Thursday, August 11, 2011

Living the Mission

Yesterday was an amazing day in terms of the impact I had on people. It started early in the morning as I gave a presentation to police officers going through the Crisis Intervention Team training in St. Charles County. After that I gave my biggest solo presentation to date with nearly 300 people in attendance.

I don't usually get nervous before a presentation, but being in this school's auditorium was a bit daunting and intimidating. I mean, I'm used to small rooms with 10-50 people, not a stadium like environment with seats going to the ceiling.

The 300 people were all paraprofessionals and I am truly thankful that this school district I was got me in to speak to them because they truly are the front line with people that need help in the school setting. Before the presentation I talked to one of the district's administrators and it WAS SO REFRESHING to hear a higher up in a school district acknowledging that THEY NEED TO KNOW more about autism. I've heard so many stories across the state that paints a black picture about educators, but trust me when I say it isn't all districts or all teachers and there are those out there that are dedicated to raising the understanding.

Having that conversation before the presentation helped motivate me. I still was pacing around the lobby with 30 minutes until my presentation, but I guess anyone would in such a setting. It was odd timing as just a few days ago I said, "Oh yeah, I've done so many presentations I never get nervous." This instance brought me back to Earth.

It was finally time for my presentation and as soon as I started I felt right at home and I could feel the electricity in the air. I've noticed that with bigger groups and I even I can tell that I have a more captive audience the larger the numbers. My humor is sharper as I feed of the audience and the audience too is more energetic. Why is that? I have no idea, but some of my jokes had people in tears, while my more somber points also elicited tears more so than normal.

As my presentation wound down and I explained how Plan B happened in my life I felt a rush of emotion and almost lost my composure. It got worse when I mentioned that the work these paraprofessionals are doing now may not immediately show up. I can recount many events in my school career that took many years to show and I compared it to planting a seed that make take a long time to bloom. I'm sure it can be frustrating to work with those on the spectrum and often times I hear lines such as, "But how do I know what I am doing is doing anything at all?" and with my example of my 2nd grade teacher letting me present and back then I wasn't social at all and now I'm a presenter, well, tears were flowing. And it was then I realized that I am truly living my mission.

I think I have mentioned this many times with that being living the mission, but each presentation to me is much like my first one. I forget my impact and often have no idea if my points in my presentation will get across. Perhaps it is a small tragedy, but unless I am in the midst of a presentation I feel no pride in my ability to speak and often question if it is any good at all. And then again maybe this is what keeps me level headed and keeps the presentation from getting stale so to speak because each time I take nothing for granted and must prove myself.

Being home last night I reflected on some of the comments I heard such as, "Aaron, that was the best presentation we've ever had." and, "Now, and only now after hearing you speak I now feel like I can do my job the way it is intended because I never knew what my kids with Asperger's were feeling." I thought of those comments and felt as if I should have some emotional response, or some sense of pride, but there was nothing. That may seem sad, and I did have a gaping hole of emptiness within me, but again I feel as if it is this that I get my power to do what I do.

It's hard for me to measure if a presentation was good or bad, but I am elated that I got the chance to speak to such a large crowd and make a potential impact. I hope more and more school districts make the effort to educate educators about the autism spectrum because our numbers are growing and the school years are vital for a lifetime of success for someone on the spectrum. People with Asperger Syndrome can do amazing things in their lives, but first they have to survive the school years. With that being so I hope I get many more times to live my mission. I may not take pride or realize the true impact I am having now, but in the midst of a presentation I have no doubt my words are being heard.


  1. I was fortunate enough to be in your audience yesterday at FZ. I am a para, a teacher-in-training, and the mom of an amazing 13 yr old son who is challenged by Aspergers. I wondered if you ever speak to kids on the spectrum and if you have advice to offer them about navigating the school environment, using your area of interest to prepare for career, understanding and accepting Aspergers, etc. I applaud your courage and your passion to inform and provide HOPE. Thank you - you are a HERO!

  2. I too think that Aaron could have a very profound effect on persons challenged by Aspergers. So many times these folks are frightened, depressed and need a positive role model and direction or just someone to talk to that truly understands first hand what challenges they face.

    I believe I have heard that the biggest challenge that this concept faces is finding a large enough audience of Aspergers challenged individuals to speak to.

  3. @Anonymous I don't think finding enough people with Aspergers that would come to Aaron's presentation will be that hard actually. Just remember how many people have Aspergers and how many people live in one city...
    Might just be that I'm used to organising events, thus find it easy to do some PR for such a thing, so I'm seeing this too positive?
    I'd love for Aaron to come to the Netherlands sometime... There are plenty of times when I think 'it'd be great if Aaron could speak here...'

  4. @Issha - I agree. I don't think we'd ha ve troulbe finding an audience. I have a group in mind already! @Anonymous - that was my thinking with the question. I think these kids need positive role models who truly understand where they're comeing from.

  5. Aaron,

    I, too, am a para in the FZ district and was in the audience on Wednesday. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am inspired and feel more prepared for the start of our school year after listening to you. I also feel more prepared to advocate for my 16 y.o. son who is challenged with AS. He was thrilled when I gave him the signed book. I look forward to discussing it with him and having his sister and dad read it, as well. I hope my son will be able to hear you speak sometime soon. I believe that it will help him better understand who he is and see the real potential he possesses. Thank you so much!

  6. Aaron~ I was awed by your presentation on Wednesday. I received my bachelor's in sped and have some experience working with Autism. This year I will be a paraprofessional in FZ as well as continuing to work on my Master's in Sped w/ an emphasis in Autism and Developmental Disorders. I now have a much clearer view of how the mind of Asperger's works. I cannot wait to read "Finding Kansas" and through to the 4th book that you had referred to. You are truly an inspiration and I find it a blessing that you can wear so many hats such as "speaker" and "author". Kudos to you!

  7. A lot of times these professionals go to their profession's professional development workshops. They are good in their own right. However, rarely they will have someone like you to present to them in their arenas... as making it to present at their conferences are not easy. So, having them all in one setting is nice... and the fact that they are receptive of you is also excellent.