Monday, December 31, 2012

My 2012

I can't believe today is the last day of 2012! This has been the fastest 366 days of my life and I couldn't have imagined a more productive and action packed year.

January was a very busy month for me as I spent two weeks in the SW part of Missouri. I spent several days in Joplin, which was my first trip back to there since the 2011 tornado, and difference in what I saw from the previous time is something that will stick with me forever.

In February I turned 29 and the sense of time and age hit home when I learned that the person who always took my order at Fortel's had passed away.

A few days later my job title changed from "Community Education Specialist" to "Autism Ambassador." A week after that I put myself in a scary situation in Springfield. Thinking back on this I truly think I got lucky and since then I have been even more vigilant of my surroundings.

And a week after that scary situation I gave my 2nd presentation even to students. I was highly nervous about it and didn't really want to do it (partially because of the fear of speaking to such a group) but the presentation went with flying colors and it sort of set a tone for the year.

March set a tone in terms of how much I was traveling as I headed to Phoenix. However, the day I flew to Phoenix I gave a presentation to 100 teachers in the morning and then gave the keynote at the IDDRC at Washington University. My first race flagging of the season was in Phoenix and during a short break I was able to film this video that announced my nationwide speaking tour:

March had four races spread across the country, but the most memorable event, and I'm going to remember this day for a long time, was March 25th in Nashville. It was a normal race until this happened:     

I had big fears the seconds after this as I was in severe pain and did not know if I had anything broken. The fears weren't about my health at that moment, but whether or not I'd be able to go on my nationwide tour. How awful would it have been had my tour had to be cancelled due to injuries? The good news is that I didn't find out and one week later I was headed to New York City.

Of everything I have done in my life nothing could have prepared me for such an amazing 45 days that my tour was. There were radio interviews, print interviews, and even television interviews.

I could write and write about the tour and post many photos, but all in all it was the most phenomenal 45 days of my life and when it ended I made this video blog:

Later in May I got to do a video blog in a very fantastic place; the flagstand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This may not sound like an overly exciting thing for you, but for me it was like walking into a sacred place and was one of my highlights of the year.

The tradition of meeting ignorant golfers at least once a year continued in June. I enjoy playing golf and back in March of this year I had a hole in one. However, my interactions with golfers always seems to go quite awry and this happened again in Effingham, Illinois.

A couple days after the angry golfer incident I headed to Jefferson City for the Champions of Mental Health. I was one of the recipients of the award and there was a video about me. The 2nd video here is what I said when I received the award:

July and August had many races across the country. I flagged my first USAC National Midget race as well as a SKUSA race outside Salt Lake City, a USAC .25 race in Indy and North Carolina. Once again though I got a little too close to the action as this picture shows. I want to be known as one of the best flagmen but I'm also known as, "that guy who seems to get hit rather often."

Major things started happening in November with a string of presentations in school in the Southern part of Missouri. I never thought of such a thing; that being speaking to an entire school at once. But Jeri Carr, a coworker at TouchPoint, got it done and I had my largest presentation to date at 857.

A few days after the amazing four days in the Southern part of the state it was time for the SKUSA Supernats in Las Vegas. No matter what the year has brought those five days working that event are always my favorite and once again this year proved to be no different.

Then in December another amazing thing happened. A parent in Chesterton, Indiana had raised the funds to get me to that town and I spoke to every single student 5th grade and up in the Duneland School System. That was over 4,000 people spoken to! The picture shows what turned out to be my largest single presentation with 1,100 people there. In all my life I could never have imagined something like that.

So it was an amazing year to say the least. I probably missed some major stories in this year-in-review but if I were to touch on each amazing place I went to, or talk about each amazing person I met, or each story I heard then this post would have been as long as all my blog posts put together. Anyway, and I'm almost afraid to ask this, what does 2013 have in store? I think I've asked that each year but how could 2013 get any better or bigger? I'm not sure if it can but one thing is for sure; 2012 is a year I will never forget.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Numbers of 2012

As with last year, my next to last post of 2012 will involve random numbers from my year. Some numbers are highly relevant, others not so much...

# of miles driven for races and presentations: 20,215

# of presentations given: 110

# of people at presentations for year: 11,323!

# of people at my presentations for career: 19,672

# of blog views this year, as of 12/28/12: 118,100

Largest presentation: 1,100 (At a Chesterton, Indiana middle school

Most viewed blog post: “An Open Letter to the Media”

Most viewed month: April

# of hate mail received: 0 (2nd year in a row!)

# of horses hit: 0

# of times lost due to GPS: 1

# of times moved: 0… Thank goodness!

Longest presentation: 4 hours (twice)

# of race events flagged: 23
# of ER visits: 2
# of times I was referred to as a “Goomba”: 1

#of Canadians annoyed by my music/singing while I drive: 1 (sorry Rob, for the third straight year)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Destructive Wake of Catastrophic Generalizations

My previous two posts have been, perhaps, the most passionate I have ever written. Why is that? Right now I am feeling more emotions than I have ever felt in my life. The weekend was a somber blur with my family as, yes, I have been around them and talking but it feels as if I'm only half here. Where's the other half? In mourning of the past because my fear, as I talked about in Friday's post, is where I was nine years ago.

Nine years ago a generalization about the Asperger's destroyed the life I had up until that point. I got my diagnosis nine years ago this month. The moment of diagnosis when my doctor told me the news he told me, "good luck" and nothing else because he was simply reading what the assessment had told him and since he didn't know, exactly, Asperger's was he could tell me nothing else. With that being the case I turned to the internet, did a search, and read that, "All people with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy."

I read that early in the month and it wasn't really processed at that point in time, but that line, that line that almost read like a prison sentence, sat and simmered. What did it all mean? Slowly the simmering turned into a belief and I took those words for fact. I became bitter and I slowly began to drift away from my relationships with the biggest blow coming nine years ago today.

In my presentations I say this story somewhat in jest as looking back it was a very Aspergish thing to do. I had a girlfriend, only girlfriend I've had, and while I was drifting away I was still wondering if she still liked me because, in my mind, it was impossible that she did because, after all, I had this belief that anything positive was simply impossible because of the website I had read a couple weeks prior. What could I do to see if she still liked me? I certainly couldn't ask directly because that would involve emotions and emotional talk at the time was something I avoided at all costs. What did I do? I decided to go around the situation by deciding to break up with her because, if she still liked me, she would protest. How did I break up? Was it in person, or over the phone? Nope and sort of. Had I called that too would lead to emotions so I broke up via text message with the confidence that she would reply quickly and everything would be okay. I stayed up until 6AM and there was no call or text; my relationship had imploded in the most spectacular of ways.

The following 15 months were hell. Hope was something I didn't believe in all because of one sentence I read. To say that the generalizing line I read impacted my life would be like saying a comet hitting a planet is a minor event. This was a catastrophic shock to my being. I questioned everything about myself and believed that I could and would amount to nothing. Again, all this was caused by that one line.

Generalizing is something that is done and I, myself, will generalize about the autism spectrum. I will say that we typically have troubles communicating and socializing. But... and this is the biggest line, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. To say "all" about the autism spectrum can be rather detrimental.

If you've read my book, "Finding Kansas" or have read my blog for any amount of time you know I eventually came out of that deepest of depressions. However, these past few days I have been back in that dark place and have at times cried. I'm not sad because I've gone back to believing the farce that I read back in 2003; instead I am sad because of those that might be feeling what I felt because they heard a catastrophic generalization on the news or the internet these past 10 days.

Look, I know that each of us on the autism spectrum can face hurdles as high as Mount Everest but if we believe we can't achieve a single thing in our lives where is there any room for hope?

I often get asked what I think would have happened in my life had I had a better introduction to Asperger's or perhaps been diagnosed earlier in life. This is hard for me to answer because everything had to happen to me just so to get me to where I am and doing what I am, but for others out there, I believe, there is no need to go through the hell I went through.

This Christmas, as with the past eight, will be a day of mourning for me. Easily this is the hardest day of the year for me, but this year I feel a closer bond to the person I was back in 2003 making the day even harder, but I know that tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will come. I know that this feeling I'm experiencing will pass, but it won't be forgotten because this deep sorrow is why I do what I do and if I can get the right information to just one person then, well, I know the destructive wake that generalizations of no hope give and hope has more power than most people realize.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Fear

I've let my open letter to the media run for three days for two reasons. The first of which was that I couldn't say anything better than that and secondly I don't really know what to say. I feel as if the world has been changed and this scares me.

I noticed yesterday that the media, at least in newspaper editorial pages and news websites seem to be trying to now counter-balance the initial onslaught the name Asperger's took. I wonder if it's enough though and will these messages reach all those that, well, need to hear it?

Since the beginning of my career raising autism awareness and understanding I have told myself I have been in a battle against autism ignorance. I never blamed those who had never heard of autism because how can you blame a person for misunderstanding something that they've never been taught? My fear is that the world has shifted; gone is the world of ignorance and now we may live in a world where there is prejudice.

So often in my presentations a person on the spectrum will open up and ask a question and afterwards I will hear the parents tell me, "My child has never opened up like that!" and that's sort of my message; it's okay to be on the spectrum. It's okay to have the challenges we face. I've said this because I've felt that, as awareness and understanding increases so too will the kindness and willingness to understand and help us. However, have we lost this? This is my fear.

To those that read my blog the answer, I'm sure, is that we haven't lost it. It's to those that don't know the autism spectrum because they have no affiliation to it. If the last thing they heard were the facts reported as I wrote in my open letter then how will they react? Fear? Befuddlement? Apprehension?

My greatest fear is that just one person, just one person with Asperger's Syndrome will fear the reaction of others regarding their diagnosis. This has been another reason why I haven't written a post in the past two days because it is, quite simply, too much for my mind to take. I mean, the sense of isolation, shame, and sorrow from this scenario is, well, it breaks my heart.

Perhaps only time will tell what the long term reactions will be. Maybe it won't be that bad. Then again, a comment on the open letter blog submitted by carriep said, "A friend of mines son saw the news reporting on this and said Mommy I have that don't I and put his head down in shame."

I think that shows that the impact has already hit, and I wish I could tell that one person that it's okay to have Asperger's. It is! I'm sure there are many more that are feeling the same way and I don't want to make this about me, but I always knew what I was doing was important, but the need now is at an unimaginable level. It isn't just about spreading awareness and understanding anymore because a new aspect has been added; the feeling of that it's okay to be you. You have your challenges, your gifts, and your beauty of being you.

I don't know what else to say; perhaps as with the open letter I've said everything that has needed to be said. However, I know moving forward that I'm going to do everything I can to prevent my fears from coming true.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Open Letter to the Media

“Asperger Syndrome”— That’s what I saw on the news headline in bright, bold red letters on Friday. If I didn’t already know what it was because I have it I probably would have been afraid of it. In the article that followed the autism spectrum wasn’t properly explained and to the uninformed, the only thing to gather was that all things autism were dangerous.
What is being left out of the conversation is that those were Asperger’s, and other autism spectrum disorders, are far more likely to be a victim of a crime than the one committing it. And often times the person on the spectrum will not speak up about it because of communication issues.

What is also being left out of the conversation is perhaps the most important line about the autism spectrum and that is, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism.” It is dangerous and irresponsible to generalize autism like I have heard in the past few days. Each person on the autism spectrum can be radically unique to the next. Myself, I’m a public speaker and yet the next person you meet with Asperger’s may have a difficult time engaging in a one-on-one conversation. I heard one speaker on the news say that ALL people with Asperger’s are great in math. This too is untrue, some can be, and may be amazingly good at it, but others may be more of an abstract thinker and be good in the areas of music and art.

The true problem with generalizing is not for those of us who know we have it now but for those that are undiagnosed. I’m 29 now and got my diagnosis at the age of 20. I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up on the internet and read that, “people with Asperger Syndrome will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy.” Sadly, I believed those words and my life was destroyed for over a year as I descended into the deepest abyss of depression you could imagine. However, I discovered writing as a means to express myself and learned that those hideous, hopeless words were a complete lie, but what about those who are getting their diagnosis now? And for younger children, how open will parents be to hearing that their two or three year old has, “Asperger Syndrome.” What will their reaction be? Will it be, “Wait, Asperger’s, isn’t that…”?

To be honest, I have turned off the coverage because I’ve heard too many generalizing facts and doomsday reports on Asperger’s. I know parents of children are worried about the backlash because I’ve been contact by many expressing their fears and you know, if the general public hears the same information over and over it will become fact.

The tipping point for me was when I heard an expert say, “People with Asperger’s have no empathy or emotions.” While it is true that some may experience a lack of empathy, many of us, like myself, have it and on the topic of emotions I think we have more and feel more emotions than those not on the spectrum because it is so hard for us to express how we feel. Also, the world may take it that we have a lack of empathy as we may have a flat affect, meaning you can’t judge how we are feeling by our facial expressions but behind our cold exterior is a world of wondrous thought  going on as we try and process the world around us.

My motto is, “understanding is the foundation for hope.” Right now my heart aches for many reasons. The tragedy that occurred is beyond words. Moving forward though, at the way the media has portrayed Asperger Syndrome, what type of image will we have? Will we be feared as monsters? Will the friends that some of us have start to wonder about us? I feel those with Asperger’s have so much potential, but if the chasm of misunderstanding grows, the already difficult experience of growing up will become more difficult. I’ve been thankful the past two months to have spoken to over 5,000 students on the subject of Asperger’s and tolerance but that isn’t even a measurable fraction of the students in America and for some their first introduction to Asperger’s may be this tragedy.

So lost in this all is each person. If we generalize we are doing a disservice to each and every person who lives life on the autism spectrum. Maybe the news, when the time is right, will give the public a better view of the autism spectrum in all its glory, challenge, and mysteries. But above all else I hope the message is relayed that, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chasing Normal

Last week as I was giving a presentation to a high school's senior class on Asperger's Syndrome I was asked a very important question, "Do things get better? Do things get easier?" I answered this question in an unique way, but it was the concepts I put forth in my answer that make for my blog post today.

In my answer I stated that, over time, things have indeed become easier. Why so? One of the things I have noticed, and for my loyal blog readers you have heard this line, is that when I see who I am NOT I forget who I AM. That line might be the deepest, most profound things I have ever said and I remind myself of it each and every day. I told the person who asked this question that even I fall into the trap and when I do I am, "chasing normal; whatever normal is."

Last month at another school I was asked why I was doing what I was doing. The more I think about it and the more events in the world unfold, I feel there is nothing more important I can be doing than what I am doing. Why? In my life there is no worse time than when I am chasing normal; I mean, is there anything more tragic than to want to be something that you can't be?

When answering the question last week I said I am 100% happy with myself 95% of the time. That other 5% is when I am wondering what it is like to be a part of the normal crowd; to fit in without having to think about every step, every word, and to have words come easily that aren't forced. It's in that 5% that I yearn for everything I am not. Who I am is lost within the storm that ensues.

So I have established that there are times I'm not happy. That's being human, right? Yes, but it's more pronounced for us on the autism spectrum. Now comes the question, why did I say what I am doing is the most important thing in the world I could be doing? Yeah, I'm getting to that answer.

I have to admit as I gave this answer about "chasing normal" and seeing just what I am not, I had to fight back the tears. At one point in time I paused to gather my thoughts and in this auditorium with just over 500 high school seniors in attendance the silence was at an eerie level. I was looking down at the stage trying to gather what I should say and as I looked up every person there was looking at me, waiting, wondering where my answer would go. I've had many of these types of moments, but at that moment it made every hardship, heartbreak, and disappointment worth it and here's why...

If those around us understand there will be more acceptance. If there is acceptance, then the possibility of fewer social disasters is present. If we make fewer social mistakes our willingness to be a part of whatever group we are in will rise. Our quirks may be understood; we won't be looked down upon; and when it is all said and done we may not chase normal as often as me have.

Look, I've said this so many times that, "Understanding is the foundation for hope." Without understanding our actions can easily be taken the wrong way and if this happens we will remember it for a long time. I know I fear making the same mistake. I think back to when I was in school and when a string of mistakes happened I withdrew. Why? If you failed at something, and then failed again, and you failed once more and you had no idea why you were failing would you continue attempting to do whatever it was that you were failing at? Probably not and this is the core of why we get frustrated which leads us to chasing normal.

Growing up I never thought I could change the world. All I wanted to do was be a race car driver. Helping people, making a difference, and serving the greater good never was a thought. My life didn't turn out the way I thought it would and I couldn't be happier because to be able to speak to the audiences I do and maybe create a higher level of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding is something that has to be done. I feel if there is a better level of understanding during the school years that will carry over later in life. I do hope my message creates a better understanding right then and there but I truly hope my words creates an everlasting impact. Those with Asperger's can lead a full, happy life, but if those around don't understand and the person ends up always chasing normal how can they ever become the person they were meant to be when they are chasing the myth known as normal?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Day, Another Record

I talked with my dad last month after I gave my school presentations in the Southern part of the state and I said, "I don't think I'm ever going to speak to this many people in a month again." Boy, how I was wrong. On Tuesday I spoke to 2,001 people but yesterday was even more!

I started the day at the 7th and 8th grade school and I was expecting around 300 or 400. Students started filing into the gym and I asked the principal how many people would hear me and he said, "Oh, we have an enrollment of 1010 and have about 93 staff so you'll have about 1,100.

1,100?! I never imagined speaking in front of over a thousand before. I mean, just three years ago I wasn't even doing this at all and now the gym was filling all the way up.

It's a good thing my fear of speaking has ebbed completely. I didn't have one hint of nervousness as the introduction was made and I took center court and began my presentation.

From that presentation I went back to the high school and gave two more presentations in front of another total of 1,000 people. This mean that in two days I spoke to 4,200 people.

I'm back home in Saint Louis but I can believe the past three days! I could never have imagined being able to present to so many people and not only present, but have such the warm, wonderful, and respectful response that I did.

Finally I've got to thank Margie Calhoon for organizing the presentations, the Duneland School Corporation and it's principals for allowing my message of awareness and understanding to reach every student 5th grade and up, and to the Duneland YMCA for sponsoring the three days. It's through efforts like this that will help us reach a world where there is full understanding and awareness about the autism spectrum.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2001: A Speaking Odyssey

Yesterday was a career day in Chesterton, Indiana! Each time I've set a new mark I've said, "I can never top this" but this time I think I'm sure.

Today is my third day in Chesterton and getting here was rather a neat chain of event. It all started by a parent with a couple kids with Asperger diagnosis wanting me to speak in the schools. She saw me on WGN last spring during my tour. She sought out the funding and the Duneland YMCA came on board to sponsor and from all that I have been on a whirlwind tour of the area.

Monday night I had an open to the public presentation and despite the snow, 100 people showed up. Yesterday I spoke to three different schools and spoke to half the high school. It was four presentations and at the end of the day I spoke to 2,001 people.

After my four presentations I had a hard time the rest of the day putting in perspective the impact of such a day. I'll have that feeling again, today, as I have three presentations and when it is all said and done every student from 5th grade to a senior in high school in the town of Chesterton will have heard me speak.

So what does this all mean? If we're speaking strictly numbers my yearly numbers will eclipse 10,000 today which is probably impressive. But, to be able to speak to every student like I have? What does that mean? What's the impact?

Several times yesterday during the Q & A segments, I gave an answer of where I was four years ago. Never could I have imagined a day like yesterday. I'm pretty sure I would have said that winning the Powerball lottery would have better odds than me being a speaker like this. And yet, I come back to the question, what's the impact?

It's easy to understand the impact when you reach one parent, but 2,001 students? As I think about this I almost shake at the scope of this. And since the scope is so great I don't know if we can even measure the everlasting effects from yesterday.

Whatever the impact is, it's time for me to leave to do it all over again today. I'm going to remember these three days in Chesterton forever!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

After Banquet: Dude, How Do I Get My Car?

When the USAC banquet wrapped up I waited a while for Kyle to get the things he needed to get as I was going to stay at his place as the following day had our USAC .25 banquet where we would honor the champions and top finishers of the season.

I had been joking during the night that I wasn't entirely sure where I had parked. I knew I was north of the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom, but other than that I wasn't sure. As much as I had been joking there was a sense of concern within me as I didn't want to be walking the streets of downtown Indy after midnight trying to find my parking garage.

At around midnight I left the banquet hall and Kyle told me to meet him at the USAC office and I would follow him to his place from there. I did let him know that my phone's battery was dead so if anything happened I would be unable to call him. This fact alone should have let me know that something odd was about to happen.

I walked north with my plaque in hand and was thankful that it wasn't as cold as it was the previous year. One block, two block, three blocks and I thought that my below ground parking garage was on this street. I took a right and thought that the buildings looked familiar so I walked a couple blocks and then I knew I was in the right place.

As I got near the entrance I began to get my keys out of my pocket and I turned the corner to go down the entrance ramp when this is what I saw:

This wasn't good. I looked around for a call button and none existed. "Okay" I thought, "let's try the other side. Surely a parking garage doesn't close." So that's what I did and instead of a walk I was now running. So picture this, I'm wearing my nicest pants, shirt with a tie, and dress coat and I'm running down this dark alleyway in downtown Indy after midnight. I was running because I didn't know where Kyle was and I didn't want him to have to wait at the office for a long time because after all my phone was dead and this delay was not good.

When I got to the other side of the building I saw a carbon-copy of that picture. Again, no signs that says when it closes and no call button. A sign on the down ramp stated that the garage was, indeed, "closed." Closed? But it's a parking garage. This couldn't be happening.

I now sprinted full speed towards the doors of the building because, maybe, the doors were closed because it was cold? With each entrance I tried I got the same horrible result; a locked door. This was not good.

Panic began to set in. I didn't know where Kyle was and my phone was dead and I wouldn't be able to call him if I had another phone because I don't know his number. What was I going to do? Sleep on the sidewalk? I could go to a hotel but a room in downtown Indy surely would cost at least an arm and half a leg. Wait a sec! A hotel, maybe someone left a phone charger in a room and there might just be one at the front desk in a lost and found pile.

With that thought I ran full speed towards the hotel across the street. I burst into the front door and approached the front desk where a weary traveler was checking in. I waited for seemed like 13 years, but it was probably more like 45 seconds, and when I got to the desk I asked, if by chance, there would be an iPhone charger I could borrowed. My hopes were dashed when she, the front desk lady, said no, but then I explained my ordeal and she replied, "What do you mean closed? That garage never closes! Okay, let me see."

Another 13 years passed as I awaited what I hoped to be her return with a charger. Okay, this time it was more like 15 seconds, but if I didn't get a charger I had no idea what I was going to do. If everyone had departed the banquet I would have NO WAY to communicate to anyone what was going on. Kyle would get to the office and I would never show up. Nothing good was going to come from this so I started whispering under my breath, "please please please have a charger" and sure enough she came out from the office with a charger.

She handed me the charger and she said, "That will be $5" so I got out my wallet and she then said, "I was just kidding. Wow, you really thought I'd charge you $5?" I didn't give a spoken answer but just looked at her befuddled. This probably would have been a highly awkward social situation for me but I was solely focused on getting my phone charged.

I plugged in the phone and when an iPhone's battery is completely dead you can't simply plug and go; you've got to wait until the phone as a minimal charge before you can use it. This amount of time seemed like a century. Okay, I'm on a streak of time exaggeration this post but this was about five minutes that I sat... and I sat... and I sat...

Finally, there was the beep and my phone was on. I got to the section on my phone that allows me to call, but my phone was also checking e-mail, text messages,, words with friends, and who knows what else so my phone took it's time not realizing the mess that had been going on while it was sleeping.

When I got through to Kyle I told him I had a problem and my parking garage was closed. "Closed? What do you mean closed?" He too had never heard of such a thing but thankfully he hadn't left downtown so he asked me where I was and after a short conversation he told me to go back to the site of the banquet.

With the briskness of a sprinter I ran back towards where this story began and once there I got in Kyle's car and he again asked me to explain just what exactly I meant by the fact that I couldn't get to my car. I explained and we drove to the garage. We parked in the dark alley I had ran through and he got out to confirm the fact that my car was not in a place that could be reached.

While he took the exterior tour of the building I had done I sat and I thought that 1. what an odd thing to happen and 2. I couldn't believe I had the idea to ask a hotel if they had a phone charger and then to actually carry through with the idea. I'm not one to ask for help, but sometimes I guess I have the power to amaze myself.

Kyle came back and said something like, "I can't believe it. You were right. This garage is closed." And with that we went towards his place with all my luggage sitting in my car locked in the parking garage.

The next day I left my car in the garage because there was no other place to park with so many functions going on in downtown Indy but that evening after our .25 banquet I got to the building and it was closed again. This time however I could get into the lobby of the building and I spoke to a guard there who said I got there just in time. He led me to my car and let me out and sitting in my car never felt better!

The moral of this story is to always make sure your phone has a charge and also, from this day forward, always ask, reask, and ask a third time if the parking garage as a closure time because, as I told someone, who knew parking garages closed?

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Unexpected Honor

After I wrote my blog at the mall on Friday I headed over to the USAC banquet. This banquet was for all the divisions of USAC from honoring the .25 drivers all the way up through the sprint and silver crown divisions. I have to say that social functions like this are my least favorite thing in the world because there's an hour of socializing before it starts then there's no telling how long it will take.

The hour before the banquet wasn't as bad as the previous year as I now know more people so actually it wasn't that bad. Eventually it was time for the program to begin and the first order of business was for the .25 champions to be honored.

As each driver took the stage I laughed to myself because it was obvious the majority of them didn't really want to be on a stage in front of 400 or so people. Winning races? That's easy, but being on stage and being asked a question? Yeah, that's the hard part.

However nervous the champions were they did a great job and as they exited the stage I felt my phone vibrate and it was an e-mail so I took out my phone as the emcee started speaking on something that I wasn't fully paying attention to because I was focused in on my phone so what I heard next was something like this, "----- ----- ----- ---- --- -------- ------ ------ ------ goes----- ---- Aaron Likens" Say what?

I looked around my table with a look of confusion. I heard my name but didn't know why. I looked to the video screen and it said, "Spirit of Youth Award." The emcee, Speed Channel's Jim Tretow, then said, "Would Aaron Likens please come up to the stage to receive this award." Remember that bit where I thought that it was kind of humorous to watch the drivers squirm on stage because they didn't really want to be in front of 400 people? Yeah, flagging races? Easy, being on stage accepting an award? Not so much.

As I walked from the back of the room to the front I now knew why Kyle, the USAC .25 series director, said, "It's going to be a big night for you." I asked why after that and he was rather evasive with his answers so as I walked to the stage I was thinking, "That Kyle got me good!" Also, I was thinking I could just grab my award and leave. Those hopes were dashed as I shook Jim's hand and he said, "Say a few words."

At this point in time I am thankful beyond any level you could probably understand that I am a public speaker. Had this been four years ago I would have locked up and it would have been the worst display of public speaking ever seen. It probably would have gone something like this, "Well, I uh, um, you know, um, I really,well, really, um, thanks." Instead of the disaster I approached the mic and said something along the lines of, "Oh, wow, I wasn't expecting this at all. This is a big honor but for me the real honor is being able to travel with this series as the flagman watching the future stars of motorsports having the best seat in the house, most of the time. Again, thank you for this honor." There might have been a few extra lines in that sentence I spoke but I don't really remember the whole thing because I was so confused as how I went from responding to an e-mail to being up on stage.

The rest of the night was a typical racing banquet, but this story will continue tomorrow as I quickly found out that giving my unexpected speech was nothing compared to the journey of getting to my car.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Live from the Circle Centre Mall: Another Year, Another Breakfast, Another Frustrating Experience

Sorry for the delay in posting today; I had the annual appreciation breakfast at the police academy then I drove up to Indy.

As with the past two years the breakfast was a tough time for me. It's so odd for me because normally I walk into the training room with confidence and purpose as I give the officers my presentation on autism. For this breakfast though there is no presentation, no alias for me to take on, and the amount of anxiety I feel is great.

It's was even harder this year as this week has been fantastic. This is part of the reason why it was harder though; to experience Kansas so well during my presentations and then to experience complete social paralysis is so frustrating! I've done a good job managing my environment which is why posts like these are becoming rarer and rarer. But today I was reminded of the challenges I face in my social life.

The drive up to Indy was one of sadness. Tonight is the USAC banquet but my mind isn't on that. My mind is fully on the anger I have towards myself. I've fallen into that trap of forgetting who I am and when this happens a person forgets who they are. I know this and yet I'm in that trap.

Even now as I sit here in the mall and I've watched hundreds of shoppers pass me I wonder how everyone socializes so freely. I thought this as well at the breakfast. The normal world makes this look SO EASY and right this second I'd give anything to be a part of that world.

I know, maybe in a few hours, or tomorrow, or even sometime next week I'll be back to my normal self and be 100% happy with who I am, but right now I'm carrying around a hint of sadness, and a hint of wonder as to how everyone does it with seemingly ease.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Tough Post to Write

One thing I look forward to doing all year is my year end blog post. I do posts actually with "The numbers of..." and then the year in review post. I've already began work on my year in review but am having a very tough time writing about it. In three days of attempted work I have one line written.

Each time I try and begin and I am overwhelmed with just how much stuff has happened this year. I think back to three years ago and there's no way I could imagine a year like this. Truly, this 2012 in review could be the longest post I have ever delivered.

Well, it may be the longest ever if I ever can write the 2nd sentence. To be honest, this feels like the writing projects I had in school. Normally the words just flow and I don't really think about length, structure, and pictures, but with this though I know it's going to be long, I have an idea of what the structure should be, and I'm going to have a portfolio's worth of photos to share.

Thankfully there's a lot of time between now and December 31st, well, 25 days worth and at the rate I've been going I should have about four sentences done by then.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Which Presentation is This?"

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, but I had two, three hour presentations in Springfield and then drove home so time was not on my side yesterday.

Anyway, an interesting series of events happened in my 2nd presentation. I was in the room of my presentation about thirty minutes early and was checking e-mails on my phone. I was seated to the right of the podium, not that I use a podium when I speak, but it was there nonetheless. This person walked to the furthest table away from me and I didn't take notice of her as that's what I tend to do when not presenting, but she stood there a moment and then said, "Excuse me, which presentation is this?" That sounds like a simple enough question, right? I mean, it's my presentation so the answer should have been easy to give. You would think that, wouldn't you. However, the answer was anything but easy.

I sat there and I stared at her trying to think of the answer. Going through my brain was, "It's my presentation." but would she know who I am? I could feel the seconds ticking away. This was quickly turning into a social nightmare as I continued to simply stare at her.

Each time I attempted to answer the question, and I did attempt by starting to make a sound then quickly muffling the noise, I thought the answer was wrong. I thought I could say, "The one on Asperger Syndrome" but I was unaware as if there were other sessions on this topic so I deemed that answer wrong.

Panic! Pure panic was racing through my system. I was 100% socially paralyzed. An hour prior to this I had finished a full three hour presentation and now I couldn't answer one simple question. This, right here, is the essence of living life on the autism spectrum.

About fifteen seconds had now passed and while it's taken you my than that amount of time to read this post up to here let me say that each second felt like a month as I weighed and re-weighed the right answer to give. Also, I could tell the lady asking the question was starting to get a bit confused because I'm sure it seemed a simple enough answer.

Perhaps at the 20 second mark I finally said, "It's the... it's the... it's the one on Asperger's." I didn't care if there was one, or 10,000 sessions on the topic as I just wanted to give an answer. She replied, "Okay, good, this is the one I wanted then."

I recovered from this question and gave one of my best presentations to date and with this presentation being three hours that meant the last hour would be Q&A. This lady who asked the question about which presentation was in this room asked, "You know Aaron, you stated that we may not recognize you outside a presentation and I must say, I was the one who asked you what presentation was in this room."

As she finished that sentence I smiled greatly and responded, "Yes! I love when someone gets to see the visual difference between Kansas and not."
       She responded, "Oh, you weren't in Kansas all right! I was so confused though because it was such a simple question. After you gave the answer though..."
       When she gave a slight pause I once again smiled greatly and I inquired, "You were wondering how on Earth I was going to give a presentation, weren't you?"
       It was her turn to smile and she responded, "Exactly!"

Even now as I write this I find this so incredible. I breezed through two hours of Q&A within the realm of a presentation but one random, unexpected question created a catastrophic lockup. In the end it worked great though because so often people say, "surely you can't be that different outside a presentation" but to have someone to see it, experience, and be confused by it made for such a wonderful example. For teachers, so often, this can be confusing. In one area we can be experts and then five minutes later getting us to respond to a simple question can be impossible. For that question asker yesterday she got to see it first hand, for those in attendance they got a great depiction of this.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Matter of Stacking

Several times over the course of my blogging career I have mentioned the fact that I have a hard time starting new things. This has been true with my ever growing video game collection. Often times I have stated that I am not a player, but rather a collector as nothing ever gets played except what I have already started.

In previous posts, and normally I would offer a link but I'm not exactly which post covered it and I'm in a bit of a time crunch to get this written, I stated that one of the issues with starting something new is the unknown. Also, when I have more than one thing I could start I get stuck trying to figure out which one to do. Then, add a dozen or more things I could start and the answer has always been to go back to what I know. I think in a post I one time mentioned that I would stare at my collection for many minutes, stuck, and nothing would advance.

Then, last week, I decided to rearrange my games and DVD's. My games have always been stacked in a vertical fashion in an order that didn't have much logic except I tried to put the things I wanted to play/newer games to the top. I never thought that this system led to my issues, but after my switch I learned it might have been.

My switch led to going from the vertical stacking with little logic to a horizontal system. At first I kept the same limited logic to the order of the madness but after staring for a few minutes I decided to put some logic in the system so instead of trying to put things on the top that I thought I wanted to play I ordered everything into genres.

This switch may seem like a non-point, but the end result has been game-life altering. I would say life-altering but after all this is just recreation, but just that little switch has allowed me to start many different games I have been sitting on for a long time.

I've known that when I was in school and I was absent I'd always get a pile of work that needed to be done and this was crippling. Much like my vertical stacking method I would become overwhelmed and just stare at the pile wondering what to do and where to begin. I'd see everything at once and be unable to begin anything. Of course, this would make me want to avoid school the next day because I had all this work to do and then I'd get another pile of work that was added to the pile and it became a never ending cycle. With the switch though I now feel as if I am more control. Instead of organizing by trying to put things on top that were newer I now have a system that puts no merit on newness. This means I can chose by the genre that I feel like playing. Yes, there still is a choice to be made, but I no longer see every single game at once but rather the system now breaks it down and the choices become smaller.

Over the course of this year I've heard from many parents on systems similar to this that the presentation of material is so vital to avoiding the possible overwhelming nature of piles. This applies to much more than my video game collection or school work that may be due in the near future. Being 29 years of age as I am this is an aspect of life that is something that isn't thought of. I mean, it's something that, perhaps, I thought I grew out of or perhaps it no longer applies to me. However, and this is so often so, regardless of age Asperger Syndrome is there with me. It can be easy to forget the ways that it can affect life, but the relief of anxiety from my simple change in my system can not be overlooked.

As I said at the beginning, I'm in a bit of a time crunch today. I just arrived in Springfield, Missouri and have a lunch meeting then tomorrow I have two, three hour presentations at a conference here in Springfield. I hope my blog today made sense as the change has been so huge. Anyway, I must go, have a great day!