perfect compared to last year (it was over 100 degrees last year) which was a nice change. The Addams Family was a much different production compared to last year's show that we went to and I made note of many, many breakages of the fourth wall by the actor who was playing the lead of Gomez. Some of these were so quick-witted I didn't know if they were scripted or not. However, during the 2nd act, I kept hearing some yelling from the section below and to my left. It was at random bursts and I typically don't understand why people cheer at certain sections of plays, and concerts, but to these bursts of yelling there was no logic. Gomez made reference to this when he said in a line, "Go do it before people start screaming again!"

As time went by the screaming became more frequent and my hyper-vigilance began to kick in. I've written about this before, such as the time I noticed a fire drill in kindergarten was much more and this time, again, I knew there was something to this yelling. But what was it? I was fearing the worst as maybe someone was going around stealing things from people, perhaps harming them, or maybe a person was just scaring people. Whatever it was I didn't know but my imagination was running free.

The screaming was now to a distracting level and Muny staff were now on the scene. Flashlights were being used and it looked like a good, old fashioned man hunt. We were seated almost as far back as you can sit but now at least half of the sections had there eyes on what was going on. While most people looked in confusion I sat there in fear ready to react to whatever calamity was about to occur.

Have I mentioned I'm a worst case scenario thinker? If you haven't gathered that by now let me say that, well, I am and in this instance I was plotting an escape in any and every direction should whatever man, women, or beast that a dozen people were chasing strike.

It was getting to a level that the actors and actresses were performing but no one was watching as the audience sat there in awe of the random screams and random leg kicks. And it was from these leg kicks that I finally calmed, somewhat, as it was now obvious that there was a critter who didn't have a ticket to see the production. And whatever critter it was it was fast! One minute the chasers would be at the top of the section, then the bottom, then back at the top. I didn't let my guard down all the way because whatever it was, should it have rabies, could pose a threat so I remained in a state of no emotion and all attention and senses were directed towards the drama.

There had just been staff with normal shirts on but I knew things were getting serious when men in suits started arriving on the scene speaking in ear pieces. I was wondering if the production was going to be red flagged, ahem, stopped (sorry, racing lingo seeped in) because of the ruckus and, when a song had ended, a voice over the PA announced, "Your attention please. We are going into a delay to deal with an uninvited audience member" to which there was a round of applause as, I guess, no one had ever heard of such a delay before.

The house lights came on and the chase was on! The staff which had been trying to respectfully, and quietly, catch the critter now had full house lights and the green light to chase and catch at will. All the while the actors and actresses were left on stage, but the ad-libbing Gomez played by Rob McClure kept the ad-libbing going and I don't give compliments all that often but his lines were downright hilarious.

A few minutes passed and then there was an enormous cheer which could only mean one thing. The critter, which turned out to be a raccoon, had been nabbed. The assembled staff quickly dispersed and the show resumed which, as luck would have it, there was a line in the script delivered to Gomez in which he was asked, "What can I ever do to repay you?" and the ad-libbing was seamless as he said, "For one, you can remove all the raccoons from here!"

In the end it turned out to be an unique theater going experience and one that everyone was talking about on their way to their cars. For most it was just an experience that they never had seen before, I heard one person say they saw something like this many decades ago, but for myself it was something that started out with an immense amount of fear. Being hyper-vigilant is something I don't have control of. I am always aware of my surroundings and it doesn't take much to spark that part of my brain that shouts, "RED ALERT!" When there is a situation about to arise I'm usually ahead of the curve because I've seen it develop. On the flip side, however, I have also dealt with an infinite amount of crisis situations that never materialized. This is, to be perfectly honest, tiring. Last night, though, The Muny did it right and I have to commend them for stopping a production to deal with a localized pest. I fully could not pay attention to anything but the unknown element that was being chased, but by stopping, turning the lights on, and dealing with the situation was the right thing to do. I know that had to be a hard decision, and one that I'm sure all the people on the production will talk about forever and I can just imagine that conversation now, "Remember that one time, when a raccoon was the star? No, well, let me tell you..."

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Sensory Issue in Progress

It's rare to start with a picture but to understand where I am now you have to understand where I was because there, in that picture, I'm working the largest USAC .25 race of the year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and working it to perfection I might add, but it doesn't matter now. I don't feel anything does.

Just thirty minutes ago (it's 7:30AM as I write this) I was in the midst of sleep. Sleeping is something that is done in bulk when I get home from a race as the mental and physical toll are steep. However, thirty minutes ago, the condo unit I'm in started the process of getting a new roof which isn't the quietest of events. In fact, when you're sleeping on the top floor and there are a chorus of hammers, well, it makes for a major sensory event.

When I awoke I awoke in panic. I didn't know there was a new roof going in and at first I feared all sorts of end of the world scenarios of what this noise was. My heart rate jumped to a high level as that panic set in and after I, somehow through the panic, came to the conclusion that there were people on the roof the panic and other emotions just intensified.

Sensory issues are something I haven't blogged about for a long time, but are something, when the conditions are right, I suffer from. Well, suffer isn't a strong enough word because that picture I started with means nothing now. I feel nothing does. The feelings I have are of severe self hate. The thought of, "This shouldn't be a problem. I should just be okay, I should just be able to get over it." kept reverberating in my mind. They still do at the moment. I mean, how do I go from on top of the world illustrating a perfected art of flagging to going to a whimpering, panicked mess?

This is the thing with Aspergers; which I have to say writing that line to start this paragraph is the first time my mind has allowed me to accept the fact that it is the cause. I'm still fighting internally with the fact that I should somehow be stronger or to, "try harder" to be normal and yet with each time I hear the hammer go down it's like being jolted with electricity from the inside as I don't just hear the noise but I feel the noise.

Another aspect to point out, as I go from a seemingly sensory unfriendly environment of a race track to my own home is this; at the track I have ear protection, as the photo points out, but the noise is also consistent. Secondly, and I make sure to mention this to every police officer when I present to them, is that it isn't necessarily the volume of the noise but the frequency and now I'm learning the unpredictability of it because, between hammer strokes, my body was bracing for it as if someone were about to punch me in the face.

In a episode like this the mental component doesn't help because the response to the hideous reaction my body has is to just hate myself. As mentioned two paragraphs ago, the thought of being "normal" is constantly there, such as, "If I were normal this wouldn't be happening." It's there even though I go around the country telling people what it feels like and knowing full well it's a part of Asperger's and it doesn't mean I'm better, worse, above, or below anyone. It just means my brain is wired differently and this type of noise, for me, is like zapping a computer with a billion volts of electricity; it just can't handle it.

As I now sit in my basement away I can still hear the noise, it's muffled, but it's still there and all I can think about is how this shouldn't have happened. Where was the notice? I had none. There was no warning to this. If I knew there was going to be an all out assault on my roof I would have either got a hotel room, slept in my basement, or gone over to my dad's, but I wouldn't have put myself in the situation I am in now. I'd like to think no one should go through an episode like I am now, but life has other opinions and I, and others, do. Again though, in a situation like this, it didn't happen. Couldn't they have put something on my door, a warning of sorts to predict this for me?

During this episode I called my dad and I don't think I said anything on the positive. In fact, most of my words were "hate" and, "no hope" and, "if I were normal..." but as the adrenaline is now dissipating I can only think of the countless others, and perhaps undiagnosed others out there that would have had the same reaction I had. What would their parents' reaction have been? One of understanding? If there is no diagnosis or understanding then how can one possibly have any fathomable iota of an idea of what is going on. "So what, it's just a hammer" is something I can imagine a parent telling a child which, again, if there isn't a diagnosis how can one understand this because the reaction is so great that, if you don't have this reaction, there is no way you can understand the reaction, no, the painful reaction the body can have to noise.

I now have another story to share and this is the point my dad made. The need for awareness and understand goes so far because an episode like this didn't have to happen. Do the roofers have a job to do? Yes they do as it's going to be hot and humid later in the day with potential thunderstorms in the afternoon so work had to start early. At the same time though there could have been a warning, or prediction if you prefer, that this was going to happen. There was none and for about an hour I went through the worst feelings I've had in an extremely long time. I went from being on top of the world for the past five days to all that being forgotten. Many years ago when this type of reaction would occur I would hate myself for weeks afterwards, but now the hope I am grasping to is the fact that I can share this story, to let others know they aren't alone, and to educate others that we just can't simply, "get over it."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Watch it Live!

Whats better than a video blog? Not much, but you can watch today's and tomorrow's on track activity at the USAC Battle at the Brickyard by going to

We are starting shortly and will also start tomorrow at about the same time. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Video Blog: The Flag that Changed My Life

I don't know if I said everything I wanted to say in this video. Video blogs are hard to do, even more so when pressed for time. The first video is what I shot on the track, the 2nd is the video of me using the flag, and the third is the video I referenced from back in 2012.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Indy Dreaming

Good morning, and what a morning it is! The sun is coming up and today is a day I think of all year. In a way I had dreams about this type of morning since as far back as I can remember as today I drive to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to work.

Growing up in Indy, and wanting to be a race car driver, I always dreamt up the day when I would be working at the Speedway in the month of May as a driver and competing in the greatest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. While today isn't the Indy 500, and I'm not driving, the thrill is just about the same as I head to the Speedway to flag the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard.

For the USAC .25 midget series this is our Indy 500. This is our biggest event of the year and I take the fact that I am the chief starter of this event rather seriously. This isn't a job, isn't something I just do, but this is a lifelong passion to motorsport being fulfilled.

I'm sure for the competitors that will be competing this weekend they too probably have the dreams I had of one day coming off of turn four on the final lap of the Indy 500 seeing the twin checkereds flying in the air and winning the greatest race in the world. My dream didn't pan out the way I thought it would, and I'm okay with that because if I were doing that I would not be the Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest, but in a way my dream got better. In tomorrow's blog I'll show you (video blog tomorrow!) how an act of kindness 24 years ago helped get me to where I am today.

Dreams though, I still have dreams about where I will be, and what flagstands I may flag in someday, but today I am living the dream. I get to drive to the Speedway (which is my favorite place on Earth) and I get to drive into the tunnel and drive into the grounds of the most hallowed place in motorsport and I get to work. This is my fifth edition of working this event and I have the same chills as I did for my first year back in 2010. However, it's time to go now. It's time to drive to the Speedway and then, with flags in hand, it's time to start the Battle at the Brickyard. I don't know who enjoys this event more, the drivers or myself.

Sunrise at last year's Battle at the Brickyard

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

To Fear the Future

This post is the follow up to last week's post about memory and this post has actually been a week in the making. After writing the post last week my emotions were in flux as I struggled to make sense of it all. The part that was rough was the section where I talked about the spider web of memories as the first week in July is always rough for me.

There is a major side effect from having a good memory and the associative memory system coupled with a videographic memory and that is that the future is a scary, dark place. How so? How could the future be so scary considering that I have done more and achieved more than I could ever possibly imagined just five years ago and that trend could very well continue? You see, I don't see it that way. The future is a scary, dark place because with time comes change, with time comes new memories, and with time comes loss.

I've always feared the future and I know I've used this example several times, but when Missy the Maltese, my childhood dog, was just a couple years old I would cry and cry about the day that she would die. My dad told me, and I couldn't understand it at the time (I understand the concept all too well now) that I was, "paying interest on a loan I hadn't taken out yet." While that mat be true I could already feel the pain of loss because I knew it would occur. Having this be true it makes it hard to enjoy the present because I've got memories of the past playing in my mind and the inevitable losses and change being played out in the future in my mind.

What comes from this? After my diagnosis and subsequent depression I managed this by eliminating myself from as many places and relationships as possible because, if I knew no place and knew no one how could I be hurt? This in turn created a sense of isolation which within itself was just as bad as fearing the future but it seemed to be the only way to protect myself from the unknown which is the future.

To this day I struggle with this. It doesn't take much to trigger a memory from the past which in turn triggers a fear of things to come. Everyone has this to a degree, right? I mean, while people may dream about fame, fortune, and other good things to come everyone, somewhere in their thoughts, fears what is to come. However, it probably isn't to the crippling level that I can feel it.

I have overcame this to a degree because I am out there and haven't stayed hidden away within the walls of my home. It's something that is ever present and I'm sure this has to do with the way I process time which I'm sure is different than how "normal" people process it. To have my entire life feel like it's been just five minutes means things are always fresh which furthers the fear of future pains because the pains of the past are just as present as the day they occurred.

It took a while to get the bravery to break the cycle. I don't write about it much but it takes great strength just to exit my front door each day because out there, in the world, change is occurring. If I locked my front door and stayed in the future would be something that I wouldn't see as I'd have complete control over my present and would be oblivious to change. This is something I have realized I don't want and this is what gives me the strength to go out into the world, to travel, to experience new things. Will the future hurt? Perhaps, but isn't this is essence of being human? Autism spectrum or not life is a challenge and is full of unknowns. I fear the unknown and the future is just that, but it is something that I have to accept or the future will control me and the fear will write my own history. I don't like the sound of that so I must forge onward. Will there be triggers that remind me of people that have passed? Yes, but the best thing I can do is, instead of let the sadness consume me, use the memories to motivate me. A lot of people helped me to get here and I've got to honor them by forging onward into the unknown known as the future.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Curse of Memory

To begin this post, as I have with so many, I have to say the most important line in my opinion you should know about the autism spectrum and that is, "if you've met one person you've only met one person" which means that the topic I'm about to may apply to the next person, or may not be valid at all.

In the past month I've been told on numerous occasions, "Aaron, your memory is phenomenal!" The reasons for saying this vary as I had a presentation in Springfield on June 14th where this came up and many times over the past two weeks I've been told this by varying people I've encountered at the races. This may seem like an amazing trait to have, and perhaps it is, but there are many times I wish I could turn it off, or perhaps tone it back by about 50%.

Why is having such a good memory bad? The first thing is on how many arguments it can get me in. When traveling with the racing staff I'll mention that, as we pass an exit, that we, "stayed at that hotel three years ago" to which someone will disagree and then I give nothing short of a dissertation on all the events that happened. Having Asperger's, I have the, "I'm always mentality" (it's because I am) and I won't stop until I'm satisfied that everyone has agreed that I am right so I go above and beyond to tell enough of the events to try and jog everyone's memory. This, I'm sure, makes me come across has arrogant or a "know-it-all" but things need to be right. Things have to be right all the time therefore I'm not trying to tell anyone that they don't know what they are talking about it's just that they're wrong and things need to be right.

The second curse about having a stellar memory (quick side note; I may be talking about my memory, but this is long-term memory. If you were to read off ten numbers to me and then asked me to repeat them I probably would be unable to after the third number. My short-term memory is as bad as my long term memory is good) is that I know what to expect when a situation is repeated. This could play out many ways whether I expect us to eat at a certain restaurant because we did so the first time we went through a certain place, or maybe I expect us to take the same roads as before, or perhaps I have a certain routine in my mind of how events should play out because they did so the first time. With these expectations can come a high level of frustration because others usually don't put the same stock as I do in having sameness and this goes back to the things mention in the first thing mentioned in the prior paragraph. Others, usually, aren't chained to sameness the way I am nor will they take notice. I do. I do take notice in sequences and order and to me they are of the utmost importance. Furthermore, this sameness creates an extremely high level of security within me because I am normally tense and a bit stressed with my surroundings but if I know what's going to happen in the order that it is going to happen this is alleviated. This is why, when I was younger (and maybe now, still) I would ask and re-ask the same question to make sure what had happened was going to happen again in the order that it was going happen.

The last aspect, and potentially the hardest to deal with, in this curse of a good memory is the inability to forget and to move on. When an event happens it stays with me. I've said many times that, "I believe the concept of time can be different for those on the autism spectrum" because for myself it's as if everything in my life happened in the past five minutes. This means everything is fresh. One metaphor I used was this, "Imagine time as if you were in a car driving down the road. As time progresses it would be like a tree you passed on the side of the road slowly disappearing in the rear view mirror until it is out of sight. For myself, it's like everything I've ever passed remains right there, clear as day, in the mirror with no progression ever taking place."

To make matters worse is the fact that my memory works against me because, since I remember so much, my memories are tied together like a spider web which means I can see a place that will remind me of a time was I there and when I was first there I had a thought which reminded me of a person which reminded me of a fun time I had at recess in 1993. This may not seem like a bad situation at all because, well, don't most people like recalling favorite childhood memories? However, I have to deal with this over and over and over each day. And, after recalling the good memory, I then think of the school year, moving to Saint Louis later that year, then I'll jump ahead to a bad event and get stuck on that.

This post isn't being written to create a grim look on being on the spectrum, but it is something a person could deal with and unless you deal with this I doubt you can at all appreciate the intensity of it all. Having a memory like this isn't a choice and there is no off switch. If you want to know why I hate change and fear the future the info is in this concept; if things stay the same and if there's no change then I won't have to deal with the thoughts of what was. The reason why I say, "change is bad" is because with change comes memories and memories can be downright crippling. A person once told me, in regards to this event which happened in 1999 and was a chapter in Finding Kansas, was that I was, "stuck in the past." To them I was but to me it wasn't the past, it was now and there's a phrase that, "time heals all wounds" but if you don't experience time because your memory keeps everything in the present how then can one move on?