Friday, September 27, 2013

A Dedication

I don’t want to write this. I want to go back in time, to 2010, when I began when everything I was doing was new and each week I was brought along to visit various doctor offices in the Saint Louis area. For long time readers of my blog you’ll remember that I used to mention Matt, TouchPoint’s Community Liaison, many times. His job was to go to doctors and give them material on autism and if they wanted more we would go to the office and have a “lunch and learn.”
These lunch and learns were adventures for me as I was new in my job and also new in presenting. I was rather timid at first but Matt was always good at bringing the conversation my way and engaging me. He was always good at that though as he was with me for my very first presentation at the 2009 MNEA conference, but with each time we visited a doctor he had no problem relinquishing control of the meeting and letting me take the reins and give the doctor all the knowledge I had about living life on the autism spectrum.

I always thought this had to be hard, in a way, for Matt because he made the contact, he set up the meeting, and then I became the star. In one of these meetings a doctor literally gave Matt a push out of the way so she could talk to me more. He always took this in stride though and often joked about it.
Matt left TouchPoint in 2011 and since then there isn’t a part of Saint Louis that doesn’t remind me of him as we visited doctors everywhere. Just a couple weeks ago I drove by the place that Dr. X is and thought back to how frustrated we were. We both felt as if we were kicked in the jaw after that one. There have been times when I’ve driven past an office that we visited and it almost hurts as I yearn to have one more visit. However, this isn’t possible now because Matt, earlier this week, passed away.

That’s why I don’t want to write this; I don’t want to say good-bye. The work we did was so fabulous and our teamwork was to the level that we knew what each other was thinking. Not only was our teamwork good but it was much more than that; he understood me. He knew when a situation was too much for me, and going back to the beginning he knew what to say to make me feel comfortable. I was so unsure of myself when I began, but through presentations and these lunch and learns I began to become more and more comfortable as the “Community Education Specialist.”

Grief is something I don’t handle well. I simply don’t. My emotions are in tatters. As with so many people in my life I know I never said “thank you” enough, if ever. I certainly have a high level of regret flowing through me right now and I’m sure that’s the last thing Matt would want me feeling. What he would want me to remember is that first time I met him when I was a consultant going through parent training, or us working at the Parents as Teachers conference in the TouchPoint booth, or maybe all the times we ate at Lion’s Choice in celebration of giving a doctor the right information on autism with us both knowing the impact that it is going to have.

Speaking of impact, that’s what I want you to remember about Matt. Our stories forever be told on  this blog, but that’s not the impact I am speaking about as this impact is almost immeasurable. We visited so many doctors and for some of these doctors we were giving them the first bit of information on autism they had ever received. Think about that, before us there was little to no chance of the doctor telling a parent that their child had autism, but after us there was the possibility as we educated the doctors. This impact can’t be measured because it’s going to be with the doctor for the rest of their career.

As much as I didn’t want to write this I don’t want to finish it. To finish this, in a way, is my final goodbye and how do I say it? How do I say goodbye to the person who helped hone my craft? I might have burned out, flamed out, or became frustrated with myself and may never have gotten to the point where I am now. I mean, I’m about to start my 2nd national tour and when I started out in 2010 that wasn’t even something that was even imaginable. So how do I say goodbye knowing I never really thanked him? Perhaps I can’t as nothing would be fitting so instead of me coming up with a way to finish this dedication I’ll let his words finish it. He sent this to me right before my national tour last year and he hadn’t worked at TouchPoint for almost a year, but autism was still on his mind. Here’s what he sent me,

I know you haven’t heard from me since I left TouchPoint but I heard something good and I thought you could use it. A week ago or so a parent of a young man told me, ‘Folks with autism will change the world because the world can’t change them.’”

Goodbye Matt, thank you for helping me become who I am. In every presentation I give I’ll remember that I wouldn’t be who I am without you.  


  1. It's always heartbreaking to lose a good friend, especially someone who helped shape who we become and how we look at the world. You were very lucky to have someone like that in your life. And, guess what, you're probably that person for someone else now. It may not be that exact type of relationship but you're definitely having an impact on others like Matt had on you. Shoot, I told you just this week how the craziest things can make me think about you or something you wrote about or told me about. Something as simple as a kid's movie that takes place at Indy.

    Again, I'm sorry for your loss and I wish I had some magic words to make you feel better. I'm sure your busy schedule coming up will help keep your mind off the grief but it sounds like you have a lot of good memories to draw upon. You know how to get ahold of me if you would like someone to talk to.

  2. Aaron,
    Your tribute and dedication to Matt is beautiful. I can't imagine how much this hurt yesterday when you read the text message that he had passed away after your presentation. But, without Matt, who knows what you would have been doing yesterday.

    There are four men who have played a very important role in your growing into one of the most important messengers of the Autism message in America.

    The first was Jerry Corley, a professor who told you that he didn't think you had Asperger's Syndrome at a book signing at Barnes and Noble. He then invited you to give your first presentation to one of his graduate classes at Lindenwood University.

    The second was Dr. John Gurcio, who took you with him to Missouri Baptist University where you jumped in with both feet and did your second presentation.

    The third man is Ron Ekstrand who gave you the opportunity to become the Community Education Specialist for TouchPoint.

    And then there was Matt. He was with you at your first really big presentation at the Missouri National Education Association conference in St. Louis in the fall of 2009. In the TouchPoint booth, you kinda stood there like a lump on a log until Matt opened the door with a teacher by saying, "I'd like you to meet Aaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas." You took it from there. You began to say things about Autism that teachers had never heard before. And why? Because Matt not only opened the door, he kicked you out into the world.

    John the Baptist said of Jesus, "I must decrease that he might increase." I think that's what you were saying about Matt. At all those meetings with doctors and nurses, he was willing to step aside and let you shine. I think that's because before he worked at TouchPoint he was a pastor. He had the heart of pastor. I had many conversations with Matt after he left TouchPoint and I always ended those with a "thank you" for what he did for you. I even think that one time I told him you probably couldn't tell him what I was telling him. He understood. He was so proud of you.

    You have been so blessed as to have Matt Schaefer walk across the path of your life and leave footprints that will last forever. One thing I think he would want you to do: keep doing what you're doing and leave your footprints in the paths of the thousands upon thousands of those you will bring hope too.

    Matt Schaefer changed the world by changing you into the man you are today.

    Thank God for Matt.

    Your Dad

  3. It's true, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Aaron, I can see where your writing skills come from. Very well said, Mr. Likens. Thank you for the insight.

  4. Being immersed in your Racing Family this weekend is the best medicine. Then followed by your second National Tour to honor Matt will be special.

  5. Thank you, Jim Likens, for sharing this on Matt's Facebook. And thank you, Aaron, for writing it. You have given my children, Matt's children, a great blessing in doing so. I was privileged to witness many life-changing impacts God used Matt to accomplish; and I am grateful that is a legacy he left for his children. Today, a day that was very difficult for them, you have blessed them by this blog. May God continue to bless you. Matt is smiling from Heaven and giving God all the glory!