Monday, December 31, 2012

My 2012

I can't believe today is the last day of 2012! This has been the fastest 366 days of my life and I couldn't have imagined a more productive and action packed year.

January was a very busy month for me as I spent two weeks in the SW part of Missouri. I spent several days in Joplin, which was my first trip back to there since the 2011 tornado, and difference in what I saw from the previous time is something that will stick with me forever.

In February I turned 29 and the sense of time and age hit home when I learned that the person who always took my order at Fortel's had passed away.

A few days later my job title changed from "Community Education Specialist" to "Autism Ambassador." A week after that I put myself in a scary situation in Springfield. Thinking back on this I truly think I got lucky and since then I have been even more vigilant of my surroundings.

And a week after that scary situation I gave my 2nd presentation even to students. I was highly nervous about it and didn't really want to do it (partially because of the fear of speaking to such a group) but the presentation went with flying colors and it sort of set a tone for the year.

March set a tone in terms of how much I was traveling as I headed to Phoenix. However, the day I flew to Phoenix I gave a presentation to 100 teachers in the morning and then gave the keynote at the IDDRC at Washington University. My first race flagging of the season was in Phoenix and during a short break I was able to film this video that announced my nationwide speaking tour:

March had four races spread across the country, but the most memorable event, and I'm going to remember this day for a long time, was March 25th in Nashville. It was a normal race until this happened:     

I had big fears the seconds after this as I was in severe pain and did not know if I had anything broken. The fears weren't about my health at that moment, but whether or not I'd be able to go on my nationwide tour. How awful would it have been had my tour had to be cancelled due to injuries? The good news is that I didn't find out and one week later I was headed to New York City.

Of everything I have done in my life nothing could have prepared me for such an amazing 45 days that my tour was. There were radio interviews, print interviews, and even television interviews.

I could write and write about the tour and post many photos, but all in all it was the most phenomenal 45 days of my life and when it ended I made this video blog:

Later in May I got to do a video blog in a very fantastic place; the flagstand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This may not sound like an overly exciting thing for you, but for me it was like walking into a sacred place and was one of my highlights of the year.

The tradition of meeting ignorant golfers at least once a year continued in June. I enjoy playing golf and back in March of this year I had a hole in one. However, my interactions with golfers always seems to go quite awry and this happened again in Effingham, Illinois.

A couple days after the angry golfer incident I headed to Jefferson City for the Champions of Mental Health. I was one of the recipients of the award and there was a video about me. The 2nd video here is what I said when I received the award:

July and August had many races across the country. I flagged my first USAC National Midget race as well as a SKUSA race outside Salt Lake City, a USAC .25 race in Indy and North Carolina. Once again though I got a little too close to the action as this picture shows. I want to be known as one of the best flagmen but I'm also known as, "that guy who seems to get hit rather often."

Major things started happening in November with a string of presentations in school in the Southern part of Missouri. I never thought of such a thing; that being speaking to an entire school at once. But Jeri Carr, a coworker at TouchPoint, got it done and I had my largest presentation to date at 857.

A few days after the amazing four days in the Southern part of the state it was time for the SKUSA Supernats in Las Vegas. No matter what the year has brought those five days working that event are always my favorite and once again this year proved to be no different.

Then in December another amazing thing happened. A parent in Chesterton, Indiana had raised the funds to get me to that town and I spoke to every single student 5th grade and up in the Duneland School System. That was over 4,000 people spoken to! The picture shows what turned out to be my largest single presentation with 1,100 people there. In all my life I could never have imagined something like that.

So it was an amazing year to say the least. I probably missed some major stories in this year-in-review but if I were to touch on each amazing place I went to, or talk about each amazing person I met, or each story I heard then this post would have been as long as all my blog posts put together. Anyway, and I'm almost afraid to ask this, what does 2013 have in store? I think I've asked that each year but how could 2013 get any better or bigger? I'm not sure if it can but one thing is for sure; 2012 is a year I will never forget.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Numbers of 2012

As with last year, my next to last post of 2012 will involve random numbers from my year. Some numbers are highly relevant, others not so much...

# of miles driven for races and presentations: 20,215

# of presentations given: 110

# of people at presentations for year: 11,323!

# of people at my presentations for career: 19,672

# of blog views this year, as of 12/28/12: 118,100

Largest presentation: 1,100 (At a Chesterton, Indiana middle school

Most viewed blog post: “An Open Letter to the Media”

Most viewed month: April

# of hate mail received: 0 (2nd year in a row!)

# of horses hit: 0

# of times lost due to GPS: 1

# of times moved: 0… Thank goodness!

Longest presentation: 4 hours (twice)

# of race events flagged: 23
# of ER visits: 2
# of times I was referred to as a “Goomba”: 1

#of Canadians annoyed by my music/singing while I drive: 1 (sorry Rob, for the third straight year)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Destructive Wake of Catastrophic Generalizations

My previous two posts have been, perhaps, the most passionate I have ever written. Why is that? Right now I am feeling more emotions than I have ever felt in my life. The weekend was a somber blur with my family as, yes, I have been around them and talking but it feels as if I'm only half here. Where's the other half? In mourning of the past because my fear, as I talked about in Friday's post, is where I was nine years ago.

Nine years ago a generalization about the Asperger's destroyed the life I had up until that point. I got my diagnosis nine years ago this month. The moment of diagnosis when my doctor told me the news he told me, "good luck" and nothing else because he was simply reading what the assessment had told him and since he didn't know, exactly, Asperger's was he could tell me nothing else. With that being the case I turned to the internet, did a search, and read that, "All people with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy."

I read that early in the month and it wasn't really processed at that point in time, but that line, that line that almost read like a prison sentence, sat and simmered. What did it all mean? Slowly the simmering turned into a belief and I took those words for fact. I became bitter and I slowly began to drift away from my relationships with the biggest blow coming nine years ago today.

In my presentations I say this story somewhat in jest as looking back it was a very Aspergish thing to do. I had a girlfriend, only girlfriend I've had, and while I was drifting away I was still wondering if she still liked me because, in my mind, it was impossible that she did because, after all, I had this belief that anything positive was simply impossible because of the website I had read a couple weeks prior. What could I do to see if she still liked me? I certainly couldn't ask directly because that would involve emotions and emotional talk at the time was something I avoided at all costs. What did I do? I decided to go around the situation by deciding to break up with her because, if she still liked me, she would protest. How did I break up? Was it in person, or over the phone? Nope and sort of. Had I called that too would lead to emotions so I broke up via text message with the confidence that she would reply quickly and everything would be okay. I stayed up until 6AM and there was no call or text; my relationship had imploded in the most spectacular of ways.

The following 15 months were hell. Hope was something I didn't believe in all because of one sentence I read. To say that the generalizing line I read impacted my life would be like saying a comet hitting a planet is a minor event. This was a catastrophic shock to my being. I questioned everything about myself and believed that I could and would amount to nothing. Again, all this was caused by that one line.

Generalizing is something that is done and I, myself, will generalize about the autism spectrum. I will say that we typically have troubles communicating and socializing. But... and this is the biggest line, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. To say "all" about the autism spectrum can be rather detrimental.

If you've read my book, "Finding Kansas" or have read my blog for any amount of time you know I eventually came out of that deepest of depressions. However, these past few days I have been back in that dark place and have at times cried. I'm not sad because I've gone back to believing the farce that I read back in 2003; instead I am sad because of those that might be feeling what I felt because they heard a catastrophic generalization on the news or the internet these past 10 days.

Look, I know that each of us on the autism spectrum can face hurdles as high as Mount Everest but if we believe we can't achieve a single thing in our lives where is there any room for hope?

I often get asked what I think would have happened in my life had I had a better introduction to Asperger's or perhaps been diagnosed earlier in life. This is hard for me to answer because everything had to happen to me just so to get me to where I am and doing what I am, but for others out there, I believe, there is no need to go through the hell I went through.

This Christmas, as with the past eight, will be a day of mourning for me. Easily this is the hardest day of the year for me, but this year I feel a closer bond to the person I was back in 2003 making the day even harder, but I know that tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will come. I know that this feeling I'm experiencing will pass, but it won't be forgotten because this deep sorrow is why I do what I do and if I can get the right information to just one person then, well, I know the destructive wake that generalizations of no hope give and hope has more power than most people realize.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Fear

I've let my open letter to the media run for three days for two reasons. The first of which was that I couldn't say anything better than that and secondly I don't really know what to say. I feel as if the world has been changed and this scares me.

I noticed yesterday that the media, at least in newspaper editorial pages and news websites seem to be trying to now counter-balance the initial onslaught the name Asperger's took. I wonder if it's enough though and will these messages reach all those that, well, need to hear it?

Since the beginning of my career raising autism awareness and understanding I have told myself I have been in a battle against autism ignorance. I never blamed those who had never heard of autism because how can you blame a person for misunderstanding something that they've never been taught? My fear is that the world has shifted; gone is the world of ignorance and now we may live in a world where there is prejudice.

So often in my presentations a person on the spectrum will open up and ask a question and afterwards I will hear the parents tell me, "My child has never opened up like that!" and that's sort of my message; it's okay to be on the spectrum. It's okay to have the challenges we face. I've said this because I've felt that, as awareness and understanding increases so too will the kindness and willingness to understand and help us. However, have we lost this? This is my fear.

To those that read my blog the answer, I'm sure, is that we haven't lost it. It's to those that don't know the autism spectrum because they have no affiliation to it. If the last thing they heard were the facts reported as I wrote in my open letter then how will they react? Fear? Befuddlement? Apprehension?

My greatest fear is that just one person, just one person with Asperger's Syndrome will fear the reaction of others regarding their diagnosis. This has been another reason why I haven't written a post in the past two days because it is, quite simply, too much for my mind to take. I mean, the sense of isolation, shame, and sorrow from this scenario is, well, it breaks my heart.

Perhaps only time will tell what the long term reactions will be. Maybe it won't be that bad. Then again, a comment on the open letter blog submitted by carriep said, "A friend of mines son saw the news reporting on this and said Mommy I have that don't I and put his head down in shame."

I think that shows that the impact has already hit, and I wish I could tell that one person that it's okay to have Asperger's. It is! I'm sure there are many more that are feeling the same way and I don't want to make this about me, but I always knew what I was doing was important, but the need now is at an unimaginable level. It isn't just about spreading awareness and understanding anymore because a new aspect has been added; the feeling of that it's okay to be you. You have your challenges, your gifts, and your beauty of being you.

I don't know what else to say; perhaps as with the open letter I've said everything that has needed to be said. However, I know moving forward that I'm going to do everything I can to prevent my fears from coming true.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Open Letter to the Media

“Asperger Syndrome”— That’s what I saw on the news headline in bright, bold red letters on Friday. If I didn’t already know what it was because I have it I probably would have been afraid of it. In the article that followed the autism spectrum wasn’t properly explained and to the uninformed, the only thing to gather was that all things autism were dangerous.
What is being left out of the conversation is that those were Asperger’s, and other autism spectrum disorders, are far more likely to be a victim of a crime than the one committing it. And often times the person on the spectrum will not speak up about it because of communication issues.

What is also being left out of the conversation is perhaps the most important line about the autism spectrum and that is, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism.” It is dangerous and irresponsible to generalize autism like I have heard in the past few days. Each person on the autism spectrum can be radically unique to the next. Myself, I’m a public speaker and yet the next person you meet with Asperger’s may have a difficult time engaging in a one-on-one conversation. I heard one speaker on the news say that ALL people with Asperger’s are great in math. This too is untrue, some can be, and may be amazingly good at it, but others may be more of an abstract thinker and be good in the areas of music and art.

The true problem with generalizing is not for those of us who know we have it now but for those that are undiagnosed. I’m 29 now and got my diagnosis at the age of 20. I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up on the internet and read that, “people with Asperger Syndrome will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy.” Sadly, I believed those words and my life was destroyed for over a year as I descended into the deepest abyss of depression you could imagine. However, I discovered writing as a means to express myself and learned that those hideous, hopeless words were a complete lie, but what about those who are getting their diagnosis now? And for younger children, how open will parents be to hearing that their two or three year old has, “Asperger Syndrome.” What will their reaction be? Will it be, “Wait, Asperger’s, isn’t that…”?

To be honest, I have turned off the coverage because I’ve heard too many generalizing facts and doomsday reports on Asperger’s. I know parents of children are worried about the backlash because I’ve been contact by many expressing their fears and you know, if the general public hears the same information over and over it will become fact.

The tipping point for me was when I heard an expert say, “People with Asperger’s have no empathy or emotions.” While it is true that some may experience a lack of empathy, many of us, like myself, have it and on the topic of emotions I think we have more and feel more emotions than those not on the spectrum because it is so hard for us to express how we feel. Also, the world may take it that we have a lack of empathy as we may have a flat affect, meaning you can’t judge how we are feeling by our facial expressions but behind our cold exterior is a world of wondrous thought  going on as we try and process the world around us.

My motto is, “understanding is the foundation for hope.” Right now my heart aches for many reasons. The tragedy that occurred is beyond words. Moving forward though, at the way the media has portrayed Asperger Syndrome, what type of image will we have? Will we be feared as monsters? Will the friends that some of us have start to wonder about us? I feel those with Asperger’s have so much potential, but if the chasm of misunderstanding grows, the already difficult experience of growing up will become more difficult. I’ve been thankful the past two months to have spoken to over 5,000 students on the subject of Asperger’s and tolerance but that isn’t even a measurable fraction of the students in America and for some their first introduction to Asperger’s may be this tragedy.

So lost in this all is each person. If we generalize we are doing a disservice to each and every person who lives life on the autism spectrum. Maybe the news, when the time is right, will give the public a better view of the autism spectrum in all its glory, challenge, and mysteries. But above all else I hope the message is relayed that, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chasing Normal

Last week as I was giving a presentation to a high school's senior class on Asperger's Syndrome I was asked a very important question, "Do things get better? Do things get easier?" I answered this question in an unique way, but it was the concepts I put forth in my answer that make for my blog post today.

In my answer I stated that, over time, things have indeed become easier. Why so? One of the things I have noticed, and for my loyal blog readers you have heard this line, is that when I see who I am NOT I forget who I AM. That line might be the deepest, most profound things I have ever said and I remind myself of it each and every day. I told the person who asked this question that even I fall into the trap and when I do I am, "chasing normal; whatever normal is."

Last month at another school I was asked why I was doing what I was doing. The more I think about it and the more events in the world unfold, I feel there is nothing more important I can be doing than what I am doing. Why? In my life there is no worse time than when I am chasing normal; I mean, is there anything more tragic than to want to be something that you can't be?

When answering the question last week I said I am 100% happy with myself 95% of the time. That other 5% is when I am wondering what it is like to be a part of the normal crowd; to fit in without having to think about every step, every word, and to have words come easily that aren't forced. It's in that 5% that I yearn for everything I am not. Who I am is lost within the storm that ensues.

So I have established that there are times I'm not happy. That's being human, right? Yes, but it's more pronounced for us on the autism spectrum. Now comes the question, why did I say what I am doing is the most important thing in the world I could be doing? Yeah, I'm getting to that answer.

I have to admit as I gave this answer about "chasing normal" and seeing just what I am not, I had to fight back the tears. At one point in time I paused to gather my thoughts and in this auditorium with just over 500 high school seniors in attendance the silence was at an eerie level. I was looking down at the stage trying to gather what I should say and as I looked up every person there was looking at me, waiting, wondering where my answer would go. I've had many of these types of moments, but at that moment it made every hardship, heartbreak, and disappointment worth it and here's why...

If those around us understand there will be more acceptance. If there is acceptance, then the possibility of fewer social disasters is present. If we make fewer social mistakes our willingness to be a part of whatever group we are in will rise. Our quirks may be understood; we won't be looked down upon; and when it is all said and done we may not chase normal as often as me have.

Look, I've said this so many times that, "Understanding is the foundation for hope." Without understanding our actions can easily be taken the wrong way and if this happens we will remember it for a long time. I know I fear making the same mistake. I think back to when I was in school and when a string of mistakes happened I withdrew. Why? If you failed at something, and then failed again, and you failed once more and you had no idea why you were failing would you continue attempting to do whatever it was that you were failing at? Probably not and this is the core of why we get frustrated which leads us to chasing normal.

Growing up I never thought I could change the world. All I wanted to do was be a race car driver. Helping people, making a difference, and serving the greater good never was a thought. My life didn't turn out the way I thought it would and I couldn't be happier because to be able to speak to the audiences I do and maybe create a higher level of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding is something that has to be done. I feel if there is a better level of understanding during the school years that will carry over later in life. I do hope my message creates a better understanding right then and there but I truly hope my words creates an everlasting impact. Those with Asperger's can lead a full, happy life, but if those around don't understand and the person ends up always chasing normal how can they ever become the person they were meant to be when they are chasing the myth known as normal?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Day, Another Record

I talked with my dad last month after I gave my school presentations in the Southern part of the state and I said, "I don't think I'm ever going to speak to this many people in a month again." Boy, how I was wrong. On Tuesday I spoke to 2,001 people but yesterday was even more!

I started the day at the 7th and 8th grade school and I was expecting around 300 or 400. Students started filing into the gym and I asked the principal how many people would hear me and he said, "Oh, we have an enrollment of 1010 and have about 93 staff so you'll have about 1,100.

1,100?! I never imagined speaking in front of over a thousand before. I mean, just three years ago I wasn't even doing this at all and now the gym was filling all the way up.

It's a good thing my fear of speaking has ebbed completely. I didn't have one hint of nervousness as the introduction was made and I took center court and began my presentation.

From that presentation I went back to the high school and gave two more presentations in front of another total of 1,000 people. This mean that in two days I spoke to 4,200 people.

I'm back home in Saint Louis but I can believe the past three days! I could never have imagined being able to present to so many people and not only present, but have such the warm, wonderful, and respectful response that I did.

Finally I've got to thank Margie Calhoon for organizing the presentations, the Duneland School Corporation and it's principals for allowing my message of awareness and understanding to reach every student 5th grade and up, and to the Duneland YMCA for sponsoring the three days. It's through efforts like this that will help us reach a world where there is full understanding and awareness about the autism spectrum.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2001: A Speaking Odyssey

Yesterday was a career day in Chesterton, Indiana! Each time I've set a new mark I've said, "I can never top this" but this time I think I'm sure.

Today is my third day in Chesterton and getting here was rather a neat chain of event. It all started by a parent with a couple kids with Asperger diagnosis wanting me to speak in the schools. She saw me on WGN last spring during my tour. She sought out the funding and the Duneland YMCA came on board to sponsor and from all that I have been on a whirlwind tour of the area.

Monday night I had an open to the public presentation and despite the snow, 100 people showed up. Yesterday I spoke to three different schools and spoke to half the high school. It was four presentations and at the end of the day I spoke to 2,001 people.

After my four presentations I had a hard time the rest of the day putting in perspective the impact of such a day. I'll have that feeling again, today, as I have three presentations and when it is all said and done every student from 5th grade to a senior in high school in the town of Chesterton will have heard me speak.

So what does this all mean? If we're speaking strictly numbers my yearly numbers will eclipse 10,000 today which is probably impressive. But, to be able to speak to every student like I have? What does that mean? What's the impact?

Several times yesterday during the Q & A segments, I gave an answer of where I was four years ago. Never could I have imagined a day like yesterday. I'm pretty sure I would have said that winning the Powerball lottery would have better odds than me being a speaker like this. And yet, I come back to the question, what's the impact?

It's easy to understand the impact when you reach one parent, but 2,001 students? As I think about this I almost shake at the scope of this. And since the scope is so great I don't know if we can even measure the everlasting effects from yesterday.

Whatever the impact is, it's time for me to leave to do it all over again today. I'm going to remember these three days in Chesterton forever!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

After Banquet: Dude, How Do I Get My Car?

When the USAC banquet wrapped up I waited a while for Kyle to get the things he needed to get as I was going to stay at his place as the following day had our USAC .25 banquet where we would honor the champions and top finishers of the season.

I had been joking during the night that I wasn't entirely sure where I had parked. I knew I was north of the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom, but other than that I wasn't sure. As much as I had been joking there was a sense of concern within me as I didn't want to be walking the streets of downtown Indy after midnight trying to find my parking garage.

At around midnight I left the banquet hall and Kyle told me to meet him at the USAC office and I would follow him to his place from there. I did let him know that my phone's battery was dead so if anything happened I would be unable to call him. This fact alone should have let me know that something odd was about to happen.

I walked north with my plaque in hand and was thankful that it wasn't as cold as it was the previous year. One block, two block, three blocks and I thought that my below ground parking garage was on this street. I took a right and thought that the buildings looked familiar so I walked a couple blocks and then I knew I was in the right place.

As I got near the entrance I began to get my keys out of my pocket and I turned the corner to go down the entrance ramp when this is what I saw:

This wasn't good. I looked around for a call button and none existed. "Okay" I thought, "let's try the other side. Surely a parking garage doesn't close." So that's what I did and instead of a walk I was now running. So picture this, I'm wearing my nicest pants, shirt with a tie, and dress coat and I'm running down this dark alleyway in downtown Indy after midnight. I was running because I didn't know where Kyle was and I didn't want him to have to wait at the office for a long time because after all my phone was dead and this delay was not good.

When I got to the other side of the building I saw a carbon-copy of that picture. Again, no signs that says when it closes and no call button. A sign on the down ramp stated that the garage was, indeed, "closed." Closed? But it's a parking garage. This couldn't be happening.

I now sprinted full speed towards the doors of the building because, maybe, the doors were closed because it was cold? With each entrance I tried I got the same horrible result; a locked door. This was not good.

Panic began to set in. I didn't know where Kyle was and my phone was dead and I wouldn't be able to call him if I had another phone because I don't know his number. What was I going to do? Sleep on the sidewalk? I could go to a hotel but a room in downtown Indy surely would cost at least an arm and half a leg. Wait a sec! A hotel, maybe someone left a phone charger in a room and there might just be one at the front desk in a lost and found pile.

With that thought I ran full speed towards the hotel across the street. I burst into the front door and approached the front desk where a weary traveler was checking in. I waited for seemed like 13 years, but it was probably more like 45 seconds, and when I got to the desk I asked, if by chance, there would be an iPhone charger I could borrowed. My hopes were dashed when she, the front desk lady, said no, but then I explained my ordeal and she replied, "What do you mean closed? That garage never closes! Okay, let me see."

Another 13 years passed as I awaited what I hoped to be her return with a charger. Okay, this time it was more like 15 seconds, but if I didn't get a charger I had no idea what I was going to do. If everyone had departed the banquet I would have NO WAY to communicate to anyone what was going on. Kyle would get to the office and I would never show up. Nothing good was going to come from this so I started whispering under my breath, "please please please have a charger" and sure enough she came out from the office with a charger.

She handed me the charger and she said, "That will be $5" so I got out my wallet and she then said, "I was just kidding. Wow, you really thought I'd charge you $5?" I didn't give a spoken answer but just looked at her befuddled. This probably would have been a highly awkward social situation for me but I was solely focused on getting my phone charged.

I plugged in the phone and when an iPhone's battery is completely dead you can't simply plug and go; you've got to wait until the phone as a minimal charge before you can use it. This amount of time seemed like a century. Okay, I'm on a streak of time exaggeration this post but this was about five minutes that I sat... and I sat... and I sat...

Finally, there was the beep and my phone was on. I got to the section on my phone that allows me to call, but my phone was also checking e-mail, text messages,, words with friends, and who knows what else so my phone took it's time not realizing the mess that had been going on while it was sleeping.

When I got through to Kyle I told him I had a problem and my parking garage was closed. "Closed? What do you mean closed?" He too had never heard of such a thing but thankfully he hadn't left downtown so he asked me where I was and after a short conversation he told me to go back to the site of the banquet.

With the briskness of a sprinter I ran back towards where this story began and once there I got in Kyle's car and he again asked me to explain just what exactly I meant by the fact that I couldn't get to my car. I explained and we drove to the garage. We parked in the dark alley I had ran through and he got out to confirm the fact that my car was not in a place that could be reached.

While he took the exterior tour of the building I had done I sat and I thought that 1. what an odd thing to happen and 2. I couldn't believe I had the idea to ask a hotel if they had a phone charger and then to actually carry through with the idea. I'm not one to ask for help, but sometimes I guess I have the power to amaze myself.

Kyle came back and said something like, "I can't believe it. You were right. This garage is closed." And with that we went towards his place with all my luggage sitting in my car locked in the parking garage.

The next day I left my car in the garage because there was no other place to park with so many functions going on in downtown Indy but that evening after our .25 banquet I got to the building and it was closed again. This time however I could get into the lobby of the building and I spoke to a guard there who said I got there just in time. He led me to my car and let me out and sitting in my car never felt better!

The moral of this story is to always make sure your phone has a charge and also, from this day forward, always ask, reask, and ask a third time if the parking garage as a closure time because, as I told someone, who knew parking garages closed?

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Unexpected Honor

After I wrote my blog at the mall on Friday I headed over to the USAC banquet. This banquet was for all the divisions of USAC from honoring the .25 drivers all the way up through the sprint and silver crown divisions. I have to say that social functions like this are my least favorite thing in the world because there's an hour of socializing before it starts then there's no telling how long it will take.

The hour before the banquet wasn't as bad as the previous year as I now know more people so actually it wasn't that bad. Eventually it was time for the program to begin and the first order of business was for the .25 champions to be honored.

As each driver took the stage I laughed to myself because it was obvious the majority of them didn't really want to be on a stage in front of 400 or so people. Winning races? That's easy, but being on stage and being asked a question? Yeah, that's the hard part.

However nervous the champions were they did a great job and as they exited the stage I felt my phone vibrate and it was an e-mail so I took out my phone as the emcee started speaking on something that I wasn't fully paying attention to because I was focused in on my phone so what I heard next was something like this, "----- ----- ----- ---- --- -------- ------ ------ ------ goes----- ---- Aaron Likens" Say what?

I looked around my table with a look of confusion. I heard my name but didn't know why. I looked to the video screen and it said, "Spirit of Youth Award." The emcee, Speed Channel's Jim Tretow, then said, "Would Aaron Likens please come up to the stage to receive this award." Remember that bit where I thought that it was kind of humorous to watch the drivers squirm on stage because they didn't really want to be in front of 400 people? Yeah, flagging races? Easy, being on stage accepting an award? Not so much.

As I walked from the back of the room to the front I now knew why Kyle, the USAC .25 series director, said, "It's going to be a big night for you." I asked why after that and he was rather evasive with his answers so as I walked to the stage I was thinking, "That Kyle got me good!" Also, I was thinking I could just grab my award and leave. Those hopes were dashed as I shook Jim's hand and he said, "Say a few words."

At this point in time I am thankful beyond any level you could probably understand that I am a public speaker. Had this been four years ago I would have locked up and it would have been the worst display of public speaking ever seen. It probably would have gone something like this, "Well, I uh, um, you know, um, I really,well, really, um, thanks." Instead of the disaster I approached the mic and said something along the lines of, "Oh, wow, I wasn't expecting this at all. This is a big honor but for me the real honor is being able to travel with this series as the flagman watching the future stars of motorsports having the best seat in the house, most of the time. Again, thank you for this honor." There might have been a few extra lines in that sentence I spoke but I don't really remember the whole thing because I was so confused as how I went from responding to an e-mail to being up on stage.

The rest of the night was a typical racing banquet, but this story will continue tomorrow as I quickly found out that giving my unexpected speech was nothing compared to the journey of getting to my car.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Live from the Circle Centre Mall: Another Year, Another Breakfast, Another Frustrating Experience

Sorry for the delay in posting today; I had the annual appreciation breakfast at the police academy then I drove up to Indy.

As with the past two years the breakfast was a tough time for me. It's so odd for me because normally I walk into the training room with confidence and purpose as I give the officers my presentation on autism. For this breakfast though there is no presentation, no alias for me to take on, and the amount of anxiety I feel is great.

It's was even harder this year as this week has been fantastic. This is part of the reason why it was harder though; to experience Kansas so well during my presentations and then to experience complete social paralysis is so frustrating! I've done a good job managing my environment which is why posts like these are becoming rarer and rarer. But today I was reminded of the challenges I face in my social life.

The drive up to Indy was one of sadness. Tonight is the USAC banquet but my mind isn't on that. My mind is fully on the anger I have towards myself. I've fallen into that trap of forgetting who I am and when this happens a person forgets who they are. I know this and yet I'm in that trap.

Even now as I sit here in the mall and I've watched hundreds of shoppers pass me I wonder how everyone socializes so freely. I thought this as well at the breakfast. The normal world makes this look SO EASY and right this second I'd give anything to be a part of that world.

I know, maybe in a few hours, or tomorrow, or even sometime next week I'll be back to my normal self and be 100% happy with who I am, but right now I'm carrying around a hint of sadness, and a hint of wonder as to how everyone does it with seemingly ease.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Tough Post to Write

One thing I look forward to doing all year is my year end blog post. I do posts actually with "The numbers of..." and then the year in review post. I've already began work on my year in review but am having a very tough time writing about it. In three days of attempted work I have one line written.

Each time I try and begin and I am overwhelmed with just how much stuff has happened this year. I think back to three years ago and there's no way I could imagine a year like this. Truly, this 2012 in review could be the longest post I have ever delivered.

Well, it may be the longest ever if I ever can write the 2nd sentence. To be honest, this feels like the writing projects I had in school. Normally the words just flow and I don't really think about length, structure, and pictures, but with this though I know it's going to be long, I have an idea of what the structure should be, and I'm going to have a portfolio's worth of photos to share.

Thankfully there's a lot of time between now and December 31st, well, 25 days worth and at the rate I've been going I should have about four sentences done by then.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Which Presentation is This?"

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, but I had two, three hour presentations in Springfield and then drove home so time was not on my side yesterday.

Anyway, an interesting series of events happened in my 2nd presentation. I was in the room of my presentation about thirty minutes early and was checking e-mails on my phone. I was seated to the right of the podium, not that I use a podium when I speak, but it was there nonetheless. This person walked to the furthest table away from me and I didn't take notice of her as that's what I tend to do when not presenting, but she stood there a moment and then said, "Excuse me, which presentation is this?" That sounds like a simple enough question, right? I mean, it's my presentation so the answer should have been easy to give. You would think that, wouldn't you. However, the answer was anything but easy.

I sat there and I stared at her trying to think of the answer. Going through my brain was, "It's my presentation." but would she know who I am? I could feel the seconds ticking away. This was quickly turning into a social nightmare as I continued to simply stare at her.

Each time I attempted to answer the question, and I did attempt by starting to make a sound then quickly muffling the noise, I thought the answer was wrong. I thought I could say, "The one on Asperger Syndrome" but I was unaware as if there were other sessions on this topic so I deemed that answer wrong.

Panic! Pure panic was racing through my system. I was 100% socially paralyzed. An hour prior to this I had finished a full three hour presentation and now I couldn't answer one simple question. This, right here, is the essence of living life on the autism spectrum.

About fifteen seconds had now passed and while it's taken you my than that amount of time to read this post up to here let me say that each second felt like a month as I weighed and re-weighed the right answer to give. Also, I could tell the lady asking the question was starting to get a bit confused because I'm sure it seemed a simple enough answer.

Perhaps at the 20 second mark I finally said, "It's the... it's the... it's the one on Asperger's." I didn't care if there was one, or 10,000 sessions on the topic as I just wanted to give an answer. She replied, "Okay, good, this is the one I wanted then."

I recovered from this question and gave one of my best presentations to date and with this presentation being three hours that meant the last hour would be Q&A. This lady who asked the question about which presentation was in this room asked, "You know Aaron, you stated that we may not recognize you outside a presentation and I must say, I was the one who asked you what presentation was in this room."

As she finished that sentence I smiled greatly and responded, "Yes! I love when someone gets to see the visual difference between Kansas and not."
       She responded, "Oh, you weren't in Kansas all right! I was so confused though because it was such a simple question. After you gave the answer though..."
       When she gave a slight pause I once again smiled greatly and I inquired, "You were wondering how on Earth I was going to give a presentation, weren't you?"
       It was her turn to smile and she responded, "Exactly!"

Even now as I write this I find this so incredible. I breezed through two hours of Q&A within the realm of a presentation but one random, unexpected question created a catastrophic lockup. In the end it worked great though because so often people say, "surely you can't be that different outside a presentation" but to have someone to see it, experience, and be confused by it made for such a wonderful example. For teachers, so often, this can be confusing. In one area we can be experts and then five minutes later getting us to respond to a simple question can be impossible. For that question asker yesterday she got to see it first hand, for those in attendance they got a great depiction of this.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Matter of Stacking

Several times over the course of my blogging career I have mentioned the fact that I have a hard time starting new things. This has been true with my ever growing video game collection. Often times I have stated that I am not a player, but rather a collector as nothing ever gets played except what I have already started.

In previous posts, and normally I would offer a link but I'm not exactly which post covered it and I'm in a bit of a time crunch to get this written, I stated that one of the issues with starting something new is the unknown. Also, when I have more than one thing I could start I get stuck trying to figure out which one to do. Then, add a dozen or more things I could start and the answer has always been to go back to what I know. I think in a post I one time mentioned that I would stare at my collection for many minutes, stuck, and nothing would advance.

Then, last week, I decided to rearrange my games and DVD's. My games have always been stacked in a vertical fashion in an order that didn't have much logic except I tried to put the things I wanted to play/newer games to the top. I never thought that this system led to my issues, but after my switch I learned it might have been.

My switch led to going from the vertical stacking with little logic to a horizontal system. At first I kept the same limited logic to the order of the madness but after staring for a few minutes I decided to put some logic in the system so instead of trying to put things on the top that I thought I wanted to play I ordered everything into genres.

This switch may seem like a non-point, but the end result has been game-life altering. I would say life-altering but after all this is just recreation, but just that little switch has allowed me to start many different games I have been sitting on for a long time.

I've known that when I was in school and I was absent I'd always get a pile of work that needed to be done and this was crippling. Much like my vertical stacking method I would become overwhelmed and just stare at the pile wondering what to do and where to begin. I'd see everything at once and be unable to begin anything. Of course, this would make me want to avoid school the next day because I had all this work to do and then I'd get another pile of work that was added to the pile and it became a never ending cycle. With the switch though I now feel as if I am more control. Instead of organizing by trying to put things on top that were newer I now have a system that puts no merit on newness. This means I can chose by the genre that I feel like playing. Yes, there still is a choice to be made, but I no longer see every single game at once but rather the system now breaks it down and the choices become smaller.

Over the course of this year I've heard from many parents on systems similar to this that the presentation of material is so vital to avoiding the possible overwhelming nature of piles. This applies to much more than my video game collection or school work that may be due in the near future. Being 29 years of age as I am this is an aspect of life that is something that isn't thought of. I mean, it's something that, perhaps, I thought I grew out of or perhaps it no longer applies to me. However, and this is so often so, regardless of age Asperger Syndrome is there with me. It can be easy to forget the ways that it can affect life, but the relief of anxiety from my simple change in my system can not be overlooked.

As I said at the beginning, I'm in a bit of a time crunch today. I just arrived in Springfield, Missouri and have a lunch meeting then tomorrow I have two, three hour presentations at a conference here in Springfield. I hope my blog today made sense as the change has been so huge. Anyway, I must go, have a great day!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A November to Remember

Decades from now I think I will still remember the month of November in the year 2012. It may have marked the third anniversary since my first presentation, but that isn't what it will be remembered for.

This month has been a career month. I don't know if I'll ever have a month like this again! I had many different audiences as I presented to students, to soon to be teachers, teachers at a conference, and parents.

In terms of how many people spoken to, well, I doubt I'll see these types of numbers again. My previous highest number was 1,011 but this November I more than doubled it with a total of 2,053.

I've thought about those numbers for almost a week trying to make sense of it. When I'm not in the midst of a presentation it's hard for to me comprehend that I am a presenter. Okay, I know that line probably has you confused, but I'm usually quiet, shy, reserved had I probably have a slight fear of public speaking. That is, up until the time I'm presenting when there is no fear at all. That being so, as I right this, I can't believe I spoke to so many people in one month!

I state these numbers as fact and not as a tooting of my own horn. It's probably a major accomplishment to hit a number north of 2,000, and I may never hit that number again, but it isn't about dozens, hundreds, or even thousands. Yes, this November will be remembered for 2,000 but regardless the month the important number to remember is one.

I've written several times on how important autism awareness is to each person. Reaching thousands is of course great, but to just reach one, and potentially change their life or a life of their child, is the real goal of my mission. Should I reach two that's great, but the real power lies within each one. It's such an honor to do what I do even though I don't really know what I do but regardless November is over and while this month has been an accomplishment I've never been one to sit on past accomplishments so onward to December and whether or not I reach 1, or 3,001 people the mission, the passion, and the goals are just the same.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Speed of Presenting Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the difficulties presenting on a team and today I'm going to talk about my presentation style.

I was asked this question by a police officer a month ago and a teacher last week in Vegas. The question was, "Do you always talk that fast?" I actually love getting that question because there are so many elements in play as to why I do talk fast.

In yesterday's blog I stated that, in the first race I broadcasted, I over analyzed my words and the order of play with play being who's turn it is to speak. When I analyze my words I will right away over analyze them and quickly the words become more important than their meaning. What this means is I know what to say and I know what my intended meaning is but I will over think it and become lost in perfecting how to say it.

If you have seen my presentation (by the way... I'm doing a Christmas sale right now. If you buy my presentation on DVD you get a FREE copy of my book, Finding Kansas. The link to order is on the upper right) I speak at a super fast rate. As mentioned, I do get questions on it and by keeping my speed up I don't have time to analyze what I am saying. Two days ago I gave a presentation to a training class at TouchPoint and I made it a point to slow down for 20 seconds and I stumbled upon myself. I thought about what I was saying, how I was saying it, and I began to see the class.

See the class? What does this mean? Another thing about speaking fast is that it doesn't allow me the time or mental space to process what those in the audience are doing. Just like driving a fast car, I have to put all my concentration on keep my presentation on track when I speak fast. I don't have the ability to think about if a person is looking at me or not. I don't have the ability to process if eye contact is being made. By speaking fast I eliminate all the fear of public speaking because the only thing that matters is making sure I don't lose track of what I am saying.

Thinking back on my life I can think of many times that, when I was passionate about something, my verbal speed picked up. Another thing that plays into this whole thing is that my brain often is operating at that fast of a pace. I really click when it gets into a singular pattern (perhaps this is why Kansas is so important as it aligns the entire brain on one subject because, instead of thinking about six different things such as eye contact, nods, facial expressions, time, and lights I am solely focused on delivering the information.

I'd be interested in attempting an entire presentation at a slower speed. Well, maybe not interested in doing it but interested in the results. I don't believe it would end well. Just the few moments I have done it in the past have created such a spike in social anxiety. Just writing about it has made my skin crawl because I know I would become my normal social self and over analyze everything.

In the end it's my speed that allows me to be the presenter I am. I know some people have a hard time following me and to them I apologize, but if I were to slow down there would be nothing. Speed is the only thing that supersedes my over-active brain therefore I will and have to continue on presenting at a fast clip because if I didn't there would be nothing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Speed of Presenting

This is going to be a two-part story about presenting in two different fashions. Tomorrow I'll cover the speed at which I deliver my presentations, but today I want to cover a different form of presenting, or rather announcing, that I have done twice now.

On iRacing, the 16th St Racing League got revived and the races are broadcasted live on the internet. There was an open call to join Wil Vincent, who is the lead play-by-play announcer and has the skill and voice to make it seem as if he is a leading international motortsport commentator, as part of the broadcast team. I saw this, I applied, and then I thought, "What have I just gotten myself into?"

I've blogged in the past about the length of time it took me to speak on iRacing. And even now I don't find it to be the easiest form of communication. And yet, I applied to be on a broadcast team.

There's one key word I've used in this post so far that is important and that is the word "team." I'm not that good of a team player as I have a constant habit of thinking that whatever I am thinking is exactly what my teammates are thinking. I was worried, going into the first race last month, that this would be a problem.

The first race I did was last month and I didn't feel comfortable at all. It was so hard to find a rhythm and to know when to and when not to talk. Because of this I elected just to not talk at all unless I was 110% sure it was the right time. My problem was I was analyzing my words more so than the race I was supposed to be analyzing. This is the topic I'll cover on tomorrow's blog in a way, but if I am so concerned about timing and the order of play then I'm not going to really know what's going on around me because I am so focused on that.

Then, last night, I had my 2nd race. Having that little bit of practice from race one made me a little bit more aware of how the order of play went. My friends let me know from the first race that I had to speak more. I knew this, but at the same time I don't want to speak too much and overstep my role.

I wanted to do this broadcasting as a way to challenge myself and last night the nerves before the race got as bad as they got when I gave my first presentation in front of a crowd. I should also explain as I've taken it for granted that you understand iRacing and the way broadcasting works, Wil Vincent is from England, Paul Jenkins is from, well, I'm not sure, and then there's me. We aren't in the same room so there is no way to give any sort of social cue as to who's turn it is to speak. Needless to say it is a challenge and as the producer gave the countdown to begin, "3...2...1..." the adrenaline began to surge.

Because of the one race under my belt I felt much more comfortable in my role. After the initial surge of adrenaline it became fun. Fun wouldn't be a word to describe my first race, but just like myself in physical social situations I felt more and more at ease. By lap 10 last night I forgot I was broadcasting anything and it became more like a conversation among three people that enjoy racing.

I wanted to do this for the challenge and by the end of the race last night I was beaming. For one thing the race had so many different interesting storylines, but also, from a personal standpoint, it felt great to be part of a team. This is something that is foreign to me; to be on a team that plays off of each other with words is something I've always struggled in, but knowing a lot about racing, and listening to racing broadcasts my entire life made the ability to do so a lot easier.

So I now find this odd; I've talked about when iRacing becomes a hyper-Kansas but now I'm just as excited to drive as I am awaiting the next chance I get to call the race with Wil and Paul and once again be part of a team.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Price of Angst

It's here... the holidays. The streak has been that this time of the year brings me down and this year is proving to be no different.

This year it's different though as there were several triggers that started this. The first has been an ongoing fear of the future. Secondly, last week while en route to my aunt's we stopped at a truck stop and while I was in there a song was playing. This wasn't just any song as the first time I heard this song I was walking into a diner with Linda in Minneapolis in 1999. The story of her is in my book and I don't know if I've really talked about her on my blog as all things regarding her haven't bothered me. That is, until that song played.

Another element in play is the decade issue. Having the overly good memory as I do, and being milestone oriented makes events 10 years ago even more important. Okay, I know logically there isn't anything more special about an event nine or eleven years ago than one that is ten years ago, but knowing that and actually having that happen are two polar opposite things. Yes, ten years ago I was in college as well as working at a bank as a teller. It just so happened that I drove by that bank today and I couldn't help but to think back on those days. I had a girlfriend, Emily, and my afternoons were filled with check cashing and check receiving. I felt so much pride back then, especially on Wednesday's when I would finish my shift at 6 and make it to the bowling alley just in time before league started.

Okay, I could write about the past for a year, but the issue at hand is actually one that has a high cost. Dealing with emotions, and angst, are things I don't handle well. I can't simply get over the past. The past, for me, comes and goes and when the past is the present (deep sentence here, but it is vital it is understood) I can't simply move forward. It isn't a choice; I can't simply say, "okay, event from 2002, be gone!"

Another thing that needs to be understood is that the higher the level of anxiety the higher the chances, from my own experiences, that a system-wide event is felt. I guess this goes in line with the typical Asperger trait of no gray areas or an all or nothing system, but it plays true here. When there is a just enough of anxiety it makes everything seem impossible. In a matter of two weeks I went from feeling as if I had everything to fearing what the tomorrow could bring and then what the day after next has in store.

During these events everything becomes more difficult and the ability to focus decreases. Every waking moment that my brain isn't 100% focused on something has a constant chorus of repeating the same things that are troubling me.

From my travels and presentations I know my experiences are not fully unique to me. This seems to be a common problem for those with Asperger's. Does everyone share this? I don't think so, but this is a common question and concern I hear from parents. When I hear this I don't give an answer as to how to fix it because if I knew I would be doing it, obviously, but what I do do is to give them what it feels like and the reasons why this all happens. Remember, I believe the concept of time is processed differently by those on the spectrum and the present has a much more eternal state than it does for those not on the spectrum. My catch line for this is that, "whatever is now is forever." Since this is so that means the angst of now will be the same angst 5 minutes from now and that angst will be the same angst experienced 5 years from now. The ability to see change for the better is a skill I don't have. Variables are hard to understand and process so when I look ahead to the future the only thing that is known is what is known right this second.

So it isn't even December yet and my holiday funk is already in full swing. I'm not looking forward to the next month, however I will have plenty of distractions as Monday and Tuesday of next week I have a conference I am speaking at in Springfield and then the week after that I have an absolute marathon of presentations in Chesterton, Indiana. Also, if history is any indication, any time I am feeling down my blog gets rather interesting so that should be a positive that comes from. In any event I just once again once to restate the fact that moments like this isn't a choice. When my brain begins to worry just a little bit the chain reactions are so quick that I'm beginning to fear everything even before I have had a chance to understand how my thoughts of event A have created a fear of X. As I said though this should give me writing material and as history has proven, I've come out the other side of these funks each and every time before.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Praying for You

On the ride home yesterday while I was scanning Facebook (don't worry, I wasn't driving, my dad was) I read some really sad news. It took a while to sink in, but someone I've come to know over the past two years has become very ill.

As I said, it took a while to sink in and at first I put up my usual cold wall. I stated to my dad what had happened as simply a matter of fact. Then the miles went on and I began to feel strong, unfiltered emotions. I wanted to do something but I was powerless. I wanted to express my sadness but words eluded me. I wanted to help but there was nothing I could do.

I often end my presentations by stating the fact that we on the autism spectrum are normally awful at expressing our gratitude and just what those around us mean to us. Perhaps this is simply a human thing to do, but for those of us on the autism spectrum it's worse. Anyway, this person was there for me several times times over the past two years and she even went out to get me home after Crash in Nashville. I think I may have said thanks, but I am uncertain if I did.

From her Facebook wall she obviously is loved by all who she has come across. I've only known her for two years and there are few as dedicated to their job as she is. That's just the way she is. Whatever she is doing she goes all out on and I'm praying that recovery is the same way.

I'm not the best at speaking about outward emotions, but I felt I had to write something. In interactions with her I often would say something in jest to which she would always state something along the lines of she thought I wasn't "one of them" jokingly. This is something I don't do with others as it takes me feeling 100% comfortable around a person for me to speak anything other than facts. She has that way about her though.

This person also went out of their way to see my presentation when I was in Denver which meant a lot to me. Granted, I didn't say anything at the time, but that made me feel truly special despite the fact that I gave you the wrong directions and then led you through an automatic toll gate.

So my prayers are with you hoping that your health is restored and that you may once again be back behind the camera and among the people that love you. Get well soon!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Soundtracks of Life: Black Friday Edition

There's a song that I've been looking for on the internet for a very long time. There have been few songs that have defined an era like this song. Then, several days ago on my car ride to the D.C. area, I found it. Before I tell the story you might want to give it a listen. Beware though, I've been told it's one of the more annoying songs ever made.

So what on Earth does this song represent? This is the song that defines the era of when I worked at the video game store. I was thinking the other night just how important those days were in my development to become who I am today. But that's not the story. The story is this...

I started working at the video game store in September 2001 and later that month we got an Xbox demo unit. The manager would rotate games, but Project Gotham Racing seemed to be the favorite, as well as the fact that anytime I played a crowd would form to watch (true story.) I also noticed that within the game's soundtrack was this song, entitled Nekosogi Hoshii, that people seemed to loath and complain about. That being so I edited the soundtrack so this was THE ONLY SONG THAT PLAYED!

Imagine, all day everyday when a person was playing this was the song that blasted. And I do mean blasted because the Xbox demo unit had way too good of speakers. The shops around quickly became irked, but the kiosk right in front of us, a jewelery/ear piercing store that sat in the middle, became the most irate. They always gave us, specifically me, the longest stares of disapproval.

We maintained that demo unit all the way through the holiday shopping period and a few coworkers would alter the soundtrack making it all the songs in the game, but the manager loved the joke as much as I did so he or I would change the soundtrack back to play only Nekosogi Hoshii. From Black Friday all the way through Christmas the song blared throughout our store.

The other night, when I heard this song, I was taken back to those days. I thought on just how far I have come. Back then my only socializing was task based meaning that I could only talk about what was going on. Maybe that's why I created the most hideous soundtrack ever because it gave me something to talk about. My coworkers would always talk about pop culture and other things I knew nothing about nor could I fake it, but talking about a fact, about something that was happening, was something I could do. It's odd to think, but this song and the musical torture that it created helped me socialize with my coworkers, or at least the ones that found it just as hysterical as I did.

So wherever you shop today, tomorrow, or up to the end of the holidays just be thankful that I'm not there working or who knows what song would be playing that may be highly annoying.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Episode of Planes, Trains (or rather Trams) and Automobiles

My annual longest sleep of the year just took place and this year it was even longer due to the fact that I had been up for nearly 40 hours straight. Also, the long journey of travel made it even worse.

It started just after I ended my most recent blog post. I boarded the Boeing 757 at the Vegas airport and it was a completely full flight. I was in the next to last row and I was looking forward to sleeping on the flight. However, there were two people beside me and three in front of me that all knew each other and they began to gab and complain about everything. Of course, that is there right, but at the same time it was so annoying.

As we took off the person beside me complained about the way I was trying to sleep as I had my head on the window which put my left side up against the arm rest. She thought this unfair as I was, "invading space" that was hers. I never crossed the center line of the arm rest (in my mind that is the territory border) so I never declared a border battle, but regardless she was not in a good mood. Maybe it was past her bedtime.

The bickering continued and she yelled, "It's too hot in here!" and she turned the air one and then she exclaimed, "It's too cold in here. I'm never flying this airline again!" I knew this was going to be a long flight.

Because of the five days I spent flagging my body was sore, and because of that I had to constantly adjust the way I was sleeping. This annoyed her for some reason and each time I moved I got an elbow to the ribs. Granted, she wasn't spearing me, but she was certainly breaking the barrier and putting a light force into my ribs.

I was getting angry. What gave her the right to do this? I am a border conscious traveler as I fear the day I create a border dispute. I want no part of being yelled at. So why was this older lady doing this to me? All I wanted was to sleep and all I wanted was her elbow out of my ribcage.

The minutes went on and each time I was on the verge of that mythical place called sleep my body would ache and I would have to adjust my posture. I swapped from putting my head on the window to putting my head down on the drink tray. Several times went I took the tray route the person beside me and in front of me would say, "That is so rude! Why does he get the right to do that? I don't want to feel each time he moves!" said the woman in front of me.

I've had some rotten travel experiences but this was quickly climbing the charts. My anger was making my neck ever sorer so I was having to change posture even more and she became more forceful in her elbows. I didn't know what to do. What could I do? These women were obviously angry at something and all that anger was being directed to me. If I spoke up to them, or stood up for myself, what would that achieve? I think the woman to my left wanted that actually. And if I did it would be a five-on-one and it wouldn't have been a fair confrontation. And, if it escalated to talking to a flight attendant, who's side would she take? Yeah, I figured, not mine. To make this all worse this was a full flight. I couldn't simply move seats. Sleep, it appeared, was not gong to happen.

And it didn't. For the rest of the flight they bickered about anything and everything as well as keeping a high focus on my actions. I impressed myself because I never once acknowledged their existence. That was my only defense. I think they wanted a verbal confrontation but that would achieve nothing. I may not have slept, but there was victory in knowing that I never gave them satisfaction in letting them know to just what level of annoyance they gave me.

When we landed I had 50 minutes to get to my next gate. I now had been up for almost a full 24 hours and had no idea where I was. It took 15 minutes to deplane, and thankfully those five women were gone, but when I got off the plane I stared at the monitors and forgot where I was or what I was doing. I looked at my phone which had my boarding pass to reacquaint myself with what I was doing. I then knew I was headed to Indianapolis but that still left a question; where was I? I shared a status on Facebook that stated, "You know you're tired when you land at an airport and have no idea where you are." and that was perfectly true.

After a couple moments I figured it out and then I had to piece together the fact that I was headed to the B terminals. This would require a trip on the tram which I managed to do despite the fact that everything I did required my thought that should be required.

I made to my gate at some point in time before my flight left, obviously, and as I think back I don't remember this part of the trip. I do remember that when I got on the flight I had a whole row to myself but despite this fact sleep never happened on the 50 minute flight to Indy.

Once landed in Indy my dad, sister, and nephew picked me up and then it was a ten hour drive to the Washington D.C. area. These were a long ten hours, fun, but each passing hour I became more and more depleted in all that I did. The previous six days came crashing down on me, but at the same time I was too tired to care.

I caught a second, or rather fifth or sixth wind we were got to the restaurant that my aunt met us at, but when I finally laid down to go to sleep I was asleep within a few tenths of a second. 14 hours later I woke up today, but I'm still tired, and I still wish I'd have had a better tactic against those angry women, but today is a new day and a day that I think at, some point in time, I'm going to take a nap.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

15,000 and Thanksgiving

I woke up this morning sad. Today is the point in time I am furthest from the Supernats. However, in a wonderful twist of contrast, I had a presentation today at the Southwest Lutheran Educators Conference.

Back in April when I was on my nationwide tour I was asked if I would be interested in presenting at this conference and they gave me the dates and I was so happy that it worked perfectly that I would be here already so I got on the roster of speakers.

It was an odd presentation, and it was even odder to see the principal from the school I presented here in Vegas in April. When I say an odd presentation I mean it was weird going from flagging the world's largest karting event to being back in presentation mode. I was worried that I'd be too sore, or too exhausted to present but my fears were unfounded.

Today's presentation was special though as I have now spoken to over 15,000 people! I can't believe it. I know I say that every milestone I achieve, but it's true. To be honest I still can't believe I've spoken to 100 people, but today 15,000 was eclipsed.

That was earlier today and my day, or rather night is nowhere near being over. I'm writing this at the Las Vegas airport and soon I'll be on a plane with a final destination of Indianapolis and after that a car ride to my aunt's in Virginia. One of my worries about doing the presentation today was if it would interfere with my Thanksgiving tradition of going to my aunt's on the Tuesday. Sure, I could have got a flight to Dulles, but what's the fun in that? Part of the tradition is the car ride there and if I were to have flown there I'd have been cheating. So I worked it out and my dad, sister, and nephew will be at the Indy airport waiting to pick me up.

So that's what's going on with me. I should finish this before we start to board so to end I'll just say that today was such an odd contrast, and tomorrow should just add to the sense of confusion, and I'm looking forward to combatting jet-lag (I do mean this honestly) as I love the sense of one's internal clock flashing 12:00.

Monday, November 19, 2012

After nats

It's over! It hasn't been more than seven hours since I threw the final checkered of the 2012 SKUSA Supernats and already the sense of withdrawal is setting in. Of all the times of the year this is the hardest.

There is nothing more challenging than transitioning from the ultimate Kansas to not being in that Kansas. This isn't to diminish everything else I do, or everything else that I am but to go from the most challenging and exhilarating five days back to normality is rough. And just normality, but for the past five days I have stood with confidence and have been able in my ways. There has been nothing to write about in terms of having Asperger's. As I say about Kansas, its within Kansas that I feel the most normal and the past days I have been in that state. So in a way, as I have retread this paragraph I have written, during the Supernats I feel normal and when it's over I return to my normality.

I'm writing this Sunday night and this will serve as my Monday post as tomorrow is a most unique of days. Usually I just fly home and then on Tuesday proceed to my aunt's house in Virginia but this year I have a presentation on Monday here in the Vegas area. Then, tomorrow night, I catch a red-eye flight and will arrive in Indianapolis Tuesday morning where my dad will pick me up. That's going to be interesting as I don't sleep we'll in vehicles. And my presentation tomorrow will be difficult as I'm going up be sore, tired, and still reeling from Supernats withdrawal.

There's another side effect from the end of the race and that is everything else seems more difficult. My worries have been escalating the past two weeks and now they are more daunting in their scope. I don't want it to be that way, but as I have found out, one of the challenges of Asperger's is that when one thing, no matter how big or small, troubles me or is effecting my emotions it creates a cascading reaction that begins to make everything seem impossible.

Despite how I feel right now I wouldn't trade the past days for anything. Each year I get better at this and this year I had a flawless performance. I can't believe I have done five of these! Five! And in just under a year it will be six. Already I'm counting the days that once again I will be in my ultimate Kansas. Whereas most everyone else is tired, worn out, and the last thing they're thinking about is going through the five days of the Supernats but I'm ready! Bring it on! I'd give anything for November 2013 to be here and once again I have five straight days that I walk with confidence and have no second thoughts about any of my actions. It'll be a long wait, but oh, when they arrive once again I will be more than ready!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A day in paradise

First, this post will serve as my Thursday post. I would normally delay the publish time but since I have no way to connect my computer to the Internet I have been relegated to blogging from my phone and blogger doesn't get along with iOS so I have no way if changing times.

Anyway, yesterday was the first day of the Supernats. It was a much needed event as my mind has been worrying up a storm the past week or so  this event though is so unique has I don't know of a tougher challenge mentally. I wanted to do a video blog explaining all the things that go on whilst flagging but I'd have no way of uploading it.

But yes, even though it is noisy, difficult, and always moving there isn't a time that I am more relaxed. I know, that is so atypical of everything Asperger's but I think that an event that requires so much attention and perfection operates at the speed my brain functions.

Today (Thursday) will be the 2nd day of practice as yesterday was also a complete day of practice. Come Friday the start of competition will begin. Writing that, knowing that with each passing second the end is closer, already is making me sad. I talk about this event all year. And this isn't taking away from any other event I do as I love them all , but this event is so big, so unique, and so international that it is in a class of its own. But, the end of each day is one step closer to the end of Super Sunday. While most people breathe a sigh of relief that it is over I always am holding back tears.

But in any event, while I am already dressing the end, another day of practice is on tap and once again I will be in a complete state of paradise, or I guess I could say the Capitol of Kansas (see my book finding Kansas, or my blog glossary for clarification of what I mean) for another day.

What is the Supernats?

I know I have picked up many followers and readers this year so this whole SKUSA Supernats thing might mean nothing. I could probably write 1,000 paragraphs on how awesome of an event it is, but instead I'll let a video do the talking so here is the 2011 SKUSA Supernats official video. I'm not in it  until the final sequence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Trap of a No Win System

This week my attention is on being the flagman for one of the largest kart races in the world. This is my fifth one but even though I'm here in Vegas my mind is still on autism awareness and understanding so is like to go back to 2008.

I don't know if you'll believe this, but I feel that the SKUSA Supernats is one of the most important things that have ever happened to me. I know, that's a bold statement, but back at my first Supernats I was not a public speaker. The original version of my book was not yet released, and I had zero confidence in myself. Sure, I could flag club races, but I had no confidence in myself at all.

And not only this; not only did I have no confidence but the effects of that are wide ranging. And when I say confidence I don't mean the confidence to speak one's mind or the confidence to not worry about one's image. No, the confidence I'm talking about is the confidence for life.

Confidence for life? What this means is that I felt I could never be or do anything. Part of this was that awful website I read after I got diagnosed that said "a person with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." That words defined me and if one believes those words then what confidence is there in life? Here was my logic; I could try as hard as I could but regardless of this I will never be able to succeed because there is no chance of anything other than no hope.

Then, I was selected to flag the largest kart race in North America. Me! I was flagging in and around the Saint Louis area but I had never done anything special that was an international event , but I got thrown into the fire and came out the other side shining. Without a doubt that race 4 years ago was the most difficult event I have ever been a part of, but I made it through and they keep inviting me to be the chief starter so here I am.

Here's the thing; I realize not everyone is going to have a Supernats moment like I did and this is where the need for awareness and understanding comes in. Remember, I said that the website I read was only part of the cause. The other cause for me was the minor social run-ins I had with others. I now realize mine were minor as I was never really picked on at school and was simply by myself. But this was something I grew to accept and never sought friends because it never worked out so therefore why try.

"Why try." Those two words are the words I lived by after my diagnosis. What was the point of trying when failure was a guarantee? If it weren't for the 2008 Supernats I don't think I'd ever have had the confidence instilled within me to be a speaker. Last week was the most amazing week of my life as I had seven presentations in front of a total of 1,680 people. Who I am now started four years ago and it all began with just a sliver of hope that was born of a ray of confidence. Again, not everyone is going to have a chain of events I did, but one thing that I truly believe is that, if people understand our differences they will be able to see who we are more clearly.

Above all things though I know that one of the worst situations possible is a person thinking that everything is a no win situation. I lived in that world for many years. I am grateful I came out the other side and it is my continuing mission to bring about a new level of understanding so maybe another person will come out of that would, or maybe a person will better understand the person with Asperger's. So yes, this week isn't exactly the same as giving presentations. However, for me, it will be a reminder of who I was, and who I am now. I have come so far in four years. Further than I ever thought possible and yet here I am! I never thought anything like this could happen to me because, after all, what's the point in trying since nothing good will happen? I can remember those days vividly and I wish I could go back and tell myself "Go ahead, give life a try! Should you fail, should you fall, it's okay. Life isn't always a no-win game but to have a chance you must first try. You won't always win, there will be hiccups along the way, but go on and live life instead of letting the no-win world be life."

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Week I Wait For All Year...

Last week was amazing. Simply amazing! In the end I spoke to 1,680 people which is something that, well, wow! to reach that many people is something that I think will be hard to judge in terms of impact, but I am so thankful to have the chance.

This week is a shift of gears and of all the weeks of the year this is the one I countdown the most to. Truly the weekend was painful awaiting this week, but it is here! It's time for the annual SKUSA Supernats! I leave today to head to Vegas and I have been just full of excess energy awaiting this day. I'm sure though that today is going to drag on, and so to tomorrow, but come Wednesday I will be in flagging bliss.

I can't believe this, but this will be my 5th Supernats as the cheif starter. It's become a routine, in a way, and what I mean by that is the process of getting there, checking in, the walking of the track, and all things in between. My routine will be different this year when I leave as I actually have a presentation at an educators conference in Vegas next Monday so I'm interested to see how my body holds up as I am usually exhausted come Sunday's end.

I could write and write about the event, but I have a meeting to get to this morning. I hope to do a video blog from the track, but I make no guarntees on that. But I do know this, in two days I will be on the track at one of, if not the largest kart races in the world and oh my, I can't wait!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Presentation #299

Yesterday a major milestone happened as I hit career presentation 300! I never imagined in my life achieving such a major goal. However, I don't want to talk about presentation 300 but rather the one earlier in the day.

Presentation #299 was held at a middle school and once again, as with the presentation a week ago Monday, I thought I was going to be speaking to just one class. I was mistaken though as it wasn't to a class, or a grade, but rather the entire school! All 550 students!

I've given five or six school presentations now and to be honest there are no nerves now. As the students and faculty were filing into the gym I was talking to a TouchPoint coworker and was rather calm. Although I must say that I lost track of time and when I looked towards the bleachers, well, I could try to put into words what it looked like but I think this picture will do better.

Quite the crowd, wouldn't you say? As I saw this I did have a hint of nerves, but not of public speaking but of the power I hoped my words would have. Of all 300 presentations I have done, this was now my largest audience for which I was the sole presenter. I had one shot to reach this audience. I didn't want to blow this opportunity to bring autism awareness and understanding to such a large group.

I planned on the format which has worked in the past with students and that is a 20-30 minute segment which is a non-PowerPoint version of my 90 minute presentation. After that I open the floor for questions for the remaining time. As I said, I've given 5 or 6 of these and each time the staff of the school have told me how amazing it is that I keep the students' attention. I was just hoping that those weren't a fluke and that once again magic would happen.

There have been so many times over this blog that I have mentioned that I gave my best presentation, but I think yesterday in front of a packed gymnasium I gave a presentation of a lifetime. I have never felt more comfortable and confident in front of students and my energy level, timing, and delivery was as perfect as I could be. I worked the floor and by the silence in the room I knew I was being heard.

As for the questions and answers period; once again the magic happened. It isn't a fluke! Every presentation I have given to students the amazing questions always happen. It was actually hard to keep up with them because I wanted to spread the questions out among the age groups but what could I do when no less than 50 hands were up at a time? Maybe someday I'll find a way to illustrate this, but I wish you could, wherever you are where you are reading this, to experience this question segment. For me, it gives me so much hope for the future! I realize I could make this blog post about my 300th post because that is a major deal for me, but nothing can compare to reaching those who will someday run this world. Yes, I wish you could experience the energy in the way the questions are asked. Just writing about it brings tears to my eyes.

Each presentation I've given to students time seems to fly way too fast. I looked over to the principal who gave me the signal for two more questions. Once those were finished it was over, but not without the loudest applause I have ever received along with cheers and foot stomps of the bleachers.  Another magical hour had come to an end. I walked over to where my coworker was and as the students filed out several students asked me questions and one even said, "Sir, you're amazing!" I thought to myself how odd life can turn out. When I was that age school was a place that I felt as if I were drowning and now I can make an impact the size of which is, perhaps, unmeasurable.

After all had left and the gym had become just an empty room once more the principal led us to where my presentation was going to be that night and walking the hall towards it there were many comments from students thanking me. When we got to the library a student entering the gym asked me, "Would you say having Asperger Syndrome is awesome?" With a smile I replied, "At first I didn't think so, but knowing what I know now it most certainly is awesome and I wouldn't change a thing about me." He gave a big smile and said, "Thank you!"

So yes, 300 happened last night, and every presentation I give probably has an impact, but there was something special, magical, and unique about #299. I think back to my first school presentation last year in how I sort of protested doing such a thing. It was somewhat selfish, but I didn't think my words would matter, or be understood. I mean, who am I to speak to students? But now I want more of those! I've said this several times over the past few weeks, but there is an unmistakable thirst for knowledge and I hope, in my next 300 presentations, I have more chances to make an impact and a lasting impression as I did for presentation #299.