Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What a Job Did For My Game Show Audition

This was my thought in the car yesterday and I am so happy I realized this because this validates some of the stuff I have been writing in my 4th book. The concepts I have stated say that working and living within one's comfort zone will slowly expand the ability to function outside of it. The example I thought of is perfect proof.

I will start by telling you about my first game show audition. This was back in 2001 and The Weakest Link had just debuted in America. Within a couple months the NBC auditioning crew was in Saint Louis so Emily (the girlfriend I would eventually brake up with on Christmas via text message) and I went to audition.

The local NBC station was there outside filming the lines and somewhere in my house I have a VHS tape of the line and I can be seen clear as day and, well, I look as if I am staring death in the eyes. Truly I am motionless in the line and have virtually no life about me.

At this point in time I had not been diagnosed yet and I had no clue as to the reason why I was so stiff nor did I realize just how different I was in the line. Speaking of the line some 500 or so people showed up and it was noisy and all in all it was not that comfortable of a place for me.

Eventually we were ushered inside the audition room and the lead talent scout told us that, "In a moment we will go around the room. This is your chance to show us who you are so stand on a chair, sing, do whatever, but realize that this portion is as important as the written test you will be given after."

Stand on a chair? Sing? Was this an audition for a game show or American Idol? Again, the local NBC station had cameras inside and was filming and once again I looked as stiff as one could be and still have life. The person seated directly in front of me decided to listen to the scout's advice and he jumped up on the table and began to sing his life's story.

I had no idea how to react so I didn't. Per the videographic evidence my body and face went blank and I did not make any movement whatsoever. At the time I was so overwhelmed because I didn't know if what the guy was going was smart, or idiotic. Also, I was panicking because I knew there was no way I could say anything except the facts about myself. I also knew that I wasn't singing because I don't sing in public. On top of all this why would one jump on a table? Isn't that against the rules? And why were people telling jokes making people laugh? This was a trivia game show audition, not an audition for Last Comic Standing!

When it came my turn I was as factual as a courtroom, and about as entertaining as one too. At the time I did not realize that personality accounted for something. That concept didn't even exist in my world. Needless to say that as apparently scared as I was in line, and in the room, my written test abilities were irrelevant and I did not make it to the 2nd stage of the audition which is playing a mock game (Emily didn't either).

Flash forward a year and a couple months and the auditions came back to Saint Louis. Granted, this audition was for the syndicated version starring George Gray instead of Anne Robinson, but nonetheless it was an audition for a game show.

At this point in time I was in the midst of working at a video game store. Why is this important? It is because it was working there that I began to develop the ability to communicate at a different level. My jobs prior required no interactions with others, really, as I was a busboy at a bowling alley and a label applier for VHS tapes at a video duplicator. When I started working at Gamestop though I needed to communicate with the customers and the manager that hired me told me that I was his, "science experiment" (this was so because my job interview was much like my game show interview and I said three different sets of words at the job interview; I said "no" "yes" and "I don't know". I have no idea why he hired me) and that he could fire me, with or without reason, for the first 90 days. Because of this I was in a sink or swim situation so I had to talk.

And talk I did. I quickly became the store's and district's #1 salesman. I fell back on my knowledge of how to get people to trade when I play Monopoly and then it all clicked. If you want to use my "Alias" concept here you could, but this was the dawning of my realization that one has to be somewhat personable to get stuff done in a workplace. For me this, at most times in the video game store was an act, but it was a game and I knew my chances of a sale were greater if I wasn't so factual and bland.

With this knowledge I knew I was going to get to the mock game in this 2nd Weakest Link audition. It was an early audition and I showed up at 7AM. I was supposed to help open the video game store on this day but I was, ahem, "sick".

Using my illness as a tactic when it came time for us to introduce ourselves to the scouts and producers I said, "Hello, I am Aaron Likens and I am sick today, or at least that's what the store manager thinks". With that line I got the laughs I heard other people did the first audition I went to. (I do realize now though that making up fake sicknesses is not cool, I was young at the time :)

While my anxiety was just as high as the first audition I was able to just play it like a sale. I still wasn't diagnosed and I did have thoughts on how other people sang, and told more elaborate jokes about themselves. For me that one line was a stretch and I still wasn't as fluid as I am today, but it worked! After the written test it was time to play the mock game.

This is where the story goes back to much like my first audition. In the mock game they film and I had never been in front of a camera before. I was awestruck by it and my eyes became transfixed with the lens. When it came time to introduce myself I stumbled around and forgot who I was (true story, sadly).

The round we played was 90 seconds and I was asked two questions. The first one was, "How many truths are there in Buddhism?" I had no clue and guessed 7. It was wrong and I don't remember the answer. The 2nd question was, "Sclerosis affects what body part?" At the time there were a ton of ads on television of a skin disorder that sort of sounds like sclerosis (I have no idea how to spell it, sorry) so I said skin and it was incorrect. The correct answer was liver.

While I was the only one to miss both questions I still wasn't voted out. There was this guy who was wearing a tie that had Einstein on it and he missed a physics question so we all voted him out.

Only one round was played and my camera debut was a big bust. I didn't hold my breath for a call from the producers telling me I had made it onto the show. This was good because it never came.

The lesson from this all is the difference I experienced after having experience in the video game store. Because I knew and loved (still do love) video games I was able to have conversations with customers about them. If I had worked at a different retail store I am sure my end result would not have been as good or productive.

In the end it all worked out and that experience I got has certainly allowed me to become who I am today. If I had not been a "science experiment" I still probably would always been 100% factual and rather lifeless in public. Granted, I am still somewhat stiff and uncomfortable, but given the right circumstances I am able to communicate and able to, well, be more like my 2nd audition and less like my 1st.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back at It

I am back in Saint Louis and have been resting up. It's amazing what two weeks of go go go can do. Tomorrow I will be attending the TouchPoint Milk and Cookies with Santa and on Wed. I will be at the TouchPoint Festival of Trees.

Normal blogs should resume tomorrow and I had an interesting thought in the car yesterday that I want to share, so that interesting thought will be the subject of tomorrow's blog.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Thanksgiving Dinner Nightmare

I have a rule and it's quite simple; food on a plate is never supposed to touch. My rule is simple but I obey it all the time. How stingy is my rule? Melted butter from a roll can't trickle towards another food.

When I go out to eat I try to remember to tell the waiters that my food needs to be on separate plates. They always seem to be perturbed by this, but I am too because how on Earth do you allow your food to touch? I do believe my rule to be law and cringe every time I see food touching other food.

Every year as I celebrate Thanksgiving at my aunt's house I have to prepare myself for the spectacle that are the other plates in the room. Both my dad and aunt disregard my sacred rule. Well, they don't just disregard it but rather they run it over with a proverbial dump truck then back over it several times for good measure.

Truly, their plates are a sight to behold. A friend of my aunt's lets me use a divided plate and this is great. I don't eat the messy foods anyway as only break, turkey, and a couple bites of mashed potatoes are enough for me.

I have always been a picky eater and have always had order to my meals. If you ever are at dinner with me you will see my eyes slowly look at plates that have food crammed together and it's hard for my eyes to break away because I am in awe of the violation that is taking place on that plate. Yesterday, while looking at my dad's plate, I thought to myself, "How do you sleep at night?" because his plate was, in terms of my rule, a nightmare.

Over the years I have become more relaxed on my rules for others. I'd say about four years ago I thought everyone did and must live by the rules I live by. While I am starting to realize everyone else isn't me, I still think food should not touch. Now if you are reading this and want to respond with what my dad tells me which is, "All the food ends up in the same place" don't waste your time because this provision is irrelevant.

Life needs order and starting with plates is a good place to start. I'm not a fan of chaos and that's what I witnessed yesterday. It was out of control and is much more wild than any shopping mall today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Being Thankful on Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving in America and I see it as a day to reflect on what each of us should be thankful for. I have been thinking about this for a week and have no doubt what I am most thankful for on this day.

For the 11th year running I am celebrating this day at my aunt's house outside Washington D.C. This tradition is now entrenched and any substitute to this routine would be met with supreme protest. This is more than a routine however as it is more about my aunt than it is about the turkey or the food.

Shown to the right is the mat that is right inside my aunt's front door and if you know about me and my Kansas concept you may think something odd is up. Try as she might though there is no mistaken that this is most certainly Kansas (Kansas is a concept I have that states: What if you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas? Where would you want to live? Kansas is the places, interests, activities, or people that we on the spectrum don't feel paralyzed in).

So, why is this place so powerful that it is more than a routine? The answer is complex, but I feel every family that has a person on the spectrum should know because my aunt has helped me in so many ways by just being there. I did say the answer is complex, but perhaps it is not because the simple answer is that she has been there for me.

Back in 2003 when things were going askew in my life I came to her house for two weeks and it was a major stabilizing event. Granted, I didn't know I was on the spectrum at this time, but nonetheless the effects were gigantic.

After the diagnosis she was there when I needed her and beyond that I know that she will be there if I do need her. I can't state the importance of this enough because I am often fearful of the future and to know someone out there cares about me is a shining beacon in a violent storm of fear.

My aunt has done some amazing things for me, but as major as those things have been the most important is that she is there. I state this because I want the world to know just how important it is for a person on the spectrum to have this. I may not be able to vocalize this to her, and I may not be able to show it, but it is a major support in my life.

Autism is a tricky spectrum of issues and the more supports a person has the better. I often hear, when I ask in my presentations, "Do you know somebody, or know somebody that knows somebody that is on the spectrum?" that people say "I have a nephew" or "I have a niece" but often times those people do not know anything about the spectrum.

I never thought anything about those answers until I was riding with my dad to my aunt's house yesterday. For each person that knows nothing and is not active in their relatives life that is one less support that person has. Perhaps it is due to awareness or understanding but those people are missing out of the chance to play a vital role in a person's life. I don't know where I'd be without my aunt but I do know I never would have had the chance to drive a race car and I know I wouldn't have had the supports needed to get me to the level of functionality that I am today and that means I never would have started writing.

She has done many big things for me, but it is in the minor ones that have made the biggest difference. This Thanksgiving I can think of no one else to thank than my aunt and I hope her dedication can, somehow, be a motivation to someone out there to be the aunt, uncle, or other relative like my aunt and be that extra support. A person doesn't have to single-handily change the world for the person on the spectrum, and the person on the spectrum may not be able to vocalize their appreciation, but by simply being there in times of need, well, as I said I don't know where I'd be without my aunt.

Thoughts From Hitting My Head on a Plane

Let me start by saying I am beyond tired at the moment. My dad and I made it to Washington D.C. at 1AM last night. I did get to wake up in my bed yesterday morning, but only got four hours of sleep as my plane was delayed out of Salt Lake City. The next three days I do plan on catching up on the many hours of sleep I missed out on.

Now to the title of this entry. As the plane was landing in Salt Lake we had some moderate amounts of "rough air" (they don't say "turbulence anymore"). As the plane tossed about I kept slamming my head on the window. After a couple of these I noticed other people were not being moved as much as I was.

This happened again leaving Salt Lake City. Over the Rockies we had even more "rough air" and once again my head was being slammed up against the side of the plane. I tried to catch myself but was unable. This got me wondering why other people were not being as affected as I was. My reflexes are great, but I could not catch myself before hitting the wall.

When my dad and I left Saint Louis in the car yesterday I mentioned this and he said that as long back as he can remember I have had issues in cars; such as times when he would turn and I would slam up against the window. This puzzled me because I have no issues when I am driving. I thought about this on the long drive yesterday and came to the conclusion that this, in someway, is another issue I have with Asperger Syndrome. If I am in control of the vehicle I can predict when I need to adjust my body's posture to account for the lateral G's. Yet, when I am not in control, I have no ability to predict and my mind is usually elsewhere therefore I have no defense to changes in my surroundings. In the plane I noticed that I would change my posture only after hitting my head on the side.

I don't know if this trait is shared, or if it is just unique to me. What I do know is I am tired, and hungry so I will be going to eat with my aunt to lunch now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reflections on a Weird Weekend

So here I am at gate D38 of McCarran airport. The past two days were very unusual in terms of what Mother Nature provided for us in the Rio parking lot.

I don't know if this is a saying, but it should be, our weather was as odd as a rainbow in Vegas. I saw about four different rainbows and on Saturday we actually had rain racing. I love flagging this event to get one more week of nice weather before returning home to the frigid weather of the midwest, but this year the weather was much nicer at home than it was in Vegas.

As weird as Saturday's rains were nothing will ever (hopefully) compare to the conditions of yesterday. The final day of the Supernats known as, "Super Sunday" felt different this year. The weather forecast was for steady rains and constant winds. Because of this the program felt hurried, because it was in a way.

From the moment I awoke on Sunday I could hear the winds outside. In the hall outside my room the roar of the winds were very ominous. Then, as I walked through the halls on the ground floor towards the track, the hall literally had a head wind!

Once outside the clouds were thick and the winds strong. Nevertheless we started on time and the rain held back minus a few spits of moisture.

The racing was great; in TaG Senior we had a finish had a margin of victory of .001 of a second! After this race the winds went from strong to super strong.

The S4 race will go down as a race I will never forget. In turn four on lap one 30 something karts got stuck in a traffic jam blocking the track. The track was cleared just in time on lap two so the race did not go red. This was very confusing as the leaders blended in with karts that got going again and it was difficult. What made it more difficult was the fact that standing was now a challenge due to the winds. A few laps later I heard, "RED FLAG! RED FLAG! We've lost our race track!"

All over the track our walls were sliding about. Water barriers slid about and our small plastic walls moved as if someone had a huge string and were pulling them. It looked surreal and it was hard to believe what was being seen.

We got lucky in that we only had two races to go and we still finished ahead of schedule.

I can't believe it is over. The past five days are my favorite of the year and just as fast as they came they are over. I don't want to wait another year until the next one. An entire year! So depressing! I mean, this event is the anchor of my year and now it will be a year until I experience the long hours and intense concentration that is required at this race.

I got up earlier than I wanted to this morning and decided to take the time and go to the Pinball Hall of Fame. What's that, you ask? It is a place that has many different pinball tables that one can actually play. It was a trip down memory lane for me as I saw many tables I can remember playing as a young child. There were also games made from the 50's that I tried out and can say I am happy with the progression of technology!

Of everyone at the Pinball Hall of Fame I think that I may have been one of the youngest! It was weird because I could see everyone in there was having the same experience I was having. It truly is weird to re-experience a game you remember playing many years ago.

I started out by playing current games, but quickly gravitated towards games I grew up with in the 90's. Then I found it, the Star Trek The Next Generation pinball table. I have so many memories of that table dating back to the first time I saw it at the Exhilarama at Crestwood Plaza. Then the 7-11 near my house had it and many times my dad would give me a quarter and he would be stuck there waiting for me to play one game for an hour (I am somewhat good at pinball).

It was a moving experience really. I did set my highest score ever on that game, but unlike years ago where it was about the score, this time it was about being connected to what was. My time there was all too short, but I was advised to get to the airport two hours early (which means, for me, to be three hours early).

So here I sit at D38 waiting. The plane has pulled up and I am 35 minutes from boarding. This will not be the end of this journey though.Tomorrow I will be in a car headed to the Washington D.C. area and then next week a potential trip to New York City. Well, I should get all my things in order (I have made myself quite at home) and set to get on the plane.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reflections From the 27th Floor

Last night I spent about 30 minutes just staring out into the vast expanse that is Las Vegas. My room at the Rio is on the 27th floor and the view is stellar to say the least.

My eyes were fixated on anything in particular as my eyes darted from the In N’ Out Burger

(I’ve never ate there) to the endless throngs of taxi cabs that drive by the hotel and road. I saw many planes taking people away from this neon oasis, and many planes that are bringing people to this place. The lights of civilization extend to the horizon on the West and all in all it was a great panoramic view of life in motion.

I don’t know why I got so deep in thought while watching the world go by. Yesterday was a long day and was tolling on my body and mind. This is the SKUSA SuperNats and is completely expected. In fact, this is mild compared to some past experiences.

Perhaps I got lost in thought because so much has happened in my life since the 2009 SuperNats. In all reality this race for the past three years has been a turning point in my life. The day I flew home in 2008 my book was released, last year I got word that I would do some part time work for TouchPoint and this year, well, what is down the road may be exciting but I won’t go into that yet until I know it to be true. In any event so much has occurred this year that I can’t believe how far I have come.

As far as I have come I still have this sense of wonder of what life is like “out there”. I think this is what I truly was thinking while I stared out into the bright night. While I know I have done some really neat things in my life I still wonder what it is like to live life without these chains that hold me back in establishing the bonds I see other people make so easily.

I heard at least a dozen compliments on my flagging last night and I have learned to, somewhat, take a compliment. I used to say, “It’s nothing… I do it all the time… it’s nothing special” and now I simply smile, look down, and say “thank you”. One person told me, “I’ve never seen a flagman like you; you look like you are having fun!” Why is this? The answer is simple; it’s because I am! This is everything to me. I may not be part of that busy world I watched last night and socially I may be somewhat isolated, but the things I enjoy I enjoy to the highest possible limit.

There may be times like last night that I wonder what it is like to be part of the social world. Two nights ago I was behind several guys in the buffet line that are on vacation from California and heard their various stories as the line moved painfully slow. I was saddened that I never had a group of friends like these people seemed to be, but in my spying on the world from 27 stories up I realized I would not trade what I have and who I am for anything. Yes, I will get down at times and I will wonder what life is like on your side of the wall, but at the end of the day I love who I am. I know I have made it to this level of flagging because of my Asperger Syndrome. I know my gift of writing is because of it as well. When I get down on myself in the future for not being “out there” I hope I can remember this post and this event and focus on who I am rather than what I am not. Speaking of who I am, it’s time to get the day started on track!

Friday, November 19, 2010

(Texted from my phone) I am at the starbucks in the rio and have realized I did not bring the laptop.

Yesterday was day 2 and all practice. Today is the start of true competition. Today will have qualifying and heat 1 for all classes. The intensity level will increase and the need to be on one's game becomes more important.

If you have any interest you can listen to the live action for the rest of the weekend on www.ekartingnews.com (direct link may be www.ekartingnews.com/live but don't hold me to that)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sunrise in Vegas

I don't have much time on my computer as we are just 15 minutes from the track going "hot". Last night I just sent the short message from my phone, but I certainly wanted to write a proper entry this morning.

It was amazingly brisk yesterday morning and even though this feels like weather that I should be feeling at home in Saint Louis and not Las Vegas. Honestly, my fingers are shaking as I sit in the scoring RV. Anyway, yesterday was a smooth day and I am so honored to be the head flagman of this event. I've talked about "positional warfare" back in May and when I am here it doesn't exist for me.

Once again I can state from experience that a job in a field that a person on the spectrum enjoys is critical. I easily tire when I am out in public or doing an activity that isn't in a field of interest I like. When I worked at the video game store I had so much energy when I was interacting with a customer (I loved the game of getting people to buy things they didn't really need) but when no customers were in my energy level would quickly deplete. Perhaps this was because I slowly would become overwhelmed with the interactions with coworkers. This would happen because I didn't know how to interact with coworkers.

There are not words to describe how energized I feel today.

That was then though. Today is another day at the SKUSA SuperNats. Day 2 of 5. Today is another day in pure paradise. I won't struggle with speech, I won't be in positional warfare. And... I wanted to write more but the engines are about to come alive and the morning sessions are about to begin. It's going to be another great day!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I forgot my laptop in the room and it is a 30 minute roundtrip so that is the reason there was no proper entry today. the day was great though and I will bring the laptop tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Trip To and Arrival in Las Vegas

What a day! It is 4:00PM here in Las Vegas and my day started 14 hours ago. I am tired and my trip began this morning with the unwelcome sound of my alarm clock. Yesterday I said that I didn't really feel like the SuperNats were coming up, but as I laid down to go to sleep last night I got excited. VERY EXCITED!

What was going to be a nice night's sleep turned into just four hours and as I got out of bed I thought, "this is going to be a long day!"

I arrived at Lambert International at 4:50 and I thought it would be a ghost-town with minimal foot traffic... I was wrong. The line to get into security was long and vast and I instantly began to shut down. Like most people, I love to travel but hate that process in the middle that is the security checkpoint.

With so many people, and on top of that unexpected amounts of people, I began to operate on autopilot. I saw the signs that said, "Please have your laptop out and ready to be inspected" but I did not react to it. This put me at negative points with the TSA agent and when she saw the amount of hairspray and sunscreen I had I was told, "sir, do not touch your luggage. I have to inspect it".

My aerosols were well over the allowed limit and she asked me if I wanted to go check my bag, but I was on autopilot mode and whilst on autopilot mode I will only give answers that end the conversation. So, unknowingly, I said, "fine" when she asked if she could throw them away. "But sir," she responded, "don't you want to simply check it and keep them?"

"Fine... wait..." and with that I made a motion to toss it and I got out of there. It wasn't until I was in the air headed to Memphis that I realized what had happened. All I had to do was say yes and backtrack a little bit to keep my supplies, but while I was overloaded with the security process I was unable to process with accuracy as to what to do. This has happened many times in my life and always happens when I am uneasy or overloaded with my surroundings. 100% of the time my response to the situation will be whatever will end the situation the fastest. I hated this even more when I bought sunscreen in Vegas (it seems to be much more expensive that in Saint Louis).

I had a one hour layover in Memphis and while I was waiting I realized where I was going and what is tomorrow. Tomorrow is the start of the 14th annual SKUSA SuperNats and I have the best seat in the house (see photo to the right). Because of this I had several bouts with my "Dance of the Fingers" (see http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/03/dance-of-fingers.html) and I became overly self-aware and I looked around as if to be like, "I hope no one saw that" but people did and I had many strange looks.

To say I was shaken over those looks would be an understatement. I have a hard time judging emotions, but there was no mistaking the look of, "um... sir, what was that?" I didn't let that get me down for long as I clammed up and began to hyper-focus on the crossword puzzle I was working on.

The flight from Memphis to Vegas seemed to take forever. It was only 3 hours 16 minutes but it felt as if I had been in that plane for months. Two reasons for this; one, I really wanted to see the track and get to the Rio, and secondly, I wanted a Starbucks Hot Chocolate. I have been addicted to those hot chocolates ever since I had at the Parents as Teachers conference and, well, I've had three today :(

Once I made it to the Rio I got checked in and made it to my room and I discovered I had a problem. I had no way to get on the internet. I talked to my dad and he said, "Well, just ask someone". It was stated in a way that made it sound so easy, but because I was overloaded I said, "That won't work. I never ask anyone." Again, I gave the answer that would end the situation right then and there.

Several hours later I got an idea of how to get on. I walked down to the track and made my way to the timing and score RV and asked the IT guy if there was anyway to get on the internet. He said, "sure, not a problem" and here I am now writing this. Asking was so simple, yet the anxiety beforehand was monumental.

So tomorrow is day 1 of 5 and I can't wait. I now know I have an internet connection but it won't always be up and the race days are very long so unless I write before the day or after the day I won't be able to update. But then again I seem to always find a way to update this, don't I :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane (and The Emotions I Should Be Feeling and The Torubles of Transitions)

Tomorrow is the day! Tomorrow is the day that starts the week that I look forward to all year. I mean, my year revolves around this week as Wednesday is the start of the SKUSA (Superkarts USA) Super Nationals held at the Rio in Las Vegas. This will be my third year as the head flagman of the event and I truly have been counting down the days since last year's race.

Ask anyone I know and they will probably tell you that I mention this race way too often, but for me this is the ultimate week. There is no more intense race to flag and for the sport of karting this is one of, if not the biggest event of the year.

Right now though I am having a hard time realizing that I leave on a plane tomorrow morning at 6:30AM. Truly I can't envision what is coming. The previous two years I have flagged I was counting down the seconds until the event, but right now it is like there is nothing tomorrow except my routine.

The only reason for this hole of emotions is that I have become so entrenched in my routine that I can't fathom what is to come. This by no means is a bad thing because I do fully love my job and this illustrates the need for sameness. You see, the previous two years I flagged this race I was jobless and had nothing else to look forward to. The only routine I had was that I had no routine at all.

I was very sluggish over the weekend and energy was hard to come by. I kept trying to realize what the events are for this upcoming week but I never was able to accept it. I know once I am there I will have more than enough energy will savour every minute of the event, but even still I can't predict for myself what is to come.

This has happened to me more and more this year. With the trips I have taken out of town either for USAC races, or speaking engagements for TouchPoint, I have been getting more and more forgetful of items. I used to be a professional packer and would be packed and ready to go no less than 48 hours before departure. Today, well, besides washing my flags on Saturday (you have no idea how dirty they actually were from the dirt race I did at Eldora a month or so ago) and printing out my boarding pass while writing this I am unprepared.

Routines are very important for me and thinking outside of it is very difficult. When I was jobless things like trips were easier because I had no routine. Now, trying to think outside of the routine is like trying to imagine what it would be like to be on planet Neptune. It's just virtually unimaginable.

Again, I am glad I have this problem as, for me, this is a good problem to have. Is it a challenge? Somewhat because I now part of this complete lack of energy I have is due to my mind trying to comprehend my routine going away. Come to think of it, I used to always feel like this the last week or two of summer when I was in school as well as the last week of school in May. Transitions to a new routine or changing a routine has always given me this feeling of absolute tiredness.

When I say tiredness I truly mean no energy. I took a six hour nap yesterday and then proceeded to sleep 14 hours last night. It's almost noon as I write this and I could sleep some more.

Perhaps anxiety is the root cause of this seeing that I don't like routine changes. This is important to understand because even an event that means everything to me can cause a negative reaction in my body beforehand. Unless you experience something like this I don't know if you can understand just how powerful this tiredness is.

Well, I could drone on and on about this, but I think I have proven my point. My flight leaves in 18 hours and 30 minutes and then maybe I will be set in the new routine.

I will say I am hoping to update this blog daily, but I don't know if I will have internet in Vegas. As if places in Vegas don't make enough money the internet is $14.95 a day if I remember correctly so I may be limited on updates. What I might do is write using MS Word and do a total of two updates. And then again maybe I can find a way to get on.

The SKUSA Super Nationals run Wednesday through Sunday and the live audio feed can be heard at http://www.ekartingnews.com/live/ starting on Friday. I will be flying home on Monday and then be heading to my aunt's house outside Washington D.C. on Tuesday for Thanksgiving. Then there may be a third leg to this journey, but more on that later should it happen.

If I can't find a way to get on at all this week I will send short updates via my phone and will give a recap next Monday.

After I posted this, I mean the instant I pressed "Publish Post" it occurred to me that in all instances that I can recall where I got this tiredness before the event I instantly come out of it once the new routine begins. I will use a saying that I have used in many chapters of my books that, "Whatever is now is forever" because that's the way I see it. Knowing that there is going to be a big change this week wreaks havoc on my system, but as I board that plane tomorrow all the energy lost will be replaced with a surplus of energy. As much as I can't imagine it I will say I can't wait for it!

Schumi and Me (Part 3 of 3)

I felt like a rockstar as I boarded the plane to head to Las Vegas. Five months had passed since the news broke suddenly that I would be flagging the SKUSA Super Nationals held in the Rio Hotel parking lot in Las Vegas.

To say I was happy would be the biggest understatement ever. Racing and flagging have been a part of me for as long as I can remember, and now I was at the pinnacle of karting events. If you ever had a goal in life that you finally reached, perhaps maybe then you could relate to the elation I felt as I got off the plane and grabbed a taxi to head to the Rio.

I didn't know what to expect as the chief starter of the SuperNats. I had been to two prior, but only as a photographer so I didn't know what to expect on the radio, or how busy the track would be. The most karts I ever had on track at one point in time was 20, but one class had 48 on track at the same time. Needless to say it was very demanding to pay attention to all that was going on.

The 2008 edition had some famous drivers, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon as well as NASCAR star and future Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray in the field. To be honest though, I had no idea which karts belonged to who because there were about 400 karts in just 9 classes. Names were never mentioned on the radio so I had no idea if Wheldon or McMurray were on track or not. In other words, I had more important issues at hand than to be in awe of drivers I have seen on television.

What I will remember most of the 2008 edition was chaos. The event had many accidents and I think I waived the red flag over 20 times. The days were long with Friday running from 7 in the morning to just a tick before midnight without a break. It may have been hectic, but I wasn't phased by it. It was all part of the job, my muscles may have ached, and my attention span was being put to its absolute limits, but this was the SuperNats, this was the biggest race on American soil so I had to stay sharp.

I must have done a decent job because I was invited back for the 2009 race. Early in 2009 I heard a rumor. A BIG rumor. The rumor was that Michael Schumacher was thinking about running in the SKUSA SuperNats. This, was nothing short of astonishing.

The name Michael Schumacher may not be a household name in America, even perhaps in some homes that say they are race fans as Schumacher, or "Schumi" to some, was and is a Formual 1 driver. F1 isn't as big as NASCAR in America, but worldwide Schumi is known as, perhaps, the greatest F1 driver ever. He retired from his seat with the Ferrari team in 2006 with a record of 7 World Drivers Championships and 91 race wins in just 249 starts! He has since come out of retirement for the 2010 season with Mercedes GP.

I grew up watching Schumi on television on Sunday mornings on ESPN, then Speed before my races. For those that watched F1 in those days he almost was a spolier because when he won, he would win easily. From his skill he was the highest paid sports star in the world for many years until Tiger Woods took that spot from him.

The months went by and I was already counting down the days until the SuperNats before this rumor broke. Honestly, leaving Vegas in 2008 was one of the saddest events of my life because I had to wait one entire year until the 2009 race. This rumor made the days trickle by slower.

Then, the rumor became a reality. Michael Schumacher would be racing at the kart race I would be flagging. I could not believe it! The biggest racing star of all time would be on the race track I was flagging at. This would be like being a basketball ref at a semi-pro game and having LeBron James show up to play.

August, September, October, went by painfully slow, but finally it was November and as I boarded the plane I didn't feel like a rockstar because I was nervous. The level of perfection that I knew was required went up by an unmearsuable margin. It may be a kart race, but the world would be watching, or at least following it on the internet. On Ekartingnews.com, the leading website for news about karting, the forum thread that followed the race had over 150,000 views!

The class Schumi was in didn't participate in day one of on track activites so I had to wait a day to say that I was on the same track as a legend. What was different though about 2009, immediately, was the lack of chaos. The red flag only flew two times for the weekend, but none for injuries. From the on-track staff to those in the grid and tech, to scoring, the entire event ran like I would envision one of those F1 races would that I grew up watching.

Then, Thursday came and the Super Pro class took to the track. Schumi was on track and the crowds that engulfed the surronding viewing area were at their max. Unlike the previous year where Rice, Wheldon, and McMurray remained hidden, there was no mistaking Schumi's white suit and stunningly bright orange helmet.

The second time he approached me I started to think of just how big an honor I had, but this thought was only for a second as the kart that had just passed me blew a motor and spun, my instincts kicked in and I waived my yellow passion with a vigor that implored danger. The kart was in the middle of the track and the speeds on the straight were just under 100mph.

All the drivers slowed and the karter was cleared and I never once thought of Schumi as Schumi for some time. There was a time he proved he was just, "another karter" when he lifted his own kart onto the flatbed. There were two very willing hands to pick up his kart, but he insisted on doing it himself.

Practice continued on and the next time Schumi was on track he did an extra lap when I gave the checkered. The protocol is that when I waive the checkered in practice the drivers are to pit that lap. The next time out he did this again so as he came down the main straight with no other karts on track I pointed my roller up yellow at him and pointed to the checkered and he game me a hand gesture as to say, "oops". I smiled and laughed.

The media Schumi brought to the event was large. At least three different languages were
spoken by photgraphers that tried to ask me where they could stand. One German journalist told me that, "If I were to flag like that in Germany they would surely make a statue out of me!" I think that was a compliment.

Just because Schumi was there didn't mean all the other classes were forgotten about. On the first rolling start of the finals on Sunday I did a very symbolic thing as I emulated Duane Sweeney's twin green flags at the start of a race. Duane's kind act by giving me his checkered flag did nothing but motivate me and while this may not have been the Brickyard, and this wasn't the Indy 500, this was the pinnacle of karting. While you can see by this photo, I am rather close to the karts (my mom called me "CRAZY!" by this photo), but the first time I did the double I was choked up and almost had a tear in my eye when I thought about the man who made his wife make another flag.

As the finals day rolled on it was time for the Super Pro class. All the drivers in this class are introduced and shake hands, or do a fist pump, with the SKUSA staff. While other notable drivers such as Nelson Piquet Jr. and Sebastien Buemi were in the race, the chill that went up my spine was nothing compared to shaking hands with the legend himself, Michael Schumacher.

With each lap that went by I got sadder and sadder as this was it. When this race was over the anticipation of flagging a race that Schumi was in would be replaced by the memory of the event.

As I waived the white flag to show the drivers that there was just one lap to go the 5th place kart blew a motor and spun right right by me. I instantly got the yellow out as Schumacher passed me (see this happen in the 2nd video below at the 7 minute mark).

I was sure Schumi was going to slam into the kart, but you don't become a 7 time world champion without having some extradoniary avoidence skills.

Then, as the winner came by I did my standard double checkered. The following karts finished and then Schumi came by and flashed by my flags. I didn't speak to Schumi verbally at all over the course of the weekend, but I did my talking with my flags. I hope to flag at Indy someday and other big races that have a flagstand, but in karting, most the time, I am on the track and can look the drivers in the eyes. From the "oops" gesture he gave me to me saluting him with the double checkered, it was an experience few people have had.

I would have never thought that, as the 6 year old at the 1989 Indy 500, or even being an assistant for an aging flagger at a small kart club, I would have had the opprtunity to flag such a big event. This thought was even more profund once I got my diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, but you know what, that day, in Vegas, I was still on the spectrum but the only label I had was chief starter of the largest go-kart race ever.

Below is video from the finals of the class Michael Schumacher was in. Part one is the video on top, the 2nd half of the race is the video on the bottom.

Part 1

Part 2

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Schumi and Me (Part 2 of 3)

Race days kept me going. After my diagnosis I was depressed and alone, except on Sundays. My world revolved around those days and I put all my effort into those days. Starting in 2004 I started directing Saturday practice so it was now race weekends instead of just Sundays and it was great.

I loved getting up on Sunday mornings, really early, to catch the start of the F1 races. I only had time to watch the starts and the first few laps, but it was always somewhat motivating to watch a race the world was watching, and then go to a kart track and flag. The world may not have been watching the kart race, and Michael Schumacher may not have been there, but I treated each race as if it were an F1, NASCAR, or IndyCar race.

Then, in March of 2006, I got a phone call from someone I had never talked to. A local kart shop owner, Greg Yocom, was starting a new regional series called the Central States Super Series and he wanted to know if I wanted to be the flagman and race director.

I didn't know what to say initially. I loved to flag, but I never had been in the role of being the race director. There is a difference between the two as the race director is essentially the executive decision maker of the weekend and the primary enforcer of the rules. Also, the race director must give the driver's meeting which entails talking in front of a group.

I told Greg that I would get back to him. I liked my role as flagman because it was very impersonal as I communicated through my flags, but once in the pits I was invisible. Becoming race director would mean I would have to interact with many more people and make decisions that some would find great, while others may find to be protestable.

After a day I called back and said I would do it. The deciding factor was the travel aspect because I would get to travel around the region and be paid for it. It was a win win!

My first race as race director was in March of 2006. I drove to Greg's house as I would ride with him to West Quincy. I had seen Greg at the track during the Saint Louis Karting Association races, but I had never had a conversation with him so the 90 minute drive started out a bit awkward.

There's no better place to get me to talk than a moving vehicle and once we were halfway there I opened up and we talked racing. I was at ease, until we made the turn into the track. I realized, right then and there, that I was in charge, but I did not know how to be in charge. I had seen for over a decade what the race directors do, but now it was my turn to do it and I was clueless.

When it came time for the driver's meeting I was in a state of panic. True, unfiltered panic. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or whether I should say it. Thankfully the track owner stepped in and prevented a disaster.

If anyone thought I was unable to do my job I quickly put those thoughts to rest once I started to flag. People from the region that had not seen me quickly made the usual comments of, "wow, you're the best flagman..." and the meeting disaster was quickly forgotten.

My first race director crisis came when, in qualifying, a kid kart managed to flip all by himself and an ambulance was needed. The track had an on-site ambulance arranged for Sunday, but one was not required on Saturday due to the fact that it was just practice and qualifying.

The crisis was that neither Quincy, Illinois, or West Quincy, Missouri had any ambulances availible. And when they did, each side of the river thought the other side would make the run. We had an EMT on site that was tending to the kid and it wasn't serious (the kid raced the next day) but there was some neck pain so transport and immobilization was needed. Eventually, 55 minutes after the accident, an ambulance arrived.

During those minutes I was a race director that could do nothing. I felt shattered and wanted to do something, but there was nothing I could do. This was a fast initiation into the world of race directing, but I survived it and at the end of the weekend I anxiously looked forward to the next time I got the chance to race direct.

The next race was outside Kansas City and future NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan was in attendance to race. It was during this race weekend that I found my stride in my role as race director and was developing my alias. It was also this weekend that helped me come up with the title, "Finding Kansas" as my book title because after the race when I was out of my role as race director, one of the racers, when trying to talk with me, asked me, "Are you sure you are the same person as the race director I saw earlier?" That night I wrote the chapter, "Situational Handicap" and the concept of Kansas.

That same year I became the race director of the Saint Louis Karting Association and I loved the challenge that came with it. I kept my position as flagman as well because that's what I loved the most. Eye contact is a challenge for me, but as karts drive by I look the drivers in the eyes. When I want to illustarte that I mean business when I am upset at a certain driver's aggression level, or when I want to relay that there is danger ahead, I communitcate this through my facial demeanor, and the level that I am waiving my flags.

I survived my first year as race director and was invited back for a 2nd. The awkwardness of my driver's meetings disappeared and I loved every minute of the local and regional races. These regional races may not have been a touring series like the USAC National Midget Series, or other seires that people pay to see, but to me it was everything. Every race I do is the most important race I have ever been at, and these races kept me motivated while I was jobless and an aspiring writer.

In 2008 the Central States Super Series morphed into the SKUSA Central States Challenge. Tom Kutcher, the owner of Super Karts USA (SKUSA) was re-estabilishing a regional program and our series started flying the SKUSA banner.

Tom was on hand for our first race that year and this made me a bit nervous. Greg was still the runner of the series, but now Tom was the man. These nerves didn't influence me and if anything it made me more passionate because perfection had to be.

It was a perfect weekend and at the end of the day I was ready to go home, but Greg told me to stay around for the trophy presentation. This race was here at the local track so I was ready to
go home. Flagging and directing take a lot out of me because it is very physical and, with standing and walking for 10 hours each day in the extreme Saint Louis heat (and opressive humidity), I can't get home fast enought. I insisted that I was ready to drive myself home, but Greg insisted even more so that I was essentially given no choice but to stay. There was an ultimatium given, stay or I won't be at the next race.

Given the two choices I stayed, and I was confused as to why. I stood by the trophies expecting to be a person to hand out awards, but I stood there awkwardly and had no direction. I then started to panic. Was Tom mad at the way the race was ran? Had I made a bad call or had someone told him something that defamed me?

That position meant the world to me and I was worried I was about to lose it. Halfway through the awards Tom mentioned that he had a "special announcement" to give at the end. I thought nothing of this as I was in a world of self-induced panic.

As the awards came to an end Tom took the point and said something along these lines, "I've been in karting for many years and have never seen something like I saw today. I've seen passion at races, but today, well, I have found my new chief starter for the SKUSA Super Nationals!"

I was in shock. I had been to the Super Nationals the previous two years as a photographer and it is the largest kart race in North America, if not the world. There is no race bigger, and out of nowhere I was named the chief flagman for it. I went from thinking I would never flag again, to having the dream position of a karting flagman. It may not be the Indy 500, but it is the Indy 500 of karting, and five months after those words were said, I headed to Las Vegas for my first SuperNats.

The story of my first SuperNat, as well as the 2009 edition that Michael Schumacher was at, will run tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Schumi and Me (Part 1 of 3)

With the 2010 edition of the SKUSA SuperNationals starting next week I decided to rerun this story arc.

Welcome to the first of three special editions of my blog. This series is the story of how I got interested in flagging and went from a flag obsessed three-year old to flagging a race that Michael Schumacher (Schumi) was in. Parts 2 and 3 will run on Sunday and Monday.

My love of flags started early. I grew up in Indianapolis in a home that was just over a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My dad was a pastor in Indy so going to the Indianapolis 500 was out of the question since Sundays were his primary work day.

My grandmother in Oklahoma City would always tape the race for me in and then send me the tape seeing that the race used to be on a long blackout in the Indy market. My first memory of the race was watching the 1987 race on tape. While most kids probably would want to watch the entire race, I kept watching the start over and over and over again. I think this could be one of the earliest signs that I remember that was a warning sign that I was on the autism spectrum.

But, why you ask, would I watch the start over and over again? It had nothing to do with the speed and danger of 33 colorful Indycars lined up in 11 rows of 3 all vying for position on the start. Nope. What I wanted to see was Duane Sweeney's twin green flags he waived to signify the start of he race.

I think it was a sensory thing and I loved it. I became obsessed with all things "flags." The colors moving about in the air was nothing short of bliss. Don't get me wrong, I loved the actual race, but I truly believe the initial hook for me was the flags.

In 1988 my dad took me to one of the many practice days at the Speedway and bought me a small souvenir checkered flag. I stood on the infield grandstand and waived that flag for the entire time I was there. I imagined what it must be like to be the actual flagman; the perfection needed and, of course, the grip (dropping a flag, I understood, was quite frowned upon!).

My dad's church was near the track, and I guess attendance was usually low on that magnificent weekend, but in 1989 I went to my first 500, and it was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. My favorite driver at the time was Al Unser Jr. and he and Emerson Fittipaldi got into a wreck that sent Jr. into the wall and Fittipaldi won the race. As mad as that made me it was not the reason I was disappointed. What made me mad was that we sat at the entry to turn two and I could not see the flagman.

Later in 89 my dad bought me my first real set of flags. They weren't big, and the sticks were fragile, but they were perfect for a six-year old. Those flags and I could not be separated on race days (or any other day for that matter) because I would flag along from home. My goal was to emulate the flagman that was actually at the race and it took some time and practice, but I became good at emulating the flagman, as well as hitting people with my flags as they walked by me. I couldn't help it, if the yellow flag needed to be waived, it had to be waived. (sorry mom!)

One of the biggest events in my life happened in 1990. Like I said, I loved the start of the Indy 500 because of the twin greens waived by Duane Sweeney. While Al Unser Jr. was my favorite driver, he wasn't my favorite part of the 500 as that title fell to Mr. Sweeney. My dad had a member of his congregation, Joan Petrie, who worked at USAC (the former sanctioning body of the Indy 500) and he asked he if she could get Duane's autograph for me.

On Thanksgiving morning she called my dad and said for him to, "Come over right away!" My dad thought it was an emergency so he rushed over and while it wasn't an emergency, it was major. She gave my dad an autographed picture of Duane (much like the photo to the right. This one wasn't the one I received, but it was the same photo. Change "John" to "Erin" and it would be the one I got) and then she said, "Wait a sec pastor, I have one more thing.

I wish I would have been there for that line of "one more thing" because I have heard my dad recount the story at least 1,001 times, but what happened next set me on a course for flagging stardom (if there is such a thing). Yes, what happened next was she turned the corner and got an item, came back into the room and gave my dad this:

This just wasn't a souvenir flag, or a set bought at the Speedway Museum. This was the real deal, his personal checkered flag. His wife made all his flags and when Duane heard about me wanting his autograph because I was a "BIG fan" he told her he was giving me this flag. She said she didn't want to make another one, but he insisted because, "He didn't have many fans." Since I received this flag I've only let winners of the race, and other key figures such as Donald Davidson, the track historian, who truly has one of the best memories on the planet!

In 1993 we moved to Saint Louis and in 1995 I started racing go-karts at the Saint Louis Karting Association. The story of my first race is recounted perfectly in my book so I won't talk about that, but what I will talk about is that I instantly hated the grease of racing. I have a minor sensory issue with dirt and grime on my hands and, sadly, engines don't change their own oil.

I suffered through half a year of oil and late in the season the club flagman at the time, Frankie, was getting old and some of the flags displayed did not match the situation. A 12 lap race once was 7, and instead of the checkered flag once the race ended on a blue (that means a faster kart is about to lap you). Seizing the chance I volunteered myself to be the assistant and keep track of the laps and hand Frankie the correct flag.

I was always older than my age so no one thought twice of me, a 12 year old, being be put into that position. By the following year the club's race director gave me the headset (we had a limited quantity) and you can see this in the picture. This is me and Frankie in one of the many breaks during the day and I must have been through with my races because my suit is no longer on. My race day was busy because when it was time for my race I would rush across the track to get my helmet and gloves on, and after my race I would rush back. I was a truly dedicated youngster!

On a scorching summer day in early August of 1996 the club told Frankie we "weren't racing due to heat" because of the troubles he had been having. They asked if I was ready to be the sole flagman. I had been ready since I first saw Duane Sweeney waive those twin flags back in 1987!

That first race was one of the biggest honors of my life. I knew that most places would not let a 13 year old flag a race. The responsibilities are great and there is no room for error. Mistakes can cause an accident, an injury and all movements must be precise. I was not yet diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, but my mind loves the art of perfection and that first race went smoothly.

The following race I went back to my role as assistant and I was a little down. Frankie, not knowing I had already flagged a race weekend, asked me if I wanted to trade off races. He would do one, then I would do the other. He thought I was ready, and I took this as a sign that he was ready to step down. I think he was 80 years old and had been flagging races pre WW2!

He didn't step down and was eventually forced into retirement in the middle of the 97 season. At that time, at the age of 14, I was named chief started of the Saint Louis Karting Association and I held that position until 2008!

I am grateful I had flagging. When I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in 2003 I went into a state of isolation. The only thing I really had was looking forward to the Sunday's that had a race. I had quit racing karts a couple months before I was diagnosed because it looked like I was going to make it as a professional driver. That never happened, but I had the flagging and I don't know where I would be without it.

During those years of flagging I always thought of flagging bigger races, and who wouldn't? When watching races I would comment that I could, "waive a better flag than that!" and I often shook my head is dismay at the checkered flags waived in F1. Since I have waived flags for so long I have turned it into an art form, and most F1 races have a flagger that puts no emotion into it. "What a shame" I thought, "it's the biggest series on Earth and there is no sense of how important a race win is by the flagman." I often would lie awake wondering what it would be like to flag a race that had a "real somebody" in it.

I didn't know it, but I was on track to do so (no pun intended, I tried to think of something else, but couldn't). It wasn't a sudden promotion though and the bridging events that led up to Schumi and Me will be tomorrow's story.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brothers and Sisters

It wasn't until a month ago that I even ever thought of the fact that a child on the spectrum may have brothers and sisters. I don't know why I never thought of this fact, but when Ann Schad, a 20 year vet in the field and coworker at TouchPoint, asked me to do a small presentation at one of her monthly sibshops I began to think about this.I mean, if the autism spectrum is confusing of experts, doctors, and parents then just how confusing and frustrating is it for brothers and sisters?

Unlike many other agencies, TouchPoint's sibshop is held monthly and focuses only on autism. Ann started being a facilitator for this group 15 years ago. When she started it the primary focus was younger kids. As these kids grew up though families requested that the program would advance with age and now she has two groups; younger kids and teens.

The first group two nights ago was the younger kids and I wasn't going to give a true presentation at this one, but I knew I would learn a lot from the kids as I was highly interested in their views and thoughts on the matter.

I don't know how Ann does it, but she has a way of getting people of any age or profession to open up and very quickly the three kids and her were talking about the challenges their brother or sister has. This isn't to say that the program just talks about the relatives as this isn't the case because what is talked about are these kids joys and frustrations.

From being annoyed to an endless supply of facts to being annoyed due to certain noises, these younger kids seemed to understand their brothers need to do it, yet there was this desire they stated that wished they were just more normal. I am sure this is understandable, and yet they told stories of standing up for them when their friends are home. I found this to be just so, well, amazing! From the stories they told when no friends are over it sounds much like a normal brother/sister dynamic, yet when friends are over these kids told stories of standing up to it and explaining a little about autism. I never would have imagined anything like this (of course I never imagined this concept at all before Ann asked me to join it for one night).

After the first group I was filled with so much hope because these kids truly seemed to love their brothers and wanted to understand what was going on. Yes they get annoyed sometimes and yes there may be a quarrel at times but beneath that person with autism is family and that's the only thing that matters.

I didn't give a presentation in the younger group session, but was available for questions and I must say the questions these 3rd graders and younger asked were very relevant and heartfelt. While I would be answering questions, I would also be giving a small portion of my presentation. This made me nervous because I am highly uncomfortable around people younger than me. I always have been because I don't know how to act or talk or what words to use. I guess I have always been this way, even around people my age and this would explain why each year's teacher in school was the person I talked to most.

My fear of speaking aside because this post is not fully about me; after Ann introduced me I started talking about my younger years and struggles I had with school. I was having a hard time deciding what to speak of next so Ann was a great guide as she knows my presentation and example quite well. The first thing she had tell was the story of breaking up with my girlfriend on Christmas and the group got a kick out of that.

Also on this night several parents were in the room to listen to me as well and after I was done with my preset presentation it was time for questions. I never know what to expect in this and am always worried that nobody will have a question, but that wasn't the case as I had some of the most interesting and well thought out questions.

When time was up I was actually starting to feel comfortable. It helps though when the group has an understanding of the spectrum with a thirst to learn more. I have said on this blog several times that understanding is the foundation of hope and a program like this sibshop is doing just that. By sharing their stories with each other and hearing perspectives of those on the spectrum the brother or sister they have becomes more real, if that makes sense.

I was having trouble figuring out how to end this, and there is only one option I have. I sent Ann an e-mail yesterday asking for a little more info about the program and how long it has been going on and there's one paragraph she wrote that sticks out:

I believe the need for the kids to connect with other kids needs to be at least monthly. The issues they talk about in the group generally are not things they would typically share with their friends as their friends do not understand or relate to the issues they experience daily. I believe very strongly that even if a child does not talk and open up in the group there is still a feeling of comfort knowing that others are in the same boat and they are still benefiting from listening to the other children and how they cope.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Refreshing Meeting With a Neurologist Who Understands

I had a long day yesterday as I woke up in Hannibal and rushed back to Saint Louis for a 11AM meeting. This meeting was one that I wanted to attend because it was a lunch and learn style meeting without the lunch.

Over the course of this blog I have talked about some of my experiences with Matt (the TouchPoint Community Liaison) at these lunch and learns. I never know what to expect at these because some doctors just don't care about autism, some have a little education, and others know about it and what to know more and what they can do better (my favorite group; all should be like this!).

The meeting yesterday though was with a childhood neurologist that has been well versed in the autism field for two decades. I will say that I won't mention names just because I don't know if he would want that, and if I mention the good I would have to mention the bad and that is something I don't want to do. This blog is about my experiences in life and the field so naming others is something I will rarely do.

Anyway, disclaimer aside, this meeting was to further the relationship between TouchPoint and his practice and the first half of the meeting was about our organization and what he sees in some parents. He told story after story of children that were on the spectrum but the parents refused to believe it. This saddened me because denying it isn't going to change the person! Furthermore, a diagnosis is not the end of the world and while this may be off topic of what I wanted to write, a diagnosis isn't a one-way ticket to failure. This neurologist knows this, of course, but still has trouble selling this to parents.

After 45 minutes I finally felt comfortable and found a way to enter the conversation. What also helped was Matt gave me a great lead-in and I started talking about my experiences. This was the first time I talked to someone so high up in the field, if that is the right way to phrase it, and I was actually nervous. I didn't know if my concepts would make sense as my concepts are analogies and metaphors, but after each concept I presented he asked me about those in more detail. He wanted to know more about what my school years were like and all in all it was a great conversation.

This is how all doctors should be. I have been critical of doctors in the past on here and when I am I am not bashing the field as a whole. In my opinion one doctor that denies autism or says, "don't worry about it" is too much. I know most doctors do not have this attitude, but if one does it is worth writing about. From experience though there is more than one out there, but as a whole I feel doctors do want to know more.

After my post on Tuesday I felt better about the world after seeing this neurologist's dedication to learning about the field and understanding of the spectrum. He understands that it is a spectrum and even mentioned that one case of autism is just one case.

After my negative tone on Tuesday I wanted to have another positive post. It isn't all bad. While I may focus on the need that is out there more than the positive, this neurologist left a lasting impression on me that has bad as some of the horror stories I have told, there are equally good people out there.

Tomorrow I will blog about a sibling workshop I attended last night and over the course of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I will be rerunning the "Schumi and Me" three part series as the SKUSA SuperNationals are next week and I will be headed to Las Vegas to flag that event on Tuesday. I can't wait!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Opposite of Yesterday's Post

Wow! Yesterday morning I unloaded my disappointment and anger in the form of my blog post and while it proved to be a long day the ending was the polar opposite to yesterday's post.

Yesterday morning was early and after writing my article I got to the hotel early and I struggled to stay awake. I have not been that tired since I was in Latvia in 2008 and I truly could've crawled underneath our table and taken a nap. Among better judgment I decided not to do this, but boy oh boy was it tempting!

I didn't hear any horror stories today at the Parents as Teachers conference and actually heard some great stories of people taking the initiative to bring about change in their area and to increase awareness. I love hearing these stories!

My day did not end at the conference. Once it was over I headed home for a quick layover as I prepared to come to Palmyra for a presentation. I decided to grab my toothbrush just in case I didn't make it home because I still was falling asleep standing up and it was scheduled to be a doubleheader presentation with parents first and police second.

The drive was pleasant and I didn't fall asleep so it was a win win. Finding the hall it was in though proved to be a challenge. My GPS system had me going all throughout Palmyra except to where I actually needed to go. As the minutes ticked by and 6 came closer and closer I called my dad to have him look it up. The internet proved to me just as confused and after he made a couple phone calls to local offices I made it to my destination. I only mention this because I am sure, for one reason or another, that my GPS tries to get me lost.

I walked into the American Legion hall not knowing what to expect in terms of how many people were there and was instantly shocked as there was at least 30 people at 5:45. Also, there was a reporter from WGEM who was interviewing the mother who set this presentation up. Instantly this presentation had an urgency about it, as if the frustration from yesterday was going to be replaced by this.

I was all about business and started to set up my computer for the PowerPoint when I was asked to be interviewed. This was new territory for me and I walked over as calm as could be yet I was nervous as I could be. I had the thought, "Who am I to be interviewed?" but that disappeared as the microphone was put in my direction. What I thought was going to be a painful experience turned out to be rather enjoyable.

As people continued to pour into the hall I was amazed at how many officers were there. It was only around 10, but their presentation was going to be after the parents. I give two different presentations and while they may share some of the same stories the material is quite different, but this was good as it can't be said enough how great it is that officers want this information. Of course they do need it, but this showed that they wanted it.

By the time I started the audience was somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 people. I was expecting 20-30 so this was amazing.

My presentations came and went and I started processing everything that I had heard through the night and I remembered that TouchPoint didn't 100% set this up as I remembered that a parent set this up. Things take a while before I comprehend what this means and I didn't truly appreciate this until I started driving away from the building.

Yesterday I complained about people denying the spectrum and today I was introduced to a parent who has nothing vested in this except being a parent that is trying raise awareness. This is what we need more of! This is how it starts! I said yesterday that are numbers are growing and our voices are growing and less than 15 hours after writing that I see it in person. When someone is dedicated to something people respond and the audience last night seemed to notice just how dedicated Sally White (the parent) is.

I wanted to drive all the way home last night (about 2 1/4 hours) but after getting ten miles from the Legion building I knew that the end result of me driving would be a crash of some sort so I stopped. I checked in and got to my room and turned on the television to WGEM. I thought the story they did would be in the 20th minute, if played at all, but of all things it was the top story! The lead!

My air time was minimal, but a soundbite was used and when I was on the screen I did not recognize myself at all. It was truly surreal as I have never been on the news before and I instantly became critical of my movements and voice and remembered why I have never viewed any of my video blogs.

Besides critiquing my news experience I was elated that this event got so much airtime. The event was mentioned, the passion of Sally was evident, and TouchPoint too got plenty of mention along with the TouchPoint website.

I feel much more at ease today as I felt as if I did something. Those stories troubled yesterday, but last night I was helping spread the word to parents, teachers, and officers. This may have been only one event, but if more and more people out there stand up and start working towards bringing about awareness we will get to the day when yesterday's article will be a part of history instead of something that still happens. I hope that day comes soon!

If you would like to read the online news story about last night it can be read at http://www.wgem.com/Global/story.asp?S=13475160

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Being Written Off


Yesterday was the first day of the two day Parents as Teachers national conference. As I have said before, I truly enjoy working a booth at a conference because I am able to interact with people much better than in an open ended environment because the conversations are centered around my life on the autism spectrum. I generally like to be the one talking, but what I heard yesterday may change me forever.

It began with one person telling me this and I took it as an isolated incident. I heard it twice and began to ponder it, but when I heard it a third time I turned to Matt, the Community Liaison for TouchPoint, and said, "That's IT! I have to blog about this tomorrow! I am angry!"

Hearing it three times was not the end of it and by the time I had to leave I had heard it six times. Five of those abominations came from the same geographical region of the US, but I am not in the business of pointing a specific group out so I won't mention it.

What did I hear that got galled me? I heard story after story of the school systems that denied that autism or Asperger's needs treatment. The story that was truly devastating, and the one I told Matt I was going to write about, was a case where a teacher had told me that she had gone to the principal, and then the superintendent. She told them that a student in her class had Asperger's and had some needs in the classroom. The principal saw the IEP and said, "That's just a piece of paper, that means nothing." The family appealed and it went to the superintendent who said, "What this paper says won't help. There's nothing we can do."

"Nothing we can do?" So, let me get this right: an autism spectrum disorder means that the school system and all those involved should just give up? It's not worth the resources so we should just write off the student and move on? ARE YOU AS ANGRY AS I AM?

I heard five similar stories so I know it can't be a fluke. If I had heard it once then I would be concerned, but would not write such a fierce article. I have to wonder though, if I heard this type of story six times in less than 250 interactions, just how many parents, teachers, or members of the ASD community get told this? How many families are told that there is no hope for those on the spectrum?

The only word I can find to describe my emotion yesterday is RAGE! As I stood there it BOILED. I so badly wanted to talk to these uninformed teachers and staff. Autism and Asperger are not just words on an IEP. They are an over-arching burden that deeply affects families and children. To be generous, I will give a school system, principal, superintendent, or even a teacher the benefit of the doubt because they might know nothing about the autism spectrum. If they do, well, THESE PEOPLE ARE CRIMINALS.

I feel this way because I'v been there. I was at that point where I felt hopeless. At this point in time, I was out of the school system, but feeling helpless, needlessly, should not happen.

Did the school system fail me? I can't say it did because Asperger Syndrome didn't exist in terms of being recognized as a diagnosis until 1994 and even then it took many years until most doctors were willing to accept it as a viable diagnosis.

However, that was then. It has been 16 years since it was put into the DSM IV and ignorance of any part of the autism spectrum is UNACCEPTABLE! Around 1 in 100 births today will be on the autism spectrum. Our numbers are growing and these babies today will be students in school in the not to distant future. How many of these precious children will be "written off" and not be given a chance? How much human potential will be squandered because there is, in the minds of the uninformed administrators, "no hope"?

I feel as if the model in most school systems is for every student to fit into a nice tidy box. For the majority of the students, the box is a nice fit. But if there is one thing about the autism spectrum that needs to be known: all too many school systems don't like custom made boxes  because no two students on the spectrum will be alike. Each of us has his or her own challenges and each of us may need a different strategy to make it all work. There is no catch all solution, and this, I'm sure, scares the schools.

They may be scared, but that is no excuse to tell a family that nothing can be done. Look at all the marvelous things people on the spectrum have done! If you have no contact with the autism spectrum you should know the story of Temple Grandin. Her mother did not give up.  Her mother did not write her off. Temple Grandin, with her unique gifts, has single-handedly changed the world of cattle ranching and the way people perceive autism.

If you look on Wikipedia you can view the list of those who have been diagnosed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_with_autism) or what I want you to look at is the list of historical figures that people speculate were on the spectrum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_speculated_to_have_been_autistic).

The historical list, while it may be debated, is somewhat astounding. Imagine the change in the science, the arts, or the history of the world if just one person was written off. Consider that as history is being written everyday and history in the not so distant future will be written by those currently in the school system. Can we afford to write someone off just because they are on the autism spectrum? How much human potential will be wasted needlessly?

The need for understanding has never been more important. Stories like the one I heard yesterday should be ended by any means necessary. For goodness sakes folks it is the year 2010 and still people struggle to understand the autism spectrum? What is wrong with this picture? I don't get it!

Our numbers are increasing, our voices are getting louder, and yet families are being told that there is no hope and certain schools are telling them that, "nothing can be done." Well, things can be done and should be done. If you,  as a family, teacher, or member of the ASD community are in a school district that has an open mind towards autism please thank them. What the district is doing is excellent and should be the standard.

But from what I heard yesterday we aren't at 100% yet. Perhaps someday we will get there. Perhaps someday there won't be this stigma attached to being on the autism spectrum. It isn't the end of the world, but a person's world can become extremely limited if they are simply "written off" by their school district.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Weekend of Past Memories

The past two days meant a lot to me in terms of what happened on those dates in years past. Saturday marked one year since I gave my first presentation. One year! I can't believe it has only been a year. If you scroll down to my map of Missouri on the right side you can see that I have traveled many a mile in that time.

I think back to that MNEA conference from last year and I can't believe the growth I have experienced. By no means was that presentation bad, but I have gotten much more confident in myself and what I have to say. Never in 1,000 years would I have imagined, last year, that I would have sat next to Temple Grandin on a panel.

A lot can happen in a year yet at the same time it seems as if last year's presentation was just yesterday to me. I still remember where the TouchPoint booth was and conversations I had with those in attendance. It's weird to think that it was just one year ago and I have come so far. I wonder what I will be saying when next year when it will be two years?

Yesterday was a big anniversary for me as it marked 10 years since I first drove a formula type race car. Round number anniversaries, or those divisible by five are always major and this one actually was sad for me in a way. Of course, ten years ago I did not know I was on the spectrum and I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to be a race car driver. There was no doubt, no plan B, and why should there have been as I was fast.

I can recall the entire journey of ten years ago in my mind. From the flight out of Saint Louis to the round of miniature golf my dad and I played in the indoor amusement park at Circus Circus. What I also remember was my fear.

I was frightened because the experience in a formula car was new. I had driven karts for five years, but now I was behind the wheel of a true race car and I was very concerned with how it would feel and how loud it would be.

Oh, I forgot to mention why I was in Vegas. We looked at different racing schools for me to attend and from those who we talked to it was clear that the best bang for the buck was the Derek Daly Academy in Las Vegas.

On the first day of the class the instructors had us drive on a small oval in a parking lot. These cars weren't ultra powerful, yet when the throttle was applied all the way on the small straights I was amazed at how much force there was. Imagine being sucked into the seat because that was what it felt like, and these cars, I think, were only 155hp.

While the car sped up the vibrations in the car were intense. Trying to look in the mirrors was a task because images were just a blur due to the shaking. Not that there was much time to look in the mirrors as things seemed to happen much faster in this car than karts.

The next step was learning how to shift gears. I was 17 at the time and had all but 45 minutes in a standard transmission. I stalled the car more times than I have fingers and I was getting frustrated. My frustration grew immensely as I tried to figure out the "heel and toe" downshift. My coordination at the time simply was not good enough to pull this feat of a downshift off.

After the first night I was highly dejected. I had the car control, but I felt as if I was useless. Remember, at the time, racing was THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERED! Failure was not an option and it looked as if failure was going to happen.

The next day proved to be better for me. They switched cars for me and this new car had a more forgiving transmission and the stalls quit. Also on this day we hit the big track for the first time and I flew around it. The fears of the noises and sensation of speed quickly went away as I began to feel the car. This is one thing that few racing simulators can mimic and that is the feeling of the car. The feeling of the car and being one with it is something that, unless you have done, can't truly be put into words.

On day three, the final day, I began to have confidence behind the wheel and with each lap that I grew more and more scared as with each lap completed that meant I was one lap closer to the end. I didn't want it to end and to this day, well, even as I write this now I can feel the emotion that I had as time wound down. I was 17 and didn't know if I would ever get the chance to drive anything again so I was cherishing every second behind the wheel.

When it was over I had to stay in the car with my helmet on for several minutes to gather control of my emotions. Knowing what I know about the autism spectrum and my Kansas concept I can't believe I was able to control my emotions at all as this was the best experience I could have had.

As you can tell from my line of work now and this blog I did not make it in the world of racing. I am 100% okay with this as this entry states: http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/autism-awareness-month-and-how.html.

After my Vegas trip in 2000 I went back in 2001 and 2002 and then was an instructor in October of 2003. If you have any curiosity of what cars I drove out there, you can view my promo video we made to send to potential sponsors. The video from Vegas was from my 2002 trip and the parts where I am talking are from 2004. As for me today, I am headed to the Parents as Teachers conference to help out at the TouchPoint booth. I also worked this conference last year so I love when history repeats itself!