Friday, July 30, 2010

Before I hit the road...

After I write this I will be on my way to West Plains, Missouri to give a presentation. Before I head off to that I wanted to thank everyone that has read, commented, or followed (you are a follower, right?) my blog.

The amount of growth this blog has had this week has been unmatched and while I may be the writer it is you the reader that has shared it on Facebook, or Tweeted (is that the proper usage for past tense of Twitter?) this blog.

I have been honored greatly by the warm messages on here, in my e-mail account, and on Autism Speaks Facebook page. What honors me more is that people are sharing my message and that is why I do this.

Understanding is the foundation for hope. If what I say makes sense and helps a family understand a quirk or behavior a bit better my job has been accomplished. I got a message from someone stating that I am, "a voice for those that can't always express themselves" and I must admit, whole heartily, that I cried when I read that.

As I said earlier this week, Autism used to define me, but when I started writing the defining shifted and I dreamed of the day that I may, "Be the voice for those who can't speak". I thought it would only be a dream and that I would remain, forever, defined by autism. I am glad I was wrong!

This journey of this blog is just beginning. I don't know what lies ahead but life always seems to give me something to write about. I can't wait to share it and I hope you continue to share what I write to people you know because we are in this together! The more people that read this, and other writings out there, the more people will understand, and understanding is the foundation for hope.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Aaron vs. The Chair (Some Assembly Required)

I have a confession to make; I failed 1st grade art. Some people on the spectrum are gifted in the arts and making something by directions on paper is easy. For me? Well, the term "some assembly required" is a one way ticket to frustration and possibly hilarity.

I received my racing chair today that I bought so I could actually race on iRacing without having extensive pains in my back. Receiving it was easy, but the hours that followed was nothing short of painful.

The box it came in had dimensions of 40x24x22.5 (all in inches) at 110 pounds. The finished product is huge, but I had to begin by taking each part out of the box.

My journey in assembling this chair started off rocky. I can sit down and be so self aware that I come up with amazing logical metaphors to describe why I do the things I do, yet taking off bubble wrap is something that reduces me to an angry person that just wants to throw things (I did, but it was a bouncy ball so it wasn't that bad).

After slicing the top part of my skin several times with a knife I realized that instead of cutting through the wrap I could simply unwrap it. I was glad nobody saw me when I had this revelation because I had the largest grin on my face and felt like I solved one of life's little mysteries. For most people this might come naturally, but to me anything that involves spacial relations and the need for physical movement makes me look like I have no idea what I am doing (because I don't!)

Once everything was unwrapped I had to decide what went where. I took out the directions and it had a visual depiction of the finished product, but I am unable to look at a picture and follow it because I can't see the picture and see the parts that are in front of me. This goes towards the thing I have written about that, "If you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" because there are other people on the spectrum that could see that picture for a half second and be able to assemble it without a problem. I had lots of problems.

After 10 minutes of staring at the pile of parts the only thing that made sense was the big chair. The chair was the easy part as it didn't need to be touched, but the frame around it made no sense to me.

I then did something I rarely do; I asked for help. My friend Ryan, the same Ryan that I went to the Indy 500 with, was eager to help and I started a video chat session on the Xbox.

Ryan is a tool buff and he said, "I'd give anything to be there assembling it" and I thought to myself, "Why would anyone want to torture themselves like that" because, to me, this was impossible. I was dealing with bolts, nuts, and washers. After dealing with washers I still have no idea why they are needed except to annoy the person assembling the object.

Minutes, then an hour went by and nothing was getting done. It just didn't make any sense and finally, FINALLY I got the main frame connected. It wasn't that hard, once I figured it out as holes on one side meet holes on the other and slide the bolt it and done. D'oh I had to dissemble it to put on those stupid washers. Then it was done.

The next part was to put the seat onto the frame. The directions called for me to put bolts through the sliders of the chair. This sounded easy, but was another hour of frustration and the only thing that kept me going was thinking about how much fun it would be to write how difficult it was for me.

After another hour of struggle I got three of the four bolts in and called it at that. I don't know if something bad will happen or if the seat will collapse, but three out of four isn't bad in my book. Well, I didn't have a choice because there's no way to get that bolt in, and then if I did get it in there wasn't a chance in North Dakota that I was going to get that washer on.

After that was on I started to know what a bolt, washer, and nut looked like. Putting in the steering wheel supports and pedal supports came easier than before. I quit looking at the directions because it talked in technical terms such as, "Put the bolt through holes 2 and 3 and but the flat washer and nut around the bolt to support the arm..."

I learned this. If there is a hole on part A and a hole on part B they probably go together. I got lost in the directions of everything so I started to wing it and before I knew it my chair was complete. I had conquered the task of assembling something and I do believe this is the first thing I have ever made without physical help.

Ryan gave me advice during the ordeal and at first I discounted it. I knew what I was going, or so I thought, even though I was as lost as one could possibly be. The directions didn't help me because it talked in terms of forward and back and reverse and I simply can't process that information. It's like a wall prevents me for grasping it.

Whatever the case I did it. It was a struggle and I got more angry than I'd like to admit, but I guess this proves I am actually human after all. In all reality I am elated because I did it. While I may be elated now I don't think I will volunteer to do anything that requires assembling for quite some time. Once a decade is enough!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another Trip to CVS and Taco Bell

This will be the 3rd time I recount a trip to Taco Bell and while I don't want to keep repeating myself I feel this is oh so important.

I gave a presentation this morning for the Hazelwood School District. On my way back to the office I stopped at the CVS near here to get some shipping envelopes. I had my normal glasses on and walked in to get the items I needed.

Once I had the items in hand I walked to the checkout counter. I placed the items on the counter and the cashier rang them up and asked if I needed a bag? I started to think if I needed one or not and this thought process went on and on. At least a dozen seconds passed and I am sure I was squirming when I said, "Ummm, yesss, noooo, ahh, I don't know?"

The cashier looked at me, befuddled, and said, "Okay, sir, I don't know what you are trying to say so I placed them in the bag for you."

This is the battles I must face. I had just gone from giving a 90+minute presentation to being tongue tied to the point that this cashier looked down upon me. I so badly wanted to give an answer, but I didn't know. My mind was already planning my trip to Taco Bell that I wasn't prepared for a bag question.

I left CVS angry at myself, but I told myself that this event doesn't have to define my day so I ventured onward unaffected. My next stop was the office, and then to Taco Bell.

My trips to Taco Bell are almost robotic. I have every move planned and I sound like a recording when I give my order. I am fine with this as this is the way I need it, but today a curve ball was thrown at me.

For being noon the Bell was empty minus the nurse in front of me who was ordering for the whole office it seemed. Once it was my turn to order I stepped up and I started my order, "Yes, I would like two volcano tacos..." and as soon as I said 'tacos' the cashier lady said, "We don't serve those anymore."

Was this a repeat of Olive Garden taking off the manicotti? I froze and was in a panic. I didn't know what to do or what to say. I thought of all the times I had ordered the volcano tacos and that I never would experience it again. I then was chilled by a, well, chill that went throughout my body. I didn't know what to say. What do I order now? The only thing I wanted was to go home and hide because I didn't know what was expected of me. I held my breath.

"No sir, we still serve them." the cashier told me as I was panicking. Those words came out of nowhere and I was not expecting it. The rest of my robotic order was slow and almost slurred. Just that one joke of a comment threw off my entire order, and this is important to understand.

In both instances today a question or comment I was not prepared for threw me off. I am now exhausted due to the adrenaline response those events caused. What is a non-event for most people derails my mind. I am usually not prepared for these curve balls and adapting to them is something that I am challenged on doing.

Am I mad at the bag question or the joke of no more volcano tacos? No. If anything I am happy because I am able to translate these occurrences to you and hopefully give you a better understanding if you know anyone who ever has been tripped up a simple comment or question. Yes, I am happy, but I am also really tired right now. Life is such a tiring battle, but it's worth fighting!

Aaron vs. The Horse

Two years ago today I had an accident. According to the police officer and ambulance staff the fact that I am still alive is nothing short of a miracle. This accident is still with me today and every so often I will feel an icy chill that rushes throughout my body.

It happened early in the morning at 4AM. I was in Rapid City, South Dakota and I was leaving my mom's house driving back to Saint Louis. I love leaving early in the morning because time seems to go faster when the sun isn't up.

My trip to South Dakota was not of pleasure but of sadness because my aunt had passed away. There were more elements in play than just that, but I don't want to give too much of this story because this is a major chapter of my yet to be published/edited 2nd book.

As I left my mom was, naturally, really sad. I barely tolerate hugs as it is, but she wasn't letting me get into my car. I decided I could tolerate it just a few seconds more because what is an extra minute on a 15 hour drive?

Finally I made it onto the road and as I got about a mile away my phone rang. I plugged in my hands free device and she stated that she enjoyed me coming out to South Dakota (it was my first time seeing her there) and that she would miss me. Then it happened.

It was dark and I had dimmed my lights so as not to blind the driver that just had passed me. I don't use my brights to often so I forgot to change it back. As I was traveling a cloudy image appeared and it quickly morphed into a horse. I screamed a scream that I have never been able to duplicate. It was a scream of knowing I was about to die.

The impact was great, but I was still rolling down the road so I was confused. I pulled over to the side and turn my hazard lights on. I was in shock because I had glass in my face, scalp, and hands but I felt no pain. I simply told my mom, who heard the whole ordeal, "Mom? I hit a horse, come get me!"

I got out of my car to survey the damage. I got sad at the prospect of losing my car. That car means everything to me as a lot of my story has unfolded in that 1995 Nissan Maxima.

Being in shock creates some weird traits because I got out and I started to direct traffic, which wasn't dense at 4AM in South Dakota. Eventually a car came and I gave them a slow down motion and they slowed down and rolled down their window, "Sir?, Are you okay? Have you called the police?"

"Police?" I asked, "Why would I do that?" I asked this as glass was obviously embedded into my skin. I never thought once about calling the police because, in my mind, I had things under control. This driver must have called the police because within minutes the police officer arrived.

The fog started rolling in as my mom arrived minutes later and I had a hard time convincing the officer that fog was not the cause of my wreck. A reddish-black horse in the thick of night in the middle of the road was.

As the sun made its way up the damage on my car was greater than I had thought. My windshield was torn and was collapsed onto my steering wheel. This was how far the horse came in before being kicked around the side. Another few inches inward or to my left would have been the end. The paramedics mentioned that someone had died from hitting a horse a few weeks prior and that they were clueless as to how my "A" post didn't collapse.
I went to the hospital to get all the glass out my scalp and hands and then I spent the next month in South Dakota with my mom. One of the delays was that I found out my insurance would have paid had I hit a deer, but not a horse, and secondly, even after my mom bought me a new windshield, I was simply too scared to drive.
I saw a councilor and she said I had Acute Stress Response. I doubted my driving ability and once again struggled with the fact that I survived something that could have killed me. I've had many of these ranging from a racing crash to being held captive by a large mob of homeless kids in Kenya. Those didn't bother me, but this one did.

It took a month before I drove again and even to this day I feel different when I drive at night and unless I have to I won't drive at night. With my videographic memory I relive the accident many times a day. I can't emulate it, but I hear my scream.

What can you get out of this story? I want to convey that a stressful experience may stay with a person on the spectrum for longer than other people. I've had experiences that were not even close to the level of danger that this example was that stayed with me for a long time. Should this be the case don't minimize the person's fears. Emotions, when felt, are sometimes overwhelming for us and to say that something "wasn't as bad" or "not worth fretting over" it may make the stress worse because we will know you have no idea how we feel.

Since that incident I have taken a somewhat humorous approach to the crash. I guess I needed to so I could move on. When I was on the movie panel at the Missouri History Museum to talk about "The Horse Boy" film I thought, "Okay, how mad will the audience be if I stood up and said, 'Hello, my name is Aaron Likens and I hit a horse with my car'?" You can read the story of the movie here, without my inner thoughts of claiming I hit horses with my car.

So, I can't believe it has been two years. For me, still, it is like it just happened. It's a fight not to succumb to the fear, but how would I get to where I want to go without driving? Oh, and my car? I still drive the same one today! A racer in the series I directed is an auto body expert and I go a knockoff hood, a new side mirror, and got my left rear corner kicked out at a great price. There are still reminders of the wreck in my car. Glass still will blow out of the air ducts and little glass shards seem to still be everywhere in the back despite numerous (okay, a couple) cleaning efforts.

Again, this story will be told in much greater detail in my next book, but I just wanted to share this story today as even writing this today has helped me move on just a little bit more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Autism Is...

I had a presentation yesterday in Hannibal, Missouri and was asked a question that I thought was awesome. Another person the spectrum asked me, "What is Autism to you?" and after answering the question for three minutes politician style (that is, answering without answering) I came up with an answer that simply said, "Autism is." Today I want to expand on that answer. When I say autism I am referring to the autism spectrum disorder, I have Asperger Syndrome, but to make it easier I will simply state autism in this entry.

Autism is a blessing. I can do things in my mind that I thought everyone could do, but was shocked when I found out they couldn't. "You can't see pictures or movies of your life in your mind?" was a question I became fixated on at the age of 12 in school. That was one of many questions like that.

Autism is a challenge. I can't do some things in my mind that most everyone else does. Simple tasks such as calling a store to see if they have something in stock, or small chit-chat such as a simple "hello" proves to be a challenge for me.

Autism is a blessing. I can be perfectly content to stay alone and perhaps read, or color my magazine covers (best sensory feeling ever!) for hours on end.

Autism is a challenge. There are times that I wonder what a life of socializing is like. "What's life like out there?" I ask myself. I don't wonder this all the time, but perhaps once or twice a month I will ponder what a life without autism is like.

Autism is a blessing. When I put my mind to something it becomes the only thing that matters. It may be to the exclusion of other thoughts, but when something needs to be done, or thought of, the task at hand becomes the only thought and for those of us on the spectrum in the workplace this is a total blessing because the workplace is competitive, but we're able to go that extra 3 or 4 percent on a task that sets us apart.

Autism is a challenge. When I put my mind to something it becomes the only thing that matters. Friends, relationships, and food may be forgotten about. I don't mean to do this, but it just sort of happens. Time flies when one is having fun, right? It's sort of like that. I become so fixated. I experience a sense of freeness within. Whatever I am thinking about, it is like time, on the outside stops. I don't notice the passage of time, or the hunger pains in my stomach, all I think about, and perhaps care about in that time frame, is whatever it is that I am fixated on.

Autism is a blessing and a challenge. It is something that I must live with and for every negative I can find a positive. I often get asked if I am sad that I am on the autism spectrum, and I say, "Most certainly not. Yes, it is a blessing and a challenge, but most of the time I only experience the blessings and most of the time I only experience the challenges. I would not be me without it. While I don't let it define me, it most certainly is a big part of me. So no, I am not sad about it, because for me autism is a challenge, but I like a challenge so autism is a huge blessing that I would not trade away."

Yes, there are challenges, but the more I understood the challenges within myself, and the more the people around me understood the challenges the easier life has become. That's why I write and why I use my ultimate blessing as much as I do. Understanding what the challenges are is vital because, before I started writing, I would not tell you if something was hard for me.

I hope I explained this better today than I did yesterday at my presentation.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congrats to McMurray!

I just wanted to congratulate Jamie McMurray on winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Aaron vs. The Room

It's about to begin and the battle could be intense. It has been building for years and must be dealt with now. What is this battle? To put simply, I need to clean.

Cleaning is something that isn't easy. Cleaning represents things being thrown out and I can become attached to almost any object. As shown in this picture, the pile in front of the television has been gaining strength for almost five years now. This pile stretches back to the computer in the back corner of the room and that area hasn't been touched since I started writing back in 2005!
The last time a real effort to make this room look like a real room was the day of the Super Bowl 2005. Once I started writing I guess I just liked the way everything was. Everything has its spot and while it may look like a haphazard pile of stuff I know where everything is.

Today I must clean though. I have a new computer on the way and I want to reorganize the layout to give me more space. I want to flip the room around, but to do that I must do battle with this room.

It's going to be a sad time because I have told myself I am not keeping everything. Some stuff will have to go. Other stuff will be relegated to a box that may not be opened for some time. Will I actually be able to do this?

The final steps of my room cleaning will be to take apart my computer desk. I will be using my television monitor for my new computer and will place the television on it. For most people this would be a non-event, but for me, that computer desk is where I learned I had a gift to write. I spent many sleepless nights writing my story in that corner, but now it will be changed. Can I accept this?

I don't have too much more to say on this. I have had many posts on this "inappropriate attachment to objects" and don't want to repeat myself. What I will say is that, if I come across anything that evokes a thought to write, I will write throughout the day on my progress. Until then wish me luck as I have a room to clean, ahem, a battle to fight. Doesn't cleaning sound more fun when referred to as a battle? (Finished at 9:13 AM)

(9:22 AM) It didn't take me long to have my first emotional moment. I decided to start around my computer and instantly had to make a difficult choice.

For the past 5 years Ryan from Mass. and myself have played Grand Prix Legends (GPL) GPL is one of, if not the greatest racing game of all time and we had a game to see who was faster at certain tracks. The community on the game made a total of something near 500 tracks so my score sheet I printed was long. I also printed out the world records so I had 60+ pages of lap times. Ryan has moved on to other games, specifically iRacing, and I don't know if we will ever go back. The score sheets provide a reminder of this and if I keep it I will be sad of the times, but if I throw it away I fer I will forget it.

As a compromise I kept the master sheet that had what cars on what track sets we completed and what day we started and finished each. This will be a treasure to me forever, but the 60+ pages had to be let go.

After working through that I started cleaning around the printer and had the proverbial win knocked out of me when I found my boarding passes for my trip to Latvia I had back in 2008. That trip was so needed at the time as I was in a severe depression, but seeing that country and meeting a new culture perked me up. These boarding passes will not be thrown out, but I need to figure out where to put them. That's all for now, back to cleaning.
(9:42 AM) This is an example as to why cleaning must be a solitary event for me. The sheet to the right may look like trash to you, but this is the score sheet from April 22, 2009 when the trio bowling team I was on shoot an 813 game. Our scores were 245, 289, and 279! This was one of the last times I bowled in a league as I had to set out last year due to a lingering wrist injury from a racing crash in 2007.
This score sheet represents so much. All the people I bowled with, all the fun (I lied, bowling, when one is a decent bowler, is NEVER fun!) and all the experiences. This sheet evoked so much emotion that I have to admit a tear formed in my eye.
I knew this sheet was floating around in here somewhere, but if someone else would have thrown this out and I couldn't find it later in life I would surely have gotten irate.
(10:03 AM) I just filled my first garbage bag to the top. I should have been paying attention because it was way to heavy and these bags are not made for garbage. I mean, why would the bag be really big without the ability to be able to sustain it? I wish someone would have gotten video of me trying to get this bag into the dumpster without having the bottom fall out.
(10:24 AM) Random thought: Cleaning makes me very hungry.
(10:36 AM) Oh my! Going back to that photo at the top with the television, well, I was working on the pile in front of it and as I got to the bottom I found a very sad item.
Under it all was my Siam's (my cat) bed. He loved that fluffy cat bed, but what makes this sad is the fact that Siam died April 10, 2009.
Once he was gone I tried to remove as many memories about him as possible. Each trigger that I forgot floods me with emotion. I honestly don't know what to do with it now. I can't throw it out because it was his, but I have no need for it and all it will do is remind me of the best kitty ever.
(11:25AM) I can't remember the time I spent over two hours cleaning. Okay, to be honest, I can't remember the last time I spent over 30 minutes cleaning.
I made some good headway today and I can actually see the floor. I do think there's a real possibility that I will be able to flip the room around now.
It was difficult though. I threw out so many memories and when I found pictures of my former girlfriend I lost my breath. I had forgotten what she looked like and I studied the photos as if I knew who she was, but couldn't place who she was.
Memories are an odd thing. Some items can take on a meaning far and beyond what it actually meant. I suffer from this a lot and I think this is because of my associative memory system. I remember people and pets through items more so than the person themselves. An item is more than an item, it is a connection. Connections with a person in their presence is rare for me. It has happened so I know it can, but it is rare. However, I feel that connection through items, and today I threw a lot of them out.
You could say today is the start of a new era as I purged out the memories of old. Something lies ahead for me and if one is always chained to the past how can one move forward? This is what I am telling myself, but a lot of strong memories were tossed out today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 20: A Terrorizing Experience at the Grocery Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 19: Avoidence

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 18: Which way the issue is gets discovered!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Wait, There's More: Day 18!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 17: What I Have Learned and The End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 16: Reflections on the McMurray saga and my drive so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 15: A Tense Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 14: Another Day, Another Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 13: Either All or Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's difficult to be able to do certain things without effort, like writing. I don't have to think or try to write, it just happens. Yet, other things such as talking in an open ended environment among many is something that is impossible.
I have two more days to figure out how to give McMurray a book. I do not want to fail on this, but I'm afraid. I know I can keep track of many racers on the track and flag to the best of anyone's ability, but off the track I a shaky. My skills are all on nothing and I must get that book to him. I must.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 12 of Being Behind the Sunglasses: The Drive, The High, and The Low

What a day! What a long day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 11: The Potential Downside to Sunglasses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Assume I Know What To Do

Last week while flagging the Battle At the Brickyard I had a situation that I think everyone that knows on the spectrum should know and that is you want us to do something you have to make it clear and not assume we know what comes next.

The rules for the races states that if a driver causes a yellow flag three times they are out of the race. The rulebook states that, "A driver with three strikes may be shown the black flag".

The first time a driver go three strikes I heard it over the radio and didn't do anything about. The race director is able to talk to all the drivers over a one way radio system so I thought I didn't have to do anything.

After a couple of these situations the race director asked me if I was ever going to black flag a driver. He kept saying that driver X had three strikes, but he didn't finish the line for me. To me I thought he was simply stating a fact and not implying that I needed the display the black flag.

Eventually I learned the routine, but this is something that I have experienced forever. If I haven't done something before and I get directions they must be spelled out because I will be unable to put two and two together.

If you ever ask something of a person on the spectrum spell it out in what you want them to do exactly. Had the race director, the first time, said, "that's three strikes, black flag them" then I would have known exactly what to do.

So many confusing situations in my life would have been avoided had I had the few words like sentence above that said, "black flag them". Something so simple can avoid confusion because I need to know exactly what to do. If not I will start processing what I should be doing and that might take several minutes and then whatever it was that I should have done is now long gone.

So this is a simple request; if you want me to do something just say it and don't assume I am going to know what you want from me without stating it fully. Doing this will prevent headaches, confusion, and tomfoolery.

Day 10: Presentation and a close call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It Just Wasn't Holes in the Ground

I interrupt my Sunglasses Experiment to share this story of an event that happened, and is still happening to me from my trip to Indianapolis. I was going to try and wait until August to share this, but I must write this now. Later today I will go back to my Sunglasses Experiment as I talk about presenting to the officers yesterday as well as another trip to a video game store.

One of the days that I was in Indianapolis I was forced to take side roads back to the house I was staying due to an accident on I-465. This was on the day that I was at Noble Roman's on 10th Street and because I grew up there I knew how to get back to he north side without interstate.

I turned onto Girls School road and was amazed to see just how much things have stayed the same. The golf driving range was just as I remembered it from 20+ years ago as well as the signage on a lot of stores. I slowly progressed through the stop lights and eventually made it to High School Road.

I lived in Indianapolis until I was 10 and my dad was a pastor at a church very close to the area I was now so I knew this area well.

Nearing 34th street I knew that there would be a Putt-Putt golf place to my left, but as I neared I saw the fence that used to be the perimeter, but there was no Putt-Putt to be found. I thought this had to be a mistake because I grew up with that Putt-Putt. My dad took me there all the time. I remember this one day when I was about five, we spent most the day watching practice for the Indy 500, and then we played Putt-Putt.

In 5th grade we had a field trip to this Putt-Putt and I had a most unique hole in one. I hit the ball a wee bit to hard, okay I used an excessive amount of force, on a hole that had some ridges. My ball flew through the air, hit the railing, bounced in the air, and landed in the cup on another hole. It may not have been a legal score, but no one denied me my hole in one.

I have all these memories so I must have just not seen the place, right? I mean, I still have the scorecard of the day I played on Pole Day for the Indianapolis in 2001. I drove to Indy by myself and stayed with my sister and went to pole day. Later in 2001 Emily (the person from my book) and I played all four courses at the Putt-Putt the day before the Brickyard 400. I held on to that scorecard until 2004 when I had to give it to her because the memory connection was too great. I wonder if she still has that scorecard.

Realizing that I didn't see it took a back seat to the fire truck that passed me at a high rate of speed. I saw smoke in the distance and a couple blocks past my dad's old church was an apartment building on fire. This distracted me until I realized yesterday that I did not see the Putt-Putt.

To determine if it was still there I got on Google Earth and looked at 34th and High School Road and there it was, a section of grass that looked as if it had been freshly razed. Putt-Putt had been replaced by a couple banks. I cried.

Gone was the place that I remember smiling. Gone was the place that I rented numerous Nintendo games. Gone was the place that I would play Skee-ball and the arcade game Ivan Stewart's Off Road Racing (An AMAZING game!).

Knowing that place is gone with no trace of its existence hurts me. When I was there when I was older I felt a connection to those I knew back then. With this associative memory system I feel a connection to my family, and even Emily, when I am at a place where they were. Much like the soda can I mention in my book, I felt that connection of friendship, and perhaps even love, by being being at that Putt-Putt.

But it's gone now. There are no pictures of it on the internet. I have a scorecard to remember it by, but it's not the same. I may have it in my memory of defeating adults on that Off-Road game, but I won't experience emotions. I can remember that I went to practice for the Indy 500 and then played Putt-Putt with my dad, but I won't feel it and know what it was like to be the happiest kid in the world like I did when I returned there.

It is gone, and with it went all the connections I know I shared with those that went with me there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 9: My Trip to CVS and Further Questions (With a Big Revelation?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 8: What I have learned so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 7: In the Shadow of the Pagoda

Today, driving to the track, was the hardest of all four days. It was harder than yesterday when I was fearing the end of everything because today was the end, the last day.
Going to bed each night knowing I would be working at the best spot on the planet is something that can't be duplicated.

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

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

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

Race after race went by and some of the races were intense and could have been a prime chance for a blunder, but each race went w
ithout and errors. Kid after happy kid came to the victory area and I had a few interactions, and after a while it wasn't so hard to say a few words. One winner had the hardest time getting his car in the proper spot, then he couldn't pose properly so I told him, as he was pushing away, "See, winning was easy, this is the hard part." He laughed and smiled and said, "thanks, I know now this!"

As the day progressed I realized I was free. Totally free of all the normal thought processes and worries I endure. On top of all this I was part of the team and not having to
play the eye contact game and because it was sunny there was no odd looks as to why I was wearing sunglasses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 6: Redemption At The Brickyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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