Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I'm in Osage Beach today to give my presentation to the Missouri's DMH Spring Training Institute. I made the drive yesterday and the drive was one filled with memories.

It was almost two years to the day that I made my first true road trip by myself for TouchPoint. It was a trip to Springfield and as I drove yesterday I thought of that trip two years ago and how it might have been one of the more important events of my life as I was independent. Driving on the same interstate as back then helped spark the memories I'm sure, but I could still feel the pride from back then yesterday.

I got off the interstate near Rolla to head towards Osage Beach and once again a memory hit me. A little over two years ago I was headed this same direction to present to juvenile officers. In fact, where I'm presenting today is the same place as then but I thought of the progress I have made as a person from that presentation to today and I am amazed.

Then, as I came over a crest on this two lane road, I remembered the events that happened just prior to the last time I was on this road. It was perhaps the worst night of my life and driving down these roads reminded me of just how powerless I felt on that night. It was like going right back to that night as I drove.

When I arrived all the memories vanished and I am back in the present. I'm focused now as I have a 60 minute presentation to give (I'm used to 90) and I'm sure next time I head down those roads I will surely have a new trip that will be a part of the memories of life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The travels continue

I don't have too much time to write this morning- in fact I am writing this from my phone at steak n shake as I am en route to the lake of the ozarks as I have an early morning presentation tomorrow.

Last night I had a great turnout at my presentation at All Saints Cathloic Church in Saint Peters. I've been spoiled in that now my last three presentations have all had over 100 people at them.

After tomorrow's presentation I will be headed back to Indy and then it will be off to Xenia, Ohio for this weekend's USAC .25 national race. I know I said it yesterday, but I never though I would be this busy and be able to tolerate it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Unthinkable Streak

It's been since March 27th that I had a day where I wasn't at a race, driving, presenting, or doing something work related. And in the post I'm not complaining about it but rather I am absolutely amazed that I have gone so long.

I think back to the time I was in school and my other jobs and how exhausted I would become. I would get the point where I had no energy for anything and my attitude would be very bitter. This always made me wonder if I could ever actually have a job due to the toll it had always taken on my body.

What's different now? I believe it is motivation. I am so motivated and focused on my tasks that I'm now the opposite. If I'm not driving somewhere, if I'm not presenting somewhere, and if I'm not in a flagstand somewhere I get tired and bitter. It's a really odd feeling having the opposite of what used to be.

Can this last though? I'm not sure and I'm sure my body is going to need a rest at some point in time. As for now I'm going to continue to celebrate this unthinkable streak because I never thought I would be able to do something like this.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The 500 and the Drive Home

Did you see yesterday's Indy 500? If you said no you missed one of the most intense races of all time. The amount of passing was amazing and the last 20 laps was nothing short of incredible.

I'm back home in Saint Louis and the drive today was interesting as the Gumball 3000 Rally was being run from Indy to Saint Louis. Supercar after supercar passed and eventually I made some great time as I was following a duo of cars that were in it. The cops were out in force though and there were no less than three cars that I saw that were pulled over.

So I'm home now and am going to enjoy the rest of today but I'm right back at it tomorrow with a presentation tomorrow night.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kansas Explained: My Tribute to Duane Sweeney

I would like to send a very special "thank you" to the Speedway for making this video possible. It meant so much to me, and was one of the biggest thrills of my life, to be able to make this video.

This was the day I got the flag back early 1990.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Another Perfect Evening

I can't believe it was two years ago that I had my first experience with USAC. Tonight, once again, was the Hoosier 100 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and once again I was in the stand assisting. It may not seem like a big deal, but having the honor of assisting at that event is one of the more important events of the year for me.

Why is so important? For one, routines are important and annual events are something that mean more than you probably can imagine (unless you are on the spectrum) and this event was the first. From that event I met James who now has me as the national .25 flagman and none of that would have occurred without that experience two years ago.

I know today's blog was delayed today as I wanted to write after the event, but after going to two races and working one I am tired so that's it for today. I may have a very special blog tomorrow but it isn't for sure so keep an eye for that tomorrow late afternoon or maybe early evening if it does happen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today's Story is Another Story

Okay, sorry for the delay in posting today; I was going to blog earlier today right before I left to Indy, but a transformer decided to expire, ahem, explode and I had no electricity.

So anyway, today's story isn't actually my own, but rather a story that ran in the Saint Louis Post Dispatc today

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After Game

A couple months ago I wrote that Kansas was changing. Following that post games really didn't do anything for me, but when Mass Effect 3 came out I was again was fully enjoying being engrossed within a videogame universe.

I played bits here and bits there as I was on my tour so I just maybe got in 15-30 minutes at a time in the evening at whatever hotel I was at, but I was enjoying it greatly. When I got back home I spent every moment I had at home to play through the story. It felt so great to once again enjoy games, but last week I finished it and ever since then I have been in a minor funk (the ending didn't help anything either but that is not the point of this post.)

I've experienced this many times in my life; when something is so great and then it ends how does one simply move on? I'm sure everyone experiences this, but I think for us on the spectrum we don't hop onto the next thing as fast. I haven't had much time to consider what I should play next, but when I have I can think of nothing because I truly want to keep moving forward in something that is finished.

Perhaps this is an example of transitions being difficult, or maybe I'm just in the void of playing a rare gem of a game that was awesome, but whatever the case may be I am having a hard time simply playing anything. I look at my games and Skyrim is staring at me and the only thing I can say is, "blah" as there's no interest. My mom probably wished that I would have this "blah" feeling about 16 years ago, but for today I'm still in the midst of being in the void of after game and nothing is even remotely interesting.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

10,000 and a Reminder Why

Today is a big day for me as I will give my presentation to the parents going through TouchPoint's Parent Training program. This doesn't seem like a big deal as about once or twice a month I do this, but today the presentation will put me to a total attendance of my presentations to 10,000.

Yesterday was TouchPoint's golf tournament and I played in it. During the day I had a great time and had many conversations with the person I was playing with. It was a relaxing time even though my play wasn't all that great. During the round I thought, "Wow, I haven't had a blog post in a while that was about something bad that happened to me." By bad I meant something socially discomforting and it's funny how when one thinks of something it soon happens.

10,000?! That number is so high it is unimaginable for me. 10,000! It's such a high milestone for me because I was the kid in school that was all but unable to read anything aloud and was beyond horrible at presenting a project to the class. As I've said many times, "if you would have told me three years ago that I'd be a public speaker chances are I would have laughed and then said, 'that's the cruelest thing you could tell me because that is something I will never be able to do.'" Then TouchPoint happened.

After the round of golf was over there was about an hour span between playing and when the dinner and auction would take place. I wandered the halls of the Meadowbrook Country Club trying to find a comfortable place to simply be but none was being found. I was walking past the bar when I sort of got wedged into the wall because I couldn't get past a couple people and there I remained as the noise of the room crept up and an odd mix of fear, wonder, and anxiety hit all at once.

It's been almost three years since I first sat in as a consultant in the Parent Training Program. At that point in time I was an author and could verbalize my ways to describe behavior on the autism spectrum, but I had no skills in speaking or presenting. In fact, I present at all in that first program, but there was a grandmother there that got me on the speaking roster for the MNEA conference later that year which would be my first presentation as an employee of TouchPoint. A couple months after that I began a couple months as part-time presenting at the police academy and from March of 10 I became full-time.

I was paralyzed to a degree I haven't felt in a while and my back was to the wall. No, really, I was wedged into the wall and I was doing all that I could to try and become one with the wall. As I was doing this I was looking around at the ease which all were conversing. Person A got introduced to person B and they began talking like they had known each other for years. Person C bumped into person D and they exchanged hellos and off they went talking about anything and everything. I asked silently, "How are they doing this?"

After starting full-time the amount of people at my presentations started off slow. I can remember in that first year a presentation in the extreme Southern part of the state that had three people at it. Regardless of size of the audience I give the same attention in making sure that every presentation is the best presentation ever because there is only one number that matters and that number is, well, I've already said it, "one." I may be hitting 10,000 today but each 1 out of the whole has been the most important because each one represents much more than I may ever know. Each one has a story, emotions, and a life. Each one may be, or knows a person on the spectrum and there will be times where they, or a person they know will be unable to simply state, "This is uncomfortable, I need help."

"How are they doing this? How are they able to concentrate?" I asked this because the noise in the room was like hearing every note of a symphony at the same time. So many people talking at once and the volume just continued to escalate. My body was not enjoying this at all and each heartbeat I had felt like a major earthquake in my body. I don't know the length of time this went on, but with each passing minute I felt smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.

Today is 10,000. Today for over the 250th time (I need to look it up to see the actual number sometime in the near future) I will stand in front of an audience and state with full confidence and ease my story and that there is hope. Also, I will do this all with a sense of humor yet at the same time stating, "If you see me outside this arena, this forum that I present in you may not recognize me."

"So I guess this is the part that people don't recognize me." is what I was thinking. To have gone so long without an episode like this sort of perhaps blinded me to just how difficult it is to be on the spectrum. I mean, on my nearly 45 days on the road there wasn't one episode of difficulty worth noting. Except for one bit of eye contact issues in New York the whole trip went episode free. And yet, here I am with my back to the wall at a function for where I work being completely unable to move, talk, or feel comfortable.

TouchPoint has given me the backing to have my voice heard.

As the minutes past on I have to admit I was becoming quite envious of everyone else and that I'd have given anything for those around me to see me for what I can do and not how I was at that second. This is one of the hardest things to endure and explain; I mean, one moment all is well and perhaps all is even thriving and the next I have my back up against the wall, unable to move, out of fear and being paralyzed on the inside. This is what the world needs to understand! This isn't a choice and trust me when I say I wanted to be a part of what I was seeing around me but when I'm being flooded by anxiety which is causing an increase in my heart rate and even surges of adrenaline I can't simply take part. It's at these times that I am trying to be myself that I feel the most alone.

Today is 10,000 and I am so thankful to work with people that do understand. Last night in the midst of a social crisis a coworker came by and asked, "do you want to find our table?" I heard the words but it took me a moment to process what it all meant. Since the room was so loud and I was dealing with so many emotions I didn't instantly understand what was asked, but when I did I said, "sure" and off we went. After having several minutes removed from being stuck like I was I slowly returned back to normal and was able to speak again. It's stories like this that keep me going because, if there was no awareness then what would those around me think when something like this happens? Last night was a reminder not only of the challenges I face but of what others on the spectrum face. Without awareness and understanding there's a chance that such a situation like mine last night would be treated differently, or perhaps those around me would mock such a behavior. In those experiences that this has happened to me in the past I can say there is no desolate island in the middle of nowhere that is more isolated than the feeling that this creates.

For one reason or another I am able to speak to a crowd when I present. Yes, if the audience sees me outside the presentation they truly might not recognize me, but I'm okay with that. Maybe I need an experience like last night because it just fuels the passion. Today may be a milestone, but I hope it's just the first of many. Thanks to everyone who has heard me and here's to the next 10,000!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Nearing Milestone

Since I began speaking I've kept track of how many people heard me speak. Right now I am sitting on 9,998 that have heard me. Driving home from Indy yesterday I tried to make sense of this. I mean, 10,000?

The concept of this is something I can't fully grasp. Each presentation I give I realize I am so fortunate to have been given the forum to do so, but I never thought of the day when I would reach 10,000.

Because of this I don't know what more to say today as today, for me, is a day to look back and get ready as tomorrow I will hit 10,000 in a very fitting place.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Problem With Normal

Yesterday I drove from Saint Louis to Indianapolis and on the drive I was thinking about the reasoning as to why I've been down the past few days. After some miles I realized that I was still working through the issues of being in the high school I would have gone to.

I thought I shook the feeling, but I guess I hadn't because I was chasing normal. I call "chasing normal" the "times when one is thinking and starting every sentence with 'If I were normal..."' As I've said many times on here, "when one looks at what they aren't one will forget who they are" and I was having this happen to me full force.

Then as I got to the Indiana state line I had a revelation. For the first time ever I have discovered what normal actually is. It's been debated for a millenia or so but I have finally figured it out. To put simply, normal is what one is not and this is the problem with normal.

As I thought about that I realized that no one is normal. Doesn't everyone wish something were different about them, or wonder what it's like to be another person? Maybe it isn't something people admit, but I'm sure at some point in time everyone wished they were normal.

Of course though, for us on the spectrum, normal is something that we chase, crave, and wonder about. I've had many sleepless nights to the mental thoughts of, "Oh, to be normal, I mean, if I were..." and each time, every single time, I lose track of who I am. So this is the problem with normal. When one chases it normal becomes a myth that's larger than life and is a place where euphoric bliss happens. I may realize this now, but the next time I wish I had a more active social life, or the next time I'm asked a question, say, at a gas station that flusters me and it takes me more time to process and in the end it's just an all around awkward situation I too with yearn, crave, and dream about this place called normal. Right now I know there is no such place, but, when the time comes, I'll want it more than anything and that, right there, is the problem with normal.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Conquering Life's Small Hurdles

Okay, with such an over the top title as this you might be thinking that I have accomplished something grand or something totally awesome. Well, to you the chances are that I haven't. However, to myself, this is a big deal as, for the first time in my place, I turned the stove on and... and... boiled water!

Disappointed in my news? I'm not because I have had a deep fear of the stove because I was worried the second I touched it I would be down the path to burning the place down. Why did I turn in on though? I finally convinced myself that I can't afford to constantly eat out for my meals so yesterday I went to the store and bought a whole lot of meals and one thing I stocked up on was the cup of noodles.

People have told me many times that I should try it and I always resisted. Then, whilst I was in Topeka on my tour, staying at the Candlewood Suites, the pantry for the hotel had a spicy edition of the cup of noodles and it was late and I was hungry and everything else seemed horrible so I went with the noodles, liked it, and now it's a meal that's been added to what I eat. And they're cheap too!

So yeah, today's news isn't revolutionary, but something that a lot of people do without thinking about it (or fearing that they're going to start a four alarm fire) is now something that I can do. Who knows, maybe down the road I'll say I prepared some meal that I can't pronounce and use sauces I've never heard of... okay, probably not, but for right now I'm going to enjoy these noodles and relish this minor victory.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Halls of My Would Have Been High School

Last night was it; the final presentation on the 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour. I didn't know what to feel as the day started as I took Rob to the airport and then gave a police presentation in Washington, Missouri. If anything I was numb due to the fact that sleep hasn't been easy for me since I have returned home.

The hours ticked by and in the late afternoon I headed towards Lutheran High School South in the South County area. For one reason or another a string of memories was triggered as I got off I-270 and headed north on Tesson Ferry Road. So many times, many years ago, Emily and I traveled this same route.

I may mention Emily in every presentation but nothing is really felt. However, this was not the case last night. Each place I drove by seemed to spawn a memory which in turned brought up so many more memories. For the first time in many years I thought back on those years and I missed them. I was trying to make sense of what it was and then I realized what I am today and the long road it took to get to where I am now.

Memory after memory kept popping up, though be it the place I had an MRI, the place that the go-kart club meetings were held, and a place that I spent New Years Eve in 1998. Each place I passed, it was like the memories right now, this very second. I tried to figure out why I had this memory explosion and maybe it was the fact that I was away for so long, or maybe it had to do with the fact that I haven't felt many emotions lately and this was the result of that.

Mercifully, I got to Lutheran High South and I realized that when I pulled into the parking lot that, had I gone to high school, this would have been the school. It was a chilling sensation when I walked through the doors. Had I gone to school here, I would have done this daily basis.

Right away I walked into the room that my presentation was to be in and there were 70 or so chairs set up and I thought that, "wouldn't be nice if each of these were filled?" Then I had a run of my usual negative outlook and figured that three people would show up. Then I settled on the fact that half the chairs would be filled and I'd consider it a victory.

Debating the size of the audience was going to come to a sudden stop. When I was walking to my car to get books, I saw noticed, on the wall, class pictures from every year and suddenly I held my breath. I didn't want to go near, I truly didn't, and yet I approached slowly as if what I was about to look at was somehow illegal, or from a plot from some time travel movie.

Oddly enough, the class pictures that I saw were my two potential classes. (I went to actual school K-6,  then home schooled 6-7, and then because of the timing I stayed in 7 one extra year hence the reason for that statement) I stood in silence and unknowingly held my breath. If the memories weren't already over over powering, I was now in memory overload. It didn't help that each person that I knew I recognized, as with my memory I can instantly recall a person if I see them again which is in contrast to the fact I can't recall a person unless I am actually seeing a picture.

A minute or so passed and I was still there silent and motionless. I began to think on the "what could have beens." What if I had gone to high school? Would I still know these people? I mean, school itself was hard for me and I wasn't picked on or anything like that so would, well, would these people be "friends?" And, do these people even know or remember that I even existed at all?

I was asking such profound questions that, perhaps, will never be able to be answered.but even though I knew that I, stood there in deep thought. I then thought it was such an irony that this place that would have been high school, was the place for the final presentation of my 45 day tour. After I thought about that I began to ask the question that usually leads to a dark place, "What if I would have been "normal?" Then the tsunami of sadness crashed over me and I stood in an even greater sense of silence and I felt lost and out of place.

"To be normal? What does this even mean?" I said in a quiet whisper. These are questions that, usually when I ask what I would have been if I were normal, take me a day or so to realize but after 42 days on the road and presentations coast to coast I could see clearly who I was. I've talked in the past that when one. "sees who they aren't they will forget who they are" and for the first time ever I didn't lose sight of this. Yes, I have a slight regret that my picture isn't with all those people I knew, but if I had been there would I have been there last night? Would I be the person I am? I am who I am right now and I can think, wish, and yearn for things to be different but at the end of the day, or rather at every second of the day, what was done is done. I'm the person I am now because of everything that has happened and that line is true of people that are or are not on the autism spectrum.

A sense of calm came over me because the very fact that this would have been my high school gave me more passion to give the best presentation possible. I was diagnosed at age 20 and if I would have had the words to describe who I was my school years would have been much smoother. I said I wasn't picked on but people didn't go out of their way to talk to me either. My memory of those days was that I was simply there not for the better or worse. It certainly, if I had known what to say, could have been better.

After all this time reflecting I turned away from the pictures content with who I am. Right now, I am doing more than I ever could have imagined in my life. I didn't think any of this was possible and while I still had a hint of wonder if anyone on those graduates remembers me, I was here, on this night, to continue my mission to raise the level of awareness and understanding.

20 minutes prior to the start of my presentation people started arriving, and more people, and even more! With five minutes to go the majority of chairs were full and we now had a problem as we were quickly running out. And we did, indeed, run out, so more chairs we found and by the time I started there was a total of 105 in attendance. 105! I couldn't believe it. It was actually hard to find my composure as it was such an honor that I would get that number. True, I've had triple-digits before, but I forget those and I only remember what the most recent "now" is and, well, having so many last night sent chills through my system and made me quiver in sheer awe that I once again was blessed to give a presentation about the roller coaster ride of Asperger Syndrome and to once again profess the fact that there is hope.

The presentation I gave went well and the questions at the end were great as well. Afterwards I felt as if, in a way, I made up for the lack of attending school there. Sure, I don't have the memories of learning and friendship, but now rather I have memories of reaching people. I have memories of making a real difference and several years ago I never could have imagined such a thing.

So that's it; the 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour is over. What does this mean? Not much really because one could make the statement that my entire year is this tour, but in reality I guess we could say that this means the coast-to-coast driving is over, but I'm right back at it tomorrow and Thursday with presentations. However, for the tour itself, I feel the finish line at Lutheran High South was an amazingly fitting place because I have thought long and hard about what I might have missed not having the high school experience. Also, did I miss out on the sense of accomplishment by not surviving my four years? Well, I'll never know that, but as I walked out of the building that would have been my high school I had a feeling that I think would be like that of graduating and that was the sense that I did everything I could, and then some, to bring about a new dimension about Asperger Syndrome. So yes, while there was a split-second of remorse while I was looking at those pictures of the classes I could have been in I walked out of the high school with my head high with the knowledge that, if I had the chance, I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Void

Tonight is my final presentation of the 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour. Earlier today I drove to Washington, Missouri to give my police presentation and on the 50 mile drive I was thinking about all the stories I heard from parents on my journey and I heard the same story in almost every city and I began to get angry.

My dad told me that the end of this journey is the start of the next one, or something like that, and I think he might be right because this story I kept hearing is one that should not happen. What story am I talking about? At least one set of parents at each city I was in said something like this, "Yeah, after the diagnosis we didn't know there were any services for anything autism and that we were simply told, 'good luck.'"

If I'm not mistaken, I do believe the year is 2012, isn't it? If that's the case, why is there still this void? I am at a loss as to how a doctor can give the diagnosis but then not let the parents know anything else. Could this be one of the reasons why so many parents are hesitant to inform their kids, or school for that matter, that their child has Asperger Syndrome? What I mean by this is that if the doctors simply say "It's Asperger Syndrome... Good luck," what will the parents take from this? And, if the doctors say their child is on the autism spectrum, then the parents only hear the word 'autism' and what conclusions can they draw?

I did a radio interview yesterday and the questions McGraw Milhaven asked me were great because he focused on hope, and I was able to mention that we are raising the level of awareness and he then mentioned that so many people only think of "Rain Man" when the word autism comes up. That is the image a lot of parents have in their minds. Now, if one of those parents gets informed that their child has it and are not filled in on the fact that autism is a spectrum, and that there are therapies, and that a diagnosis is not a prison sentence, then perhaps this void can be avoided.

As TouchPoint's public service website says, "Sooner Equals Better." Time is of the essence, but too many families fall into this post diagnosis void of no info, no services and no hope and it most certainly does not need to be this way.

Again I ask, how is this possible? How can doctors inform the family and then send them out the door without any info of what the diagnosis means and the next step of action? If I had just heard this one time I would say that it was an isolated incident, but at every stop on my journey I heard this story. How? Why?!

When I arrived home on Saturday night I did a video blog entitled "The Checkered Flag," but once again I feel as if the green flag is flying because the race to spread awareness is a race that can't be lost. I have sat back and thought that the level of awareness was to a point that we could now focus on the understanding aspect, but from what I heard on my 8,900 mile journey, this isn't the case.

Maybe working on awareness is something that will always be needed and maybe we will never achieve 100% awareness but this is something I am dedicated to. The post diagnosis void is a dark place filled with hopelessness and a feeling of being lost. It doesn't need to be this way, and if the world's awareness of the things people on the spectrum are capable of and the fact that there are services beyond the doctor's words of "good luck," then maybe, someday, we can conquer this void and families will no longer be battling the myths, stigmas, and fears of the autism spectrum but rather be better equipped and have the knowledge to know what the autism spectrum is. Yes, the green flag is out and the race on to win the battle against the VOID!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Empty Office

First, if you missed Saturday evening's special post I did do a video blog from my driveway after returning home after the 8,900 mile journey for my autism speaking tour across America.

You might think that after almost 50 straight days on the road that I would be taking a day off but you would be mistaken. Earlier today, right after the crack of dawn, I did a radio interview via the phone and, well, it might have been my worst performance to date. It didn't help that I was unable to go to sleep until 2AM as my mind would quite simply not shut off. Maybe it was because I was in an alien land known as my own bed, or maybe I haven't allowed myself time to decompress, but whatever the case may be trying to sound intelligent is rather hard to do after 3.5 hours of sleep and just 15 minutes of being awake.

So after the first interview I did have room for redemption as I was once again invited on the McGraw in the Morning show on The Big 550 KTRS. I was on a little over a month ago and as I entered the studio McGraw welcomed me and asked me how my tour went. It had just been a month since I was in that studio but it seemed like half a lifetime, but as soon as it was time I was back into my "Alias" mode and it was so weird to hear me introduced as McGraw said, "And back by popular demand, and coming off a nationwide tour..." After that as bad as I was in the early morning I think I gave my best interview to date and once we were off the air McGraw told me, "You are becoming a real pro at this radio thing."

From the studio I headed to the TouchPoint office, which is where I am now, and it is nothing like I remember it. You see, we're in the midst of moving and my office has always been on the 2nd floor and right now I am the only one on this floor.

When I opened the door to the floor it was almost as if you had entered a house you lived in years ago and yet now it is uninhabited. Before I made it to my office I took a slow stroll through the halls. It was, and I can't believe it was this long, 2 years 3 months ago that I first walked into these halls as Community Education Specialist and walking the halls was like living all the memories, meetings, and accomplishments of those years.

I was rather surreal as each office I passed I was expecting to look in and see a person on the phone, or maybe hear a "hello" or maybe, as I passed another door, a conversation on golf. Yet as each door I passed there was simply emptiness.

Change is something I don't handle well. I know, that is an odd thing to say after spending 45 days on the road, but in that experience, since everything changed daily, nothing changed at all. Here though, at the office, everything changed except within the walls of my office.

On my slow stroll I walked passed my office and headed to the corner of where our residential offices were. In all the time I worked here I never actually went into that corner, so I decided that it was better late than never and I looked in, saw another room that was just an empty shell of its former self and then I walked to my office and re-entered the world I knew as my office, like I said, is the same.

My office won't be here much longer. Just like everyone else I will move to somewhere and this building, and this office of mine that I grew so much in, will be lost. Sure, we can say that I grew by myself and this building was just the place that it happened, but having the "associative memory system" like I do it just isn't something that I can say goodbye to without emotion.

This is one of the harder posts I've written as this is like saying goodbye to a close friend. I mean, it was from this chair and desk that this blog was started and probably 3/4ths of all posts have been written from here. Some of my great ideas have come from this room and perhaps today is my final day in here.

So yes, change happens and with time a new place will have the same memories, but for right now I don't see that. I've always been like this as with the close of each school year I would usually break down not because of saying goodbye to everybody but rather because the I figured I never would step foot in that classroom again. And of course, if you didn't read it last year, the same emotions popped up when I said goodbye to my car.

Then there's the loss of my trips to the Taco Bell. I had many blogs inspired by my lunches there, but those will be no more. Of course, wherever I go, there will be a new place, but oh the agony to say goodbye!

This empty office may be a shell of its former self, and I may be sad now, but change happens. Somewhere (I haven't been there) the people I remember are in there offices. Somewhere will be a new place that I will get to know that I sit down and blog about my experiences and from that point people all over the world will read it. Somewhere new memories will be formed, but for now I will mourn the impending close of the scene of the greatest years of my life for the next time I close my office door it could be for the last time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Final Lap

This is it! Today marks the last on the road presentation for me 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour as tonight I have a presentation in San Antonio.

I was going to do a video blog on the terrace of the hotel with the Riverwalk in the background, and then I decided on writing a long blog, but neither has worked. I have so many different emotions right now that I don't know what I am feeling. I mean, I'm excited to get back to home as it has been so long and yet I'm going to be sad to say goodbye to life on the road and giving presentations in regions I have never presented before.

Today is going to be an awkward day. There aren't many times where I am speechless, but this is one of them so for now I am going to rest, tonight I am going to give my presentation, and tomorrow, well, tomorrow is the drive home.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"No it Doesn't"

I was feeling rather discouraged on the drive yesterday from Phoenix to Tucson. I was thinking about everything that I said in yesterday's post, but then a song that was playing in the car sprung a line of memories that reminded me why I do what I do and is a fitting thing to write about in this my 599th post.

This event goes all the way back to 1st grade and music class. Music class was always confusing for me, such as the time we listened to the Surprise Symphony and the rest of class gave very exaggerated response to the "surprise" in the symphony. However, that was just a mild thing compared to what happened later in the year.

We were listening, well, I'm not certain as to what was playing, but the teacher had plugged in the very large speakers and the vibrations from the bass was immense. I do remember that on this day my music teacher had a terrible cold and her voice was very quiet. Anyway, as soon as the music started I felt the shaking all throughout my body as well as the vibrations in the floor. This wasn't just an odd feeling, but it hurt. I raised my hand and said, "I feel the floor shaking!"
She responded, "Yes, it's called bass."
I responded with, "It hurts."
And she responded with something that I think shaped me. Yes, in my presentations I say that in 2nd grade, when I learned the pattern of the fire drills, I was afraid to speak up. Could it have been from this experience in 1st grade? Perhaps and it all could have started with her response of, "No it doesn't."

I've heard from many parents along my nationwide journey on fears of when, if ever, to tell their child they have Asperger Syndrome. I think this story puts a lot of merit in the "tell" side because by my 1st grade teacher telling me that what I was feeling wasn't there I was essentially being told either A. I need to "toughen up" or B. I was making up these sensations. In either event what is the logical course of action? For me it was to quit speaking up because if no one knew how I felt then how could I ever be told that what I was feeling was false?

I think back to that year, it was the 1989-1990 school year, and how far the world has come in understanding. Back then Asperger Syndrome wasn't even a diagnosis so I don't think we can fault my music teacher, I know I don't, because the level of awareness just simply wasn't there. However, even though I don't fault her the ramifications from being told that what I was feeling was "wrong" so to speak left a long lasting fear of speaking about how I felt. Now, let's say I was in 1st grade now, and let's say I was already diagnosed, if this were the case and I spoke up there's a good chance that, with the ever-increasing awareness of the autism spectrum, there wouldn't be this denial of feelings but rather, hopefully, compassion or empathy and a solution to the problem.

If a person doesn't know they have it, and his or her environment is troublesome, what conclusions can they draw? The conclusion I came to was that I was weak. Of course, not all people will have sensory issues, but this concept that I've stated here can and does apply to other aspects of life. Well, let's just look at the way I started this and the Surprise Symphony. I could not understand for the life of me why everyone had to scream, jump, and laugh at it and yet I would become that animated at conversations about weather or auto racing. This crossed my mind, but I just thought that everyone else was different and that I was the normal one.

To close, as I could probably write an excessively long post on this matter, I would hope this post has shed a different light on this debate. I have Asperger's now, and I had it then; that's a given. Back then when I would try and speak up for help, or if something was bothering me, too many times I heard, "no it doesn't" or a variation of. If I knew I had it, and those around me knew I had it, I think things would have been easier. Yes, this is why I do what I do and this is why I've toured the country for over a month because, if all know it, I'm going to feel more comfortable to speak up and instead of being denied my feelings I might just hear, "I know, let me help."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Journey East

The journey towards home continues today as I head from Phoenix towards the East. Granted, the trip isn't that far as I'm headed to Tucson, but still there is a weird feeling heading in that direction as for over a month I was headed West.

What does this mean? This means that the Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour is nearing its final stages and with that I am experiencing a multitude of emotions. On one hand I am overly excited to be home, but on the other hand I wonder if I could've done more on this tour; could I have given better interviews when I had the chance? Could I have given better presentations? Could I have done more?

The "could I..." game is not a nice one to play but it is something that is going through my mind. It isn't a nice game to go through because when one thinks of things they could have done what one has done gets lost. Maybe I just need time as I really haven't had time to process all the places I've been, all the people I've met, and all the things I've done.

In any event the tour isn't over as on May 9th I have a presentation in Tucson and on May 11th I will be in San Antonio. The tour may be coming to an end but these presentations are just as important as any of the others and I can't wait to give them!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Days of Thunder in San Bernadino

For those new to my blog, or for those that haven't read my book Finding Kansas, auto racing has always been a big love in my life. I always wanted to be a race car driver and that's the only thing I ever considered doing while growing up. It wasn't to be though but I still am active as a flagman which is what I was doing this past weekend in San Bernadino. Usually I have blogged about events that happened at the track, but this week's story takes place after Friday's practice as we went to an indoor kart track.

From the moment I heard we were doing this I was absolutely beside myself in anticipation as two of the other people have raced in the past. I may not seem like it, but I am a highly competitive person when it comes to anything regarding motorsport.

When we got to the track we were told there was going to be a wait, but nonetheless we signed up for two races. After a long wait it was our turn and the five of us with the USAC crew were going to be joined by five others. This excited me because I love a busy track, I love having to calculate passes and yes, I know this is just an indoor kart track, but when a racer hasn't raced in a long time this little experience becomes a battle of epic proportions.

I usually say that when a driver puts his or her helmet on the brain turns off. I was a great example of this because every ounce of common sense I had that was telling me, "Aaron, you still have that injured rib from that event in Nashville so karting probably isn't the best idea." Yeah, that didn't matter because this track was technical and there would be 10 karts on a track that would see sub 30 second lap times. Fun? This was going to be great.

Right away out of the pits when we started I made some fantastic passes. We were also told that, "while overly aggressive bumping is frowned upon we understand that you are racers so we will let a little bumping go." I have never heard that in one of these places, but since the karts had bumpers all the way around wheel-to-wheel contact isn't possible. With that being so I did a little pushing and bumping to the people I was with in this first race.

Lap after lap went by in the 10 minute race and there was a scoreboard outside turn one that I had my eye on. I wasn't looking for my name Aaron though as we all went in with nicknames and someone, perhaps Kyle, had the idea for us to use names from Mario Kart. Beforehand we joked about red shells and banana peels but in the end I somehow got the name "Bowser." So, lap after lap, I could see I was trailing Yoshi on the charts and then, with four minutes to go, I took P1.

With two minutes to go I caught Kyle who had caught another driver (one of the random drivers) in a hairpin. Kyle went to the inside and I got the 'wise' idea to make it three wide on the inside. Kyle had none of it and gave me no room as I was essentially on a line that the only way I was going to make the turn was to bounce of the two karts to my outside, so I jammed the brakes, Kyle turned in, and wedged me into the tires. I became stuck and Kyle got his wish to "put me into the wall."

I was rather ashamed of this event and a worker had to come and push me back, but once clear I went back on the gas and the next lap I set the quickest time of all my laps. The next lap was the white flag (one lap to go) and I got a fast driver who was behind a slower driver. My goal was to pass both drivers for the sole purpose of passing them. It didn't mean anything, but remember that helmet/brain thing? I could tell that the driver leading this three kart train was all over the place, but I was going to use that to my advantage because I've always been good at passing. Well, coming out of the spot that I was wedged into the wall there was contact and a spin by both karts and I thought I was clear but the kart in front over corrected right into my path and a sizable collision occurred. At first I was just annoyed, but then pain crept up from my left side as I took a nice shot into the ribs. Yes, as it happened, the area I injured in Nashville.

After the session I was in some discomfort and it was noticed and I think Rob told a worker that I was, "Racing with a broken rib." to which he responded, "Dude, that's crazy! Why would you do that?" That was a very good question, but it went in one ear and out the other as in another hour we had another race to do!

The next race, an hour later, started out amazing! There were now 11 cars on track and the speed differential between us fast guys and the slow one was 9 seconds. The first time we came up to lap the slower karts I could tell that this had the makings to be a dangerous situation, but I didn't care because I was having the most fun I've had in a long time.

Yes, the fun level I was having was the most fun I've had, since, well, perhaps the last time I raced in a real race. The competitive juices were flowing as I was engaged in a three way battle with plenty of bumping, but all the leaning on each other and pushing was as respectful as it comes.

About four minutes in, and the passing still going strong, we once again were going to catch an extremely slow driver. The kart in front of the battle I was in went for a pass at the same time I was in the midst of trying to fend off an inside pass. This was in the fastest section of the track which was a flat out righthander into a slight lift of a lefthander. Coming out of the right hander our lead kart went to the left of the slow kart and at this point I had many alarms go off in my mind as I knew, knew, that the slow kart was going to panic and do something wrong. However, I was side-by-side myself and it had been years since I was in a battle like this. Sure, I do iRacing but nothing compares to going side-by-side in the heat of a race like this. With that being so, had I lifted I would not have had the advantage on the kart passing me in the next corner.

My thoughts of the slow driver doing something wrong came true as when she saw the kart to her left she instantly turned right. What was right? A jagged wall. She was about 1.5-2 kart lengths in front and when she hit this wall her kart all but stopped forward progress and was kicked back into the track, sideways, at a complete stop. With a kart to my left I had nowhere to go, and really no time to react, and I hit her at full speed. The speed at this part of the track might be only around 30, but nonetheless my head was flung into the steering wheel. The hits kept on coming as when I came to a stop a kart behind me t-boned my kart and I coasted to a stop up against the left wall.

I thought I was okay, but when I tried to breathe there was nothing there and at that point in time my ribs on both side began to ache. I couldn't believe that one could hit that hard on a track like this and later the manager said that, "I think this, or maybe one other wreck, but either this wreck you were in or that one is the hardest wreck that has ever happened here. I saw your head go forward and knew that this was bad."

The staff said they called for medical attention and kept telling me to not move. I was fine with not moving because what I thought was going to be a simple aggravation of that previous rib injury was turning out to be hurting all over. And then I realized that where I was hurting was where the belts were.

The paramedics arrived and they wanted to take me and I was having a pounding headache and I knew that my injuries were simply bruises and strains, but I kept getting the "don't move treatment" but eventually I was told that "I had a choice" and when I learned this we went back to the hotel and  the night was long as sleeping wasn't the easiest of things but the next day I was in the flagstand for the USAC Generation Next tour and yes, there was pain, but adrenaline is a great pain killer and the races went well and now I'm in Phoenix for a couple days before my presentation in Tucson on May 9th.

Despite the crash I had an amazing time. It was such a thrill to be back in something with a motor racing side-by-side. I always said that it wasn't the speed I enjoy, but the racing inches apart going into a corner and coming out the other side. For the amount of time I was on track it was great time and I had forgotten just how much fun it is to race. I guess I could say that my passion for motorsports was rekindled as it was the time of my year. So, if at some other race in the future I'm told that we're going kart racing afterwards I won't have any hesitation in saying, "Oh yes!"

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Presentation to Remember

Being a presenter in new places is a stressful thing. What I mean by that is that, being in a new place, one never knows what the turnout will be. Last night was one of those nights as I was in Irvine, California. Would there be 5, 10, maybe 20? At 5:30, with 30 minutes to go before my presentation, not one single person was there. My heart was sinking fast.

Each minute that passed was a stab to my heart because I kept asking, "Where is everyone?" I tend to panic relatively quickly, but I wanted this presentation to go great as this is the last presentation before I head back East.

With 15 minutes to go a few people came in and I thought, "Well, each one I reach is a victory so at least it isn't a waste tonight!" and then a few moments after that a few more came in, and then more, and then more. The person in charge on site was looking at a list of people who  RSVP'ed and he said there were still more coming. The number of people was up to 20 and at 6PM I decided to wait two extra minutes and in that time four more people came.

As I was being introduced I was trying to contain my smile because here I was, not 30 minute prior, fearing that no one was going to be there. And, as I looked up, more people came in.

I began my presentation and people were still flowing in. I tried not to let myself get distracted as more and more chairs were being brought in. It was hard not letting my over flowing joy become apparent! Then, 30 minutes in, the classroom was full and people were now sitting in the hall to listen to my presentation. All in all about 55 people showed up (the expected estimate was 15!) and I gave them one of my most energetic and humours presentation to date.

The best thing for a presenter is to have an audience that is into the presentation and are engaged. I had that last night and after feeling a bit down this week it was a great experience. Also, I had about 30 minutes worth of great questions so it was an amazing evening and makes for a great point to turnaround and head back to home. Although I do have a presentation in Tucson on May 9th so the tour isn't over yet.

Today my Kansas shifts gears as I had to San Bernadino to flag the USAC Generation Next tour. After the event the drive towards Tucson will begin. So until Monday have a great weekend and I know I will as I will have flags in hand and also I will be thinking about last night's presentation; a presentation that I was worried if anyone would show up and in the end more people showed up than anyone had hoped or imagined for.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Biggest Fear

Yesterday was an open day as no presentations were scheduled here in the Los Angeles area but even though I had no presentation I wasn't at rest. In fact, every day is like that for me because each day I am thinking. Yes, each day I am in thought of how to keep my work relevant. What I mean by relevant isn't that my presentation is irrelevant, but rather how to stay fresh with my writings and how to better describe what is going on. I am truly in constant thought and as I mentioned yesterday even my dreams chip in to the cause.

There is a downside to being so dedicated to something and that is I am always in fear that I will run out of things to say or will get to a point that I am no longer able to make things relevant. It truly is a big fear of mine so each day I put so much pressure on myself to make this blog, or my presentation, the best ever.

I said yesterday that I am fully happy being me, and I am, but if I could change just one thing it would be the fact that I have a hard time remembering what I have done. The only thing that I look at is what is right now. What this means is that each day I look at how many people view my blog, what my Amazon sales rank is, and when things are slow I go into deep thought and I think, "How can I make this better? How can I make my words so they're heard better?"

Maybe I'm like this because I care too much, or maybe because I spent so many years of my life unable to speak about how I felt and why I was and I know there are others like me out there right now and if the world has just a little bit more understanding perhaps things might be a tad bit easier for those who are like I used to be.

Not a moment goes by where I am not focused on my mission to raise awareness and understanding. Again, this is what makes me who I am but at the same time I feel this pressure of sorts to keep everything perfect because what I did yesterday doesn't matter and that presentation last month, well, that doesn't matter either. In my mind only today counts and thankfully I have a presentation tonight in Irvine and, as usual, I will put everything I have into it because, after all, at that moment in time it will be the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Down Day

Yesterday I felt, well, awful. It started from the moment I woke up as I had a night of very real dreams that got me thinking. Thinking about what? I have said in the past, such as this blog post, that usually I am happy being me except on rare occasions. Those rare occasions are often brought about by dreams and the dreams I had were very real and shook me to the core.

In my dreams I asked myself, "What if you didn't have Asperger Syndrome?" I have a lot of fun analyzing things in dreams and a lot of my concepts in my book, "Finding Kansas" were started from thoughts in dreams. However, that dream a couple nights ago was a rough one because it started the downhill row of thoughts such as, "What's it like to be normal?" and, "What's it like to be able to socialize without anxiety that is higher that the stratosphere?"

When I woke up I was hating myself. The unfortunate thing about my emotions is that it is either, "everything is okay" or "everything is wrong." Middle ground does not exist and yesterday morning I was feeling defeated, angry, and bitter.

These emotions in me, like the ones I had yesterday, come about once every three or so months. When they hit they are as strong as strong gets. One of the reasons why they are so strong is the fact that I believe there is no stronger feeling than wanting to be something that one can't be. It is from this that a very large pit can form and for me it was forming rapidly all day yesterday.

Despite feeling angry, bitter, and all the other horrible emotions I was feeling I had to put them aside to continue my nationwide Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour presentation in Orange, California last night. It wasn't easy, but as soon as I started my presentation things quickly became better.

My presentation last night wasn't as sharp as it normally is, although I'm sure from the outside it was fine, but the reason why this happened was because I was quickly thinking about the trap I fell into. I fall into it, as I said, once every three months but, and I've blogged about this before, but when one sees who they are not they forget who they are. During my down day I forgot that I am a writer, a speaker, and perhaps an inspiration. All of that was irrelevant during my time wishing I was someone else. However, and thankfully, during my presentation I once again realized who I am and that I wouldn't change anything about me.

I once again proved a point that I've made in a couple of presentations this month with questions and that is the fact that we on the spectrum can sometimes be our own worst enemies. We can easily fall into fail sets or, in my case, be blinded by society and what we are not. When this happens we lost focus on the fact that what makes us different makes us unique. Most of the time I embrace my uniqueness; then there are days like yesterday where I forget all that. As for now though I am happy being me, wouldn't change anything, and hopefully I will remember this three months from now when this unfortunate cycle happens again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Meeting After 22 Years

Today is May 1st and the start of my "Autism Awareness Year." Okay, so every day of every year is that for me, but nonetheless I thought it would be a good idea to tell you a story of an event that happened at the end of last week as it's time to get back to telling the world how my mind works.

This was during the time I was in San Fransisco before my presentation. Before last week though my brother had a friend in and around the year 1990. I would've been seven then and his friend and I spent many a hour playing various Nintendo games. Many, many hours. I remember this, however, as with all people, I don't remember him. I remember what we did, the room I was in, what I was wearing, but when it comes to him, and all people, I don't have the ability to remember the person or what they look like. This is a good time to state the line of, "If you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" because on my nationwide tour I met a person with Asperger Syndrome that has a photographic memory of people. However, I was not born with that.

My brother's friend had big aspirations, and I remember them, to become a person that designs things for movies. Eventually in, I want to say 1991, he moved out to the San Fransisco area and he did, indeed, live his dream. That was the last I saw or heard from him. However, technology is a wonderful thing and through Facebook my dad had reconnected with him and when he found out I was coming out that way he made an offer to give me a tour of where he works. It didn't take me half a second to think and say, "That would be an experience of a lifetime! Sign me up."

As the day was nearing my dad said I should "call to confirm" and this was creating a great drama in my mood as calling people is something I struggle with. Also, since I did know him 22 years ago this made it worse because I can call people I know, such as family, but to talk to someone that I knew all the way back then, well, that was going to be awkward. Do you see the trouble I was having? Even though this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience I still couldn't simply dial the number. There were to just too many unknowns, "What would he say? Would anything in the past be referenced? Would he be mad at giving the tour? Well, why would he? He offered..." The circular thought paralyzed me and I eventually sent a message on Facebook and thankfully everything was a go.

Arriving at the building, and walking in, was an odd feeling as if I were out of place. I won't mention where this was, but there were many things that would make any movie buff just a tad bit envious. After a short wait out he came and, well, it was an odd feeling. I don't believe I have had this long of a time span between knowing someone and seeing them again in my life and of course, I didn't recognize. On this point though I'm sure, spectrum or not, the result would be the same.

The tour began and instantly I was seeing things that I recognized from movies I had seen years ago. Having the memory I do it was so awesome to see the actual paintings, or models used in things I saw 20 or so years ago as this brought about all the memories and experiences I had during seeing that movie for the first time.

As we progressed I asked a question, as since I have an associative memory system I always had memories of him, but it always had to do with items or such, so I asked, "At some point in time were you working on some sort of model yellow submarine?" For a moment he looked as if he were thinking back, and I'm sure he was, and then there was a big smile and he said, "How do you remember that? Yes, I made that and I actually used it in my application to work here." My goodness, how did you remember that?"

To be honest anytime I see yellow or play RC Pro AM on the first Nintendo I am reminded of him. Even still I am amazed at how this associative memory system plays out because I can't recall the person, but items, colors, and events are instantly associated with people.

The tour continued on and I was amazed at his knowledge of just about everything in the building. Also, my appreciation for those that work behind the scenes of movies was greatly increased and I don't see that now as a job, but truly the word "art" must be used because it is beyond anything I can imagine, as I have no artistic talents, to be able to create the works of art we saw be it paintings, props, or sculptures.

A couple of hours later and the tour, sadly, came to an end. I could have stayed there all day listening to small tid-bits of info as I was soaking it all in. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime tour but more importantly it was so neat to see someone that was simply a ghost in my memories. Well, he might have been a ghost but that yellow submarine has been perfectly visible for two decades.