Friday, April 9, 2010

Mr. Likens goes to Washington (or at least Missouri's equivilant). And a movie review,

What a day! I have been fearing that my blog would run its course too fast and that I would have nothing to write about. Those fears got put off as today was an incredible day filled with unexpected twists and politics.

The day began late. I haven't been asleep past 8AM since I started my job March 2nd, but 9AM was a welcome site as my eyes opened. The extra sleep was much needed and came in handy for the unexpected physical challenge that would be introduced later in the day.

Ron and I ate breakfast at the hotel that the banquet was the previous night, and as we were leaving a very important, and seemingly irrelevant question, was asked, "Have you ever been to the capitol?" I responded "no" so we went.

I know nothing about politics except that it is polarized and seems to be nothing short of dysfunctional chaos. We entered the capitol building from an unmarked side door and my taste of politics began.

I was amazed at the size of the building for one thing. I love buildings so this was amazing. If you ever have the chance to go there you should most certainly do so.

If you haven't been paying attention, or live outside Missouri, the state government is in the process of trying to pass into law a mandate that says autism must be in group policies. I am not an expert in legal matters, or the ways of politics so my comments on that issue are irrelevant except that every resource for early intervention should be implemented. Anyways, Ron has been following the matters in Jefferson City closely so we toured the building looking for the offices of those who originally sponsored the bill. The Senate had adjourned early, but the House was in session so we wandered over to the gallery.

It's amazing how stark of a contrast politics are when you're actually witnessing it in person. Cable news channels chop and cut the conversations that go on, but being able to see the entire room is astounding. What caught my attention at first was the big board. This big board was right out of a sports arena or game show and has a list of names of each representative. Above the names is the current bill being talked about and when it comes time to vote the bell goes off and the names go from orange to either green if they are for, or red if they against.

Watching the debates confused me. Mr. Speaker (it wasn't the actual speaker, someone else was doing it) would toss the floor about and there were yields, concessions, and other words that flew around at 1,000 miles per hour.

The speaker's eyes darted around the room picking up on who would speak next. I wondered why people spoke at all because no one else listened to whoever was doing the talking. During one gentleman's talk the speaker interrupted him, slammed his gavel down, and yelled, "The gentleman from X county is in violation of the rules. Food is not permitted on the House floor".
No longer than a minute later the gavel crashed down again and a lady was told she was in violation for the same thing.

I was confused as to why anyone would break the rules to bring food onto the floor, and as I was wondering this, Representative Dwight Scharnhorst saw Ron from the floor and waived. A minute later he came up and Ron and he discussed where the autism bill sat. I was introduced to him and he realized he had my book.

The speaker who had been doing it yielded the post for a couple minutes and a lady took over. She looked to be a rookie at leading the House and the comments were not as smooth. During a vote Rep. Scharnhorst stood up and I noticed he was holding my book. He got the floor and said, "I would like the House to recognize the two special guests in the gallery. Ron Ekstrand, CEO of Touch Point and Aaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas." I don't know about you, nor care if you debate what I say about this, but I considered this the dawning of my political career. I don't know what that will entail, but I was mentioned in a political place and I can't wait until someday when I'm the one speaking for myself, or for all on the autism spectrum.

Once the thought of political grandeur wore down I watched the disorganized chaos continue. On man was standing up during a vote and was juggling. Yes, juggling. He was clearly in violation of the rules as he was juggling apples. He went on in an almost antagonizing fashion just trying to get Mrs. Speaker to say something. She did, eventually, and she said, "The gentleman from X is against the the rules". So polite!

The affirmation of 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution entered the floor and it got heated so we left. A quick stop to another sponsor of the bill was made and he was busy, but we didn't leave empty handed as we got the secret key. What types of secrets does this key unlock? Is it something out of the movie National Treasure? Not really as all it does is grant access to the top floor which I must say is amazing.

We exited the elevator and got lost. We kept trying to use the key card to get into this room we thought was the way to the top, but the door was stuck. As we peered through the crack we learned it was just a closet.

After some intense investigating we found the way and began the ascent to the top. The stairs were steep and the confines were close. This is not for a person who has a fear of heights, or wasps as signs warned that there were wasps at the top of the dome and that entry was at one's own risk. And you thought politics on the floor were dangerous!

It must not have been wasp season because none were found, but the heights were still plenty high. I didn't have a fear of heights until I was in Riga, Latvia in 2008 and was high up in an old church. This trek up the stairs wasn't helping.

As we neared the final flight of stairs I was in awe of the builders who made this. The outer walls had a steep curve inward and there was no floor below it. And fall would be a sure death and the amount of work that had to be done is beyond my comprehension.

We finally made it to the top and I was surprised when we exited a door and was standing outside. The view was breath taking. What made it so memorable was that we could walk around the top in a 360 degree fashion and see all around. Truly amazing!

After standing in the wind for 5 minutes we started the decent. This decent proved to be tricky as I banged my head on a crossbar and was a bit woozy.

We returned the secret key and headed to the van. All the sights and sounds we saw, as well as being recognized on the House floor, all stemmed from a simple question of, "Have you ever seen the capitol?" I have now and I can't wait for more!

The story doesn't end there though. We drove back to Saint Louis and that night we sat in on KETC Channel 9's public viewing of "The Horse Boy" which is a documentary movie about a boy with autism who loves horses. The dad takes him to Mongolia, with his mom, to meet with the Shamans for special healing.

I had pre-screened this pre-screening of the movie and I have mixed feelings about it. First off this can't be a 100% official review as this viewing was 57 minutes and the actual movie is 95 minutes. Also, a book was made and it has much more detail. Whatever the detail may be is irrelevant and I only can go off of this 57 minute version.

Anyways, I have mixed feelings. In the end the dad says that their son wasn't cured of autism, but is much better now than what he was. Don't get me wrong as this is great, but one doesn't have to go to Mongolia to do this. While over there the mom and dad were whipped, and other cleansing rituals were performed.

Over the course of the next week they road in car and on horseback to find the elite of healers. They found him and, while the behaviors were already getting better, the parents said this was an amazing experience.

I am happy that progress was made, but a movie like this may give parents the wrong idea of what they need to do. The child's "Kansas" was horses so spending a week with them certainly led to an environment where the gains could ripple out.

One thing that can be learned from this was the dedication of the parents. If parents are unwilling to learn about their child then progress will be hard. I think it's bad that this is shown as flying to Mongolia as most families aren't in a position to take such a drastic measure.

I don't want to say this was an example as a "false hope" or fake treatment plan as being in an Kansas environment can be very beneficial. A parent may watch this and think that progress can be made instantly. Seeing progress in 57 minutes compared to the actual time it took needs to be remembered. A parent may view this and expect the same results and become discouraged.

Discouragement is my biggest fear about this story. A family doesn't need to fly around the world as Touch Point's parent training class may be in their backyard. A trip around the world will teach the parents nothing about why their child behaves the way they do, and won't allow them to understand the way their child views the world.

Was it a great story? Yes, but I just hope it doesn't bring about a false hope. Hope is needed, but hope without a sound ground can lead to something horrible, despair.

Coming up this weekend, on Saturday, I will have a special weekend edition entry, that relates to the Horse Boy movie in a way as I talk about my connection to animals on what will be the one-year mark of having no personal pets.

On Sunday we will have the Q and A article so if you have a question please leave a comment on this article, or use the e-mail I have in my text to the left to ask it. Also, listen to 106.5 the Arch at 7:30 AM to listen to the radio interview.



  1. Hey Aaron,

    My name is Janelle and I work for TouchPoint at the Columbia office. I don't think I got the chance to meet you when you were here in March. However, I have been reading your blog since Ron sent us the link and you are doing an amazing job. I have enjoyed all of your entries and I hope you continue to blog.

    Janelle Blair

  2. That's quite an adventure! I went to the Missouri state capitol once when I was in elementary school. More recently I've been to the Illinois state capitol and even the U.S. capitol! When I went to the Illinois state capitol, I had a similar experience while watching the Representatives in action. It seemed very chaotic and I didn't know how anyone could hear each other or fairly consider what bills should be passed! I was told then that the Senate is just the opposite-- it is very formal, there is good attendance, and people generally listen while others are speaking. I guess this fits with the idea that being in the Senate is more prestigious than being a member of the House.