Monday, March 19, 2012

A Double Dose of Sensory Issues, A New Alias, and The Weekend In Atlanta

So I back home after a busy and eventful weekend in Atlanta. The story begins on Friday on the outskirts of Atlanta, where the track was, when I found out that I'd be sharing the flagstand with another flagger. Initially I was annoyed because, as I said, "I'm a flagman, not something else" but I then told James, the series director, that, "I could announce as I did it once in 2007 at a kart race." I think I was part joking and wasn't expecting him to give up the microphone, but before I could get in another word the compromise was set and I would be announcing on Saturday and flagging on Sunday.

The story continues that night at dinner. Living my life, I feel as if I have to constantly avoid landmines. They can be anywhere and can pop out of nowhere. At dinner one of these landmines popped up after we ordered as there was a band that started playing in the bar room dining area. I tried to fight through it as the last thing I want to do is to create any scene or any sort of deviation from normality. However, in this band there was a drum set, which I have known to create the worst sensory feeling in the world, as well as something I had never heard before and that was a bass guitar.

As they started playing a surge of adrenaline flooded my body, my heart rate went wild, and it felt as if my insides were trying to jump out of my body. At first I think the people I was dining with thought this to be something that I was stating to create a scene because, if one has never felt what I was feeling and it hasn't been explained I think it is impossible to have any sort of empathy because it is something that most people don't think of.

Those at dinner learned it wasn't just an inconvenience when I stood up and stated, "I hate my body!" and stormed out of that area. I eventually resettled at the other corner of the restaurant where still the noise created issues. The way I can explain what it felt like right there is this; have you ever been in a car and had a near miss, say, if you pulled out in front of a car. You know that feeling of shock that subsides? Imagine that amplified and sustained. That's what was going on in my body that night and thankfully the food came and I ate fast and left.

The next morning it was time for me to make my USAC Generation Next announcing debut. The debut was delayed a couple hours due to rain and this made me more and more nervous as I had more time to think about it and more time to convince myself that this was going to end in a train wreck.

I started off a bit shaky out of being a rookie at this. Over the course of the day I became more and more comfortable and eventually I felt as if I were simply in my presentation "Alias" mode and that I wasn't really announcing but simply having a conversation with someone about what was going on in the race.

Later in the day James snuck up behind me and got video of me announcing. He tried to show me it the next morning, but I would have none of it as I hate seeing myself and hate even more when I hear myself. With that being said I don't know if the following video is of me doing a good job, or a bad job.

I had some memorable lines while announcing and the one I'm going to remember the most went something like, "and out of turn two they go two, three, FIVE WIDE, yeah that's not going to work... yellow comes out again as we have a parking lot of sorts in turn three."

That evening I was feeling rather good about myself as I got many compliments from the parents and even some of the drivers. However, that feeling quickly vanished as we had dinner and once again it got noisy.

There were about 12 of us at this table and after spending all afternoon talking away on the microphone I became socially paralyzed. Add on top the fact that this place had the worst service in the world (it took me 100 minutes to get my salad and as Kyle, a USAC employee said, "This should be called the 24 hours of cheese sticks." because it took him three hours to get his appetizer") and then halfway through a DJ in the open air bar area started playing some really deep bass music and one again my body felt as if I were going to implode.

In situations like that the only thing I want to do is disappear. This wasn't possible in that environment and the last thing I wanted to do was to walk out again. Self-hate was growing because I spent all afternoon doing something I didn't know I could do competently rather well and right then I was having a platter of issues.

Eventually I put my sunglasses on because I didn't want those around me to see the level of discomfort I was having. I don't want to be a burden and I felt if those around me saw that I was in pain then their evening would be brought down due to my body's inability to properly process deep bass noises. Well, I don't know if that last sentence is the right way to say it, but those noises create pain for me but I didn't want to hinder the other people at the table.

On the way back to the hotel I described the sensations to James and those in the car and once again I all but said, "I hate myself. Something like that shouldn't happen." And James said, "Why not? You have Asperger's, right?" To that I replied, "Well, yes, but... but... Yeah, you're right."

James' line by saying that, and I don't know if it was intended, made how I felt right. There was no looking down on me as I always fear others will do and there was no tone of thinking that I was some freak. This made me feel "normal."

The next day I was anxious to get in the flagstand as the sensory issues the past two nights made me yearn for doing something that I can do to perfection. And what a perfect day it was! No mistakes, great racing, and at the end I felt proud to be me. It was only three days but so much happened and I know I won't soon forget the highs and lows of my weekend in Atlanta.


  1. James, thanks for saying what you did to Aaron!

  2. Oh I can relate... I had a similar experience about 2 weeks ago. I went to have lunch at a cafetaria and then suddenly 2 families walkes in and made a great noise. At the same time the radio was turned up and construction workers started working outside.
    All this had such a huge impact, I had to explain to the workers in the cafetaria that I have Autism and couldn't handle the noise. I asked if I could take my food (I could), paid, then ran outside.

    There's no shame in this Aaron. You're strong for being able to recognise it, admit it and seek your own way of dealing with it. :)

  3. There is no shame in this. HOWEVER, I would have handled the situation better... as it is a situation where you need some social scripts. Again, I will give you an example.

    A month ago, I delivered a presentation regarding my sensory experiences at a SIPT training workshop. I saw a few familiar faces. Towards the end of the presentation, I gave the audience a hands on activity. As the discussion gets good, one friend who was in the audience said, "One thing Bill did very well is that not only he is aware of his sensory issues, but also knowing how to communicate to us about it." She then said, "One time we were at this busy bar together with some of our friends. After we each had a drink or two, Bill then came up to one of us and said, 'I need to go outside for a few minutes. I am having an episode of sensory overload right now.' He went outside the bar for a few minutes before coming back to join us for the rest of the night. I appreciated that he did that because not only it was polite and assertive in telling us his needs, but he was very calm and composed in handling the situation."

    So, in the first bad experienced that you had, I would have said, "Guys, I am feeling a little antsy. Can I go outside for a few moments so that I can regroup?" Running off and said "I hate my body." is not as polite.

    You may have thought my OT taught me this. But, she didn't. I simply thought about what my OT peers would have said in my situation. Again, I am presenting this as a bit of constructive criticism.