Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yelling, Confusion, and Frustration on the 7th Hole

What a unfortunate way to celebrate my 350th post. Through the first 350 there have been highs, humorous points, and struggles. Today I talk about another struggle.

This week and next week I am on vacation in Indianapolis. Actually, I'll be in Maryland with a USAC race this weekend, but anyway, I went to play golf this morning with one of three rain checks I have at this course (my friend, Ryan, his dad, and I played last Thursday and we got rained out after five holes. They're in Massachusetts so I got their credit.) I was shooting great after the first five holes and then I caught up to a foursome of older men.

I am very respectful when I approach another group as I want to do everything so they don't know I am there. I make no effort to show that I want to play through (or in common terms, them letting me go by them) because that may make them mad. I, above everything else, want to stay isolated. I don't know how to interact with strangers on the golf course. This is why I love golf courses in the middle of no where as the course is usually empty.

Well, on the 6th hole, a par 3, they let me play through. I hit a towering shot that found its way into the sand trap. I instantly felt my heart sink because I can truly take 20 swings of the club to get out of the sand. As I got to the sand trap I saw that my ball was half buried on the up slope; this was not going to be an easy shot. With all the older men watching I swung the club and my ball went straight up with a slight arc, cleared the trap, and landed about a foot from the cup and instantly stopped. It was one of my best shots ever. The foursome collectively congratulated me on such a stellar shot.

I rushed to my ball to finish the hole and two of the men told me, "Don't worry about it, take your time as we are in no rush." I made the putt for par, thanked the foursome, and moved to the 7th hole.

There was another group of four older men in front of me and I had to wait for them to go further down the par 5 fairway before I could hit. Once they did I crushed the drive for a near 275 yard drive. I was highly elated.

I drove to my ball where I saw that I was about 200 yards from the hole. The group in front of me wasn't on the green yet and I had every intention of trying to get to the green in two so I waited. And waited. And waited some more. The group in front of me gave slow golf a new meaning, and meanwhile the group that let me play through was starting their 7th hole.

While I was waiting I was answering e-mails on my phone while keeping an eye on the group in front of me. The group now was on the green, or at least three of them were, when I thought I heard a thud of a ball landing. I looked to my right and saw nothing so I went back to replying to an urgent work related e-mail.

During my wait the group behind me had teed off, hit a second ball, and was now 80 or so yards behind me. I looked behind and as I turned I heard yelling, and lots of it and it wasn't pleasant at all. Here's the watered down version but please understand there were a lot of words that could not be said over the radio, "Kid, What the _____ are you waiting for? Hit the ______ ball? You don't have the skill to hit it that far! We're trying to play golf here!"

The rant continued on and I was confused. What had I done? I had driven 275 yards and had 200 to go. I could hit the green, and I had just two holes ago hit 210 with my five iron. This didn't matter as I was now pushed to my limit as my hopes of being invisible was crushed. Most people play golf for the company of others, I play to go through 18 holes alone, and now I was, for some reason, the main attraction, or distraction, on the 7th hole fairway.

I began to shake, and I was already dripping in sweat from the heat today, and I didn't know what to do. I wasn't going to "lay up" (that means to hit short of the green, or short of one's ability) so I decided to hit the ball.

With five iron in hand I got to my ball just as one of the old men's ball came sailing past me. I was now angry as I'm sure being struck in the back of the head by a fast moving golf ball hurts, Granted, those men aren't Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els, but nonetheless I wanted no part in the golf ball to head game. Also, I was angry because they told me, quite plainly and calmly, "Don't worry, take your time." What more could I do? What I did was take my five iron, with an angry swing, and as I feared my shot was on and my ball rolled up to the green in sight of the four men who were on it and now those four men looked at me with waving fists. I was stuck between two foursomes of angry men who wanted me gone.

I slowly drove to the green wondering what to say. Could I say the group behind me pressured me? Could I say, "Wow, I've never hit the ball that good before" no, that wouldn't work as it would not be the truth.

When I got to the green it was more words like the group behind me and they never really let me say anything. I had my sunglasses on and decided not to acknowledge any bit of what had happened. It was the only thing I decided I could do so I went back checking my e-mail. Was this the appropriate reaction? Probably not, but it is what I needed at the time. Had I tried to say any words, well, I probably would have made further mistakes because I was to my limit. The sequence of events puzzled me so much, and came out of oblivion, that my frustration levels were pegged as I tried to make sense of what had happened.

Needless to say after that hole the following 10 holes were nothing but a miserable display of golf as I had no composure. Halfway through the back nine I thought back on my life when there were other experiences when I got yelled at, and I remembered so many times when I was race directing and people didn't like my calls and I further remembered there was no adverse reaction to that. In that environment it isn't expected, but it does happen and I am fine with that. That's part of the game of the sport, but this, today, is golf. Isn't golf a GENTLEmen's game? Isn't the golf course a place one goes to be with the grass, the trees, and occasionally play on the beach? If so, what happened today? I still have no idea how I made the group behind me mad. I fully understand the group in front of me, but what did I do? I see no logic as to what happened and I'm somewhat fearful of using the other two rain checks because golf, today, became a sport that I know I can't stay invisible. Events like this stay with me a while and I can still hear the words echoing in my ear as if the man is now beside me instead of 80 yards away.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Indy 500 Experience

Yesterday I kept an important streak alive as I once again attended the Indy 500. I have been to the 1989, 1992, 1993 and then every one since 1997. The event is more than a race to me as it is the one day I look forward to above all else.

The Indy 500 is a race, but it is more than that as it is an event; the largest single day sporting event in the world. Yesterday over 250,000 people came to watch the 33 cars compete over 500 miles. Many of these people come year after year, some of these people came for the first time, and some of the people in the infield came for the party. Whatever their reason, whatever their interest, each Indy 500 will be remembered for a lifetime.

Traffic yesterday was about as bad as I could remember. The only other year that compared to this was the year of the cold, 1992. (the wind chills were in the low 40's!) Every year I worry that the race will be ran, but no one will show up. You see, this race means everything to me. I grew up a mile and a half from the track and have the fondest of memories of having my dad take me to see practice and qualifying. The memories of hearing Tom Carnegie say, "It's a New Track Record!" still sends chills up my spine.

As much as I enjoyed practice of qualifying my dad, for the 3 races I went to before 1997, had to make special arrangements to go to the race because he had a church in Indianapolis and pastors typically are busy on Sundays.

Since then though I have been to many in a row and it is truly more than just the race. I think everyone should go this race once in their life. Not everyone will have the moving experience as I do as when I pass through the gates on race day I feel light and have the strongest of butterflies. Some may get intimidated by being one among 250,000, and I must admit I usually don't like being among the masses, but for the Indy 500 it is like the whole crowd does not exist; it is one mass body watching 33 drivers risk it all for racing immortality.

The prerace festivities are scheduled much like the strictest of church services. Each portion of the program has been done for many years and is expected to go off on its designated moment. The run up to the start of the prerace festivities is almost painful for me. I wait every second of the year for this, and at this point it is so close.

One hour before the race the IMS Radio Network begins their radio broadcast, which I listen to while at the track, and the words of the opening and the song they play, year after year, makes me shake. It is only one hour until the start of the race I wait for every year.

The next hour flies by. Florence Henderson sings God Bless America and eventually the National Anthem is sung and then a military flyover (this year it was a B2 better known as a stealth bomber. What a sight!). By this time there is always someone around me that has, perhaps, already had to much to drink. The mood, of course, is festive, but there is always one or two who are getting into that festive/rowdy mood. I like for this to happen because every year when the playing of Taps the hush among the crowd is something that one has to experience to understand the impact. I'm on the spectrum and often miss social cues, but there is no denying the solemn respect and impact of having 250,000+ people collectively be quiet. Think of that, before it starts the noise is loud. People are talking, laughing, drinking, and without a notice, without saying what is coming, the 21 gun salute and playing of Taps begins and the audience isn't told to be quiet, but it just happens. Following the song there is silence; no applause, no cheering, just respectful silence from a quarter of a million people.

The next song sung is "Back Home Again in Indiana" and at this point I usually lost control of my emotions. Tears are fought back as this is it. This is the final thing before the saying of, "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!". Also, the song hits me hard. During this song I remember growing up. I remember my dad taking me to the track on those practice days of May. If anything, the Indy 500 is much like mile markers for my life. I remember how I felt each year, where I was sitting, and who I was with. My life has changed drastically just in the past 5 years, and I remember all that during the song.

By the time the song is over I usually have watery eyes (thank goodness for my sunglasses!) but then it is time. The engines are started and then the field of 11 rows of 3 begins their slow trek around the track. The crowd is on its feet and the anticipation is crushing. Three pace laps are done before the race begins and when it does it is 200 laps, 500 miles, and the best three or so hours of the year.

Today is a depressing day. My special interest, if you haven't gathered or are new to my blog, is auto racing. There is no bigger race than the Indy 500 and no more sacred ground, in my opinion, than the ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and today, well, today is the point in time I have to wait the longest until the next one when the whole process of fighting traffic, being among the masses, and once again hearing the singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" will happen. Yes, everyone should experience this race, this "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at least once!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Hoosier 100: Last Year vs. This Year

It happened again as it did last year. Once again I got the honor of assisting Tom Hansing at the Hoosier 100 which is a USAC Traxxas Silver Crown race.

Last year was my first time with USAC at all. To say I was timid would be the utmost of understatements. I was nervous, scared, and wondering where exactly I needed to go and who to talk to.

This year I knew where to go and I had only one person to talk to and that was Tom. I got to the track a couple hours early, found Tom, and asked him if he had someone in the assistant position. He did not so I asked if I could do it and it was done.

Last year the view was one that put me in a state of awe. To stand atop a race track was something I always envisioned. The awe didn't last long as once the first car rolled it was down to business.

This year I cherished the view. I mean look at it! In my opinion there is no better seat, and no seat that one can have such a since of pride; pure pride! Before the cars rolled I stood in the stand looking at the audience coming up the stairs, and the activity in the pits, and I cherished the atmosphere.

Last year when the action began I was unsure of myself. I didn't know how to assist or what was expected of me. This is where I think being on the spectrum like I am proves to be a hindrance as we need direction. In this case the only way to learn this is via actually doing it.

This year I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Gone were the fears of screwing up. Gone was the "positional warfare" I fought last year. Gone was the unsure posture I had and what was was a posture that was firm, and a smile that was wide.

Last year I did say it was "The Best Experience Ever" and it was, there's no doubt about it, but it still was a challenge for me. New things are never easy as I'm sure that is the case for most people, but, and I am using a line from Ann Schad, "Autism is human behavior to one extreme or the other." In this case the learning curve of certain things is steeper than it could be for someone else. Granted, I still did it last year, but the internal anxiety within me was great.

This year there was no anxiety and the only emotion was concentration and enjoyment. While both years were amazing this year I was able to enjoy the event. Last year I was a USAC rookie and afraid of screwing up in some unforeseen way, but this year, well, I stood proud, unafraid, and truly honored to be able to be part of the crew.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Drive, An Unexpected Gig, and A Scary Flight From Weather

Wow! What a day. I woke up with the simple notion of getting to Indy, attending the USAC midget triple header at the Indianapolis Speedrome, and getting to my sister's house. Sounded simple, but it was anything but.

The weather has been aggressive, and yesterday was no difference. I put off my departure time due to a tornadic storm in Illinois. Instead of leaving I made a trip to my two banks, went to a car wash to vacuum the floor, and went to Lion's Choice for a 10AM lunch. Once all this was done I hit the road.

My bout with the weather began just before Vandalia as a nasty looking black sky was off to the North. I always have been extra careful with weather, but after this year's extreme season I have been reminded that severe weather is something that isn't to be played with.

The storm that I was seeing to my North was going slower than I was and eventually passed it. At this point in time I was wondering if I would even make the trip to the Speedrome as the weather surely would be rain and racing and rain don't mix when one is racing on ovals.

I kept an eye on the weather and stayed in communication with James who was already at the track and he said it was dry. I was still debating whether or not to go because I was thinking I was just going to be there with nothing to do except to observe. Observing was needed, however, as I am scheduled to flag there next week and that will be my first big car race at an oval that I am the flagman for.

Because of the importance of learning the routines and structure of the event at the Speedrome I went there and decided if it rained, it would rain. I didn't stress about it and at around 4 in the afternoon I made it to the Speedrome.

I saw all the people I knew and while I was standing at the gate Tom Hansing, one of the flagman of the Indy 500, and the person who I mentioned quite a bit last year, walked up. He passed, but then James and Tom started talking and my name was called so I walked towards them.

When I got to them I wondered what was up, and then I heard the words from James, "Okay, Aaron, Tom is chief stewarding tonight and you're flagging. Is this okay?" I was shocked and said, "What am I doing?" because I didn't believe what I had heard. The words were repeated and I rushed to my car and got my flags.

Climbing the flagstand was something I did with the biggest of grins on my face. As I stood atop I admired the view and all but shook in elation. This gig was highly unexpected and I was glad I put aside the thoughts of inclement weather.

As the start of practice approached I started to worry just as I did last year at the Battle at The Brickyard because it was new. The order of flags in my stand, the foot pedals that operate the light, and just everything else in general made it a new and unknown experience.
Whether I was ready or not (I was) practice began and Tom was walking me through the small differences in this type of racing over the .25 midgets I have been flagging. These words of advice I heeded with as much respect as one could have.

Practice concluded and I breathed a sigh of relief because I didn't screw anything up. Not that I was expecting anything less, but I know starting out bad is, well, bad.

During practice I had been looking towards the Southwest and saw this ominous black mass nearing. I was hoping it would go North, or South, but I wanted it to go anywhere but where I was. As the invocation was given and the national anthem sung rumbles of thunder rang through the air. In fact, the first bit of thunder heard was on cue with the line, "... the bombs bursting in air..." This was not a good sign.

Drip... Drip... Drip... the drops started slowly, but we got the first race on track and we did get to the point of starting the race. The cars rolled around the track and then, as they came out of turn four, I threw the green flag. This was my first green flag of a big car race. I was so excited, but just as fast as I waved the green flag I was told to throw the yellow flag for rain.

The cars exited the track and as they did the weather got more aggressive. The drips became a steady flow of water. I rolled up my flags and headed to the tower thinking this would be a minor delay.

Up in the tower I got out my phone and looked at the radar. My anxiety level was raised as I saw this big red blob headed towards the track. At this point in time I was just a little bit anxious as there were no warnings associated with this weather. Then, just as I sighed that breath of relief, the sirens came on.

The next time I checked my phone the county I was in had a tornado warning. In terms of weather advisories, the tornado warning is the most severe and here I was with no basement and no idea what to do. What I did do was try to put on my calm face; storms used to be one of my biggest fears. I would avoid school at all costs if there was a tornado watch because I didn't feel safe at school. I stayed calm, and I also followed the other USAC staff to the semi-truck trailer.

The rain picked up, the winds picked up, but only for several minutes. As fast as it began it slowed up. The rain turned back into drip mode and I once again breathed a sigh of relief. The event was called at this point in time as so much water fell and there was more storms lined up behind the one we had.

Eventually I followed Tom out to the parking lot and as we did the bottom fell out of the sky and it rained harder than it had before. Also, the sirens went off again.

I survived one bout with the sirens so I didn't panic. I used my phone again and looked at the wording of the warning and I found out a storm that was producing rain wrapped tornadoes was eight minutes from my location. Eight minutes! From all the devastation and tragedy that we have seen in Missouri my tolerance for this weather was over. I was not going to play around with this weather and I hammered the accelerator to get out of the path of these storms. I had no basement, no shelter, my only option was to out run it.

I got on the road and headed to I-465 with the sound of the sirens blaring. The word "intense" describes nothing of what I was going through. The sky was now a twisting mix of black and gray clouds. The storm was moving in and it was circulating. This was bad and I had to get out of it.

As I neared the interstate I noticed a slew of vehicles parked under the overpass. I had an experience under an overpass in 1999 that was almost as bad as it could have been. The story is in my book, but the van my dad and I was in started to lift off ever so slightly before it set back down. Because of this I may have been a little more sensitive to what was going on, but I decided I was not going to stay stationary.

When I got on the interstate the winds picked up and the skies started swirling even more. The only thing I knew was that I was in trouble. Oddly enough at this point in time my phone rang and it was my mom so I answered and put her on speaker phone.

She asked me if I was okay as I think the Weather Channel was saying Indy was getting pounded. I said I was highly concerned and I decided at this point in time that my childhood debate of speeding and tornadoes was coming true. That debate, which you can read by clicking that link, was, "Is it okay to speed if there are tornadoes?"

When I got to the Southeast turn of I-465 I looked to my right and saw the start of a funnel cloud. I had had enough of this and I put the hammer down. 70mph, 80 mph, 90mph and even higher. I was not going to stand by and wait for it to get me. I could hear the sirens over the rain and my mom, who was still on the phone, and I was getting more and more concerned. When I got to the Pendleton Pike exit the rain was so great that I could not see. Because of this I got of the interstate and then started driving West. Why did I go West? I don't know and this was the point that I lost direction. I was so frazzled, so overwhelmed, that I was driving with no direction and no reason. There was green skies to the north, swirling and possibly tornadic skies to the south, and a sky that I can only describe as death black to the west, and I was driving west.

I told my mom at this point in time that I was calling my sister who was watching local television and she said that, "You need to go north ASAP. Just go North, if you get six miles north you will be out of the path of the storm." This gave me direction.

I called my mom back and I got closer and closer to getting to the interstate. The roads were vacant and I got caught at an extended red light. I am a rules stickler, but looking in my rear view mirror I could see the black wall cloud nearing. Because of this I went back to the speeding and tornadoes and I decided to break the law once again by running the light. Then I ran another light, and one more and I was back on the interstate driving towards safety.

Once I got the northeast side the skies cleared up and I was able to breath again. Were there tornadoes on the ground? I'm not sure, but I wasn't going to wait to find out. I had to get out as I have experienced a storm once and to feel powerless is something I am never going to do again. Did I overreact? I certainly don't think so; I think the only flaw in my actions was when I started driving aimlessly due to being so overwhelmed.

Eventually I got to my sister's and my friend Ryan, who came here last year to attend all the races (this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500) called to say he was in those storms I had gotten out of.

So that was my day. I thought it would be a day with a lazy tone to it, you know, one of those take it easy days. Days have a way of ending up not how we planned and moving forward I am going to pay attention to the weather a little bit more and I hope to avoid, if this ever happens again, that moment of driving aimlessly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Review and Discussion of The Movie Adam

Last night I was at a screening of the movie Adam as well as on stage afterwards to discuss the film and take Q& A.

The film Adam is about an electrical engineer in New York City who has Asperger Syndrome and has just recently lost his dad. The movie doesn't introduce Asperger's until maybe 1/3rd of the way through the movie, but the signs are certainly there.

As the movie progressed I was astounded and the similarity between the movie and events in my life. Truly it was haunting and I wonder, even though it is practically impossible, if the director/writer somehow interviewed the people known as Emily and Linda in my book. Because of this I don't know if my review can be unbiased because since the sameness was there I feel my judgment may be a bit skewed.

The movie may be called Adam, but Adam's new neighbor Beth in the movie is just as vital as the person who the movie is named after. Slowly there is a relationship and I am not one to give spoilers so that's the end of where my plot talk goes.

So, was it a good movie? Before I answer that let me say that before the movie there was a small presentation and we were told the movie's director said this, "I wanted to write a character for a movie and not to define a condition." Did the director achieve this? I do think so. However, I say that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" on a daily basis so I know one depiction won't define now. How would someone unaffiliated with spectrum react? For this question I have no answer.

So again, was it good? I've heard several people say that the plot was boring, or slow, but I have to disagree and my disagreement probably comes from living out situations akin to the movie. Asperger Syndrome was in the movie but it really wasn't the movie. Adam had quirks, but they weren't exaggerated like many other characters in other movies or television shows.

So in the end I think that the writer/director made a good story about one person on the spectrum. If one can view this movie with that in mind I think it is a good story. If one lets this movie define their depiction of the spectrum then perhaps it isn't the best movie to view, but I enjoyed the story despite the haunting similarities between myself and Adam in terms of relationships.

After the movie there was about an hour of discussion and as I was about to be introduced I panicked. Yes, the reason was small, but I was seated in the middle of the row and I couldn't decide which way to exit the row I was seated in. One reason this amplified was I am not used to sharing the stage. That morning I had a three hour presentation at a court building. Of the 150 or so presentations I have done I have not been the sole speaker only twice.

Once I made my decision to go right I approached the stage, but here I didn't know when to actually step on stage. Do I wait until the whole introduction is done? Halfway through? but when was halfway? In terms of anxiety this portion of my day was starting out horribly.

I did make it on stage and sat down in one of the two chairs that they had put out which this too was different for me as I've only been seated twice in all my presentations. When I present I move around a little, I have precision in my steps and gestures with my hands, but now I was seated and did not know how to sit. Also, when one is standing and moving around a bit the lack of eye contact is easier to hide, while seated it was obvious, at least from my perspective.

As I was seated and struggling my coworker, Ann Schad, was introduced and sat to my right. The discussion then began and I said something early, but following that there was a long ago before I said anything. I wanted to though, as there were many stories I could have spoken, but speaking up is something I don't do well, if at all.

My eyes looked down and to the left towards the wall. I would glance back at the moderator every so often just so that there was some sign of life, but the level of discomfort on this stage at this stage of the evening was about as high as I could tolerate. If my discomfort was visible I am fully okay with this as this gave the audience another view point of a person on the spectrum. My "positional warfare" was raging and no matter where I looked or how I sat I was uncomfortable to the point that I wanted to go invisible just for a few seconds so I could feel relief as I was at my limit.

Then, a question was directed my way and I thought about it for a brief second and was able to use a story from one of my ill-fated trips to the mythical place known as the DMV. The question was, "At what point do you tell a person that you have Asperger Syndrome?" and I talked about the time I got frazzled at the DMV and threw my papers on the counter when it was finally my turn and told the lady I was on the spectrum.

After answering that question the audience started asking more and more questions of me and I was able to talk about Emily, and I was able to talk about Kansas and my "positional warfare" slowly vanished. The first ten minutes seemed like five hours and the final 50 minutes went by in a blink. I was able to use my humor and was able to tell my stories and really reach the audience. At the end the moderator mentioned that, "It is good that Aaron has found a way to be comfortable..." and with that I gave a awkward laugh because I didn't care what the second half of that sentence was as the audience got an example of Kansas unlike any other. I went from a awkward sitting, almost shaking person to a story teller and relevant speaker all within that hour. Most audiences will not see the me I deal with out in public; they won't see the "positional warfares" or the look as if I want to say something and yet I stay quiet. This audience though, last night, got to see that and through the anxiety I had and through the visible awkwardness the audience got the full picture of my life and the challenges that are there. I hope I didn't overshadow the movie, but at the end of the day it is a work of fiction and sitting before them was a true version. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do that last night and I hope I get to do it again because, even though it was difficult for me, the contrast between the first 10 minutes and last 50 minutes is something I feel is beneficial to others because we can be shaky, we can be awkward, but if we get to Kansas we can go from that to an informative chatterbox.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Taking on a New Phone

Yesterday I had had enough. No more was I going to go through life with a serious case of phone envy. Seeing everyone else access Facebook via their phones, and answer e-mails on the fly, well, I wanted to be part of that in crowd. Oh, and the Wheel of Fortune game looked mighty slick too.

So yesterday after I returned home from Indy, and another round of severe thunderstorms rocked the city, I went to the cell phone store. I had talked long and hard with people I know about what I should get. Some said the Windows phone, some said an Android (I could not get past that scary green robot logo thingy. Truly, why is it smiling and what is it plotting?), others said iPhone, and no one said Blackberry. What did I decide on? Wheel of Fortune was the deciding factor.

A couple of months ago a bowler on my team was playing Wheel of Fortune. I call spinning wheels, "sensory candy" and I was transfixed with the awesomeness of that wheel on a phone. Because of this the iPhone won the chance to be my new phone replacing my three year old Blackberry without a data plan.

But... it isn't so much to want the phone, one must go get the phone. I usually mention my loathing of walking into stores during my presentations and I paced, truly paced, for an hour wondering if I should make the trek down to the cell phone store. "Should I? Shouldn't I?" was the only thoughts on my mind, and at 3PM I went.

Arriving at the store was awkward as a staff member opened the door for me. I was so off guard for this I mumbled something. Was it "thank you"? I don't think it was as I made some noise that could not be mistaken for words.

The door opener lady then asked for my name and phone number and why I was there. I have heard of people waiting several hours for service there, but the weather had scared people off and I was instantly greeted by a sales associate.

Here came the tricky part; sales pitches. I wondered how I could get what I wanted without having to hear pitch after pitch. You see, I am defenseless with pitches.I won't give in to them, but I won't state what I want either. Once the pitch game begins I just nod in an noncommittal fashion until they offer up what I want.

This go round the opening question was, "What exactly are you looking for?" And with that question it empowered me. No offers of Windows phones, no looking at goofy green robot thingys. Since it was direct I was too and the process began.

Once the phone was chosen now came the choices. "White or black?" It took a while to answer that one as I weighed the pros and cons of each. "What does a color represent about the user? Which one looks nicer? Oh, wait, I know nothing about either of those questions so let me go with the... well... ummmmmmmmm."

After a heated debate with myself I went with black. Now came option for a carrier case. It never really was explained why I needed one except if I somehow manage to drop it in a lake it is supposedly waterproof. As I was looking for cases I was informed about the bundle plan that included chargers and a $50 credit to the app store itunes thing. To avoid further questions and life changing decisions I went with the bundle.

Once the bundle was chosen the rest of the process was seamless. They even transferred my photos from the Blackberry to the iPhone which was major because the photos I have mean a lot to me whether it is the last photo I took of Siam the cat, or the photo from Santini's in Reston, VA, and to the trip to New York City in 2009. My life truly began to life I have now when I got that phone in December 2008 and I was thrilled that my memories would be able to stay intact.

It's been 22 hours now since the purchase and yes, my first purchase on the phone was Wheel of Fortune. This morning, however, I had my Blackberry in my computer bag, as I have to manually move my calendar over, and its alarm went off. As I turned onto Brentwood Blvd. I realized that this ringing of the alarm quite possibly could be the final time I hear my alarm. This greatly saddened me. Even though I wanted the change, thinking that the music I woke up with for over two years was now going to simply be a memory. I have looked and looked for that song, but I can't find it on the iTunes store. Maybe there's still hope in being able to transfer the song, but I fear it is a Blackberry only ring tone. In any event I have a fun afternoon of getting my calendar filled on my new phone and this evening I am involved in a discussion after the showing of the movie Adam.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Late Night At Waffle House

Over the weekend I flagged the USAC .25 midget series race in West Liberty, Ohio. The days were long, in fact Saturday proved to be a 15 hour day at the track, but each minute of that day was worth it. On Saturday there was, and I'm out of touch in regards to talk like this, a scare that the world was going to end. It didn't, I believe, end, but had it there is no other place that I would rather have been.

I truly wish you could see the difference in the way I handle these races now. This was only my 7th ever oval race and while I guess I did a great job at the first few I did I was unsure of myself. I made no decisions on my own and I won't bore you as to the small details that go into a race, but I had no confidence; well, maybe confidence isn't the right word. I didn't know what exactly was expected therefore I was watching and learning what exactly was the procedure on anything and everything. In July when the Battle at the Brickyard race comes up I'll talk about the then & now aspects, but this story, today, has a different plot.

So yes, my confidence is up, and with this comes the ability to talk more. The two go together and maybe this is when I was not so confident I was so afraid of making any possible mistake that I avoided talking at all costs. Around the USAC staff now though my true personality is starting to make its appearance.

As I said, Saturday was a long day. My muscles ached and my mental capacity was pushed to its limit, but I was still in an amazingly cheery mood. And why not? I was working a race and the world didn't end. Win/win, right?

Having limited eating options we stopped at a Waffle House. James, the director of the series, made reference to the fact that I wasn't as loyal as he hoped regarding my choice to go to Huddle House. This is where confidence in myself in the race environment is huge. Say this line was said in my first race, or maybe second, and I would have probably frozen in a response, but on Saturday I said something that made somewhat of sense. I don't know how I responded, exactly, but I know I didn't come up blank.

As the meal progressed the conversation and banter from the six of us on the barstools at Waffle House didn't ebb at all. I noticed an odd thing in that I was smiling uncontrollably. This happens from time to time, but very rarely when others are around. As I noticed this another humorous line was said and I lost it and went into one of my laughing fits that gets to the point that it hurts and oxygen becomes in short supply.

I'm not sure if I could ever paint with words the scene at that Waffle House. I felt like anyone else would, I think, at any other point in time. Is this feeling accepted? I still miss some jokes and still am the worldly naive one, but that's okay. I must say though that this took time! This didn't happen overnight. This has taken seven entire race weekends spread across 10 months.

Is there a connection between my confidence on the flagstand and my openness in opening up? I firmly believe so. Now that I am not worried about screwing up every second of the day I am less tense. In fact, I opened up to the point in sharing with James the worst idea of all time. Being in the elements all day one's mind tends to have random thoughts and this random thought is truly a horrible idea. What is it? It's so bad I don't want it to fall into the wrong hands, but James did say that it was, "The dumbest idea ever!"

As I look back at where I was as a person one year ago I can't believe the progress in myself. Again, is this due to confidence? Again, I say "yes" firmly. From traveling around presenting, and now the country flagging, I know what I am good at and I am blessed that I am allowed to do both.

While I may talk about growth and while I may talk about the bliss of doing what I love, what I loved most over this past weekend was the time spent in that Waffle House. There was no "Positional Warfare" and there was no social anxiety. All there was me being able to be me without a second thought.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fears as a Child

At a presentation earlier this week I was asked if I had any irrational fears. I thought about this for a moment, then answered that when I was a child others thought some of my fears were irrational, but for me they were highly legitimate fears.

To answer that question I responded with the way I reacted around bees. I would run away from them at recess and I can recall that in third grade we had many bees. At the sight of a bee I would run away and bees seem to like things that run so let me tell you that I was the most physically fit third grader that spring because I spent the entire time running for my life. One time, however, while looking back at the bee, I ran right into the support of a swing set and clotheslined myself and I do believe I was momentarily knocked out.

Now who is to say that my fear of bees was irrational? I was always told that a sting, "Isn't that bad" and that it is a part of life. I saw it that a sting is painful, pain is bad, therefore bees are to be avoided at all costs. I was still told that the fear was irrational, but I found out earlier this year that my fears were justified.

And this is the problem. When dealing with fears in a child on the spectrum we are very logical and many times our fears are something that is worth being worried about. Many times they aren't irrational, but rather just greater than they should be. When I was in kindergarten I was deeply worried about the threat of nuclear war with Russia. At the time, I'm sure most of my classmates couldn't point to Russia on a map, but I was scared to the core of a nuclear exchange.

In a chapter that I have written for a future book I tackled this subject and stated that the problem, for a person like me, is we are aware of the world too early and can't make sense of it. Because of this the fear, while certainly is something to be concerned about, becomes so large it can't be contained.

Another instance that may have seemed as an irrational fear was when I went through a period where there was nothing more terrifying than a black widow spider. I cringed at it, I had nightmares about them, and I constantly asked questions such as, "If a black widow spider entered the school would we lock the doors and escape out the windows?" Because I heard about how bad the bite is, the spider took on a persona that Godzilla would be proud of. I envisioned an overly aggressive spider that could attack its prey from 100 yards away. One day, several months later, when flipping rocks over at my friend's house there was one of those monsters. It was obvious it was a black widow as the red hourglass mark is something that can't be mistaken. I shuddered back, but the curiosity set it. I crept towards it, looking down upon it, and it didn't have any super powers. It didn't jump at me from a football field away. It's venom didn't come shooting at me. And it didn't survive the stomping of my sever year old self. Aaron 1, black widow 0.

So was the fear of those spiders justified? I'm sure it was, but one thing that I feel is often overlooked is that we can have a very vivid imagination. Some people have said that, "people on the spectrum can't imagine anything" and that is so far from the truth. While I can't pretend or make or something that isn't, I am able to fully play out "what if" scenarios and it is in these that fear arises.

When Missy, my childhood dog, was about three years old I would cry nonstop about the day that she would die. Again, is this irrational fear, or a fear that is justified? My dad always told me that, by worrying about such a thing, I was, "Paying interest on a loan I had not taken out." Nonetheless I still worried about this until the day she did pass on.

Dealing with these fears, as a parent, I'm sure is difficult because we will see these fears in a highly logical way. How does one deal with it exactly? Well, I'm sorry but I don't have that answer. However, for me, all my fears were something that was worth at least being concerned about. To tell me, "don't worry about it" was to minimize my feelings. Being able to think in pictures of HD quality I could see what could happen if event X could happen. So to tell me simply, "don't worry about it" was to argue against being able to see the world if a certain scary event would happen.

Over the years, as I got older, the size of these fears diminished. As I learned the true ways of the world, spiders and Russia were no longer such a big deal. There still is one thing I fret about. I still have dreams, or rather nightmares about it. As hard as I have tried I still play out situations as to what to do if this event were to happen. Call this irrational if you want to, but I fear the prospect of having a tooth knocked out. I mean, can one simply go to a dentist? A hospital? Does one put the tooth on ice, or is it done forever? About once a week I will have a dream of having a tooth fall out and trying to find the solution. And I thought the days of attacking black widow spiders were scary!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Adventures of Young Aaron Likens and The Wonderful Hall of Stairs

There was an event in my life that I had fully forgotten about until I reheard a story yesterday. This story was from a police officer who had received an odd call.

One morning at around 5:30AM a three year old got on a bus with a line of people. The bus went several blocks and then the driver came on the intercom and said, "Would the parent of the child in the aisle please show the child a seat." After a few moments no one claimed the child and the police were called.

The bus remained parked and the riders tried to remember where the child got on. The child was fully non-verbal and had autism. This turned into a great mystery as to where the child came from, how he got on the bus, and why his parents allowed such a thing to even happen.

Instantly the officers were prepared for a neglect case, but before they got to that point they had to figure out where the child came from. So, from starting where the bus was parked and working backwards on the bus route, they went door to door as dawn was just breaking. There were some angry sleepers that got woken up, but eventually one person said that they thought that the child lived in an apartment above a store.

The police went there and this officer was ready to let the parents have it, but as they knocked on the door they heard sobbing. The door opened and the mother was very much relieved that her child had been found. The officer noted that there were multiple locks on the door and a child barrier that the child managed to climb over to get out.

Why is this story relevant? Well, for one, it shows that toddlers on the spectrum are very good problem solvers and this child did what the parents thought was impossible. But secondly, it conjured up a memory from when I was about two-and-a-half years old.

I remember this vividly. One of my favorite things to do an that age was to slid down the stairs on my rear. If awareness had been what it is today it surely would have been a red flag that I was on the spectrum because I would do this non-stop for hours on end. When I did this there usually was adult supervision because, well, intentionally sliding down stairs isn't the safest of hobbies to have.

One evening the door to the "Hall of Stairs" was locked. It was actually doubly locked with the door know being locked as well as a chain lock. I was still very young and I was not that tall so reaching both locks proved to be a challenge. However, I was very determined because I wanted to go down the stairs and these locks had to be picked. I remember staring up at them with confusion and I tried jumping to unlock them, but I was still way short. Then I had an idea.

I walked to my room where I had a small, plastic indoor slide. It was something like I this picture,  but I remember it being yellow. Since it was smaller, and plastic, I was able to move it and I began the trek of moving it to the basement door where the wonderful hall of stairs sat waiting for me to fly down them.

Why did nobody see me move this slide? This I don't recall, but I remember it didn't take me that long to slowly move this slide down the long hallway. Once I made it I looked down both ways of this hall to make sure no one was looking and I climbed up and I defeated both locks.

Once the locks were out of the way, I went about and turned the knob to open the door. I was as happy as I could be because, for one, I had solved a big problem and I felt like there were no boundaries that could fence me in, and secondly, and more importantly, it was time to go down the stairs.

Before I went down the first time I had an idea. I usually started down the stairs slowly because it took a while for gravity to kick in and get me going fast down the carpeted stairs. How could I go faster? Well, I had brought a slide from my room so I looked at the slide, looked at the stairs, then looked at the slide and I knew paradise was just one slide away.

In my police presentations I state that people on the spectrum can make bad judgments and can have a disregard to danger. This also could probably be said for most two year olds, and on this night I turned my slide where I would slide down the stairs. Once this was done I climbed atop the slide and looked at the set of at 14 stairs and, without fear, I slid down.

There's a reason why my parents always started me out slow down the stairs when I would slide and that is because if one goes to fast control is lost and one can start to tumble. Going down this small slide gave me a faster start, but since I didn't hit the first step flush I ended up tumbling and all I remember from the rest of this excursion down the stairs is that it hurt greatly.

Nothing was broken and I learned my lesson after that, but this is a great example of just how fast a person on the spectrum can get something down. From the point in time I decided I wanted to bypass the locks to going down the slide had to be less than five minutes. On top of that, who would have figured that a child would be able to undo the lock that was at least twice my height? One skill that I have heard a lot from parents, and using my own example, we can be very good problem solvers and what you may think is child proof is just a puzzle that we are going to solve. And once we do, well, it may prove to be as exciting as an Indiana Jones movies as we try our hand at some wacky stunt. In my example I learned that stairs are not something to play around on after my tumble down them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2 Familiar Faces and A Line on The Road

After my morning presentation yesterday I had an afternoon presentation in Monroe City. On my way up I decided to stop at Lion's Choice in Chesterfield. I ordered and then turned around to see where to sit, and oddly enough there were two people that I recognized.

What I noticed first was their outfits. You see, Chesterfield is home of Spirit of Saint Louis airport and there, at this table, was the two pilots I flew with last December in the police helicopter. There was a total of five Metro Air Support officers there and I sat down beside them.

The following sequence is one of the classic examples of the challenges I face. While sitting I was hoping that one of the two of them would recognize me. I did have my sunglasses on so that didn't help matters, and anyway, why would they recognize me? They only say me at the academy last year for my police presentation and then 11 months later on that flight. However, I simply wanted to say hello, or something to that nature.

Try as I did I sat there debating whether or not it would be right for me to simply say hello. Would it be wrong? I couldn't come to a solid answer and then I decided that wrong or right didn't matter and I decided I would, but my body failed me. I simply sat there and neither spoke or turned towards them. Truly, they were within an extended arm's length to my left, and I sat there like they weren't even there.

Time went on and my emotions started running wild. However, externally, there was no gauge, or no indication of the storm that was raging on the inside. After a few minutes they stood up and left and I remained there, behind the sunglasses, visibly unfazed, but saddened on the inside.

In my presentations I sometimes state that just because I am talking with ease in that environment doesn't mean I am like that all the time. Something as simple as saying hello proved to be a feat that proved to be to difficult.

After I left Lion's Choice I got back on I-64 and made my way towards Monroe City. Quickly though I noticed something on the road near Lake Saint Louis. To most people this would be an insignificant thing, but to me, this fading yellow line saddened me.

From 2007-2008 I worked at a race shop in Wentzville. The drive was long, but on one of my first days a MODOT paint truck had malfunctioned and left a thin, solid yellow line down the middle of the road. Further up one could see where the pain truck stopped on the shoulder thanks to the almost mound of yellow paint. That was then, but yesterday time has taken its toll on this yellow line and it was broken and fading and this deeply saddened me.

I thought back to the days of when this line was strong, bold, and probably distracting. Maybe this goes back to my associative memory system but I honestly had a tear seeing the line almost all the way gone.

As faded as this line was I fear that next time I go that way it will be gone. Seeing it allowed me to remember all the days of seeing it years ago. I know I am much happier now than I used to be yet there still seemed to be a hole within me having this line fading.

Several miles later I regained my composure and I thought that this line can be made into a great example. Times change, and things move on. Four years ago I wondered what the future held. I had some fun times in Wentzville, but I wasn't doing what I am doing now. Without change I'd still be where I was, and while the line of yellow paint is almost gone, so too is who I used to be. Today I still have challenges, as the example at Lions' Choice, but I am more confident in these challenges and I accept them. Yes, change happens and what is today will be a fading memory tomorrow. Sometimes through various aids, say, a yellow line of paint, it allows for a fading memory to stay fresh, but change happens, paint fades, and the only thing left is who we are today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Tale of Two Doctors

Last Thursday, Matt and I went to visit a doctor's office and do a lunch and learn. The experience was powerful as the first doctor we talked to was almost in tears because of the ever increasing number of cases she sees and yet she didn't really know where to send them.

This morning I gave a presentation and I heard from a grandfather who has a grandson who is two-and-a-half years old. He asked a question regarding if there is therapy and if early intervention is important.

Last Thursday the doctors in that office knew all about the M-CHAT (The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) and wanted to know every possible thing Matt and I could tell them. There truly was a hunger for knowledge and while these doctors knew more than most, they still knew that they didn't know it all.

This grandfather today said that the child's doctor says it can't be anything autism because it is simply too early to diagnosis and also he has said "Let's wait, he'll probably grow out of it."

"We know how to diagnosis it. We know what it looks like. What can we tell the parents?" are the lines we heard last Thursday. Those doctors didn't want to scare the parents, and they were more than happy that they know how TouchPoint's Parent's Guide to Autism so they could give a realistic and hopeful message.

Frustration; it is the only word to describe how this grandfather felt. As a result of his grandson's doctor's words, the mother of the child is in denial. The grandfather told me that his 11 month old grandson has better social skills than the two year old. "I've known something was there, but have gotten no where."

Of these two examples I hope it is obvious which is the right approach. It was so refreshing and gave me so much hope having the two hour meeting that we had last Thursday. I wish beyond anything that all doctors were that way. As I said above, they were highly knowledgeable, but they wanted more. They wanted more! What a contrast to the other doctor who doesn't give an M-CHAT and gives false hope by denying that it could in any way be anything associated with the autism spectrum.

Denial is a dangerous thing. Doctors like the grandson's in this example can lead to long-term denial. Here's the thing: whether or not one is in denial the child is still the child. If one decides to heed the warnings and it isn't autism, well, the therapies and parenting methods learned will still prove to be beneficial. And, if it is autism, the family is down the road to understanding much sooner than waiting.

Stories like I heard this morning keep me going. I used to say that I was passionate about this, but now it is more. It is a part of me. To hear the frustration of this grandfather and to, while he is talking to me, remember the doctors that we spoke to last week, well, all I can say is that the words "angry," "frustration," and "disappointment" are simply not strong enough. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

When A Rule Fails

Last week I talked about the way I think certain manners regarding food are absurd. However, those that know me know that I am a heavy rules follower. In my presentations I state that rules of the road are almost sacred and one should always, ALWAYS use their turn signal when changing lanes. My will, and love of rules, was tested last Thursday night.

On the way to the movie theater to view Wretches and Jabberers I noticed a line of cars backed up at the stop light that turns onto Baptist Church Road which is the road the theater is on. I was planning on being 15 minutes early, but the line of cars seemed to be moving at about one car per light cycle. At first I thought there must be an accident because the road rises towards the light and I could no see the intersection or turn light.

Slowly, painfully slow actually, I got closer and closer to the light. I saw no ambulances and no police cars so the back up of cars became mysterious. I could see the forward stop light and it was going green, however, my turn lane kept still. Every so often 2-3 cars would go through and eventually I got within five cars of the intersection.

From this point on I could see the light and I thought I was mistaken because the forward light would go green, but the turn light stayed red. Then, when the forward light went red the turn light stayed red. Never once did the turn light go green. The pedestrian light would change, but the turn light was red. What we had here was a rare occurrence of a malfunctioning light. Panic set in.

In this instance what is the right course of action? Cars started blaring their horns and all in all drivers were becoming irate. Whenever a car decided to break the rule of the red light the car behind would follow. It was all up to the 1st car in line to break that rule and time and time again it would take several light cycles before the first car's driver would make that decision to break the rule, but in this instance is it breaking the rule?

The light obviously was broken, but going through the red light at this intersection is dangerous due to the up slope of the road, and the thick stop light pole. Signs clearly state, "Left on green arrow only." Car after car went through and I was now the 2nd car in line. Soon, it would be my option. Would I wait the light out, or would I go through and willfully break a rule that is 100x more sacred than changing lanes with a turn signal? I still didn't know what I would do.

The driver in front of me began to panic. The driver behind me was having a major temper tantrum slamming the steering wheel and raising his hands as if to say, "Go you idiot, it's broke!" Cars behind started honking so the driver in front of me decided he was not going to break the rule and darted from the turn lane to the forward lanes. This sounds like a good way to avoid breaking the rules, but he did so with no turn signal and just about got rear ended by a big pick up truck that the driver didn't see, perhaps due to the stress of this odd situation.

Okay, so I saw what not to do. I was now the first car in line and it was my option. All lights on my side were red and there was a decent line of cars coming the other way. The light went green and those cars passed. Almost a quarter hour had passed since I got to the intersection of Gravois and Baptist Church and only one thing was separating me from the theater and that was rules. Red lights are important, and when I am at a race track there is no more important thing than to stop. When I race directed I stressed to drivers of all ages that when the red flag is out you stop. The rule is rigid, it's set in stone, it's pure and yet here I was considering breaking the rule.

I could see the driver behind me getting angrier so I decided to do it. I was going to live on the other side of the law. Would I be a public enemy? I didn't know, but I knew I wasn't going to be late and I was able to judge that no cars were coming so I did it. I broke the rule and made my way to the theater.

Since this event I have debated whether or not I actually broke the rules. If the rules are broken do they still apply? It's one thing to go through a yellow, or to unknowingly run a stop sign, but to make that conscious decision to go through a red is another thing. However, the situation was different and unique. Had I not broken the rule and stayed there, well, I'm sure I'd be quite hungry right now because I'd still be there waiting for the green.

Moving forward I will continue to talk about my love of rules and in my presentations I will still talk about my love of the turn signal. However, there will be a side of me I won't share and that is the day I decided to disregard the rules because the rules, on that day, experienced a failure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wretches and Jabberers

Last night in 100 cities and 100 theaters across America there was a movie showing. Those are humble numbers compared to some movies that open to thousands of theaters, but while the summer blockbuster may have millions of dollars of special effects and little substance, last night’s showing of Wretches and Jabberers played under the line of, “100 cities, one night for autism.”

I had zero knowledge of the movie going into last night. Last week I got an e-mail stating that this would be showing and I felt compelled to go see it. I have written about autism and the media in the past and I wanted to see what the movie was about.

Wretches and Jabberers follows two Vermont men who have autism as they go on a three country tour raising awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum. However, whereas my presentations are full of spoken word, the two men, Larry and Tracy, both have limited speech and they primarily communicate via typing. The movie is simply a documentary and you may come to the assumption that typing would not make for a good movie, but you would be very much mistaken in your assumption.

Part way through the beginning the movie states that both men were in an institution earlier in their respective lives. Both men are over 40 and when they were younger the views on autism are much different than they are now.

While the views on autism may be different, what Larry and Tracy truly want to state is that people should not be judged on their intelligence by the ability to speak. Those words, when it was talked about in the movie, stuck with me. Myself, I have never had the inability to talk. However, before I started writing words eluded me as to emotions and speaking up for myself. Both Larry and Tracy discovered typing in their 20’s and it was through this that they finally had a voice. A voice!

Another wonderful line from the movie is that everyone wants communication. In fiction movies autism is sometimes portrayed in a sensationalized way that is not believable. This movie, because it is following real people in an unscripted setting, is as honest as it gets.

As Larry and Tracy go from city to city at various conferences they team up with someone locally who also has autism. A couple of these individuals are younger and it is obvious that it is a great benefit for these people to interact with one another. Imagine two or three decades ago having autism and being completely unaware that there is someone else that thinks like you and has similar challenges.

Last year I did a small review of The Horse Boy movie and had mixed feelings about it. I have no mixed feelings in regards to this as this movie isn’t trying to sell you on the magic cure and it doesn’t paint a picture that autism is something that can go away. At times the words chosen by the two men are extreme, such as one line stating, “Being chained to autism’s death grip that controls my actions.” While that line is powerful, the lines of everyone in the film yearning for the day of full inclusion and the day that intelligence is not determined by physical actions or spoken word is what viewers will remember.

Watching the movie was difficult for me because I got angry. Most people won’t have that response, but I could not help thinking about all those people across Missouri, across the country, and around the world that are isolated without a voice. If there is one thing the movie Wretches and Jabberers will show anyone, whether they have any prior knowledge of autism or not, is that while the exterior of a person may seem different, and one might instantly draw the conclusion that the person must obviously had no intelligence, but that could not be farther from the truth.

It is rare for me to compliment something, but this movie, I feel, was done with perfection. The resounding theme was the desire for a voice, understanding, and a purpose in life. Through the movie Larry and Tracy experience these things and I hope those not on the spectrum that viewed it last night will always remember that we are human, we do have emotions, and what we want is want every person wants and that is acceptance of who we are. My favorite line I have used this past year is “understanding is the foundation for hope” and this movie does a good job in furthering that path.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I Want Candy... Or At Least I Used To

An odd thing has happened over the past year or so. Growing up I was a candy fiend. Skittles, Smarties, 3 Musketeers, and anything else in the Candy aisle was a one way ticket to bliss. Without realizing it though, times have changed.

In about an hour I will be headed out with Matt, TouchPoint's Community Liaison, to do a lunch and learn with doctors. We will stop at a grocery store to pick up the lunch and when we do I always take a stroll down the candy aisle, but the result is always the same.

As I walk down the candy aisle it is like I am telling myself, "I know I used to find this aisle enjoyable, but what was it?" I'll look at the Skittles, the Starbursts, and I apologize if you now want candy but I will also look over the candy bars with absolutely no interest in them.

This isn't to say that all candy has been banished. I currently have a bar of Lindt chocolate that has chili pepper in it. I enjoy that with a glass of milk, but I eat it slowly at one square a day so this is certainly not like the days of old when I could devour candy bar after candy bar.

Why the change? I don't know because I didn't consciously go, "You know, I think I no longer want to have candy." This is probably a good thing, but every time I go into a 7-11, or a grocery store, I look upon the aisle in awe, much like I did when I was a child, but this awe is an awe of, "What did I like about this aisle? Only if I could remember."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another Story From That Dinner: Manners?

It's been mentioned the previous two days, and once again the "dinner" from Sunday night will once again get some air time.

Sunday, after the USAC .25 race in California, we went for food. A family also joined us so there was a total of 13 people spread out amongst three tables. I talked about my "positional warfare" in yesterday's blog, but another instance of note happened when the food was served.

The three people across from me got their food first and almost a minute passed. The conversation continued on as if the food had not been served and the three acted as if there was nothing on the table in front of them. After another thirty seconds passed I couldn't take it anymore so I asked, "Um, is there something wrong with your food?"

The answer given was that they were waiting for others to get their food before proceeding. This made zero sense to me and I recall a long time ago hearing that the mannerly thing to do is to wait for everyone to get their food before eating. But I have to ask why? I don't understand this at all. Is it noble to let one's food go cold while waiting?

I have never been good at understanding manners like this. Does this make me rude? Perhaps, but simply put, I don't understand the logic behind it. Logically speaking, does this mean that when the first person is finished that all others must stop? If I like my food hot do I request that my meal be brought out last? Where does the madness end?

Once my pizza was brought out I, out of habit, dug in right away. Granted, I had not had anything to eat since the morning donuts at Yum Yum, but I didn't think twice until I started to eat. Then I wondered if I should have waited.

I see multiple aspects to this insanity. If a person throughout their life didn't wait to eat, odds are it would be about a 50/50 ration of eating first and waiting to eat. Since this is the case, and since people at the table have no say as to the order of when people get their food, shouldn't the right thing to do be to eat the food while it is still fresh from the kitchen?

Before I started writing this I did a Google search about the mannerly thing to do in regards to this topic and it read like an illogical mess. Truly, the official manner playbook says that it is wrong to eat if A, B, or C happens, but if D, E, and F happen it is okay. If it is a business meeting then D and E falls under A, B, or C and if it is a weekend A falls under F. Say what?

I'm sure people not on the spectrum struggle with manner protocol and this document read as if one would need a doctorate to understand it. Isn't my way easier? If food is served eat it. Shouldn't the burden of manners be on the eating establishment? If I should have wait don't tease me by serving my food. The manner website said that it is mannerly for the person who is waiting their food to encourage others to eat, and it is even more mannerly for those who have their food to politely protest, and then to continue, the person who is waiting should doubly encourage others to eat and then, and only then, should others start to eat. No wonder I am clueless!

Again, isn't my way easier? If the mannerly thing is to have this long drawn out encouragement followed by protest followed by further encouragement to start eating could we not forgo the whole scripted drama and just get to the food? Both ways get to the same destination, but we bypass the construction and unscenic part of the road.

It is no wonder I am clueless about this. Much like The Handshake that I wrote about last year, there are some things I simply don't understand. I don't think I am an overly rude person, but if my food is served and I am hungry I will start to eat. If you get your food please don't wait for me because I won't wait for you. Is that rude?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Clothing and The Positional Warfare

Last week as I was walking the campus of Concordia University Irvine I noticed that everyone there would be able to tell I wasn't from around there. Why? Well, while everyone else was dressed for the 90+ degree heat I was in black pants and a long sleeve shirt. I certainly stuck out, but I thought nothing of it until I was asked why I wear what I wear. I never had thought of it before but then the answer rushed into my brain.

Before I give the answer I would suggest you read The Positional Warfare story I wrote last year. I believe my clothing choice is a direct effect of that concept.

So how does clothing play into this? As I saw everyone at the college campus dressed in shorts and light shirts I realized that I will always be in long sleeves and black pants. I thought it was just a routine, but then I realized that this wasn't the case. By wearing long sleeves I am hiding myself. Also, my wearing black pants I also am minimizing what signals I am sending out.

Signals? Yes, by signals I mean the amount of information I am sending to the world. I see this the same way as when I don't know how I should be standing in the space I am in. By covering my arms I don't have to worry about sending any signals with the exposed skin and all I have to do is worry about my hands.

In this same way I don't wear shorts. I honestly can't remember the last time I wore shorts. I also don't like shorts because of the feeling of the air moving on my skin as I walk which this brings up a good point I must say; remember, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. Myself, I wear what I wear to minimize the social impact of my presence. However, other people on the spectrum may only wear firm fitting clothing due to sensory issues; and then again another person may wear very loose fitting clothing.

When I flag I am in short sleeves as this photo proves. However, while I am flagging I am in my ultimate Kansas (see my glossary if you don't know my terminology) and Alias and I don't feel all that uncomfortable. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, we went out to eat after the racing on Sunday and I was out of clean long sleeve shirts so I was in a short sleeve t-shirt. It had been a while since I was in an open ended environment in a short sleeved shirt and the level of positional warfare was great. I kept moving my arms about and I kept crossing them in a futile attempt to minimize the signals I was emitting. Over time this diminished, somewhat, but it was a lesson that I need to prepare and not wear short sleeved shirts in public.

I always try to be invisible when I am in public. My goal is to be seen but not noticed. To be noticed risks being spoken to and since those conversations are always random I will do everything I can to be as bland and blank as can be. I achieve this through my clothing choices and feel at ease in black pants and typically a solid color shirt. Again, I always thought this was just out of routine, but boy I was wrong. Over the years I subconsciously developed this defense mechanism that I wasn't even aware of. I will once again mention that if you've met one person with autism, you've only met one person and if another person has an odd clothing habit there could be many elements in play. For me though, moving forward, I am thankful I defined this aspect because summer is coming and I always get asked, "Aaron, it's 100 degrees outside, why are you in long sleeves?" I never knew why I did, but now I do and am more comfortable than ever with this side of my life.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gas Man and a "Birthday?" at dinner

Home. Home? Yes, I will be headed home later today. Once again it is going to be weird to be going home after 11 days on the road. And what an 11 eleven days it has been!

The past two days I have been flagging the USAC Mopar .25 Midget series at Orange Show in San Bernadino, California. Saturday was a long day thanks to my inability to apply sunscreen (I have the burns on my arms to prove it!). Yesterday seemed longer than it actually was thanks to a stubborn morning mist. Yes, even though I was in Southern California the temperature was in the mid 50's and it was spitting a fine mist that delayed us for an hour.

Once the mist departed I had a new experience at a race track. In 16 years of flagging I never had this happen, but yesterday I had an honorary starter. For those of you that don't know what that is, many times at races there is an honorary starter. This person waves the first green flag of the day and is usually a sponsor, or in this case, as it was yesterday, a celebrity or person of fame within motorsport. Who was this person? As the title of this post says, it was The "Gas Man". For those of you who know racing you probably already have guessed it was Tom Sneva, the 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner.

At first I had no idea what to say or what to do with an honorary starter. He came up into the flagstand a couple minutes before we started and I was standing there in a heightened state of awkwardness. I mean, what do I say? Here I am and here he is, 1983 winner of the Indy 500 and also the 1st man in Indy history to qualify in excess of 200 and 210 miles per hour.

What I decided to do was ask a question I already knew the answer to. To start the conversation I asked, "Was Duane Sweeney the flagman when you won?" I used this line to establish a conversation and explained how I started flagging. After this the awkwardness went away and we conversed for the following few minutes.

As the first race rolled out on the race track he asked me a very important question, "Any advice for waving the green flag?" I stumbled for an answer and I answered with the #1 most important thing to do when flagging, "Don't drop it and it'll be great!"

The first race field got lined up and I gave the signal to let the drivers know that the race would begin the next lap. I handed Tom the green flag and as they got to turn three I yelled, "Green green green" and he waved the flagged with much enthusiasm and the race was on. The yellow flag would fly quickly and Tom Sneva thanked me and I thanked him for being part of the event and I thought to myself what an honor it was to share a flagstand with the "Gas Man" himself.

The rest of the racing went by quickly and if you have followed my blog a long time you know that when I flag there is nothing more important than perfection. Perfection isn't aimed for, it is expected and this weekend perfection was achieved. It was a great weekend!

Last night we had dinner at a restaurant near the hotel and the total group was thirteen people. The tables they gave us were in the middle of the dining hall and instantly I was outside my comfort zone. It was noisy, and there was so much going on. I could hear so many conversations and I could see so many staff walking about.

At the track I feel invincible and my posture is great. I guess you could say there is a confidence about me. However, at this dinner, I was as opposite of confident as possible. Now, before you start, don't think that this is the most horrible thing in the world. This is simply the challenges of the autism spectrum. I used to avoid these situations at all costs, but now I am opening up so even though I will write about this challenge, I face it openly.

So anyway, there was much noise and many different conversations and I instantly fought the "positional warfare". To make matters worse I had a short sleeved shirt on. I hope to explain the clothing thing on a blog post later this week as I feel this is an important thing. Anyway, I kept moving my arms about and the level of worry about the space I was in was at an alarming level.

The more I experience it the more I am in awe of the power of the positional warfare. In my presentation I state that it is the old saying of, "uncomfortable in one's one skin" and like, "an itch one can't scratch". The level of ill-comfort grew and grew until the food arrived. As soon as I started eating I had direction. I opened up and started to talk much more than I was. Having the simple task of eating gave me enough direction that I no longer could feel the space I was in. I didn't question the angle of my arms, or my posture, but I was free in the simple task of eating.

The sense of relief while eating and dissolving the position warfare was something that unless you have felt it my words would simply be empty. In an event, dinner went on and when it was over I was slowly creeping back into worrying about the space I was in. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flickering much like a candle. I looked over and indeed it was a candle. It was a waitress walking over with a cupcake. I thought it must be someone's birthday and the waitress, as she neared me, looked at me and said, "So, it's your birthday?" What?!

I was already in a fog, and now it suddenly was my birthday. For the record, my birthday was three months ago. Nobody else believed this and suddenly, "Happy Birthday" was being sung. As this was going on I still had a dumbfounded look upon my face, but I think I still had a smile on my face. The smile grew as I thought to myself that a couple years ago I would have adamantly protested such an event. However, how often is it that I get the chance to have Happy Birthday sung while in California on a day after an amazing race weekend?

Why was it my birthday? I don't really know, but it was a great ending to a great trip. I am on my way home now and will be in my own bed tonight. It's going to be somewhat weird, and somewhat sad as this trip, this amazing trip that I have felt such a high amount of growth, is going to be over. Again, thinking about how I would react to this several years ago, an ending like this would have depressed me greatly. Now? I am not sad because I know a trip like this will happen again and when it does, well, I can't wait for the next one!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Change

Welcome to a special early Saturday morning edition of my blog. Normally I don't update on the weekend, but I can't sleep due to having way too many thoughts of the past week swirling about.

As I mentioned in the previous post, today was the day I went from giving presentations to being at the race track. The change itself proved to be harder than I thought as the track's name is Orange Show and someone said it was at the fairgrounds so I assumed it was the Orange County fairgrounds. Little did I know that it wasn't so what I thought was going to be a 10 minute drive turned out to be a near 100 minute trek.

Before I was dropped off, the professor I was staying with and I ate at Arby's. The emotions were almost crushing at this point in time because this was it. Goodbyes are typically hard, but having such a an amazing time this past week made it so much worse.

Lunch was finished and it was time to make the block-and-a-half trip to the track. Once there I grabbed my stuff from the trunk and was asked, "Are you good?" and I said, "Yes, this is it." And that was that.

With my ride gone I stood by the score tower feeling way out of place. Usually I know exactly what to do and where to go at a track, but now I was standing feeling as if I were lost. The problem here was I had been in presentation mode for so long that my mind didn't exactly know what to make of this change; and what a surreal change it was. I mean, the scheduling worked out great for this opportunity to come out to the LA area to give presentations and then to go to the track.

Slowly I began to walk around, but it was as if I had never seen a track before. Transitions are rough for those on the spectrum and from going to one Kansas to the other so quickly was as confusing as if the sun were to rise in the West.

The walk continued and I saw familiar faces, but while they may be familiar it was the sort of familiarity that one could have if a person saw a face in a dream and then tried to place it.

Mother nature wasn't helping out as the sun beat down upon me. Clouds? Not a cloud in the sky so I stood near the grid area looking for someone I really knew. After what felt like all afternoon but in all reality was more like 40 minutes I saw Butch, one of the USAC staff. and I instantly asked him how the previous races that I missed went.

The change finally began to set in as I heard stories from the week's past and then another official, Kyle, joined in and the previous week of my life slowly began to dissipate. As soon as I found James the change was complete. It took a while but it was like I had never left the Nashville race that happened a little over a month ago.

For the following hours of the day I stayed at the track and just soaked it all in. Today was just a set-up and sign-in day and to call a day like today exciting would be much like calling a walk to the mailbox and back exciting. As true as this may be I soaked in every second from conversations at the merchandise table to wondering how many times I heard a certain song over the PA system. To be out, to be talking, and to be at a racetrack over 1,000 miles away from home is something that I love to the point that any words I try to use to describe the feeling of utter completeness would fail.

After the track, at dinner, I tried two new foods thus continuing the streak of trying something new while away from home. I will say I was somewhat forced to try one of the two though, but even that just made the whole experience better.

Tomorrow the racing begins. The previous week of presentations are still with me, but tomorrow is a race day. When I get back to Saint Louis I know it is going to take me at least a week to catch my breath, but tomorrow is a not a day to do that. I'm probably babbling on right now as the melatonin takes effect so I will say good night, and say that I believe tomorrow's races are being streamed on the internet. The link for this is http://www.usacracing.com/quarter_midgets/25_live.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Today is a day of very mixed emotions. On one hand I had happy to have survived the college classroom yesterday, and on another hand I am happy to get to the USAC .25 midget race later this afternoon, and yet on even another hand I know that this trip, this long trip of autism awareness raising that began on March 31st, is winding down.

Another aspect that is difficult is saying goodbye. All in April I traveled alone and stayed alone. Personal interactions were left only to be done at presentations. Since Monday, however, I have stayed at a professor's house and have had many conversations. In fact, on Tuesday night, we went indoor kart racing. Last night I played Monopoly with his kids. So while April was a month of being alone, this month has started with the complete opposite.

There's been something about this trip that I know will be with me for a wile. Because of this I am not looking forward to it coming to an end. Saying goodbye is something I do coldly, yet while I may have a cold exterior my emotions are always spiraling in every which way.

I know on this trip, as well as the trips that preceded this in April, I have grown. The fears of new places is all but gone and I am entering towns, cities, and airports unafraid. As great as that is I still have the same issues of speaking up for myself, and getting attached to the places I go, but all in all I wouldn't have it any other way. In a few hours I am going to have to say goodbye to the family I have stayed with, but the journey must continue.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Nerves: A New Audience

Later today I will be talking to a new audience. I am rather nervous because I know how to present to parents, and I know how to present to teachers. However, today I am giving my presentation to a psychology class at a university in California and I am feeling nervous.

I have gotten to a point that I don't get nervous anymore. There are no butterflies in the stomach, no jelly legs, and no racing thoughts. It is truly and simply, "start talking and continue until end". Today isn't that easy because I am wondering if I need to change any of my words or any of my examples.

In the end I believe I will keep everything the same, but that doesn't prevent the debate that is raging right now. I wonder though if my words will be heard. Will they have an impact? I guess we could call this, "trying something new" and as usual there are so many thoughts and fears with the unknown.

I know I will think myself into a frenzy, but regardless I am about four hours away from this presentation. If I get the chance to do this a 2nd time elsewhere the nerves won't be as great, if at all, but today is a new experience and a new audience.