Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who I Was

With next week being the rerelease of Finding Kansas I felt it right to explain who I was and how I became who I was. Also, starting next week, I will be going on a national speaking tour to raise awareness and understanding. However that is now, but how did I get here? This is my story.

I was the quirky kid. No one ever knew what to make of me. In preschool I was more interested in talking about weather and racing than playing in the sand box or make believe. In kindergarten I was more interested in talking to the teacher because she either knew what I was talking about, or she could pretend on knowing what I was talking about. But in any case talking to my classmates was difficult as I would only attempt to talk about what I knew and sympathy was not something I did well. When playing with others there was the wrong way and there was my way which was, and still is, the right way.

While other kids were developing social skills I spent my time playing with blocks, putting the U.S. state puzzle together, and thinking about numbers. At the time, and this was 1989 (it's odd to write a year now with a 19 instead of a 20... sorry, I just found that interesting) there was nothing to call me except how I started this post; the quirky kid. At every parent teacher conference my parents heard the same thing, "Your son Aaron, he doesn't socialize or associate that well with the other kids, but I don't think you need to worry about it because, well, maybe he's just smarter than the other kids." My dad always took that line as a badge of honor proving his superior parenting skills.

The years progressed and I developed more and more issues in school. The social gap grew and I was always lost in social settings. Sure, I never was fully isolated and always had one friend, but it was always on my terms and there was no give and take. Also, school became harder and harder for me as I tried to navigate the slalom course that is socializing and at the same time I was always tried to stay engrossed in whatever it was at that point in time I found interesting.

Many things bothered me in school and usually I was powerless to speak up. This was for several reasons. The first was that I thought everyone had the same issues I had. I thought everyone had the same amount of pain caused by fire drills and I thought everyone got distracted by every noise coming from every corner of the school.

In 1993 my family moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis and this was hard on me because in Indy there was an interest in what my #1 love was/is of auto racing and I could talk about racing all day long and show off the flags I had. Saint Louis is a baseball town though and when I spoke about auto racing I might have well have been speaking a language that hasn't been spoken for many a century because no one heard or cared. I slowly became more and more isolated because I had no common ground. However, I still had many special interests that I would research beyond what the normal 5th grader would and I went through a time that I must have read 10 books on the Manhattan Project. At the time no one thought this was odd and once again my parents heard, "Well, obviously your child is simply smarter."

To be honest I tried to develop friendships but I was always unable to have a conversation that flowed naturally. Always I would give a race recap or race preview or talk about a great race from years ago. Or I would give the weather forecast (people now always tell me I am the bearer of the, "doomsday weather forecast" so I still am a weather buff of sorts) but I was unable to be, well, I just couldn't act my age so to speak. I couldn't have a conversation that involved small talk and I always stuck out of the crowd.

Eventually I was home schooled, and then I went back to school and then I was home schooled again. I never thought much about school because I was going to be a race car driver. That's the only thing I thought of, only thing I wanted to be. I started racing karts when I was 12 and I was called a, "phenom." I also started being the assistant flagman at the kart club the following year, as this picture shows.

So all in all there were really no big alarms that said I was different. Or rather there were, but nobody knew what to look for because after all, I was just quirky. My lack of eye contact was never thought of as anything and my lack of social empathy never really came up because I didn't socialize all that often. And besides all that what did that matter because I knew I was going to be a race car driver.

High school didn't happen for me as that was done via home school and as the years ticked on it looked as if I were closer and closer in making my racing dreams come true. However, racing is a business and we had no idea what we were doing. I think we did the right think in sending me to the Derek Daly Academy, a former racing school in Las Vegas, and just recently I was going through photos that were taken from back in 2000, when I was 17, and I feel this photo is a great example of the way I lived life as I always described that I felt, "alone in a group" as there I am way off to the right.

Again, would anyone have taken notice of this? No one did. That photo was the way I always was from kindergarten all the way through life. Even in a group setting I was on my own little island.

Never did a point cross my mind that I was different. I too bought into the fact that it wasn't me that was different, it was everyone else. With that being the case I stayed on my own little island without any thought. However, after constant social friction with my girlfriend and other people I started opening my eyes and I will never forget the place; it was at a Denny's in Orlando Florida that I was during a time I was driving a late model race car at USA International Speedway that I saw three brothers or friends goofing off playing a game of keep away and as I saw that, while talking to my dad on the phone, I broke down. I asked, "Dad, why have I never done that?" It was then that I began to think that it wasn't everyone else, and I wasn't simply smarter, but there was something more... but what could it be?

The answer you and I know now as, obviously, this is a blog about my life with Asperger Syndrome, but how did I come about finding out this information? That story will be tomorrow's blog post as I count down the days to my book's release and my nationwide speaking tour.

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