Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What I Wanted

This morning I was thinking back to my experience with the students the other day as well as a question that was asked, "What made you want to be a motivational speaker?"

The answer I gave to that question, at the time, was only a sliver of the reason. I've done 295 presentations now and in a way it feels as if I have been doing this forever although this most certainly isn't the case. Then, earlier this morning, I stumbled upon a blog in Poland that did a review of the Polish version of my book. It's such an honor to say my work has been translated! Anyway, I translated the Polish blog I found and the writer of that article mentioned that my reason for writing was simply for the world to understand as I felt alone and isolated from the world.

It's hard to remember those days for me. I've only been speaking for not even three years and yet it feels as if it's been my entire life. Forgotten are the nights I spent wondering if anyone would understand me. Forgotten are the nights where I yearned for just one person to know me not for who I wasn't but for who I am. The only thing I wanted was for someone, anyone, and hopefully everyone to understand me.

These thoughts bring me to my presentation at the school on Monday. In yesterday's post I proudly proclaimed that the future is bright. It wasn't until I read the translated Polish blog that I realized that what I wanted all those years ago is exactly what I am doing now.

There were several questions from students that had Asperger's at that presentation on Monday and when they asked their questions they asked it in a way that showed no fear. This alone, okay I must admit I just got massively choked up because this shows that they felt more comfortable with who they were as well as how their question would be taken by the group. Personally, if I don't feel comfortable I'm not asking any question in a group that has anything to do with myself. And yet when the questions were asked, or when a student gave a personal example of how Asperger's plays out in him there was no laughter, no looking down upon but just an ever growing sense of understanding.

I have no idea how my life and social life would have been different if there was that bit of understanding when I was going through school. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, it does feel as if I have been doing this forever when really I am still relatively new at this whole thing. Somewhere within me is still that person from eight years ago screaming silently desiring nothing more than an ounce of understanding. Without understanding how can a person have compassion? We are in a constant state of increasing the awareness but we are still a long way away from reaching everyone, but I'm sure there are others like myself out there today wanting nothing more than just an ounce of understanding.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Future is Bright

How did yesterday go? I must admit I was grade "A" nervous. What does this mean? I got to the school almost an hour early and I spent 40 minutes in my car thinking. What would I say? How would I say it? I would be going without a PowerPoint so I had to be sure to make words fluid. But what would I say? I kept asking that, what would I say? I was beginning to think myself in a frenzy.

I eventually walked into the office and thankfully and took a seat. I was told the class was at lunch so it would be a bit. This gave me more time to think and the impact of this upcoming presentation grew and grew because if I talk to just one class, say, 25 kids how many people will those kids eventually touch and what would just one ounce of understanding now grow into? The nerves were now at full speed.

As 11:30 neared a teacher came and got me and informed me that the students would be filling the library for the presentation... all 300 of them. I said, "What?" and she replied, "Oh, you weren't told? Yeah, 300. Do you need anything?" I tried to think of something sarcastic to say to if I needed anything but I was in a near panic as we turned the corner and there they were, the students of the 6th grade.

My feeling at this point in time was just like my first presentation, except this was a bit worse as I knew how much was riding on this. The ability to touch this many people and expand the definition of autism understanding, let alone giving this to the future, is a rare chance and I knew I could no blow this chance.

Despite a few minutes of waiting among some teachers and the mass of students filing into the library I was alone. I was completely alone and lost in thought. I've never have and never will know what this feels like, but I'm sure I was experiencing the same emotions a sports star feels like before a championship game.

It was time. I took the podium and began the same way I do every presentation, "Hello, I'm Aaron Likens and I serve as Autism Ambassador for TouchPoint Autism Services and also author of the book Finding Kansas." After that I did a hybrid presentation skimming over different aspects of my presentation trying to make each point as clear as relevant as possible.

This presentation was scheduled for an hour and at the 25 minute mark I thought I was going down. When giving a new presentation, or rather one that isn't the norm, it is hard to gauge if what I was saying was making any impact at all. I was fearing my words were falling silent and making no impact.

At the top of the hour, with half an hour to go, I decided to open the floor for questions. This is always a scary turn because, if no one asks anything, what do I say? I was about as frightful as I have ever been in a presentation, but then a hand when up and they asked, "Was it easier or harder for you after you got diagnosed?" Say what?! With a gigantic smile, I replied.

Obviously my words were heard and the following 30 minutes was sheer magic. "How hard is it for parents?" "Is it true boys are diagnosed more?" "Are you happy having it?" "Can a person out grow it?" "Can a person with autism or Asperger's have a job, or a family?" and the most magical question of all, and I don't remember exactly so I won't put it in quotation marks, but this girl used my vocabulary and mentioned Kansas.

The final 30 minutes went by too fast. It isn't too often in life that something this magical occurs. And I say too fast because after each question I had two to three dozen hands up wanting to ask a question. The thirst for knowledge was undeniable and the level of understanding in the questions just kept growing and growing.

With a few minutes to go I was trying everything I could not to shake or get teary-eyed. I knew that what I said was heard. I knew that those there wanted to know more and with that knowledge comes understanding. And with understanding comes the chance for a better life for those on the spectrum.

It was such an honor to be able to speak to that 6th grade and having their attention for the full hour and knowing that they wanted to learn everything has given me so much hope. I have no idea who or what those students will become. Some may be a teacher, others might become a doctor, or a researcher, or maybe a psychologist. Whatever and whomever they become I hope my words are never lost on them. Those 300 are going to touch many people across their lives and those will touch more and then it branches out to an unimaginable level. Each of those though, after 12:30 yesterday, left with a better understanding of the autism spectrum and should they have a person in their grade, or class, I think that they're going to better understand them and, as I said, it was such an honor to be able to stand up there, in front of all 300 kids while being as nervous as I've ever been, and be able to share with them all my words, my stories, and to give them a glimpse into the autism spectrum. With their response I know, without a doubt, the future is bright.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rematch: Aaron vs. 5th (or 6th) Graders

Just over a year ago I had my first presentation at a school and without a doubt that presentation had the most butterflies in my stomach of all of them that I have done. Well, a year has passed and once again I have the chance to speak in front of students.

Am I nervous? Normally I have no sense of nerves before a presentation. I know, sounds odd, right? I mean zero nerves. I never thought I would get to such a point in my life that public speaking is easier than normal speaking (what is the opposite of public speaking?) but I have. However, and this is a very BIG however, I may be comfortable talking to parents, teachers, doctors, police officers, and any other profession but talking to kids? Scares me to no end.

I've been telling myself that I want a challenge and I've got my wish today. All last night and this morning I've been wondering why I have been nervous and I'm not totally sure that it has to do with the fact that it's that they're kids. No, I think part of the nerves is the fact that I want this to be perfect because I realize the stakes are so high so it's almost like pre-game jitters before a championship match.

So are the stakes high? You bet they are! The need for understanding is great everywhere but none so paramount than that of our classrooms. Why? Where else is a person with Asperger Syndrome going to be with the same people for weeks, months, and perhaps years on end eight hours at a time? If there is no awareness and understanding then how can we expect those without Asperger's to have any compassion or sympathy? Without the understanding our actions can be taken as aloof, uncaring, or sometimes rude when that, more often than not, is not the case.

I know a lot is riding on this and for those that hear me whether I use one story or another it probably won't matter, but I want this to be perfect. I've rehearsed what I've wanted to say over and over (and I actually had a dream about it last night) and I still am not happy. I sort of want to do what I did last year and speak for a little and then let the class dictate the course by opening it up to questions, but what if they don't ask questions?

Above all else I want to make a connection today. I hope that my words lets them inside the mind of a person with Asperger Syndrome. It's days like today that, while I know I have one of the most amazing jobs in the world, I realize just how important my job is and how much rides on each presentation. Going into this, today, I'm not really allowed an off day because if I can make that connection, and a student begins to understand his or her classmate, you know, maybe a case of bullying will disappear or maybe, just maybe, a friendship can begin. And for a person with Asperger Syndrome, chances are the school setting is already difficult and the last thing that the person needs is a full classroom of people that thinks that they're weird, odd, or any other word that is derogatory. So yes, in just a few hours I take what, in my opinion, is my most important stage. I hope I'm on my game. I hope I can make that connection and let the most important word of all, understanding, into the mix.

After this presentation my life won't change as I'll probably eat lunch, contemplate writing my 5th book, then go to bowling tonight. However, I hope somehow someway I change another person's life today with my stories and words.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Question: Autism in the Media

Due to this sinus infection I have being creative today isn't happening. However, I wanted to rerun this post as I got asked yesterday what my opinion was on how it's being portrayed now. I heard a mix, but one thing I heard that I had not heard yet was, because of the Big Bang Theory, employers are now expecting ALL people with Asperger Syndrome to be a Sheldon. So keep that in mind as you read this original post from February 2011...

Today's post is going to be a bit different because today I want your input.

Last night while watching a little television there was an ad for a show that was on later that involved, well, the ad sounded something like this, "Will the detectives be able to connect to the mind of an autistic son who holds the secret to his parents kidnapping?" The exact quote is not word for word, but the primary meaning is still there.

Now my question is this; Is the way autism is portrayed in television getting more or less accurate? Is it being sensationalized or exploited? Or is it being used in a tasteful way that could help increase awareness?

I don't watch a lot of television outside of news and sports so I am missing out on most of these shows. During presentations I get a lot of question of what I think about Sheldon on Big Bang Theory or what I think of the show Parenthood. I say, "I get asked that all the time, but haven't seen it." so today I am asking you what you think. Have we come along way since Rain Man? Are the shows of today tasteful without exploiting?  I currently have no opinion therefore I am asking yours. Let the discussion begin.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Good Deed Remembered

I'm in Columbia, Missouri right now, in fact I'm writing this blog in the hall that I will be presenting in in about an hour, but I wanted to go back to my trip down my memory lane I went on yesterday.

As I said, I visited the video game store I worked at. I worked there for about nine months and during my 2nd month there I had an incident that almost saw me lat for work. Now, at that point in time in my life, I believed that if a person was late it was an instant firing. I believed this despite the fact that the store manager often was an hour late opening the store with me waiting there, but that's beside the point. Anyway, one day, as I was on I-55 headed to the mall and my 1983 Mazda 626 decided that it wanted to quit working and I lost all power.

This was my first time breaking down and this was back in 2001 and this was back in the day that when cell phones were something that only fancy people had. Thankfully I was chronically early, and I was considering walking to the mall, but I was still four miles away and then what about my car?

I sat there worrying myself to death, or at least worrying fifteen years of my life, when all of a sudden a car pulled up behind me and stopped. "Did they break down to?" I said aloud. It was a nice car (Chrysler Sebring) and then this lady got out and walked up to my car. I rolled down the window and she asked, "Do you need some help?" Did I ever!

She allowed me to use her phone and I called my dad and he asked if my battery was connected, or if it made a this type of noise or that type of noise and to all the questions all I could say was, "I don't know." All the while I was still thinking about the fact that I was going to be late for my shift at the store and that meant life, as I knew it, was about to be over.

In fact, I was a broken record on this. I kept telling my dad that I didn't have time to wait for a tow truck and that I was going to walk. The lady overheard this and said, "Oh, it's on my way, I can take you." That worked out well because I guess all the vehicles of Saint Louis decided to break down because AAA had a three plus hour wait for tows. With that being so my dad told me to take the ride with the lady and we would deal with the car later.

And that's exactly what I did. The lady in the Sebring was very nice and it actually went against everything I believed in people back then because I believed everyone was cold, callous, and downright mean. And yet, she stopped on a busy interstate to see if I needed help and then gave me a ride to my job. How amazing is that?! She gave me her business card and she was an insurance salesperson and day after day I meant to call her to say thank you, but I never did. To this day I wish I would have made that call, and somewhere in a box I know I still have that business card, but I doubt I'll find it. So wherever you are Sebring driver I just wanted to say thanks. It's small acts of kindness like that which make the world a better place and of course you quelled my severe anxiety that day.

Well, that's all I've got today. the hall is filling up and being up near the stage it is kind of awkward writing my blog while people are watching.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Yesterday, before and between my two presentations I ventured around parts of town that meant a lot to me. I was early to my police presentation in Jefferson County so I drove a few miles south to the kart track that I flagged at from 2002-2008 (I flagged at the club 1995-2008) and was race director 2006-2008.

It had been two years since I drove by this track and it was a weird feeling as if I were going back in time. For several years flagging there was my only job and I could remember the pride and self worth I felt going to the track. Then I became the race director (think head official with absolute power) and as I think back on those days it was so important to me becoming who I am today.

After my police presentation, which went amazing as the officers asked amazing questions and kept me five minutes past the scheduled start of the next speaker, I drove to the mall that I worked at when I was working at the video game store. It was weird as 11 years later the smell is exactly the same so continuing my trip down memory lane was rather easy.

The store I worked at has been reconfigured but I made it a point to stand where the counter used to be and to just soak in the atmosphere. I'd have given anything to go back and re-experience, just for a few minutes, the moments of sale and interactions with the customers I had. As I was thinking about that a song played over the PA system in the mall that played back in 2001; talk about an event that makes a person question the passage of time. And not only was it a song that played in 2001, it was the store manager's favorite song.

With another hour to kill I made my where to the industrial complex that the kart shop I worked at was. I hadn't been to this building since 2007 and I was expecting the space that we were in to be vacant, but new tenants had moved in. In fact, I didn't recognize any of the businesses in there which sort of made me sad as trying to remember that time era became difficult.

From there I started making my way towards my next presentation and the road that the industrial complex was on led me to a house that a friend I used to know lived on. This wasn't just any friend but the friend who placed the soda can on my dresser that I mention in the chapter, "Small Things" in my book and mention in my presentation.

I drove by the house and saw a person that very well could have been him walk past the front door. For a fleeting moment I thought that I should say hello, but I thought better of it as it has been since 1999 that I saw him (although his mom, who works for a delivery company, delivered a package to my house about two years ago) so I figured it was best to let the past be the past... that, and I'm shy.

The roads to get to where I was going led me past the doctor's office that motivated the post, Dear Dr. X then the mall I mentioned in this December 2010 post. After those two places I went right past Emily's neighborhood.

So all in all yesterday was truly a trip through the past. At each place I went I thought back to how everything worked to get me to where I am today, but at the same time I missed those moments in the past. Time moves on though and I used to hate that fact, but I love where I am today which makes memories of the past more bearable. It was a great experience though because to know where one is, and to realize the growth that one has experienced, they must remember where they came from.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Scariest Ad Ever

Driving to the office yesterday I heard the scariest ad of all time. Granted, the purpose of this ad was not to scare potential customers, but after hearing the ad I can tell you I am scared to death to walk into their stores.

In the past I've had many posts about trips into grocery stores. One of my favorite inventions of the past five years has been the self checkout lane because it eliminates potential social interactions. A few months ago I heard in on the radio in another city, don't remember which one, that stores are now taking them out because these may harm "store loyalty." Anyway, the radio ad I heard yesterday proudly claimed that you will never find a self checkout lane in their stores and... and... are you ready for this? Truly, are you ready because this is the scariest line in any ad of ALL TIME! The ad continued on and stated that, when checking out, there's a good chance you will be engaged in conversation with the checker outter.

For those not on the spectrum the world might be turning into a cold place as things become automated and that human connection in the world is being cut on what would seem to be a daily basis. However, things like the automated checkout lane helps me because it minimizes the social situations. So many times when I am spoken to by the clerk I just nod, or give one word answers, and the clerk sometimes gets an attitude, or asks, "Are you okay?" and the anxiety felt after such an episode lasts for hours.

My goal as I'm out in public is to stay invisible and to not be spoken to. It takes so much strength to just do the task I'm doing and to not be overwhelmed by everything, every sound, and everybody around me and when I'm spoken to randomly it's like starting the derailing process of a train.

I'm interested to see in five years if the automated lanes still exist because there's going to be a stark divide between those who like it and those who want the chit chat. I can assure you one thing though and that is, and I now Halloween is just around the corner, I wouldn't have to go to a haunted house to be scared to death; all I'd have to do is venture to these chain of stores to truly have a horrifying experience.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reliving Good Times

I may be behind the times, but I've finally resorted to buying things on Amazon, such as video games, as I now can avoid the awkward social interactions at the store. There's one downside to this as there's a delay from when I purchase to when it arrives. Such was the case this past week as I had pre-ordered Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

Those two games came out for the Xbox 360 on Tuesday and had never been on any version of the Xbox. You may take this new line as a joke, but for me it isn't. These two games were the most anticipated titles of the year! Yes, the year. Halo 4? Blah! I say, the real fun is in Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

The last time I owned those were on the PS2 back in 2003. Sure, I still have them, but they are dated, but when I learned that finally, FINALLY they were coming to the Xbox 360 I couldn't contain my excitement. So on Thursday I checked the mail and it didn't come. Friday I was hopeful and when the mail came I was strongly disappointed then on Saturday it happened; a box from Amazon!

I have always been fond of those two games be it on television and video game format (or board game for that matter.) In my presentation I state what seeing that wheel spin for the first time was like (sheer sensory euphoria) but it's more than that. I loved learning what letters go together and now I would like to say I'm pretty good at solving the puzzles when there aren't many letters (my sister refuses to play Wheel with me) revealed.

Of all the games I rented when I was younger Wheel and Jeopardy were probably in the top five if not on the top spot. Thinking about this I think this might have been a sign that maybe I had Asperger Syndrome. I'm not saying that liking game shows is the red flag, but rather that I was nine and wanting to play nothing except those two games. I mean, how many nine year olds are yearning for a good ol' game of Jeopardy?

After having the weekend to play around with those two games they are just as fun as I remembered. Well, actually they are better because there's online multiplayer. I'm sure those that I know are going to get annoyed real fast because when I get on a one-track mind I will just keep asking, "Game of...? How about now? Now? 5 minutes? Now? What, you don't have the game? Go get it, like, now. No? Why not? No, trust me, best game ever. EVER!" Funny, times change but my arguments do not. Times change and yet twenty years later I'm trying to convince everyone I know for a game of Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Blog Process

It's been a while since I explained how I write my blog. Well, not the actual literal process of typing, but the thought process that goes into it.

Ever since I began to write there have been two ways that ideas pop up. The first is like yesterday's blog about the conversation at the golf course. Sometimes it takes a couple weeks between having the idea, working through it, and converting it to words that make sense.

Then there's the second one. This is the one that the gems come from as they are spontaneous and come without any conscious thought. A good example of this would be my "Dear Washington" post. I was in the process of brushing my teeth and out of nowhere the concept, wordage, and motivation came to write and 30 minutes later it was finished. Most of the chapters in my books and all of my concepts (i.e. Kansas, 4th Wall...) come from these moments of spontaneous genius.

I will say that is the difference between book writing and blog writing. For the most part my blogs are usually thought of in advance. To be honest, there is rarely a time during the day that I am not focused on what I should write about. I'm constantly observing myself and my surroundings thinking of what I could use to make a relevant and meaningful blog post.

One of the benefits of this writing method is that I am always aware of myself. When I'm in a challenging situation I don't withdraw within myself but rather I look as to the what's and why's of the situation with the knowledge that, regardless of how awkward or angry I am at myself there will be a positive from it.

So yeah, those are the two ways that my blogs come about. I still can't believe I'm a writer even though I've been doing so for seven years and I still can't believe I have 715 blog posts. And to think writing was my least favorite thing to do in school.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"You Seem Like a Nice Enough Guy"

A couple weeks ago I wrote about "The Wall" which I used an example of what happened at a golf course. A few weeks after that I played golf again and once again I was forced to pair up with someone I didn't know.

Going into it I was fully aware of the challenges but I didn't want to experience this wall, and yet I did. As usual the other golfer asked question after question about me and I simply answered the questions without a return volley. On the 7th hole he finally asked me what I do for a living and I kept my answer brief by saying I was an author and speaker. In the right arena I'll expand on this question with glee, but if I state what it is in this environment I have no idea how the person will react. All that was moot because he inquired, "What do you write and speak about?"

When he asked the question I had to explain, so I did, and at the end I said I was able to do this because I do have the diagnosis myself. He was in such a state of shock he dropped his club and said, "I never would have suspected because you seem like a nice enough guy."

I didn't know how to take that comment and this is why there's been a delay on writing about it. I don't know if I should take this as a compliment in that I blend in well, or if the stereotype is that Asperger's equals people who are mean.

This person I was golfing with was an engineer of some sort and he kept asking what the challenges are because he kept saying that I appeared nice enough. He wasn't trying to insult me because he really wanted to understand how there could be any challenges at all and finally, at the 15th hole, I said, "How many questions have I asked of you? Have I made eye contact? Have I interacted with you at all that you didn't initiate?" Like a person who is watching a mystery movie and right at the surprise plot twist ending there's that expression of "I get it" and at that moment he got it.

This guy was sharp and said this was something he had not noted. With this information he understood and used almost my exact words to describe the difficulties I have outside an environment of a game.

So again, I don't know how I should take his comment. I'm sure it was a compliment but I don't feel proud of it. Okay, yes, sure, I know how to blend in silently and this is something I aspire to, but is it this line, is this concept of since I "appear normal" and "appear a nice enough of a guy" that those like me can run into issues? Since I "appear" normal does this minimize sympathy when I make a social error since everything "appeared" to be normal? And referencing yesterday's post, is this the reason why those with Asperger's can struggle in school, or rather have no support because everything "appears" to be normal?

If anything this example just points to the needed increase in the understanding of Asperger's. Was that golfer's frame of reference that, if anything, there is a high prejudice against a person with Asperger's? He also said he couldn't "see anything different" in me.

At the end of the round he thanked me for a great conversation and that was it. Per the norm I didn't ask a single question about him. The "wall" struck again and while I probably increased his understanding of Asperger's to a degree that is unmeasurable I left feeling hollow. Connections are so difficult for me to make even though, as he said, "I'm a nice enough guy." That being so things should just work, right? Things should just be easy, right? Only if that were true. Only if what appeared to be was. Only if how I seemed was the truth. And, above all else, only if all those around me could experience the social fear and the amount on analyzing I do on every situation. So in the end I don't know whether to be proud or sad of that line.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dear Washington...

My job title is Autism Ambassador and each day it takes on a slightly different role. I speak to a wide array of audiences but one thing I have never done is write a letter to those in power. Today I change that.

                Dear Washington,

As you well know, autism is a national health crisis with rates at 1 in 88. Let me say that again, 1 in 88! We all focus on those numbers, and rightfully so, but where does each one of those 88 end up? The school system and from my experiences presenting around the country the education system is not prepared for this.

                Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a knock on teachers or the system because I don’t believe the system was designed for the autism spectrum. You see, it is a spectrum and for those out there like me with Asperger Syndrome we may see the world differently. We may have what is considered a “behavior” when it is just our way to manage our environment. We may, as I’ve heard this story too many times to count by parents, “act out” or “be defiant” when we answer a rhetorical question not knowing that the question wasn’t meant to be answered.

                Our ways are sometimes different and this may lead to being teased, or worse bullying. These effects for a person on the autism spectrum may not simply go away at the end of the school day, school year, or their schooling career. These effects can last a lifetime and many times the student has no idea why they are different or why their actions bring about such scorn. On top of that, if the school staff doesn’t have the knowledge on what Asperger/autism is how can they be equipped in handling the situation the right way?

                I’m eternally grateful that I have been able to speak to so many teachers across the country as it is so moving when, during my presentation, I see tears. This is why I say the current situation is not a knock on teachers or the system because a lot of teachers simply don’t know. That’s the one thing that keeps me motivated and at the same time breaks my heart when I hear a teacher say, “I… I… I remembered a student years ago. I scolded him and thought he was just being defiant. Only if I knew! Only if I knew now back then I could have given him the support he needed.”

                We on the spectrum aren’t more or less but we’re simply different. This being so I believe teachers MUST know this. In some areas we may need no support, and in others we may need much support. We can be geniuses in one area of knowledge and well behind our years in others. I’ve heard from parents in these instances that teachers sometimes simply state that the child isn’t “preforming to what they can because they don’t want to. See, he can do math so easily, why can’t he do other subjects as well? Why can’t he simply answer a question with something other than ‘I don’t know?’”

                Again I want to say that I fully and whole-heartily believe teachers want the information. They want to learn and they want to know what they can do to give each and every child the support they need to become the most that they can be. Without the proper information how can they do this though? Let’s look at the numbers once again. 1 in 88! And not only that, the number is rising. What will be in the future? For now though if a class averages 30 kids that means, by average, once every three years a teacher will have a student on the spectrum. However, a lot of kids with Asperger’s may not have the diagnosis officially but they are there and they are in need of the support just the same.

So Washington, I yearn, beg and plead that it is looked into that those teaching now and those who are currently in school to become a teacher get the proper knowledge on the autism spectrum because, by average, each teacher will come across a student that has it at least once in their career. Speaking to many people as I have I’ve heard both sides of the coin. Even myself, I would not have the skills and the abilities to do what I am doing if it weren’t for my amazing 2nd and 4th grade teachers. On the other hand I’ve also heard horror stories from parents and it doesn’t need to be this way. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A little understanding goes a long way and with that understanding teachers are able to see that we aren’t trying to disrupt class and we aren’t trying to be difficult by taking all statements literally.

We on the spectrum have so much human potential but we might need a little bit more support in achieving this and the teachers I’ve spoken to have been moved to tears realizing past students who needed that extra support and understanding. At the same time those same teachers are looking forward and seeing what they can do now. That’s what we need every teacher to be doing. The human potential is there, but we just need to make sure all the teachers are equipped to know what the autism spectrum looks like and ways to understand it. This may seem like a difficult task but I’ve met so many passionate teachers and I know in my heart they want this information. Besides, the stakes are so high. Each one of those 88 is a person with hopes, dreams, and emotions and if they can’t get through school without constant disasters, meltdowns, and being bullied how can they get the education they need? What will their view on the world be? As I said, the stakes couldn’t be higher and I hope in several decades a letter like this isn’t needed, but right now it is and I hope that we can start down a road of full understanding because, after all, each one, each person that makes up the 1 in 88 is more than a statistic and for each of those there are hopes, dreams, and a yearning to be accepted.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

1 Year Later

A year? It's really been a year? This day has been on my mind since, well, okay I have actually thought about it each day since a year ago.

Yes, it's been one year since the the crash that claimed Dan Wheldon. My thoughts on the matter are the same today as they were in that blog so I don't think I can add to that so my words then remain to this day. However, what I want to touch on is the fact that today, for me, it's like it is right now.

Okay, as I read my Facebook wall today many people are in the same place I am right now. Shock, grief, and remembrance and we were just fans. As I said in my post last year that feeling I had obviously was a fraction of what it was for those that knew him better.

However, what I want to state today is something that I've been hearing over and over from parents about traumatic events. For me, this past year, it's like I've been stuck in those moments; the moments heading to Vegas having a bad feeling and then that moment, the one moment where two cars touched that started the chain reaction and the split second thought I had of, "Oh my God, no no no no..."

I've tried to find research on the matter on the internet but have had little success seeing if there are any studies on the reasons as to why it would seem people with Asperger Syndrome are much more prone to this sort of frozen in time problem. This isn't a minor problem as it has been with me for the entire year. Again, I'm not trying to say my loss was that great, and I hope I'm not coming off that way, what I'm stating is the emotions felt before the crash, and that moment right as it began are just as fresh, raw, and harsh now as they were.

This is a subject that, when parents ask me about it, I wish I had more answers. I've heard stories that bullying, a loss of a pet, loss of a parent or other family member, something they saw in person or on the news, and a couple other events that have slipped my mind but with each story the plot line is the same; an inability for time to move on. The emotions of the beginning are the same now.

A line I've heard that angers me is that, "time heals all wounds." If this is the case do I not experience time? Or, as another thing I've been learning with listening to parents and others on the autism spectrum at my presentations is that my super sharp memory isn't just isolated to me. It seems more often than not we have very keen memories and while this is a great gift it also keeps us trapped because everything is now. We simply can't move on because what happened, in our minds, just happened despite whatever time has elapsed.

Today though is worse than the previous days of the year and reading other people's memories of him on Facebook have shown me I'm not alone in my sadness today. I still can't believe it's been one year. I want to write on and on about what all this means and to try and come up with something that wraps everything up and makes everything seem right, or to make it all make sense. With this I don't know if I can. If anything, as various tributes around the internet today shows, Dan had an intense following of fans and today, for us all, we are all back at that moment on a picture perfect cloudless day in Las Vegas. Little did we know just how black the world of racing would become in a blink of an eye.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Juggle

Have you ever been early for something? I mean really early. I'm not talking about 15 minutes, or even an hour for that matter. How early am I talking? Try two weeks!

Yes, earlier today I put up a post about how nervous I was about this presentation at a school. I headed to that school, walked into the office, and said I was there for a presentation but did not have the contact name. I went through my e-mails on my phone and went back to the e-mail on October 4th and read it. Now, I must say I read this e-mail this morning, and about four times yesterday confirming the time of day and the place. However, each time I read the e-mail I never quite processed a very important line, "Your presentation on the 15th has been rescheduled for the 29th." I told the office lady that I was two weeks early and she told me, "See you in two weeks."

So what happened? I don't make mistakes like this. I keep my calendar and make sure it's perfect. That is, when things are going well. Life is a juggling act of sorts and when something is on my mind, or if I am sick like I have been the past four days, small things get overlooked. The original e-mail came in the 4th and I think that's the day I wrote the blog post, "Yearning for Kansas." I wasn't in the best of spots then so I got the e-mail and probably thought, "I'll update my calendar tomorrow" and tomorrow came and it was no longer thought of.

Also, I read and reread that e-mail yesterday and today so how on Earth did I miss the very important line of, "it's been rescheduled"? It's not like the e-mail had a cryptic code; it was right in front of me and yet I missed it every time.

As I mentioned, life is a juggling act and the more stuff that gets added, well, it's like adding more things in the juggling act. This is been a very emotional month for me and anytime, yes anytime a lot of emotions are being felt silly mistakes are prone to happen. This is one of those times. and yes, nothing bad came from this except me looking odd at the school, but it can be used as a great example and will also give me more passion to make my upcoming presentation there on the 29th even better because I remember when I was in school; when things were difficult and such my ability to learn decreased. Okay, I know what you are thinking, it's like this for EVERYONE. Right? I mean, if you have three projects due at your job this week and you have two appointments and four meetings and your car needs to go to the shop and your front lawn has needs a trim are you going to be 100% on your game? Of course not. However, for us on the spectrum our ability to juggle is decreased. It doesn't take all those things to create the same problem. For me, often times it's simply emotions such as this month.

So yeah, I got all pumped up, and scared, for my presentation today and I get to do it all over again in two weeks time. I'm okay with that though because I think this blog post within itself is also an important thing to understand.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cold Sounds

Over two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled, "The Fever Effect" and in it I described how I felt at peace when I had a fever. Since then I heard many others claim the same thing and a conference I attended last a speaker said that "behaviors are typically lessened during a fever." That's great, however I am sick right now and don't have a fever and all I can say is that my senses are going crazy during this cold I have.

Once again I woke up in the middle of the night and I was hearing everything. I know I've said I do usually hear everything but at night, when I am asleep, there is at least a small filter there. The past two nights though there has been none. I've heard every bird chirp, every time the AC or heat has come on, and every crick, creek, or other noise a house makes. The decibel level may be low but the sounds are almost deafening.

Wow, I know I said my "senses" were going crazy but I was just going to write about sounds, but thinking back to Wednesday a shirt I was wearing was giving me grief as it felt as if sand paper was rubbing up against my neck. I even made mention of this during the presentation I gave to parents going through TouchPoint's parent training program. Another sense that is giving me a real hard time despite being stuffy is my nose. My sense of smell has never been keener and even this morning, two days later from driving past the remnants of a skunk, my car still reeks of skunk. I've put two "little tree" air fresheners in there to no avail.

This is something I've never consciously taken note of. I know when I have a fever my mind is slower and I feel a peace that isn't usually there, but with this cold it's the opposite. I'm hearing everything, feeling everything, and my sense of smell is oddly overactive. Have I always had this and just haven't taken note? Or do I have a new strain of the common cold that somehow makes the senses keener?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A yucky Day

Today has not been a good day hence why there's been a delay in my posting of this blog. I woke up at 3AM feeling rather sick so I've just taken easy today.

Last night was amazing though! I had a great turnout at Saint Luke's hospital and the reception was super. Hopefully tomorrow I feel better, but as for now I am going to go back to bed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Great Day

Yesterday... Wow! Yesterday began with a presentation at the Saint Louis County Police Academy for officers going through the Crisis Intervention Training. Doing those presentations has always meant a lot to me and the response I got, and the warmth of the officers, was one of the best receptions I've received.

Later in the day those same officers do visits to a couple locations that provide services and the city location of TouchPoint is one of those organizations that they visit. I am there along with several other coworkers to expand on what autism is, but yesterday during these visits I was almost brought to tears on just how much these officers cared and opened up to share their personal and professional experiences with autism. It was a most unique of events and to know that those officers wanted more information and it wasn't just that but rather they began to understand the autism spectrum. If anything, for me, it was inspiring; to know that and to know that those officers are now better equipped to handle a situation is such a great feeling.

After the site visits my day was not done as I had a presentation all the way out in Lake Saint Louis. This presentation was for a teachers' sorority and once again I felt inspired as the response was so strong. There was laughter, there were tears and there was, as with the experience earlier in the day, understanding.

So what a day it was! Today's another one of those type of days with three presentations once more and my first one is in 13 minutes so I have to go now, but wow, what a day it was.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More on Friends

I'm in a short break between two presentations so I'm going to share a post I responded to on the iRacing forum in regards to yesterday's post. A member asked these questions so I answered them. the answers are somewhat slanted towards games/racing because of the forum I answered on:

How would I define a friend? I've trying to figure that one out for a long time. Growing up I defined it as whomever I was playing Super Mario Bros or Monopoly with. Starting out when I got Xbox Live it was whoever wouldn't wreck me for the win on the final lap. Over time though through many years of communicating (I always talked during games but it was always about the game) over XBL I have learned a friend is someone I can communicate about things outside the realm of a game. Also, a friend is someone that I will actually listen to.

 Is there a difference between friend and real friend? Certainly. The term friend is so loosely used now. Take a look at Facebook, or an Xbox friends list. I would say, using my first paragraph, that simple friend is simply one who plays a game and a real friend is the other.

If a friend is defined by another human being with whom you share a common interest with and participate in activities where you are able to express your common interests, does it matter if you're physically in certain proximity to that person? No, and I think this is the big disconnect on parents understanding this difference. With the ability to communicate just the same as in person is a non-physical conversation any less than one in person? I never watched M*A*S*H but I saw a snippet of the ending where two main people were going separate ways knowing they would most likely never see each other again and perhaps never talk again. What a different world we live in now! The definition of friendships is changing by the day and even on iRacing you can have a race with people from four continents. Distance isn't what it used to be and I believe with friends it's the same.

Is there some function of friendship that the internet prohibits? Obviously things like going out on a Friday night, or having a shared experience at a movie or sporting event. This isn't a big deal for me because having a big circle of friends in person is quite uncomfortable for me.

Those were the questions but another post on the forum had an interesting comment: "What is the definition of a friend?" I know I answered it in the original questions on the iRacing forum but I'm not sure now. I answered it quickly, but now I'm not sure the exact definition of a friend. However, I think this might be something that has been asked and asked for many a millennia  and with technology the way it is it is being defined and refined on a daily basis.

So that's my thoughts for today; I have to run to my next presentation and then after that I have another one making today a triple-header.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Final Day of the First Year

At this day's end a have a huge milestone to celebrate; one year in a place of my own.  A year ago when I came into this place it was lifeless and I might not be an interior decorator, but my first bit of action last year to spice the place up, as the photo shows, was a huge success (in my mind at least.)

Of course, making an empty place a home was the least of my worries. As the year has progressed I have found the hardest part of being on my own has been all things related to food.

Thankfully it takes a while for me to get tired of the same foods over and over but about two months ago I hit that wall. After living on frozen, microwavable dinners I moved up the world with frozen, ovenable dinners. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but the first time I used the oven a few weeks ago was a major deal for me.

One of the hurdles on using the oven a long was the fact that I didn't have a baking sheet. To top that off I wasn't quite sure where one buys a baking sheet. That may seem like a comical answer but it isn't as truly there is no store that is named, "Baking Sheets R Us." Then, about two months ago while at Target, I went to the home section and there it was! a baking sheet. That same day I bought a new garbage can.

A new garbage can? Yes and in doing so there was such a sense of pride. A garbage can? Certainly! It's small things like this that, for me, is the essence of being in a place of my own. To have the freedom of choice on what garbage can to get, and then where to put it, is something that is hard to explain. Does it install confidence? Or is it a symbol of independence? Whatever it is it's truly the small things like that which have made the year so much fun.

When I moved in last year I didn't know how long I would be here. I certainly didn't think I would make it a year for many reasons. And while at times I have questioned whether or not it made financial sense to do this as I think I've spent more days away from here this year than actually being here, but it's the confidence that comes with this that makes it all worth it.

I truly have meant to spend more time on my blog talking about the challenges of being in my own place but outside of food I haven't had any major challenges. I would like to write a rant about the household across the lake that feels the need to blow an obnoxious airhorn anytime the Saint Louis Cardinals, Saint Louis Rams, of Mizzou Tigers score (seriously?! Mr. airhorn user I know you are happy, but must you make a noise sharing with the world your happiness? I mean, couldn't you, I don't know, jump up in the air and say, "yay!" instead of making a noise which somewhat sounds like the start of a civil defense siren?) but I just managed to go on that rant in my parentheses.

Tomorrow will be cause for a minor celebration. A year ago I came here and it was just walls, but over the course of the year this place has become a home. and, while things do change, my interior decorating skills haven't evolved as this final picture shows.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Yearning for Kansas

Yesterday was no better. It was a rough day and the longer something bothers me the more in brings in unrelated topics.

It's been a long while since I had a bout of whatever it is that I am going through. However, this used to be a daily thing for me and I had forgotten just how much of a burden it is. It isn't that I just an experience a sense of anxiousness in my brain but rather I am feeling it around my entire body. And, as I stated in the opening paragraph, the central issue at hand is lost because now everything is the issue.

I remember the origin of this was the start of October. Today is the 1 year anniversary of me flying to New York City to meet my publisher. Right now I can remember everything about the day be it the flight, the hotel restaurant, the view out of my window (worst view ever unless you like looking at walls) or the car ride into Manhattan and the utter sense of awe that on that day I had a meeting in The Big Apple. To have such a great memory can be such a burden because and as someone pointed out to me yesterday, well, they were more wondering because they said, "But Aaron, isn't that a positive memory?" and indeed it is but it's as if my mind can't shake the emotions of it. I know it was a great experience, but that was then and this is now but as good as my memory is it seems like it should be right now.

So, as the title of this post indicates, I am yearning for Kansas and tonight I'll get my wish as I have a presentation which looks like I'll have a good turnout for. It will be my 285th presentation and one that I certainly need.

Why do I need this presentation? As I have mentioned about a dozen times in various posts, often times when something is bothering me I lose track of who I am. Now, I don't mean this as I'm having an identity crisis but instead I don't see me for who I am but rather I see me for who I am not. This means that I don't see myself as a writer, a public speaker, or a person who has done anything. Instead I see the lack of socializing I do, and the real kicker is that I focus on every single awkward social situation that has happened to me with the belief that those events are my destiny. It happens so many times that it takes me presenting my story and experiences to an audience that allows me to accept me for who I am. Maybe this is why after so many presentations I still keep a high energy level while giving it.

If there was ever a time for me to make this point I believe now is time; this blog post is of the utmost importance for families to understand. Why? The reason is that a small problem can quickly escalate into a total war. For me, right now, it started with the simple fact that the calendar read October and now the issue is anything and everything.

As of this moment I don't have the answer as to what the quick fix is, and to be honest I don't think there is a quick fix. I see the time I'm going through as a storm; it started out as a small sprinkle but now has turned into a raging hurricane. I've learned though that I can't fight the storm as when I've tried I just get upset that I can't just "get over it." I've also learned, from dealing with this during my school years and then my dark years (2003-2008) that eventually the sun will rise and as fast as the storm grew it will dissipate. It may take time, but eventually it will happen.

For now though I do have tonight to look forward to. And if anything feeling the way I do is needed. Needed? Yes because it keeps me motivated. I know I'm not the only one to be dealing with these emotions, and being chained to memories and I also know that I'm not the only one that has to then deal with a storm that sucks in every aspect of life and makes the world seem hopeless. Since I'm not the only one my words have to be heard because understanding is the foundation for hope and tonight I plan on spreading the highest level of understanding for those in attendance because it's my passion and needs to be done. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

All For One and One is All

Continuing the discussion from the previous two posts I now have another insight into this whole ordeal. As I've thought about last year, this year, and the upcoming years I have realized that, and I think I have noted this in the past, when one thing is bothering me it starts a chain reaction that envelops everything.

What causes this? First, the associative memory system, as great as it is for being able to recall things, makes it even more difficult to forget things. So, when one thing is on my mind, everything associated with that then becomes an issue and then those relations have other relations until, what started out as a singular issue, has become a full blown wide open mess.

In a couple days it will be my one-year anniversary of being in my own place. One year! That is unfathomable for me to think that it's been a year. And yet, the time prior to this year, as fresh as it may seem in my mind, also seems a lifetime ago and that itself is making me sad. What was isn't anymore and yeah, sure, I'm on my own place now, but all the little things that used to be aren't anymore.

Another reason why anniversaries are difficult is the fact that it is a symbol of time passing and with time comes change. So, while I am sad about the past I am also already worried about the unknown change of the future because what was isn't anymore but what's now will be tomorrow's was.

And yet another thing that you should take note of is that it isn't just bad or sad things that can create this because, as I have written in this post, positive things can create a lot of emotions.

I could write on and on but I think I've covered it all. If I were to continue I'd just repeat myself several times as that's the way my mind is working right now so I'll leave this at that and hope that tomorrow I can add something new to this.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running the Tank Dry

In response to how I was feeling yesterday my body has gone into a mode I know all too well. It wasn't until yesterday when responding to a question on Facebook that I finally realized why my body does what it does.

I did say I know this all too well and what I know all too well is sleeplessness. If you've followed my blog for a long time you know that this happens. This doesn't happen frequently and is maybe once a quarter and for that I am thankful because prior to 2010 it was an almost daily occurrence.

So I did say sleeplessness and I did say I figured out why my body does this. Now when I say sleeplessness I don't mean that I roll around all night trying to go to sleep; in fact I avoid going to bed because I know that will be the result. Instead, I run myself into the ground, or a better way of stating it is that I run the metaphorical gas tank dry.

During times of increased sadness, specifically due to memories, I do everything I can to avoid thought. That is hard because I am always in thought but if I allow myself to focus and then hyper-focus on a memory the crushing sensation of defeat, hopelessness, and all around sadness is crushing. So, to combat that, I do everything I can to avoid hyper-focusing on it. This is done by reading a book, learning new fact about irrelevant topics, or maybe engrossing myself in trying to pick up a tenth of a second on iRacing. Whatever it may be that I am doing I will hyper-focus on that to keep my body going.

Now I must ask, is this avoidance of an issue? On the outside it may appear as so but I have to have other activities going on so I can process whatever it is that is troubling me. Think of it this way; let's say I have one of Mozart's classics ready to be played and I hand you a set of headphones. I then count you down really slowly, "3... 2..." now before I get to one you are already trying to figure out which song will be played, "1..." and then, after I say one, I hit the play button and you are subjected to the loudest noise you've ever heard. It's so loud you rip the headphones off your head and look at me in disgust as I surely have taken a decade off your hearing. Now I must ask, was that avoidance?

Later, I hand you the headphones again and while you are already fearing another blast of sound this time I countdown once again but after I get to "1" the music that is heard is able to be processed and can be heard without inducing a headache. Sometimes a reduction of volume is needed and for me, when I'm having something that is causing a major issue within me, I need to lower the volume. This is done one of two ways but the two ways do go hand-in-hand. The first, as mentioned, is to do everything I can to stay busy and the second is to do it all until I get so tried my body does not resist going to sleep. I have issues going to sleep as is but if something is on my mind or is troubling me then sleep becomes all the more elusive.

So that's where I am right now. I didn't know what type of response yesterday's blog would get but I know now more than ever that there is serious weight regarding these issues with having troubles with memories. It's something that I think doesn't have all that much info out there about so hopefully if this persists I can make the most out of it and explain more of it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Coping With October

Today is the start of October and it has brought, for me, an avalanche of memories. It's times like this that I wish I wasn't given such a great memory. Last October was one of the biggest roller coasters of my life with stunning highs and the deepest of lows and right now I am experiencing each emotion all over again.

The start of the month last year was great with a visit to New York City to meet my publisher and what a moment that was. I don't know if any of my other books will be published, but that moment landing in New York City knowing that I was visiting a publisher as an author, well, it's a feeling that maybe can only be felt once in a lifetime.

After New York I moved into my own place then Rob from Vancouver came down and I could give you the play-by-play of the month and I sort of want to because right now 2011 is now. All the emotions from doing my first school presentation to 5th graders to the tragedy in Las Vegas is right now.

There's no other way I can describe it other than that the then is now. On my cross-country tour I heard that question a lot, the question of, "Why do things in the past bother my son now?" Hearing this so often made me realize that I'm not alone in experiencing this. It seems people with Asperger Syndrome are more haunted by the past than others.

So, since it seems we are bothered by the past, is it caused by a better memory? Maybe so, but also I'm sure that the "associative memory system" comes into play. What that is, if you don't know, is that everything sort of becomes connected. This helps with recall and events may be associated with a number, a physical item, a word, and anything really. Over time though, eventually, everything sort of becomes intertwined with everything else where anything will create a memory which creates another and then, as I started this post with, an avalanche of memories ensues.

Before I had the means to explain this I think those around me became frustrated with the sameness of what was bothering me. I heard, "don't worry, time heals all" and to that I just wanted to scream; in fact I think I did once (sorry mom!) I sort of gathered that too on my tour hearing parents describe this, and I don't think I can blame them because, unless you can feel what it is like to have everything going right and then experience this avalanche of memories which makes the past the presence how can there be any understanding? It took me over five years of experiencing this before I could explain in a way that was understandable, but once I was able to write it those around me understood and I was very thankful I could explain to those parents the whats and whys of this.

It might be a long month for me as this is the first trip through October since the last one. I am very anniversary oriented and there's going to be many this month. Thankfully I have many presentations this month and hopefully that keeps me occupied to the point that I wake up one morning and say, "Today is the start of November..."