Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Life on the Other Side of the Wall Year in Review for 2013

My goodness! That's all I can say as I think back on this year I've had. If you were to have told me I'd have reached the number of people that I did this year back on December 31st, 2012 I'd have laughed at you, but here I am. 2013 was an incredible year for sure and as always I end my year with a year in review. This may be lengthy but I don't so much write this for you as I do myself.

January started the with promise of what looked to be a relationship but my blogs early on in January, which were written in semi-code, showed that in didn't turn out the way I thought it would. Other things that happened was that I got to present at a conference in San Antonio which was an awesome experience and I decided to do a presentation in Vancouver for the following month.

February came and with it some major changes in my life. On my 30th birthday (yikes, I'm 30?!) I closed on a place of my own and took a big step in life as I became a homeowner. This was a good move as I went from being nearly 40 minutes from my dad to now about seven. A few days after moving I went to Vancouver and had some amazing experiences there. I got to present at a school and a classroom there and the response gave me a lot of confidence. Also, I went curling for the first time of my life which I don't think I can relay to you on just how big of a thrill this was for me. Ever since I saw the sport played at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano I had yearned to slide some truly heavy stones on ice. Was it fun? Oh yes! So much so I think I need to figure out how to get back to Vancouver to give some more presentations (and go curling again!)

Another unique thing I got to do was go boating with Rob and his dad. I had never gone boating before and I actually have a small phobia of the open water, but nonetheless I went and at one point in time everyone decided to put their lives in my hands when I was given control of the boat. See the expression on my face? That's the look of, "Oh my! We're about to die!" Thankfully, and obviously, we didn't and we went up to an island on the northwest part of Vancouver and had a lunch in this most scenic of places. While Vancouver is this bustling metropolis, this coffee house that served food was one of the most relaxing places I've ever been to and I look forward to the day I can go back there.

Everything changed when I got back as there became trouble at home. When I first moved into my place it sounded as if the neighbors didn't exist. I'm not in a standalone house but rather a condo and I never knew I had neighbors until one morning, before the sun came up, I heard noise. For the next couple months I didn't sleep all that well when I was at home and as the months progressed I (thankfully) spent little time at home and to give you an update the guy with the noise moved out and I hope that place stays on the market for a very long time (is that rude to hope for?).

Looking at my calendar and blog not all that much happened in March. I did speak at several schools and the responses there were amazing. Other than that my blogs, and my calendar journal were bland due in part to my lack of sleep.

My life, and year, accelerated at a fever pitch in April with presentations across the state as well as a few in Arizona. Racing season started and once again I served as chief starter for the USAC .25 Generation Next series as well as the SKUSA Pro Tour. I did have a close call at a race in Tucson as coming to the finish a couple cars came together and as this photo shows I got rather lucky that I am fast on my feet.

April was the busiest month I've ever had without being on an official national tour as I was gone 28 of the 30 days! I worked 3 races (Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque) but I also managed to speak to over 1,000 people!

In May I lived out a dream. The month started with several presentations to schools; some big and some small. It was a long wait until May 13th, though, as on that day I got to serve as the honorary starter for that day's practice for the Indianapolis 500. Was I excited? Most certainly; it's hard to wait for a day that one has waited for forever. It was an honor and even more so that the Speedway wrote this amazing article about me. I do have this photo to the right to remember the day by but I also have this video.

One thing I never mentioned was just how nervous I was and how much anticipation there was from when the car the car exited the pits to the time he came off of turn four and approached the stand I was in. It felt like forever and I had the words of Tom Hansing, who is one of the Indycar starters as well as a USAC starter I have worked with many times in my head, as he shouted down from the actual flagstand, "Hey Aaron, don't drop it! And by the way have fun!" As the car came though my body went into the state I go into when I flag which is a state without thought and I gave one of my best artistic greens ever. (The video before the green is myself explaining where my first flag stand was and I add it because it's a big part of who I am.)

My last presentation of the 2012-2013 school season was in Shelbina, Missouri on the 15th of May and from then on I had a streak of races. Nashville was first then it was time for the week of the Indy 500 which all events concerned with the Indy 500 were great; the support race had this amazing 4 wide finish and the Indy 500 had 64 lead changes. I didn't return home after the race as the following week the USAC crew and I headed to Pennsylvania to work a race (and eat at the Tic-Toc Diner many times) and from there we spent a couple days in New York City. From there we worked a race in Syracuse, New York where the weather was cold and rainy but somehow we managed to get the races in.

Later in June one of the worst experiences I've had in recent memory occurred. For most people this probably would have been a non-event but to this day I still have emotions over this. I have utilized this event in presentations at schools when I'm asked about bullying. True, this might not have been a traditional bullying episode, but I think my reaction was the same as I have never felt smaller, or more irrelevant in my life. I use these emotions as motivation to keep going when I get tired because this is a prime example of the need for autism awareness and understanding.

The day after that awful golf experience my nephew, sister, and I drove to my mom's in Rapid City, South Dakota. This was supposed to be a vacation but I spent more time on my blog and thinking than I did anything else. I wrote a more in-depth look at the events that happened on the golf course and I had a unique situation happen at a hardware store.

This event was random, but further shows the need of my job. My sister and I stopped by a store's "customer appreciation day" and got some food. The manager was serving and he saw my "TouchPoint Autism Services" shirt and asked where we were located. He thought this was local to Rapid City and I explained that we're in Missouri to which he sighed greatly and gave me the story of his grandson and how the schools simply don't understand. Before this I had an idea in my head that I thought was to grand and big to pull off, but after hearing that I decided to let a few people know about it and I don't want to share what this is, yet, but hopefully we can pull this off in 2014 and if we can I can almost guarantee that it would be difficult to do something that will have a bigger impact in the autism field than this.

In July it was back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard and it didn't take long before an incident on track struck the flagstand and knocked me off my feet. It hurt, but after a rest I was back on the stand. I wasn't going to let a little bruising stop me from flagging at the world's greatest race course.

The day after the race I drove to Memphis to present at a conference and the day after that I had a presentation which saw my total number of people spoken to eclipse 25,000. And adding to the major life milestones the day after 25,000 I had my first date with my current girlfriend. It was an extremely hot day in Saint Louis but we had an outdoor picnic dinner on Art Hill and then saw Le Miserables at the The Muny. It was a fun evening and we've been seeing each other ever since.

The day after the date I had one of the more annoying travel experiences I've ever had and then one of the more difficult flagging weekends in terms of endurance as the SKUSA Summernats had heat hitting as high as 105.

On July 30th I gave my 400th presentation and I still can't believe I've given that many and soon I will be hitting 500!

August was routine, at least by my standards, and I had two races and several presentations.

The first half of September was mundane and then the pace in my life hit 200%. For the 2nd time in the year I got struck in the stand while flagging which once again bruised me and I missed my first race day ever.

I had a presentation the following week and I felt my phone vibrate during it. When the presentation was over I got the news that my former colleague, and friend, had passed away. On a flight to a race in Lancaster, CA I wrote that dedication.

 I worked my first street race in Lancaster, CA and one of the SKUSA staff got one of the best pictures of myself in action ever. That race weekend was very special for myself because I would be going straight from that race to the start of a nationwide speaking tour speaking to students across the country.

It wasn't an easy return trip home with travel delays followed up by cancelled flights and I knew things were going to be odd when I was greeted with a french horn player at my gate in LAX. I snapped this photo with my phone because it was just so out of place; I mean, I guess when you gotta play you gotta play but hearing a french horn at an airport terminal is something I thought I would never experience.

After the french horn episode I flew to Dallas where my flight to Saint Louis got cancelled. This all was red-eye stuff and I was exhausted and my flight was rescheduled to five hours later so I ended up taking a nap on the floor. Eventually the rising sun woke me up as the heat from the window magnified it and this was one of the oddest experiences I've had. I was in the midst of a dream and when I awoke I had no idea where I was. I looked out across the tarmac at the rising sun and as I gathered my bearings I finally realized that I was about to embark on a journey I'd remember forever and be talking to thousands of people in the upcoming month. And indeed, the following day I was in Fort Wayne and spoke to over 1,000 people.

The entire month of October went by in a blur; it truly did. There were so many moments and t
here's no way I can, in this post, give this justice. By month's end I spoke to over 7,500 people and I gave my largest presentation ever with over 1,500 people at once. There was one moment that will stick above all others and I will share that in a future blog post.

On November 1st I returned home from my national tour and the next day I saw the movie Captain Phillips and the flashbacks I had were devastating. Just the other day, when talking about it, the feelings came back again. I'm happy this happened, however, because so often I'm asked questions from parents about the difficulties there are to "move on" from events and this experience will allow me to better answer these questions in the future.

While my official national tour was over the presentations were just as furious and in one day, on November 12th, I spoke to 1,600 people. The following day I gave my first television interview in quite some time and from there I went to KTRS to have a radio interview that was actually livestreamed on the Internet.

After the barrage of presentations it was time for my yearly trek to Vegas and the SKUSA Supernats. Truly, this event plays host to my favorite five days of the year, but this year the weather was the big story with records amount of rain and chilly conditions in the midst of a strong wind. It was certainly  the most difficult five days of my life and was a true test of my strength, but I survived and come Sunday the weather turned good and it was a memorable experience and one that us workers, and racers, will not soon forget.

From Vegas I went with my dad to my aunt's outside Washington D.C. and I don't really remember much of that trip as I slept most of the time. December came and with it news that I am receiving the first "Youth Leadership Award" from the state of Missouri's Governor's Council on Disabilities. I also gave a few more presentations bringing my final number to 148 (previous high was around 110!) and a total number of people spoken to of 18,593 with the previous record of 11,323!)

Near the end of December I witnessed a scary moment at a race that involved Tom Hansing. I wrote about my experience working with him all the way back in this 2010 post, It was this experience that led me down the path of becoming USAC's national .25 flagman so I owe a lot to him, and more than I'll probably ever know, which made watching this all the worse. I will say, as bad as it looks, he was taken to the hospital for a checkup but he was back in the flagstand the following day.

So that was my 2013. It seems each and every year I talk about how there's no way to out do the previous year and year each that comes gets bigger and bigger so if that's so I am afraid to ask how big 2014 will be. I have some visions, and some hopes to makes things better for those on the autism spectrum and I'm also anxious to, somehow, try and top my numbers for 2013. I may have become exhausted near the end of the year, but it was worth it and I look forward to traveling here, there, and  everywhere spreading understanding of the autism spectrum. Thanks for being a reader of my blog, I truly appreciate it, and I hope everyone has a great new year. See you all in 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Numbers of 2013

The Numbers of 2013

Days away from home: 201

Presentations Given: 148

Amount of people spoken to: 18620!

Most people spoken to at once: 1,500 at Orange Lutheran

Most people spoken to in a month: 7,726 in October

Number of miles driven for presentations and flagging: 18,697

Number of Canadians angered by my music: 1 (Same one as 2010, 2011, and 2012… Can you believe he came back for another go?)

Numbers of time curling: 1 (and I want to go back! Why can’t it be a popular sport in America, or rather where I live?)

Number of hospital visits: 0!

Number of holes in one while golfing: 0 (What can I say, I slacked off from 2012. I did have an eagle 2 though from 110 yards out.)

Number of hate mail received: 0 (Weird, only my first year did I get this. But please, don’t write in just to change this number.)

Number of counties presented to in Missouri: 32

Number of states presented in: 11 states and 1 Canadian Province (British Columbia)

Number of horrific golf course experiences: 1 (this is actually a drop in numbers so this is a good thing)

Number of flags waved at races: Unknown. I’d estimate a lot though

Number of homes purchased: 1 (and I never want to move again!)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Not Much

I realize a lot of people are busy with friends and family during this time of the year so I am saving a couple stories that happened and will run those at the start of next year but in the meantime I'm working on my year in review blog which has taken more time than ever to compile.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Leader?

Over the weekend on Facebook I announced the news I somewhat mentioned on my blog. What was this news? It was announced that I am, in the state of Missouri, the Governor's Council on Disability 2013 Youth Leadership Award. The story is on page 12 of that document and it still doesn't seem real.

I struggle with understanding the impact of what I do and to receive an honor, which is an honor, is something I have trouble processing. I didn't start out four years ago with the goal of receiving recognition for what I am doing. If you ever ask me why I do what I do I will simply say, "because I do it."

In 2012 I was awarded the "Mental Health Champion" award in Missouri and once again I'm receiving another award. And not only that, but this is the inaugural award which will be an annual thing. So now I'm also a benchmark in a way. But does this make me a leader? That's the name of this award and from now on I will have "recipient of the youth leadership award" when being introduced but I have to admit I don't feel like a leader. Do I lead? I'm unsure what the mark of a leader is but I do what I do simply because it needs to be done.

I won't lie; I am proud of the number of presentations I've given and I'm super proud of the amount of students I've spoken to across Missouri. My mission and dedication to raising the awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum is unwavering. I had a big year and I want next year to be bigger. This isn't just a wish but this has to happen because there are those out there that aren't understood. I lived in that spot for a long time and it's amazing how far just a little bit of understanding goes and for some reason I have the ability to speak in public and do just that.

But does this make me a leader? Again, I don't know the criteria and maybe it's good I don't know. If I started out on my journey of speaking with the intention of winning awards and doing it with intentions of self-gain then perhaps I wouldn't be a leader, or be deserving of such an award. I'm honored, absolutely honored that I am receiving this. I did mention I struggle with understanding the impact and again, if I understood, maybe it wouldn't be the same. I'm so ever thankful that I have been given the support and the stage to do what I do. Receiving this honor just gives me more fuel to continue doing it because, again, I don't know what I do but since I've now being recognized twice I must be doing something right and moving forward I just want to keep doing it and, hopefully, bringing more awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum to those that need it the most.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Christmas Tour

Every year I go to Indianapolis for Christmas and there are many, say, rituals that have to happen. One of those is taking a tour of where my sister and I grew up here in Indianapolis. This normally would occur when my mom would fly in to the airport but since my mom is driving here this year that aspect of the routine changed. (thanks mom! You ruined Christmas!!! Just kidding... I think :)

Anyway, joking aside, it is a very important part of my year, this traveling with my sister and nephew to the part of town my sister and I grew up in. And this year it was a much more somber experience than usual. I think for anyone the experience of visiting a place then new 20+ years ago would evoke a lot of emotions and for myself it's more with my videographic memory, but this year the gas station my sister and I frequented all those years ago was closed. Also, we had a neighbor and every year we would drive by her house and each time we said, "maybe we should say hello" but we found a reason not to each year and my nephew, with his infinite wisdom, each year said, "you better say hello because eventually she won't be alive anymore." Last year we didn't see her in the window as she usually was and I did a search for her name a month or so later and found out she had passed away in November of last year. We drove by her house anyway and it was eerie as it was all the same;  the lamp was still in the window and it was as if nothing had changed. This all but moved me to tears.

From there we went to the house we grew up in and from there we went to Noble Romans on 10th St which we ate at A LOT back then and it's great that the experience there is the same now as it was back when I was five. Sure, the arcade games changed (this place was where I played my first racing game as they had Pole Position) but the smell, the breadsticks, and the furniture are all the same. If that place ever goes out of business I will be beyond what words could say.

After dinner we drove past our Elementary School and talked about the horrible art teacher we had (my nephew always gets tired of this, but if you knew him you'd talk about him too!) and other memories associated with growing up there.

Each year we do this and each year, for myself, it's as if it's right at the conclusion of last year's tour. The movement of time for myself seems to be static. Even though a calendar year has passed, and we've been doing this tour for over five years now, it's as if the passage of time ceases on this tour. I wish I could better describe this feeling.

From the school we drove by the library we went to and this place, well, it looks as if nothing has changed in 20 years. It's truly a timeless experience and then from there we drove by the place our dentist was and we talked about how nasty he was (oh, he was!) but that area of the neighborhood has changed drastically. What used to be a full shopping center now is pretty much vacant. It's odd how one area can be beyond the reaches of time and just a few blocks away it's unrecognizable.

This tour I take each year is important to me and I'm sure next year I'll probably write a similar blog and talk about how times change yet it still feels as if it was just a split second. I also fear, however, the time that this tour might be different. This year had major changes; a person we were close with had passed away, a gas station we thought was all but immortal had closed and the question has to be asked, what's next? Places that are important to us and our history should be visited because as time passes you won't know when you'll want to go somewhere and it won't be. Or if there's a person you want to say hello to I can say don't wait because in life you just never know.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I am awaiting sharing some exciting news but have to wait for it to truly be official. Hopefully I can do this later today. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dear Normal

Dear normal,

For years I searched for you, even yearned for you. You, whatever you are, are what I wanted beyond everything else in life. Before I was diagnosed 10 years ago with Asperger's I never even considered pondering what normal was but after learning about what I had normal became a way of life. A way of life? Yes, but not for me. You see, after I learned what I had everyone else, instantly, became normal and I was alone. I'd look around and want what everyone else had which was normality.

Dear normal,

I spent many years after that searching for you. In my eyes everyone else had it all; happiness, friends, jobs, and all of this, in my mind, was easy for everyone except me. This led me down a path of supreme darkness because I believed there was no hope for me. I'd see everyone else and I'd grow sad and bitter because what everyone else had was something I'd never have.

Dear normal,

It took a while but eventually I began to learn that you aren't as powerful as I first thought. Ten years ago you were the only thing I thought of. I'd have given anything to, for just a fleeting moment, to experience what you represented in my life. Because of this I forgot who I was and all my goals in life. You might not think this, but you blinded me because to be you, or normal, was my only goal in life.

Dear normal,

In just the past few years your power on me has subsided. Yes, it took a long time but I've learned that everyone else isn't perfect, or 'normal'. When I was blinded by you I'd see everyone else as almost perfect because they fit into this image of normality and normality, in my mind, was perfection. But it doesn't work this way, does it? Everyone has their quirks, their strengths, and their weaknesses.

Dear normal,

As I now have known that I'm on the autism spectrum for ten years my views on you are much different. Back then I yearned for you but today I don't even know if you exist. Perhaps you're just an image that a person like me conjures up and then you become everything I am not. If that's so does that mean anyone is normal? If this is so is this a bad thing? I don't think it is. What I saw in year all those years ago I now consider, in a way, boring. I hope you don't take offense to this, normal, but if you ever hear my presentation I joke that, "Yeah, normal, whatever that is, and you know I don't think there is such thing as normal and if we do find that one normal person out there that lives in this wide world of ours I will say 'congratulations' because we have just found the most boring individual on the face of this Earth."

Dear normal,

I firmly believe you are an illusion and a trap. Yes, there's time I want to be "more normal" but everyone is different, right? Can you, or anyone, explain what normal is? And if so does that mean I have to live a life that's limited by the limitations of normal? If this is so I want no part of that, but after all I don't think that you, normal, really exists. And then again, what if you do? What if normal is simply the state of being alive? Since we are all different does that mean normality is being different from everyone else. If this is so then we are all different, all unique, and at the same time all normal. I wish I would have realized this 10 years ago because my initial image of normal was an illusion, a myth, and a life that no one could possibly live. So dear normal, whatever you are, it's been an odd relationship these past 10 years but I'm finally over you because you aren't going to control my life; I'm not going to try and be whatever it is I thought you are, because I am me and I am happy being who I am.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Offseason

I feel slightly ashamed to say this but I am excited for the next two weeks. If you've followed my blog this year you'll know that I have been busy, to say the least. This entire year has been go go go but today marks a week that I have nothing on the agenda.

It really started after the USAC racing banquet Saturday night and when that was over and I was driving to my sister's I felt a large weight lifted off of my shoulders. The past month has been a point that I have found my limit. Since September 7th I have given 60 presentations, been coast to coast, driven some 10,000 miles, spoken to over 12,000 people and have had minimal time to be still. And there's something to be said about being still; it's something I need. There are some people out there that always seem to have a need to be moving and doing but for myself I need time to do nothing and let my brain decompress and think. In just my one day, on Sunday, of having this I've already come up with a blog concept which I hope to write for tomorrow's blog.

On the other hand it feels weird as I look at my calendar on my phone. My calendar is almost sacred to me and I live by it; it's the way I keep track of where I am going and what I will be doing and for the next two weeks it's empty. I don't have to drive 300 miles, I don't have to give a presentation (which is somewhat of a downer) and I don't have to worry about time in that if I'll be late or too early for something.

If anything, I guess, you could call this time of year for myself the offseason if my year were a sports season. My time isn't wasted, however; I do have two lengthy blogs to prepare and I will have to time to finally be in a position to think without doing. My book, and best concepts were born from this state of being and maybe I shouldn't be this happy about it, but this week I am going to enjoy my time of decompressing and enjoying the simple fact of being without a massive dose of doing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Learning a Lesson

Right now I think I am under the most stress I have ever been in my life. When it gets this bad writing becomes an extreme challenge so I thought I would reshare an event from last year since tonight is this year's USAC banquet and last year I had an unique challenge after the banquet. http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2012/12/after-banquet-dude-how-do-i-get-my-car.html

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A computer gone

I had a blog in mind today but right before I started to write it my computer got looked at by the IT guy and it turns out my sound issue I had could turn into something worse so I had to say goodbye to that computer. Thankfully, all my data got transferred over unlike last time when my hard drive failed, but nonetheless it's always hard to say goodbye even if it is just a small object full of boards using bytes in a plastic shell. 

In other news I have really exciting news to share... But I can't share until Friday or Monday. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Couple Videos

The sleep issues came back with a vengeance last night and I was doing everything to attempt not to think so my creative part of my brain, well, wasn't creative. That being so I don't have anything clever to share. Instead, I wanted to share a couple of videos that shows some of my other talents besides writing and presenting. The first is a video recap of this year's SKUSA Supernats and I made the video many times with my flagging at start/finish. The 2nd is long, but there's a race series on iRacing that I am the color commentator for and I truly enjoy it as it presents a unique challenge (even more so since the play-by-play announcer is in England and we can't see each other.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Diagnosis: 10 Years Later

At about this time 10 years ago a lot of questions in my life, regarding why I was different, were answered when I got my diagnosis of having Asperger's. While some questions were answered many more were brought up such as, "What does this mean?" and, "What in the world is Asperger's?" It's true! when I got my diagnosis I never once had heard of it and neither do I think my doctor had because his response was, "good luck" which this relegated me to seeking answers on the internet and the answers I found were not good.

As I've written many times the answers I found on the internet painted a picture of a hopeless void in that it said, "people with Asperger's will never have friends, will never have a job, and will never be happy." For me, in that moment, I forgot who I was. It didn't matter who I was as those three points that website stated became my image and that image, in my mind, was unbreakable.

It was a long road to repair the damage that website did in my life, a very long road, but here I am and a lot has changed in 10 years. For one, the overall society awareness of all things autism has increased greatly. Why is this important? For one, had I had some frame of reference about it then maybe I wouldn't have been drawn to the wild of the internet to seek answers. Secondly is acceptance. I've never broken it down as to why the, "no job, friends, or happiness" was so bleak, okay so it is pretty much self-explanatory, but from those three things it can be concluded that a life of solitude is going to happen because intolerance is the norm. That's how I felt, but from acceptance, from having people know the little things about autism, well, then I'm not going to have the level of self-hatred that I had had.

Self-hatred; that was one of the side effects from my diagnosis 10 years ago. From not understanding myself, to others not understanding me, there was little room for anything adjective that partially resembled anything positive. 10 years ago my mind was constantly asking, "Why am I not normal? Why can't I just 'get over it'"? For the most part I had been able to jump any hurdle in my life I had wanted to but now I knew life was all but over.

As I said, it was a long road and 10 years later my thoughts have changed drastically. I no longer yearn for normal as I believe normal is one of two things; it either doesn't exist or if it does, and we find that one normal person out there, congratulations we have found the most boring individual on the face of this Earth. Another thing I no longer do is to tell myself to just, "get over it." Sure, when someone tells me to do something I can't do, or tells me, "it's not that difficult" I will have a reaction, but it's only temporary unlike the drawn out affair that happened on that day of diagnosis.

Most of all I've learned to be me. Early on in my blogging career I had a entry entitled, "defining it" which talked about the fact that my goal isn't to have Asperger's define me but rather for me to define it. From when I wrote that to now that philosophy is even greater. If in life, and this goes for anyone who reads this whether or not you are on the autism spectrum, you let a sentence define you; if you let words someone else says become you, then you will, probably and sadly, become whatever that definition was. Here's the thing; we're all different and my difference just happens to have a name tied to it and while I wouldn't have said this 10 years ago I am now fine with the name, no, not just fine but proud. Had I never got my diagnosis I still would be making the same mistakes as I would not be aware of my strengths and weaknesses. Had I not been diagnosed I probably would have kept the mentality that I was alone and that there was no one else out there that was like me or had the thoughts like I had. Yes, had I never been diagnosed I never would have realized that we are all more than a random line of the internet. If a person allows themself to become a definition then that's what they are, but I believe everyone is more than that. It may have taken a long time, and I endured several years of extreme hardship, but on this anniversary I have never been more proud to say, "I'm Aaron Likens, I have this thing called Asperger's and as ever my goal is to help define it instead of it defining me." 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Gives Me Hope

I talk to a diverse range of audiences; one day it could be med students and the next police officers and the after that could be 4th graders. In every presentation, when I see someone "get it" that moment creates a big stir of hope within me. There's one group, however, that gives me more pride than any when I reach and that is teachers. 

This morning I had the honor of presenting to the staff of an elementary school here in the Saint Louis area. With the weather being poor the room was only half full when I began but as each person came in the other teachers were so focused on what I had to say that no hint of realizing this occurred. 

As I presented on I could see that, as I made each point, there was almost synchronized nodding as each teacher thought of a student past or present. 

There was a lot of laughter, some tears, and it was obvious that this faculty truly cared about learning more about the autism spectrum. The reason I feel this is so important is that, when a teacher is reached and has a better understanding of the autism spectrum, there is no telling how many students will be better served over the course of that teacher's career because of just one presentation. 

To see the obvious caring from these teachers today is what drives me; I've done just under 150 presentations this year and it's just as enjoyable and meaningful as the first. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A December Event: Insomnia

Today, or whatever today has been, has not been fun. I actually don't know what to call the current moment as last night I got zero sleep. That's right, none, and it seems to be a trend for December as I think back to previous years.

What kept me up? The simple answer is a racing brain. There was no slowing down my brain last night, or today's night, or whatever it was but my mind thought about anything and everything all at once. It wasn't a fun experience as I thought about today, tomorrow, and the next 12 months. Again, all these thoughts were all at once which made distinguishing thoughts difficult.

Another aspect thrown in was the sensory aspect. I was staying at a hotel and the heater was at a pitch and volume I'm not used to so each time I was on the verge of, perhaps, achieving something resembling sleep I'd be thrown right back in the world of being awake.

The primary issue, though, was that my brain would not stop processing. This used to be much more frequent in my life, but once the brain starts speeding up it's like trying to stop a boulder falling down a steep cliff. To make matters worse the longer this goes on the harder it is to stop.

There's one thing here that, unless you lived it, is probably very difficult to understand and that is what I mean by "thinking of everything." How does one think of everything? There is no metaphor here and this is something I mean as literal as possible. When I can't sleep due to the racing brain my brain is thinking about so many random things, and important things, all at once that there is no singular answer and the best way to describe it is to say that I am thinking of everything.

From what I've heard from others I know I'm not alone in these bouts of sleepless nights. I've had others explain it to me the same way I describe it here in that there is no pause button on thoughts. Imagine this; I can think in pictures and I can play out scenarios in my brain like a computer simulator. Sounds great, right? Most of the time it is except when it won't turn off and I want to sleep. Think of it this way; imagine trying to sleep with your eyes open and having five television screens with five different programs on. Would you be able to seamlessly fall into sleep? I think not.

It is interesting that December seems to be my month for these issues. I don't know if there's something to that or if it's just random chance. This isn't a self-fulfilling prophecy but I have felt this coming on as I've been nonstop for so long and haven't had a time to just decompress. It always seems as if the current era is my busiest but I don't know if I could top the past three months in terms of being busy. I've been home no more than two weeks total in this time and honestly, for me, it feels like it should still be September.

Moving forward I am going to have to keep in mind that I am in this state of sleep issues. My personal history tells me if I have one night like it there's a good chance it'll happen again soon. I'm hoping not tonight as writing this blog has certainly helped, but the next two days are nights I don't want it to happen due to early presentations. Somehow I was able to muster the inner strength to give two presentations this morning before quickly going back to the hotel and taking a much needed nap, but presenting after being up in excess of 24 hours is something I'd like to avoid. That being so I am going to attempt to go to sleep so hopefully, within minutes, today, whatever today may be, will be forgotten in a state of sheer sleeping bliss.

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Automatic

I had a question at a presentation earlier this year in regards to how engrained my defenses are. What defense? The asker was speaking of my social defenses in terms of avoiding eye contact and keeping the fourth wall intact. I gave a halfway decent answer but after driving home yesterday I came up with the best answer which I will share today. 

My dad and I drove from my sister's in Indy to home here in Saint Louis. We were in my car so we stopped at my dad's first and from then I drove my car to my place. As I was halfway home I realized I hadn't once thought about my route to my house. I didn't calculate the turns, I didn't register the street names, and there wasn't a singular thought about the drive. The easiest way to describe it was that it was automatic. So too is my social defenses. 

One common theme in many of my writings is analysis after the fact. Part of the reason these thoughts aren't at the time is this automated defense system I have. Just this morning, as I was making a payment at my bank, this kicked in as I was walking out the door and I could see my path was going to cross with another person walking in. Instantly my eyes went to the ground and to the right and I did my very best to try and look invisible. I must've done a good job because no social interaction took place and no eye contact was made. 

I feel one of the issues I've had in learning complex social skills is trying to override this automatic defense system. Truly this system is not on the conscious level and when it is triggered it isn't something I can just get rid of. What triggers it? Many things, primarily social encounters, and I think the purpose of this is to minimize social anxiety. There's one thing I'm curious of and don't know the answer and that is this; is this automatic defense truly that, in being automatic, or has it been learned much like driving to a familiar address. For yourself, if you drive and drive to an office today, or if you're reading this tonight at home, did you think about each turn? Did you think about the street names? Unless you started a new job I'm willing to guess that you didn't and that's how my social defense system works. It isn't thought of but it's automatic in nature. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Toll

I've often wondered how much I could push my body and I think I have found it. 

The past two days have seen me do nothing more than sleep. After nearly five months of nonstop go I have finally hit that proverbial wall. I don't have much more to say than that as my brain just isn't working. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Have a Good Life"

There are moments in life that stand out over others. I know that's an obvious statement, but it seems, for me, that these moments are not the same as what others would have.

Yesterday was a long day for me. I got home at 1AM Monday morning and just five hours later my dad and I were headed to the Washington D.C. Metro area to go to my aunt's for Thanksgiving. The weather of the drive was not good and once we hit central Kentucky it was rain all the way (I followed the system that gave the Supernats so much rain.)

All along I had it in my mind to stop at the Roy Rogers in Cumberland, MD. I ate there with the USAC staff on the way back from the race in Hagerstown and wanted to do so again. My dad had mentioned his first roast beef sandwich had actually been from a Roy Rogers. Anyway, we get there and before we ordered my dad struck up a conversation with someone that was eating. This person, I guess, was from the area (I came into the conversation a bit late) and was talking about the excess of accidents that were happening due to the poor weather.

We ordered and sat down and the conversation continued on. The fact that there was this conversation was odd for me because I don't talk to people I don't know in a setting like this. And yet, watching it, created a flood of emotions. Who was this person? What was his story? I don't know if empathy is the right word, but I had so much wonder that it was overwhelming.

As we were almost done eating this man and his wife got up and started to leave. They talked about grabbing food for their "girls" at home and he started to say goodbye to my dad when my dad replied, "have a good life" and with that one singular line I lost it.

When the man and his wife left my dad turned back towards me and said, "Aaron, is something wrong? You look as if you're about to cry." and he was right; I was. There was so much stuff going through my mind that I couldn't control my emotions. This was such a difficult time because with that line the realization that this moment was lost to time and that this man who shared road conditions and showed a true caring on our well-being was gone. Will I see this person again? I knew the answer, statistically, was a resounding "no."

I tried to refocus my mind but it wasn't possible. There were other moments in my life like this and the biggest one that comes to mind was when I was perhaps eight years old and so and we were driving back from my grandma's in Nebraska to home in Indianapolis and my dad was talking to this trucker on the CB radio. This conversation lasted for many, many miles and eventually one of us took a exit and goodbyes were said and I knew the finality of this moment and I didn't take it well.

Is this empathy? I truly wondered who this man was that was wishing us the best. Why couldn't I breathe? Was it too much emotions, or feelings? I had to do everything I could not to just break down and this was odd because 15 minutes prior I didn't even knew this man existed and now he was gone. Is this another reason I try to keep my world small? Because, if it is, then moments like this won't happen and moments like that are to the brink of being overwhelming.

As for now, and today, the Thanksgiving traditions of the past 13 years will take place but my mind is still back in Cumberland at that Roy Rogers in the pouring rain with a bone piercing chilly wind. Who was that person? What type of life had he lived? So many questions but the answers will never be told. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Soggynats

Whew! Where were my blog posts the past few days? I normally blog each day at the SKUSA Supernats but the conditions this year proved to be the most challenging conditions I've ever faced. Even though it's in the desert, and it's Las Vegas, we endured inches (yes, inches!) of rain. And not only rain, but the temperature didn't even eclipse 50. To make matters worse I didn't have the proper attire when it started to rain (it's Vegas, who brings rain gear?) but was eventually provided with a really menacing looking plastic suit and rubber boots. First, if I ever wear those types of boots again in my life it will be too soon! Seriously, try working a race which involves 15 hours of standing and running in such boots. It's no wonder that today I can barely walk.

Thankfully, and mercifully, the weather for the mains yesterday turned into a typical fall day in Vegas; ample sunshine and around 60 degrees. This photo I'm smiling for two reasons, one, and obviously, I'm in my biggest Kansas of the year but two, and more importantly, I'm not in rubber boots!

Right now, as I write this, I'm at the airport about to head home and never have I been so sore in my life. It was extremely exhausting and I impressed myself in the endurance I exhibited. This was probably the most physically, and mentally, demanding event but as always I am counting down the days until the Supernats (and hopefully not the Soggynats) of 2014. Until then I'll have these pictures, and the following videos of this year's event.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day One One Day More

There are few major moments in life that can be relived. In fact, minor events in life are disappearing. Take for instance the closing of Blockbuster Video; my motivation to endure school was to go there every Friday to rent a game or two and now that experience is no more. 

But enough if minor experiences, let's talk about moments that become frozen in time; a moment that becomes a moment that when all looks dark you can think back to that memory and have a smile brought to your face. For the sixth year in a row I got to have one of those moments. 

Today was the start of the 17th SKUSA Supernats and once again I'm the chief starter for the event. It's a huge honor to be in that position and even though I am, perhaps, one of the best in the world at flagging (in the karting world I found out I'm internationally known) it still is surreal that I get the privilege of being the guy at the finish line starting the race and also being the one to greet the winner with my checkered flags as they cross the line. 

As I said, this is my sixth and every year the event gets bigger and bigger. Sure, it's gotten bigger in a literal sense as we have national and international caliber drivers here ( multiple former F1 drivers, several NASCAR and Indycar drivers and over 600 other drivers from all around the world) but it also becomes bigger for myself. Each year I anticipate this event more and more because with each passing year I realize what this event has done for my life. 

My life? How could working a kart race in Vegas have any impact on my life? Five years ago I worked my first Supernats and at that point in time I had little direction in life and no confidence at all. The event that year was rather difficult to work, but I persevered and actually thrived in the environment. I had never done anything like that in my life and the seeds of self-confidence were planted. From that, in the following year, I gave my first presentation and, well, without my first Supernats I can almost assure you I would not be who I am, I would not be a presenter, and I most certainly wouldn't have a blog. 

Because of what this event means to me I get emotional before it each year. As I mentioned, how often can you live in a moment that transcends all others? For me, the walk from my hotel room to the track in the parking lot on day one is one of those moments. I soak it all up; the mass of people walking to the track, the sun that hasn't yet broken the horizon, and the knowledge that I'm about to partake in 13 hours of flagging ensuring everything runs as safely as possible. Today it was so much I literally had tears in my eyes as I opened the doors and stepped out into what was a rather chilly Vegas morning. 

I know it probably sounds odd that something that must people would consider a job, or work, means more to me than it does to most everyone else. I once joked in a presentation that I think I have more fun and enjoyment at this event than most drivers but I don't think that line is that far from the truth. I don't think anyone treats this event as "just another race" and for me it isn't. This event added the final touches to allowing me to be who I am. Without my chance of working this race I would not be in the race spread autism awareness and understanding. It's that simple. 

I might have been emotional when I walked outside but after the morning meetings when I finally stepped onto the finish line (which I refer to as "my office") and I just stood there having to remember to breathe because I was in a state if awe. Despite one of the best backdrops imaginable I was blind to it all. My concentration was on the following hours of on track activity and the knowledge, knowing full well, that five years ago I was nothing but untapped human potential but now that potential has been realized and yet there's still more and working this race will help inspire my other race of autism understanding. So with all this I hope you can see that my living out day one all over again is something that means more to me than most will ever understand.