Friday, September 30, 2011

I Need YOUR Help

In April asked for donations for TouchPoint, but for the first half of October I'm asking for your help once again. This time though I don't ask for donations, but instead I need you to vote.

Vote? Yes, Monsanto is running a contest and the top three vote getters will get a grant. You can help this happen. To vote please click HERE. There is no direct link so you will need to do a search for autism, find TouchPoint, and vote. You can vote up to 100 times a day and voting runs until October 16th.

Please help my passion in life by helping raise awareness of autism by voting!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Day Closer

With each passing minute, hour, and now day I come closer to moving day. I still don't know how I feel about this. As I woke up today I thought that what I am about to do is every teenagers dream; freedom. However, I never thought this would or could happen.

Is this the next step in life? Is this that small step towards true independence? Am I ready? Those three questions kept me up last night and since I won't know those answers until the moving truck as long since left and I am alone.

I would write more on this today, but I would just be repeating myself over and over again... and an all day meeting is about to begin so as I often say, I'll try harder on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moving Day Set

The day has been set! October 8th will be the day I move from where I am, and have been for over eight years, to where I will be.

One reason this date has been set is because of my presentation and travel schedule (I'm going to New York City next week) and another reason is my friend Rob, from Vancouver, is coming to visit and my dad and I volunteered him to help out.

That day will be a day I never thought would happen in my life! What's it going to be like? I've already started some minor packing and, as much as I've traveled this year, it feels like I'm just packing for a weekend trip and not a true move.

Last night, as I headed down the basement stairs headed for bed, I recounted all the times I did that. Eight years is a long time and to think there is only a little over a week left. As excited as I am to move, am I going to be able to accept the loss of what is now? On top of all that Teddy the Yorkie has started sleeping on my bed in the mornings. He's been there for about two years and always sort of ignored me and now it's as if he's saying, "Don't go Aaron!"

It should be an interesting run-up to the 8th of October and I suspect I am going to do everything I can not to think about it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"I'll Buy if You Fly"

Before the ordeal of Sunday I experienced an episode like The Banana Boat of Canada on Saturday. As confused as I was last year I once again experienced several moments of sheer confusion.

Saturday morning at the track was nothing short of miserable. A bone chilling wind was in the air, crisp temperatures, and an annoying rain were the conditions. This had us in a holding pattern and the only thing there was to do was to watch it rain.

While sitting in the trailer waiting for the rain to stop one of the other staff asked me where I got my hot chocolate I was drinking. I said that it was from the concession trailer and then he mentioned he wanted one and said, "I'll buy if you fly."

Instantly I was confused. I tried to look as if I knew what was going on but I was as lost as an ice cube in the Sahara desert. I tried to piece the sentence together, but all I could think about was where I was going to fly to. I mean, I've got a plane ticket to New York City next week so I was wondering why he was going to buy my ticket when I already had one.

Usually, if I've heard a non-literal saying before I am good at knowing exactly what it means. However, when I've never heard it, I get confused and I was in a state of confusion. I repeated back his sentence in a form of a question trying to understand it still thinking about plane trips to far off places when our grid official said, "Aaron, that means he's paying for it, but you gotta go get it."

After hearing the real meaning I lost all respect for the saying. There were no plane trips involved, not fun excursions through airport security, but rather me walking through the rain and mud to get him his hot chocolate. In the end I walked to the concession stand with him and got myself some food, and while walking I still had trouble shaking the literal interpretation from that line in my head.

I'm sure this won't be the last time I come across a non-literal saying. The grid official in that trailer, I think, could see the utter state of confusion I was in trying to deduce the meaning. It's fitting this happened last weekend as I gave a police presentation this morning and in those presentations I talk about some of the disasters of miscommunication that can happen between a person on the spectrum and a non-literal saying. Thankfully, there was no disaster this time; just a walk in the rain and mud to the concession trailer and the knowledge of if I hear, "I'll buy if you fly" again I know, if I agree, I'm about to have to go somewhere.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Sit in the Grass

There I was, kneeling in the high grass under gray skies feeling defeated. All felt lost and truly the sense of being defeated was felt.

Just a few days prior to that opening line I was feeling a sense of euphoria as I had penned down a place of my own. It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, but nonetheless it looked like a lock that I would, for the first time in my life, have a place of my own and be living on my own.

The sound of the passing cars and semis on the interstate stayed constant. I watched car after car pass and I stared into empty space lost. I was alone, scared, and completely unsure of what to do or where to go, not that I could go anywhere at this point in time.

Just hours before that line I was manning a flag stand fully confident in all my movements and decisions. Life was great, easy, and fully enjoyable. This was Kansas at its finest and I was living it up. It was a brief day though as what was supposed to be a one-day event turned into a two-day as for some reason Mother Nature was not a racing fan on this day.

Light droplets of rain began to fall and I looked upward thinking, “Well, if anyone does stop at least they won’t suspect that these are actually tears.”

When the short race day was over I was thrown for a curve, as I would be taking another person’s vehicle to head to Indianapolis, where my car was parked, and the other staff would be going elsewhere. This somewhat concerned me because 1. I am always worried about destroying other people’s property and 2. What happens if I get pulled over? I’ve seen too many police shows of people driving another person’s car and getting in trouble.

Trouble? As the droplets of rain subsided I didn’t really care what happened to me. Emotionally I lost any sense of caring. It’s not like me to be kneeling in tall grass, but I was at a point of not really having a choice as my hyperventilating had gotten to a point that my vision had started to blacken.

I left the track in the unfamiliar car and was feeling rather tired after the lackluster night of sleep I had the night before. It was only two hours to Indy and then another 3.5 back home to Saint Louis. I thought that this wouldn’t be that bad of a drive.

The constant roar of cars and the howling of semis began to wear on me. It was constant, and what had seemed like days was only 30 minutes, but still I wanted to scream. In fact, I did a couple times. On the side of the interstate, with loud vehicles to the left, and a cornfield to the right, and more bugs than I cared to ever be with, my screams were not heard.

It was about 25 minutes from the track before I got onto I-70 and then, just six miles or so in, I heard a loud pop. I thought this might have been a rock that had been left over underneath the vehicle from being at a dirt track, but then my eyes were directed downward to the dashboard and I saw the tire light come on. I thought nothing of this as my car’s tire light is always on despite all tires being at optimal pressure. Then, suddenly, the car veered hard right.

What would happen if? This started going through my mind and it wasn’t helping anything. I could play that game all day long and I did. I thought back to just less than 24 hours prior when I was flagging and a car went wide in the final corner and hit the stand I was in. The impact wasn’t the heaviest in the world, but it was enough to move the stand of the concrete blocks it was on and the drop threw me back and I didn’t stick the landing. It could have been worse as the only lasting effects from this is that I learned the funny bone isn’t funny at all, but then again, what if the stand had flipped…

I was in trouble; it happened so suddenly I only had time to react. The SUV I was driving veered hard right and almost went into the grass on the right hand side. I corrected and was on the verge of overcorrecting, but I caught it. I dropped my speed down wondering what had just happened. I noticed the steering wheel had to be way cockeyed to go straight, then I heard a “blarump blarump blarump” noise and I figured a tire had gone. I pulled off, and fear set in.

After reliving the previous day’s race and wondering just how worse that could have been I thought back to how much I feared what I was going through. As a child there was a time we pulled off on the interstate and my dad popped the hood and I screamed and screamed and screamed. This was at a time in my life that I had no clue of the actual danger of this, but since it had never happened before and I had never seen it firsthand it was truly traumatic.

I straddled the grass with my car because I was afraid of being hit by a speeding semi; so scared in fact I got out of the vehicle on the right hand side. I was fearful at this point in time, but it still was manageable as I was assessing the situation. I figured it was the right front tire that was the issue and indeed it was as it was flat. This was my second flat of the year, but the first one I stopped at a busy gas station. This was a far different animal as this was a speedy interstate.

I remained in the grass, shaking, still fearing that errant semi I knew was coming. This train of thought was unbreakable. I guess there was some irony in this as just 5 hours prior I was told that I was the, “most pessimistic person in the world.” I wish I weren’t, truly, but I unfortunately remember every disaster or accident I see and I have seen one too many police camera shots of cars broken down on the shoulder being hit with a force that is unimaginable. After remembering this I regained the knowledge of why I was so far off the road in the grass because if the car got hit I wanted no part of the impact.

What to do? I was still of an able mind so I texted the head staff guy and the flurry of texts and calls began. There was no one answer. Do I ride back with someone else? What about the spare? Was there one? Yes there was, but who was going to change it? I may know how to flag a race, but there’s a reason why I am in the flag stand and not on pit road. Minutes passed and still I had no idea what was going to happen. Despite having so many people pass me doing 70+mph and having other people on the phone either by voice or text I truly was alone.

This was the ultimate metaphor to describe how I often feel. Despite being around other people, I often feel alone, isolated or rather cut off from the world. It’s one thing to live this is a metaphorical sense, but to truly be experiencing true isolation was too much. Slowly self-hatred crept in and there I was, still sitting in the grass, bitter, staring off at the “Rest area ¾ miles ahead sign” wondering just how different I’d be feeling if I had true interaction, if I had been able to limp to that rest area.

I called my dad and explained the situation and frankly stated, “How do I calm down?” I felt the tempest blowing up and all the things my dad said were said for naught. I was gone. I abruptly would hang up when others would call and I got to the point that I quit answering the phone. The last call I answered said that the race director of this series was on his way to help me, but he was 30 minutes out.

As I remained kneeling I began to doubt everything I am and this is a dangerous thing. I went down the mental road of envying everything I am not. This is the dangerous part because when one sees what they aren’t they lose sight of who they are. I was in that state. I wanted so badly to be anyone but me at that point in time. I couldn’t help the thought of that; maybe if I weren’t on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be having such a severe reaction to the events. A normal person very well might be able to go through a flat tire without becoming a shaking, hyperventilating wreck. It were these thought that led me to where I was.

A few minutes after I hung up the phone I began a slow walk towards the cornfield. I looked back at the traffic coming at me and feared as many of the semis did not move over a lane. I was truly scared and this confused me as, at some races, I am standing on the racing surface without fear. I showed one of the staff of this race a video of me starting a SKUSA SuperNationals start with me in the middle of the road on a rolling start and then waving the green while running off the track and he said, “I’d never do that, you’re nuts!” With that I do that without fear and with full confidence and in this situation I was as afraid as I could be. With that being so I walked towards the high grass and my breathing picked up even more. Faster and faster my breaths went and also to did my rage.

For several minutes my eyes did not abate from looking at the rest area sign. The sound of the cars passing became like a constant hum of conversations one might hear in a crowded store or restaurant. I hear these in public, but usually am not involved in them. Again, I thought the irony of the situation was a bit absurd, but then my thoughts took a nasty turn as I convinced myself that I was not compatible with this wide-open world. I made a Facebook post stating this and it was something along the lines of, “Why try if I know I will fail?” One thing, with that line that I was alluding to, was the prospect of me living on my own. If I couldn’t handle a simple flat tire then how on this great green Earth could I handle life on my own? Then, a familiar voice said, “Aaron?”

It was the race director. I hated being seen like this with the obvious signs of severe hyperventilating and tears, but I guess that couldn’t be helped. Having him show up was like a derailment of the thoughts that had been swirling. I quickly checked my phone and saw a text stating that AAA was on the way. To get me going on the road faster he started getting out all the tools and spare tire and the first bit of good news was seen when the spare tire was a full size and not one of the tires I personally define as, “not safe at any speed.”

Quickly we learned that it isn’t so much to have all the tools and tire, but nothing can be done when the lug nuts are essentially warped in place. Truly Rick, the race director, was jumping on the tire iron to try and loosen them up but the lug nuts were steadfast in their belief that they should remain in place. About this time AAA showed up and when the AAA mechanic tried to loosen them he said he had just the tool for the job and he went and got a really big hammer and he hammered at the tire iron until they got loose.

Within 10 minutes the tire was changed and what had been an hour of pure torture due to the external events of the flat tire, and the internal warfare that was being waged debating on if I have any abilities in life whatsoever, and what my worth is on any level, was over. With such an emotionally traumatic experience having happened I feared I would be in no shape to drive. However, I walked with confidence around the hood and waited for a gap in traffic and when there was one I darted into the car, started it up, and was back on my way.

Even though I was back on my way the debate on if I could live on my own was heavy on my mind. I then thought of the contrast I had experienced. When I flag, well, I am confident and within an hour of being in the place I feel most comfortable I was taken down a road that put me in a place of supreme loneliness. How could this happen?

I stopped to eat and checked my phone and went to Facebook where I saw someone respond to my deeply sad status update by saying, something along the lines of, “Aaron, don’t give up. There’s hard times, but remember all the people you have helped.”

That line stayed with me and when I left I, in a way, felt like I let everyone down by this episode. It wasn’t by choice that I began to panic about being alone, or being struck by a semi, or having a police officer come to my aid only to arrest me for grand theft auto, or to have a stranger stop only to rob or kidnap me. It wasn’t a choice at all. I kept trying to say that this happened because I was weak, or not good enough for the world, and then I finally came full circle and realized that this simply was my autism side showing itself.

The unknown is a scary place and being in an unknown location totally helpless is one of the greatest unknowns. As I got to Indy and got back into my car I began to let go of the self-hatred I had experienced. While that may have been the case I was still timid on the prospect of having a place of my own.

As I went through Effingham, which is about the halfway point between Indy and Saint Louis, I thought that if I do not venture out I would have nothing to say and nothing to grow off of. To be honest, while I was sitting in that grass I was ready to declare that the world had won and I was going into recluse mode and never showing my face outside again because, well, if the world is always going to play dirty and throw me curveballs, and nails in tires, what’s the point of being out there? Again though, if I don’t take the chance I will always be exactly what I am. Isn’t being human though about growth and pushing one’s self? If we accept what is will anything ever be better? This isn’t to say that we should never be happy with what is, but if we don’t accept the idea that we can always grow then, well, one will always be stay where they are.

That last paragraph was thought of and rehashed and thought of some more all the way home. Once home I got out and noticed that no one else was home so I started bringing my stuff into the house accepting full well that this house would remain my home. At this point in time I decided this would remain home. Why go out? Why rock the boat if I don’t need to? Then I walked into the backroom and noticed on my computer keyboard there was a key. This key was to my place that I referred to as the potential, “place of my own” and there it was just in the open like it was a key to an irrelevant door somewhere long forgotten. I stared at it for a good minute and took a step towards it with a grin. I didn’t throw it away, nor did I call the owner to say I was giving it back. Instead, I smiled, and placed it on my key ring with every intention of living life, growing, and keeping with the plan of having a place of my own.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Place of My Own?

Oh my! To add to the big events that have happened this week (see yesterday's post) I now have an offer to move to a place of my own. This is something that at almost every presentation I get the question of, "Well Aaron, do you live on your own?"

To that question I always say, "I think I could, but up to this point in time I've never had the means to." Now, I have a place, should I take it, that I can afford.

I have a mix of emotions right now as this is something that truly just popped up while I was driving to Indianapolis. What had been just something that I could only think of in a hypothetical situation may very well happen.

In fact, it is all but a done deal. The key has been delivered to my dad and when I get back from the USAC events from Eldora I can start the moving process.

Is this going to be easy or difficult? I'm not sure as this is something that, well, has never happened in my life. I've always imagined that when I did get a place of my own I would become this hyper neat freak. What about food? I've already heard several jokes that I need to do a video blog while I cook and burn the place down. Sadly, I don't think that this would be that big of an exaggeration of my cooking.

What will become of this? Whatever does it should make for some interesting blog material!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who? Me?

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, something happened that I thought never would. I made the cover of a magazine. Dayna Busch, editor of the Missouri Autism report, interviewed me and here's the results.

Aaron Likens to speak at Touchpoint conference
Interview by Dayna Busch, editor

                  Many parents, submersed in the depths of raising children, find themselves thinking, “When he gets older, I’m going to ask him why he did that.” Multiply that several times as parents struggle with the difficult, often unexplainable actions of a child with ASD, and it becomes very clear why parents flock to hear Aaron Likens speak; Likens can tell them “why”.
                  After a history of inaccurate diagnosis with bleak prognosis, Likens was finally diagnosed at age 20 with Asperger’s Syndrome. This answered many questions, but failed to solve the problem. However, Liken’s analytical style of thinking, started him answering his own “whys” and he developed some very sensible solutions, a whole book full of solutions, to be exact.
                  His first book, Finding Kansas, scheduled for re-release April 3, 2012 under a division of Penguin books, describes the world as seen through the eyes of a young man with Asperger’s.                 
                  His unique insight is proving to be a boon to parents of children on the Spectrum by helping to unlock their understanding of the inner struggles of the person with ASD.
His unique insight is proving to be a boon to parents.

                  Likens’ perspective quickly gained the attention of Touchpoint Autism Services, who snatched him up to serve as their Community Education Specialist. He now travels across country, sharing is insights and speaking to parents. “I use a mixture of examples and humor to connect with the audience and my metaphors help the audience understand what life on the spectrum is like,” explains Likens.
                  He seems to be gliding through life, with a “wouldn’t change it” attitude that serves him well. “Everything had to happen just so, to get me to where I am now,” says a positive Likens, though he does admit that an earlier diagnosis might have made his school career a bit smoother. This, however, is exactly what he is now doing for parents and children who are dealing with various forms of Autism. By sharing his personal experience, he is making their paths smoother.
“That was the moment in my life that I had the most anxiety...”

                  Often touted as the next Temple Grandin, Likens is likewise challenging the stereotypical viewpoint that children with Autism cannot be helped. When asked about the comparison, Likens explains, “My writings have been compared to her rather frequently and I’ve been called the Temple Grandin of Asperger’s Syndrome. I saw her speak in 2006 and then again in 2010 at the USAAA conference. At the same conference, I was on a panel with her and that was the moment in my life that I had the most anxiety. Here I am, new to the field, next to the original and most respected name [in Autism]. I knew if I said anything she disagreed with she would immediately let the world know it, but she nodded her head quite frequently with what I had to say. How do I feel when I’m compared to her? It kind of shocks me because I honestly don’t put much thought into the work I do, meaning because it just comes naturally, I don’t understand the impact of it, so when people say it is good, or compare me to her, it gives me an odd feeling.”
                  With books two and three completed and another in the works, Likens the writer, blogs his daily thoughts and experiences at http:// lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot. Com/. Here we get a little peek at what it means to travel and live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a process he admits is becoming a little more “manageable” with practice.
                  Likens will be speaking at the Touchpoint Piece by Piece Conference to be held on October 26, 2011 in Columbia MO. For more information, contact miriam.cullimore@touchpointautism .org or call (573) 874-3777.

Aaron Likens, diagnosed in adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome, is a popular author and speaker on Autism, and serves as Community Education Specialist for Touchpoint Autism Services. In his spare time, Likens is the USAC .25 Quarter Midget National Series flagman, and enjoys bowling and golf.

Cover Photo by Craig Somers, Indianapolis, IN. 
Photo taken during the "Battle of the Brickyard,"
 USAC's .25 Midget Series race held at 
the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In a Pickle

I try to avoid fast food when I can, but with as much driving as I've done this year it has been unavoidable. When I do stop I have always stopped at Wendy's above any other place, but after my last experience I don't know what to do.

What happened? For 42years Wendy's used the same recipe, but for some unbeknownst reason what was good for so long became forgotten. The meat itself tastes the same, but my favorite part of the burger, the pickles, have changed.

The pickles of yesterday were a perfect mix of taste and pickling perfection. The new pickles almost taste as if they're trying to hard. They aren't the typical pickle green and the flavor of them is odd. Odd is the only word that I can describe them as. If you do a search on Wendy's and pickles on the internet and you will find out that I am not the only one talking about it.

Now, you may ask, "Why is this relevant to anything?" Besides the fact that I have lost a place to eat, this shows the potential backlash to changing what a person on the spectrum knows. Even if the pickles were better I may still have the same reaction. Then again, maybe not, but since it is worse I will be avoiding it.

This reminds me of the time The Olive Garden took away manicotti. I like sameness and when I do like something I don't want it to change. My current favorite place to eat, when I am in Saint Louis, is Lion's Choice. What I got the first time there is what I continue to get. If they were to change what I like I would be put into the same box now; what do I do when what I like is taken away?

Do I give the pickles another chance? I'm not sure. In today's social media age the customers truly have a voice. Look at what happened to Netflix after they were going to readjust their prices. They thought it would be a good idea, but after losing thousands upon thousands of customers they went back to their old pricing. Could this happen here? Could they go back to the pickles I remember? I hope they do because I have always loved going there, but then again I always loved going to The Olive Garden and I've only been there once since they took away my favorite dish of manicotti.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Numbers Crunched

I don't have much time today to write as I just got to the office from a meeting this morning and I am about to go to a doctor's office, but yesterday I compiled the numbers of my presentations and was in shock.

So far, in my career at TouchPoint, I have given a total of 161 presentations with a total of 7,028 people hearing me. It's hard for me to grasp that I have done so many and that people want to hear me speak. I don't know what I do, and I know I actually look uncomfortable when people comment on how great the presentation was. To me there is nothing special about it and I'm just me.

I could write on this all day long, but I truly do need to get to the doctor's so I apologize for the shortness of this, as I said last time I had a post like this, and I'll try harder tomorrow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Day I Was On The Other Side of The Law

My title may be a bit extreme, but over the past month five or so people have found my blog by doing a Google search of, "living life on the other side of the law." With that being so I have come to the conclusion that I need to give the readers what they want.

It was about this time of year, three years ago. I was bowling in the very late league on Wednesday night and when it was over I headed home. The time was about 12:30AM and the drive home, typically, was uneventful as traffic was usually sparse. Now I do remember a time back in 2001 when there must have been a street racing crash and these three heavily modified cars were in a heap of rubble. That was the only time though anything outside of the ordinary happened. That is until this one night.

I had just passed Mackenize Road when all of a sudden blue and red lights were flashing in my mirror. Surely this wasn't for me as I know Watson Road at this time of night is one of the world's biggest speed traps. I tried to stay calm, but the lights weren't passing me and I pulled off and was followed.

My mind, at this point in time, was in overdrive. Why was I being stopped? If I wasn't speeding this must be serious. Did someone steal my car and do a whole lot of crimes and now the world thought I was public enemy #1? Did someone steal my identity and now I was wanted for atrocities in countries I had never heard of before?

Being so scared and in a state of absolute panic I began thrashing about my center console and glove box. This was probably disconcerting to the officer because I'm sure it looked like I was either trying to find something or destroy something.

When the officer made it to my window I rolled it down and he said, "Sir, do you know why I stopped you?" Words didn't come easy and I was slightly rocking back and forth and I almost blurted out that I was probably wanted in another country because I was convinced my life, as I knew it, was over. My mind fumbled about trying to come up with something that didn't involve the end of the world, but it quite simply wasn't happening.

After several more awkward seconds the officer asked for my license and insurance papers. I had my license, but it was the insurance papers that I was trying to find when I was thrashing about my glove box, and eventually I found it and handed it to him. With those in hand he disappeared.

I still didn't know why I was stopped. With this ambiguity I was now convinced my fears were becoming true. A few minutes passed and he returned and said, "Sir, I pulled you over because..." The moments between his because and the next word was the longest bit of nanoseconds in my life. I was sure this was it. Life was over, "your tail light is out." I heard his reason but it didn't process. There were no crimes at the level of atrocity and nothing major. However, because I was in such a internal panic his words were not processed.

When I give presentations to officers I sometimes tell this story because, without a doubt, I had to be one of the most suspicious individuals you could think of. I made no eye contact, my movements were jerky and erratic, and words were thought of long and hard as if I was trying not to say the wrong thing.

The ordeal wasn't over, "Sir, would you have any idea why your brake light is out?" Was this a trick question? How would I know? I'm not a mechanic, but then I remembered my run in with the horse. Hitting a horse does lots of damage and somehow it also did damage to the right rear tail light. I knew the answer, but why didn't the officer?

Truly, that last line played true. As I say in presentations, "I think, therefore you should know." and at this point in time, of all times, was the worst time for it to happen. I kept trying to find the words to explain it, but I knew, since after a few more awkward seconds that just because I knew he didn't know, that telling an officer in Saint Louis that I hit a horse would be much like telling my teachers when I was in school that my little Maltese dog ate my homework.

Then, I had a stroke of genius. Okay, it wasn't so much a stroke of genius as my eyes wandered to the pictures I had in my backseat. It was visible proof that I had, in fact, come into contact with a horse. I quickly grabbed it, and almost stuttering said, "I was in South Dakota last month and hit a horse."

"A horse?" the officer asked with a certain hint of inquisitiveness. The tone also sounded like this concept was so far-fetched that I had to be telling a lie the size of the Pacific Ocean. He grabbed the sheet of photos, looked at it, and said, "Wow, a horse?! Sir, you've had enough trauma for one year, but get that light fixed soon." and that was that.

My run on the other side of the law might not have been the most impressive spree of lawlessness, but for me it was a time of extreme stress. I did make one error that night and that was my opening statement should have been that I am on the autism spectrum. I am aware that I, at times, do look suspicious and add on top of that the stress that was going on and yes, he probably had every reason to suspect that I was hiding something.

Looking back on my life this routine traffic stop is one of the reasons where I am today. The year this happened was 2008. My book had not yet been released and working at a place like TouchPoint wasn't even in my imagination. Yet, when the chance came a little over a year later to do some part-time work for TouchPoint by giving presentations to police officers, I said yes because I saw the need to explain what goes on within a person like myself in a situation like that. Had this stop not happened I might have said no to that offer because I would have laughed at the prospect at myself being a lecturer and public speaker, and if that had happened you would not be reading this. But everything did work out, here I am and you are reading this and since I have spoken to around 1,000 officers! And to think, all this and everything I am now all might have started the night I was on the other side of the law.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Thirst

I've been on this job/mission for 18 months now and it still hasn't gotten old. Every other job I had got stagnant after three months, but there's something I experience at every presentation I give that fuels my passions and that passion is "THE THIRST."

What is this thirst? The thirst is something that, if you're reading this, you have; it is the thirst for knowledge and understanding.

The thirst is important! To have the thirst is to acknowledge that, sadly, you do not know it all. This, however, is true for everyone, but for those on the spectrum it is dangerous for us to come across someone who thinks they know it all but in fact they know nothing. Myself? Do I know it all? If I did I would have already written everything and be retired, but every day is new and is a learning experience.

The thirst is important to have because when one doesn't have it, well, after I originally got my diagnosis I had no desire to learn more about my diagnosis. I had no thirst for knowledge because I accepted the idiotic fact that I would never be able to do anything. I closed my ears and eyes to any spoken words, or books about the autism spectrum. I felt hopeless.  I was in a bad place and since then I have learned that if there is no thirst there is no hope.

What I love seeing at my presentations is the tenacity of some parents. To them autism isn't a curse but it is a beautiful mystery and they want to do all they can to help unravel the mystery. How awesome is that?

With each day that passes I realize my mission is even more important. Autism understanding and awareness isn't something that has a season or comes and goes. The need is constant and ever growing. The rates are going up and new families everyday get the news that their child is on the spectrum. With that being so, the mission is one that continues on because for those new families it is critical that they don't give up; there is hope! But hope is something that can only take place if one is willing and has "THE THIRST."

I'd like to think that at least once a week I have a "home run" post that opens eyes just a little bit more and keeps "THE THIRST" alive. Typically, the word thirst is used in a negative way, such as being thirsty and dehydrated, but for those of you who read my blog everyday, and for those of you always looking for ways to better understand anyone and everyone on the spectrum, I truly want to commend you! It is you who keep my mission a realistic goal.

Without a doubt I believe that, "understanding is the foundation for hope" and it gives me so much pride to be asked questions at presentations that challenge my mind. These parents want to know more and want to do the right thing. I fear, though, that there are those out there who have given up, they see no hope. It is to this audience that I want to speak the most. I was there. I lived through it. I know the emptiness and pain of that place. But it doesn't need to stay that way.

If anything, this post is a thank you to all the people in the profession, those on the spectrum, and family members who read this blog, or any other blog for that matter, because the desire to learn more is the essence of becoming a better person and being able to better understand those on the spectrum. To drink of knowledge, to quench "THE THIRST," to face the challenge is where real hope can be achieved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Power of One on One

On Monday I had the post The Power of One. In it I stated that it is important that everyone should be aware and have understanding of the autism spectrum, but all it takes is one person to be ignorant of it to create an issue.

While writing that post I said that anyone and everyone can be an advocate for the autism spectrum. I think my line was, "even if it's just 10-15 seconds..." Okay, here's the thing, I got several comments as well as e-mails asking what, exactly, can be said in such a short amount of time?

To be perfectly honest, I've spent a good amount of time trying to come up with that answer. My presentations can go for 90 minutes, my book is tens of thousands of words long, but when in the crunch of the moment and there's just a sentence or two, what can be said?

Something, of course, has to be said. The true power of one is in all of us to make awareness a reality. But, what to say? Do we cover sensory? Social issues? Or do we mention that if they've met just one person with autism they've only met one person with autism? The answer, I believe, can't be a static one because, "If I've met one person who doesn't know about autism then I've only met one person who doesn't know about autism."

In Monday's post I mentioned the guy at the Salt Lake City airport who said, "I don't know about autism..." The original story was The 100 Gate Dash and I'm going to use that as an example. What actually happened was I heard that and turned away, but let's say I got to relive it. What would I do differently? The first thing I would do would be to ask, "Oh, you don't know anything about autism?" I feel, from experience, if I can get the person to ask about it the talking process is easier. In other words I'm putting the burden on them because who wants to admit that they know nothing about something? This one question, I feel, may extend the 10-15 second window to 25-30.

Once the foot is in the door, what then? If the airport man would have taken my bait I would have said something like this, "Well, I have a form of autism called Asperger Syndrome. It makes me more sensitive to the world that we live in." At this point in time I might have pointed out a faint noise to see if he could hear it. Continuing on, "Sometimes I need more help than others to get by in this world, but often times I ask people at the wrong times for help. We aren't all that professional when socializing so if I asked you for help locating my gate, I'm sorry, but when I worry about something it is the worst feeling in the world. I'm sure when you worry too it isn't good, but for those of us with autism everything is amplified. To put it simply, autism is life unfiltered."

That's what I would say and I would also like to point out that "Life Unfiltered" is most likely going to be the name of my 4th book when it gets released (that is still probably four or more years away). So yes, that's what I would have said in that moment had I not been in the state I was in, but each situation is going to be fluid and ever changing.

I'd like your opinion; if you had just a brief amount of time to explain it to someone who has no idea about autism what would you want to tell them? Of course I'd like the world to hear every word I say and read every word written by every writer on the spectrum, but that probably isn't going to happen. With that being said, what would you say?

Seeing the Past

Last week I talked about reliving the past, but after what I discovered this week a person can do more than just that. Anyway, Google Earth added a new function that allows, if the photos are available, you to see what it looked like in the past.

The second I discovered this I went to a County Park in Saint Louis County. Widman park to be precise and this is the current shot:

This picture may seem obscure as I'm sure you are trying to look closely to see why this photo has any relevance. Try as you might what you are looking for, well, it isn't what's there but what's no longer there. Here's the next photo taken from 1992:

The track that is in the photo is the same track that my story in my book called, "The Best Day" takes place. I learned to race at that track and also that is where I first flagged a race. To me, that ground is sacred, but on the rare occasion that I drive by it today it is just an empty field with just the ghosts of summer Sundays in its memories.

I'm thankful the picture from 1992 shows all the cars and trailers there. The picture was taken on a race day and when I started racing I looked forward to each and every raceday. Of course, the Saint Louis Karting Association always was on flood watch and there would be times we would practice on Saturday and then the river would rise and Sunday races would be cancelled. Oh, such good times!

The history that can be seen on Google Earth is astounding. To be able to see what the track looks like now, and to see it back when it was the spot to be at, well, in my life at least, on the weekends. To be honest I had to hold back my emotions the first time I saw that because of all the wonderful memories I have there.

I must hold back though. This ability to see the past is a slippery slope because how much can I see? They say time heals all wounds but my memory is overly good and now I can add visible pictures to the mix?! It's almost like we are getting to a time, much like my memory, that every second of the past is now. How soon will it be that we will be able to see Google Earth photos from every day of the year?

In any case, the memories of my weekends growing up are preserved. The last time I drove by Widman County Park I could almost make out the turns of the track and you can too in the "now" photo I posted. I knew what I was looking for though; anyone else who drives by will just see a field. An empty field; no signs, no plaques, no indication of the people and competition those grounds once saw. It's a shame, a pity, and downright sad, but for those that remember it it truly is more. I grew up there at that track, won my first race, flagged my first race, and lived my passion as a child. True, it is just a field now and, such as life, what is will always fade away, but in my memory it will always be like that photo in 1992.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Return of the Return of Sleep Issues

I feel this is a recurring theme on my blog and I don't like repeating myself, but yet again sleep issues have reared its ugly face.

Perhaps this current bout is being caused by all the stress and pressure I currently feel, or perhaps it is the changing weather, or maybe even it's allergies. Regardless the aggravation I feel is the same.

As I right this on this bright and sunny morning I am as tired as if I had been up for 24 hours. This is how I've felt for the past week at this time, but here's the annoying thing; come about 9PM I will be wide awake and ready to take on the world.

Before I started at TouchPoint these were my normal hours. I don't know, perhaps I am nocturnal and am just denying my true self, well, probably not, but before this job I would be up until 4 or 5 in the morning and sleep until 3 in the afternoon.

Last year, when I started at TouchPoint, I was the complete opposite with getting up at 5 in the morning and going to bed before 9 in the evening. These past few months I have tried to go back to that schedule, but it just isn't happening.

As I said though, before I started my job I would be up all night and this is when my greatest writing occurred. I had so many of my breakthrough concepts come to me out of the blue in the middle of the night. Perhaps there is a connection between my inability to sleep and writing as maybe this shows my subconscious is hard at work devising some better way to explain the spectrum.

While I do hope I can write something beneficial to the spectrum I am still annoyed at the current situation. Last night, after bowling, I took a melatonin and 2 Benedryls for allergies, but they also make one drowsy. That's enough medicine to put an elephant to sleep and yet, while I took those at 9:00PM I was up until 3AM!

The problem currently isn't just getting to sleep, but once I am asleep getting up is a monumental task. There's two reasons for this; first, and most obviously, is that my body is so tired, but secondly the dreams I have during these times of sleep issues are so real and so complex. Also, they are quick. As I kept hitting the snooze button this morning I was having full dreams in great detail.

As I think back to the pas year-and-a-half these bouts of nightly insomnia come and go and I do have some great writings that come from them. Take yesterday's blog post for example, I came up with that at about 2AM Monday morning and wrote it at the office the next morning. As much as I do complain about this it is something that I have learned to accept because of the things my mind creates during these spells. Also, I have learned not to fight this; when I can't sleep I simply can't sleep. And also, this week, the good news is I have two presentations and they are both in the evening.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Power of One

Recently I have been a bit on the spoiled side with having four presentations in the past month with over 100 people in attendance. I love bigger crowds, I'm not going to lie, but it wasn't until I was driving home late Friday night that I realized the power isn't in the bigger numbers.

My passion and mission is to raise as much awareness and understanding as possible and being able to do it 100 or more people at once is great. However, for there to be true understanding in this world we need to focus on the one and not the 100. What does this mean? All of us who are or know someone on the spectrum are advocates whether you know it or not. For those that attend my presentations, well, chances are they already are aware of autism. Out in the public though, this is where the power of one is.

Here's the thing; when a chance arises to inform a person about the spectrum you should take it. It is with the people who know nothing about the spectrum that need it the most. Speakers, like myself, can talk to big groups, but they already know of the spectrum. Granted, I'd like to think that I add some understanding in my presentations, but it is out in the general public that the ones we need to reach are.

I hope one day there is no need for a post like this, but I think back over the course of this year to times that I did state that I needed help and my plea fell on deaf ears. The quote I heard at the Salt Lake City airport will not soon be forgotten, "Sir, I don't know about autism and I have a flight I need to get ready."

Had I been in a better state I should have thrown it a quick thing of what autism is. This is the power of one; if we can get to as many people as possible then incidents like this might not happen. One person may not have the ability to make a situation perfect, but one person does have the ability to make a bad situation worse. And they may not mean to do so, but if they don't know about the autism spectrum and that those on the spectrum may need a little more help then they may choose the wrong words or actions without knowing it.

We're farther along than we were eight years ago when I was first diagnosed. I no longer have to explain Asperger Syndrome, or explain that I didn't say the word "hamburger" (true story, happened twice) but there's still a mass out there that may know the word autism but have no idea what it is, what it looks like, and what to do about it.

So, with all that being so, we all have the power when the chance presents itself. Now I'm not asking for everyone to grab a bullhorn and drive up and down the roads in the middle of the night spreading autism awareness (that would be cool though, although I'm afraid it wouldn't end well) but when the chance pops up, say, at the Salt Lake City airport, you can give a quick 10-15 second explanation of autism. We don't need to go into extreme depth but rather just enough to open the door of what autism is.

Here's what I hope happens. If you're reading this you already know about the spectrum, but if we can harness the power of one then maybe that person who now understands will come across another person who doesn't know about the spectrum and then they share it and so on and so forth.

I'm sure something like this has been thought of before, written before, and spoken of before, but truly the power of one lies with us. We can make the difference to that one individual who is ignorant of the spectrum. One by one we can make that difference and get us closer to a world where everyone is aware.

Update: Due to the wonderful comments I have to give my opinion what, "what do we say?" Right now... I'm processing so I might write a full on post about this, but I think a good place to begin may be my "Autism Is..." project and look down at the comments.

Second update: Tomorrow I am posting, "The Power of One on One" which will give my answer to what, exactly, could be said in the 10-15 seconds.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dream is Better Than I Imagined

While I was writing my book I never envisioned anything like what I've got today. I was writing for the sake of writing and to finally express who I was and why I was. Presenting never crossed my mind until I got to the chapter, "The 4th Wall."

I wrote that chapter to a certain song that had a real "what's coming is big" sound to it and while writing that I envisioned myself in a small town, somewhere, enjoying dinner by myself after a presentation that included the explanation of the 4th wall. I quickly disregarded those thoughts as too grandiose and too impossible.

Yesterday I drove to Marshall, Missouri for a presentation. I wasn't expecting a big crowd at all as when I was here earlier this year there were about 10 people there. The location was Missouri Valley College and I got there an hour early and saw that the room had about 100 chairs set up. This surely couldn't be for me, could it? I mean, who am I to get that many people in a town of only 10,000ish?

As 6:00 came (the presentation was 6:30) some people showed up. It started with five, then 10, and at 6:20 there was a line out of the room waiting to sign-in to get in. I was expecting 10, and at the scheduled start time people were still lined up waiting to get it. When I finally began there were over 100 people in the room!

I think back to the night I wrote the 4th wall and all the dreams I had. I told my dad that night about what I imagined while writing it and how I felt my words had the utmost of relevance, but I still shook in fear that no one would read it. On top of that I asked, "I can see myself presenting about this, but that can't ever happen! I mean, I can't talk to two people at once much less a group!"

My oh my, how times change! When I wrote that I wanted to be in new places big or small and spreading awareness. For some reason I thought of those thoughts I had those years ago and while I was at Applebees after my presentation I remembered who I was and I broke down. I had to stare out the window because I didn't want to see anyone see me, sitting alone, with tears in my eyes.

We all have dreams, I'm sure, but how often is it that we achieve those dreams and then forget where we were beforehand? That happened to me last night. I have my Missouri map and I've been all over the state, but at that Applebee's last night I remembered where I was those five years ago when I first allowed myself that iota of an inkling that I might just be presenting on this stuff that I was writing someday.

I quickly gathered my composure back and I sat there, in the crowded and somewhat loud place as most people were cheering over the Green Bay Packers lead over the New Orleans Saints, alone. Among all these people I was alone with myself with a great big smile on my face. Others were smiling because Green Bay had just scored, but I was smiling because I am living that dream. Yes, I am living that dream that I said was impossible and it is much greater, sweeter, and meaningful than I ever could have dreamt.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hitting the Road

I think I needed today more than I could imagine. In just a few moments, well, when I finish writing this I will be headed to Marshall, Missouri.

The past week has been difficult with the pressure I talked about on Monday and the headaches that rolled around too. I'm hoping that a nice three hour drive will give me time to reflect and clear my mind.

This is a short post, but I truly do want to get on the road... I'll try and make up for this by a long post tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reliving The Past

The headaches persisted last night and I tried to go to bed early, but sleep was ever elusive. Instead of tossing and turning and getting frustrated I turned to my iPhone and began random YouTube searches of television themes of shows I used to watch when I was younger. One show led to another and this was truly amazing as I could remember a show, look it up, hear the song, and then head over to Wikipedia to see what all the actors and actresses are doing now.

We live in such an amazing time and I wondered how anyone got by 30 years ago. I mean, how could you find out what an actor from a show you liked 20 years prior is doing now? Perhaps it was the headache talking, but I was blown away at trying to think of a world where I couldn't look up anything.

One thing about this though is that I feel time is different now. 30 years ago if you missed a sensational sports play, or missed a series finale, you were pretty much out of luck. Now everything is relived over and over again whenever one wants.

For me, since my memory is videographic, being able to relive the past in this way is rather unique because I not only see the video, but I can feel the era that I watched it. I'm sure most people could do this to a degree, but I can see the room where I saw it, and can feel the emotions I felt at that point in time. There is a downside to this; the themes that got stuck in my head all those years ago are back.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Long Night

Last night was horrible! It started out with something I'm used to which is not being able to sleep. I wouldn't call that something out of the norm as this occurs once every two weeks or so. I've learned not to fight not being able to sleep or I won't be able to sleep for even longer.

As 1:15AM rolled around I finally headed towards bed and at the same time a minor headache was forming. At first it wasn't that major, but where it was hurting I found odd as it was at the back of my head at the base of my skull.

I don't know how long I was actually asleep, but that minor headache exploded into one of, if not the worst, headache I have ever had.

The pain was crushing and along with it came nausea and severe dizziness. I tried to just fall back asleep but this was futile. My fear that this was something serious started to pop up so I found a thermometer that for some reason was in my computer bag but it came back with a reading of 96.0.

Okay, so no fever, nonetheless I went upstairs and took some Advil and went back downstairs. Somehow, at this juncture, the headache became even worse. Light began to hurt and the sound of the air coming through the vent was like more knives to the back of my head.

I began to worry just what exactly this was. I used to have headaches all the time but this level of pain was uncharted territory. At 3AM I went upstairs and woke my dad as my level of concern was creeping up towards panic mode. I was expecting him to be somewhat upset with me waking him up, but there was none of that.

Quickly, he arranged the ice cast (I have no idea how to explain this) he has for his shoulder (he had a 2nd surgery on his arm about a month ago) to be put around the back of my head.

After playing doctor he came to the conclusion that this was a severe tension headache. Perhaps the stuff talked about in yesterday's and the ongoing stress from just everything in general led to this headache.

It took an hour, but slowly the headache ebbed to a point that I could try to go to sleep. It was a long night and the last time I saw on the clock was 4:15. I truly hope this isn't a sign of things to come over because without a doubt that was one of the worst feelings I've ever had. As I write this I just have a minor headache, more of an inconvenience than a true pain, but the fear is there that this too will explode like the one last night did. Hopefully it does not, but I won't forget last night for some time and the pain that was there along with the way my dad did everything possible to help me feel better fast.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Ever Increasing Crushing Pressure

At this very moment I don't know if I have ever felt the way I do now. The past 1.5 months have had a lot of non-stop drama and before I can catch my breath another event occurs. Now, add all this up with the fact that my book will be rereleased in seven months and the end result is one very frazzled person.

How is this effecting me? My emotions are currently erratic and quick to snap. I usually am the least angry person I know, but recently small things have been infuriating me. Honestly, I have never once had any sort of anger towards other drivers on the public road, but the past week or so I have been getting visibly agitated towards other drivers. This has never happened before.

I feel, as each day goes by, as if the pressure and anxiety are increasing. There is so much to get done in regards to my book as well as the hope that I do a nationwide speaking tour next April. Those are huge plans, but nothing is for certain now.

What I am going through now is a clear example of how one issue can create issues on all fronts. Everytime in my life, when something has been weighing on me, I get the same results. The current era at the moment though is more acute than the others.

What's going to happen with this? I don't know, but I hope I can and somehow I hope I cane just forget what needs and could happen. I blogged about this sometime within the past three months and maybe in a few more I'll talk about it again. The bottomline is this isn't enjoyable but it is something that needs to happen. So, if you do talk to me in person, and I seem out of place or less responsive than I normally am, or perhaps I even get a bit snippy, it probably isn't you. With something like this on my mind I will be those things as I'm sure anyone would be to a degree. However, being on the spectrum compounds the matter so the pressure anyone would feel is amplified and again, I may be a bit snippy but it isn't you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nothing Corny About It

Last year at this time I was en route to Rock Island, Illinois to be an assistant race director for the Rock Island Grand Prix which is a go-kart street race around the arts district of Rock Island. This year I'm staying in Saint Louis to participate in a corn hole tourney.

On Sunday, the 5th annual Aiming for the Answer Cornhole Tournament will take place. It was hard to pass up another year at the Rock, but through this tournament funds will be donated to TouchPoint, Autism Speaks, and Action for Autism.

I will be in the tourney and know nothing about corn hole. In my one minute of research I learned that there is an American Cornhole Association. That being said it can't be that difficult of a sport, can it? I'll find out this Sunday at Kirkwood Park.

To promote this event Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint, was on Fox 2 yesterday morning, the video can be found here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Over and Over and Over Again... And Over and Over and Over................

We'll start this blog with a video aid:

Now what, you ask, does this have to with anything? The video above is the intro to the 1988 Indianapolis 500 and, without exaggeration, I must have seen this at least 1,000 times.

Back in those days the Indy 500 was shown weeks later on local television in Indy. Each year I would anxiously await the VHS tape from one of my two grandmas for the recording of the race. Once I had it I would watch it over, and over, and over again. There was something special about the 88 race; I'm not sure what, but without a doubt I watched this race more than any other.

Many parents have asked me why their kids watch the same thing over and over and not get bored while the parent, if they hear that "one song" or "one joke" one more time they are going to scream. Well, for me at least, each time I watched the race is was as if it was new all over again. It never got boring. I knew what was going to happen and yet I was always surprised when Danny Sullivan hits the wall while leading on lap 101.

Now I said I watched this many times and I was not kidding when I said, "1,000 times." How do I know this? As the story goes, I went through a couple  VCR's because I would watch, rewind, watch, rewind, watch and, well, you get the idea.

It just wasn't the Indy 500 I would watch over and over again. One Saturday afternoon there was a PBA (Professional Bowling Association) tournament that was on ABC and during this tourney a bowler had shot that he originally got nine of the ten pins, but then a pin rolled all the way around knocking the last one down. The bowler was so excited that he did a slide on the approach as if he were sliding into home plate at Yankee Stadium. The mixture between the sensory bliss of watching the pin roll all the way around and taking the tenth pin out to the bowler's extreme reaction made this the highest of sensory candy. If I knew the bowler's name, and could find it on YouTube it most certainly would be a part of this... and then again I might not be able to stop watching it.

Those are a couple of examples and truly, whatever the thing that is watched over and over again, it truly is as exciting as the first time. There is safety in knowing what's going to happen and yet it is like watching it for the first time.

Often I get asked, "How can I get my child to watch something else?" I don't have that answer because whatever is that one video, or event, is above all else. Even after I had the 89, 90, and 91 races on VHS I would still gravitate towards the 88 race. It wasn't until the 1992 Indy 500 that I had a new favorite. It didn't hurt that my favorite driver at the time, Al Unser Jr., won the race and it didn't hurt that I was at the event seated above the finish line it what would be the closest finish in 500 history. I was nine then, and yet even then I would watch the race over and over again. My favorite past time before school? Watch as much of the race as possible. When I got home and Press Your Luck was over? Yup, I watched more of the race that I had already seen more times than anyone else would like to recall.

Here's an odd thing now; I can't stand to watch something I've already watched. About 10 years ago there was a major shift and if a sporting event is tape delayed I won't watch it (because of that I am usually angry at NBC's Olympic coverage) and if it's a movie I've seen I won't watch it again. So parents, there might just be hope after all as eventually I got over watching the same things over and over again. However, I'm sure my mom and dad wish it came sooner because they probably know more about the 1988 Indy 500 than they ever wanted to and, perhaps, the sound of the Paul Page, the announcer in the video, sends shivers down their spine as they remember watching the intro over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over...