Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Trophy and The New Era

Okay, yesterday I showed you the videos from the Champions of Mental Health banquet so there wasn't any personal input so today let me tell you how I felt and still feel.

First, I don't know if my speech showed it, but giving my acceptance speech was the most difficult presenting I have ever done. I knew I had to print out what I wanted to say ahead of time to keep me on track as I would've of spoke for a dozen minutes otherwise. So with that being so I have never read in public since 5th grade so that certainly was difficult. But also, after seeing the video about me, I was 3/4ths the way of being completely overwhelmed and choked up.

So I gave my speech and returned to my table and I stared at trophy and I kept running my fingers over the edges trying to process what this was. How did I get this? I looked around the room and remembered all the sleepless nights of hopelessness. I remembered all the times I wanted to say, "I hurt, I need help, please understand me!" but was unable to say any of that.

Time went on and I still was in a trance reading the words, "Aaron Likens 2012 Mental Health Champion". Champion? How did this happen? My thoughts continued to race and I remembered that first night I had finally reached a breaking point; I either was going to be consumed by my emotions that I wasn't able to express or I was going to find a way to get them out. It was one or the other; to implode or to survive.

Minutes passed and I was still staring at the amazing shades of blue reflecting off this trophy I was given. This was now a harder time than seeing the tribute video or giving my speech because I was recalling all the emotions and the proverbial road I had to travel to be in this moment that I had this amazingly beautiful trophy sitting in front of me.

I began to think of my mission, "To raise the awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum" because there are too many people out there that are in the same spot I was in when I was on the brink of inner destruction. I know I can't fix the world. I know I can't conquer supreme ignorance, but what I can do is, for those willing to listen, open up the door that leads down the path of understanding. Thinking back to where my journey began this was the only thing I wanted; this thing called understanding.

To receive this honor, this label of "champion" has been a tough thing to understand; even more so because I think I'm one of the younger recipients of it as I'm only 29. As I said in my speech though, this is something I will carry with me forever. It was a long road from that first day I started to write to that banquet, but in a way it is a symbolic passage of eras. One could argue that the release of my book would be the end of that era, but I disagree. This award, I believe, is the end of the era from diagnosis, personal discovery, writing, and then becoming a public speaker. Yes, with this award I have made the jump into the next era. Over the past two years here at TouchPoint my voice has become stronger, clearer, and the amount of people reached grows by each month. Now though, moving forward in this new era, I now have a new label; that of "Champion." Society thinks, as I did for the longest of times, that the word champion is used solely for sports. While my journey didn't have a season, didn't have a table with stats, and didn't have a playoff system it had something much more serious. It was sink or swim. It was be consumed and lost within myself or find a way to survive. With this new label it's no longer and surviving but rather thriving and with this award I am sure my voice, as loud as it was, will become louder.


  1. You truly are a champion, Aaron. In one short interview, you articulated things I thought about in one way about my son (that he is a black/white thinker) and put it into terms I can understand-open ended questions stress you out.

    Even as a parent who is working on an advanced degree to help students with autism spectrum disorders, there are things the experts don't know. What you do is help others with ASDs by voicing what they may not know how to do.

    If that's not the work of a champion, I do not know what is.

  2. Okay I am always a day late and a dollar short as the old saying goes................I just watched the video of your speech for your award and what can I say.........OMG, you spoke like the true champion you are! I would have thought that you are a trained motivational speaker! Excellent! You are a great role model for so many, many people. Not just those on the spectrum, but everyone that will take the time to really "see" another human being. Too look beyond the things we are judged on, and to see the person. I want my son to see that there is HOPE, just as you say. That he too will find his way, just as you have, just as we all hope to do in our lives. Great speech!

  3. Have you ever spoken to a professional audience before? I think it will be great if you can find a few helping professionals supporting your cause and providing you opportunities to speak in their arenas. Yes, it will be challenging in a sense. But, I also believe the new opportunities will also help your loud voice be heard in more places.