Monday, February 29, 2016

Day 7: Piton de la Fournaise

With the little excursion yesterday I felt like having an adventure today and the greatest adventure one can tackle on Reunion is Piton de la fournaise which is the name of the active volcano on the island. Most people go with guides but all the websites were in French so I decided to make a go of it because, after all, how difficult could it possibly be?

Right before 8AM I got in the VW Up! and wheeled away from my hotel. Again, I’m so amazed at how fast I fall into routines and can feel as if I’ve been doing something for years. This, of course, only happens when I’m someplace I’ve never been and have no knowledge about anything in the place. Anyway, I got on the main road and finally found the right roads to hit D100 that took me back onto the RN1.

It was early in the morning and I hadn’t had an energy drink since I was in Paris so I stopped at a gas station which felt almost like a pit stop because the exit and on ramp are exclusive to this gas station, but going in I lived out a life dream.

This is going to sound odd, but for 20 years I’ve had a dream of stopping at a gas station in a European country. Yes, I’m technically in Africa but the soil is European and walking into the gas station I froze and soaked in the moment because I’ve done some incredible things in this book but this might just take the cake… Okay, in the grand scheme of things this may not be that high up on the list but my Aspie heart was elated as I went to the refrigerator and got a cranberry flavored Red Bull and then I stood in line. This was all so normal! I stood in line and no one around me knew I was from 10,000 miles away and had no idea what they were saying. I got to the counter where the clerk said, “bonjour!” and I, for the first time on this trip, responded with, “bonjour!” and he said the price which I had no idea what it was but I knew I had enough so I handed the money to him and he gave me change and said a bunch of other stuff and when he said “au revoir” I responded in kind and left with the biggest smile you could possibly imagined and I got in the VW, backed up, stalled it, caused a traffic jam, but still had the biggest smile possible.

The drive in store would be partially similar to yesterday’s drive with a trip through Saint Louis but instead of cutting off I’d be continuing to Saint-Pierre up on the RN3 where I would need to find D36. Now here’s the tricky part about D36 and that is there are two of them. Two! That would be like having two main streets in the same town in the same region but not connected. To complicate things road signs here aren’t overtly present outside of the RN1, and RN3. And if that wasn’t enough I accidentally triggered something on my phone that deleted the desired path. Thankfully, with Google maps, the phone remembers where you are and keeps a low-rez image of the region you are in as well as it knows where you are even in flight mode. However, narrowing down whether to take the first, second, third, or sometimes fourth exit at a roundabout can be tricky and on the second roundabout after getting off the RN3 I decided second exit and YES! I was on the D36.

The tricky thing about driving here is that, even though D36 is a semi-main road, there are many spurs off and at some point in time I took one of those spurs and ended up snaking through a neighborhood. Ten minutes later I was back on D36 and ten minutes later I was off on another spur where I came across a water truck and they were watering the shoulder. As to what this accomplished I’m not sure because this road was pavement and only a car width-and-a-half wide but I had to wait for the truck to move to get by. A couple corners later there was a man with a dastardly looking paddle that had the dreaded white bar with a red background and the road was closed so a U-turn was made and I had to deal with the water truck and its crew who were none too happy to see me and they talked to me and I made no indication that I understood them, because I didn’t, and this time the crew and the truck took their good time to clear the way. That would be ten sweet minutes to sit there and think about life.

The road was more fun than the day prior, not as spectacular with cliffs and one lane roads, but there were hairpins and the road was wide enough to not be scared the entire time. As I got to the point where D36 meets D36 (confused yet?) and merged into one D36 I was entering the farm land of Reunion and there were farmers working on the fields and cows with some impressive sized horns. From where I had been just an hour prior on the ocean it was odd to now be in a place that could pass for Iowa!

It was going to be tricky once more finding the right turn towards the volcano as I was looking for the road called Chemin Mathias and even if I wanted to ask someone for help there was no one about today. Really, yesterday driving up to that small mountain village the roads were filled with cars but here I was alone with just the road, daylight, and the cows watching me pass by. When I thought I was getting close I saw a sign that said, “Route du Volcan” I remembered back to knowing that Vulcan was the logical… wait no, that’s Star Trek… Vulcan was the Roman God of fire and volcanos are fire therefore that arrow was telling me the way to go.

As sunny as it was at the hotel the skies were now grey and the temperature was dropping. It was 28C at the hotel and now it was 19C and the numbers continued to drop as I entered the park where the volcano sits which is a really long name and has lots of accents marks I don’t know how to make in Microsoft Word, but I was getting close.

When I got into the park the trees all of a sudden were fir trees and I could’ve sworn I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The roads got twisty again and the 180 degree hairpins came back and I was not going to take these at any high rate of speed and once again I got in the habit of letting cars by. Somehow the cars I let by I got in front of them and the game went on but eventually I made it to where the pavement ends.

Mars? Am I on Mars? I knew I wasn’t but the surroundings could fool you and you’d have
thought they shot the movie The Martian right out in any given direction as the ground was red and rocks were haphazardly everywhere with some formations and others that tried but failed and were just in a pile. The road now was a gravel/rock mix with plenty of pot holes. I was stuck behind two other cars that were doing just 10kph and trying to miss every hole. A minivan stormed by doing at least 50, and I thought about joining him, but there were an alarmingly high amount of various car parts scattered about. There was a hose, then part of a muffler, then a wheel so I figured that the two cars in front of me knew something that I didn’t so I followed them slowly.

What should have been a 100 minute drive turned into 165 minutes but there I was at the end of the line. The temperature was now 14.5C, or 58.1F and the slight mist became a steady mist. “Dang! Only if I had a water proof jacket” I said only to remember that I do, at least back in my hotel room in my second suitcase which is my USAC raingear. So I was without a rain jacket, oh well, I still had shorts on. Shorts? Um, okay, this wasn’t starting out all that well but I did bring my extra warm long johns that I wore in Norway so I put those on and then put my shorts over them and I got my energy bars and water ready and I got out of my car ready for the five hour trek.

            Five hours lay ahead and if it were sunny I would be able to see the destination, but the ceiling was low and the mist was now teetering on being called a heavy drizzle. I got to the gate that had information in many languages and one was the dangers of an eruption and if the gate is closed it said, “do not pass due to extreme danger” which I thought was the most obvious statement ever because you can have signs that say, “don’t feed the bears” or, “don’t get out of your car in a nature preserve” but lava, yeah, I’ll do anything I can do to avoid a run in with lava.

            There were other bits of information such as, “don’t attempt to hike in heavy rain or heavy fog”. I looked up at the sky and it wasn’t exactly foggy and an annoying mist teetering on a heavy drizzle is not heavy rain so onward I went and found the 20 stories of stairs. That’s right, on this hike you immediately start with the steepest decent possible with what is the equivalent height of 20 stories and the stairs are spaced far apart and are uneven. One wrong step and it’ll be a nasty landing and my phobia of losing a tooth kept coming into my head.

            Zigging, then zagging, followed up by more of the same over and over as the decent continued onward into what I presumed to be a crater of some sort. I didn’t exactly know because it was now becoming a moderate rain with moderate fog. I had some trepidations on continuing but a volcano! How often does one get to do this? (Residents of places where volcanoes are common don’t answer that)

When I got to the bottom the world changed. On the decent stage there were an abundance of greens be it trees or flowers and now I was back on Mars, but instead of driving through it I would now be walking in it and the ground was not even as it obviously, at some point in time, been lava as I could see streaks where it had flowed and there were even some imprints of footsteps which puzzled me. I did have to look down a lot because the ground wasn’t even in the slightest and I had to choose my step closely all the while following the white bits of paint which is the guide. As close as the dots of paint are I became concerned because this meant when it gets foggy it gets to the point where one can’t see 15 feet in front and as I looked up for the first time in a while I could only see four dots in front of me. This now, in my book, classified as heavy fog. Oh, and the rain? It was now heavy with winds gusting well over 20 and here I am with nothing truly waterproof outside of my boots which were soaked on the inside from rain coming down and my computer bag substituting as a hiking bag and a voice of reasoning started to say, “Aaron, what the HELL are you doing? It’s one thing to travel to place you’ve never been but you know you can manage that but this? You’re no outdoorsman!” I decided that voice didn’t know what it was talking about and I continued onward.

I then heard something I hadn’t heard since the angry watering men and that was voices and through the fog came a couple and the woman frantically approached me and said, “bonjour!” and I returned in kind which led her to believe that I spoke French and I had to say, meekly and in the form of a question, “English?” and then the hand gestures and guessing games begun.

Her words went from French to partial English but I heard a word I understood as “accident” is the same, or at least spelled the same, in both languages, so I said and nodded, “accident?” and she said yes. She was visibly frustrated on trying to find the words to say. She kept pointing the way I was going and the way they came and she kept making a motion of a jacket which I presumed she was concerned about my well-being but she reiterated accident and I pointed that way and asked, “did someone fall?” and I made a falling motion and she nodded. She then said “serious, about 10 minutes from here” and that they were, “seeking cover and help”. I said I had nothing and they continued their way back to the starting point where there is a snack bar to seek that help. As they left the man, which hadn’t spoken, yelled to me, “be careful.”

I ventured forward ever the adventurer but their words now hit me. They had said, and I left this out, someone was tending to the seriously injured person, but as the rain now falling icily, and the wind blustering, and the fog denser than it had been I realized a trip onward would be asinine. There’s being an adventurer and there’s being in conditions in which one knows what they are doing and then there’s foolishly risking one’s life in the pursuit of trying to get an awesome Facebook profile picture. This wasn’t going to happen and I turned around and then climbed the stairs of doom (they weren’t as fun going up as down) and when I got to my car an hour later I turned the heat on and I thought about my day and then I thought about the various delays I had. It was an hour’s worth of delays and had I gotten there at my scheduled time it probably would’ve been sunny and I might not have brought the long johns. I’d have been hiking up the volcano which the weather is even worse there and potentially that could’ve been me needing help. Furthermore, with the conditions so poor, had I had an issue there most likely would have been no other parties making a trek that day, or even tomorrow if the weather continues to be poor, so with that thought I was content on my decision to abort the journey.

It was a long drive back, which I did see an ambulance at the entrance to the park some forty minutes in so help was on the way, but the drive back was made longer because I took the wrong D36, but made exploits in the crater got me thinking about how all this can tie into Asperger’s. This trip, at least on the island thus far, has been the least social of my trips, but it’s also been the most “out there” trip. Had this been trip #1 I wouldn’t have had the gull to get a car and venture out. Could I have done it? Possibly, but with each trip comes just a tick more of confidence and within the failure of my expedition comes the heart of this story and that is this; this book isn’t about a person on the autism spectrum exceeding their limits, but slowly increasing it. Could I someday be a hiker trained enough to take on conditions like that in earnest? With the training yes, maybe, but I’m not a hiker nor have I had any training so how could I even expect to make it with those odds against me? So too is everything else regarding the autism spectrum. The next person you may read, or know, that is on the autism spectrum may not want to travel, and doing what I’m doing in this experience may end much like my expedition to the volcano, but that’s the important thing.

Limits are an important thing to understand and when a limit is reached it’s got to be realized. I reached a crossroads in that crater; admit defeat or carry on to which would have been highly perilous. I chose right, thankfully, but what if I had tried Hammerfest on my first trip with no confidence? How would I have dealt with the drunk man without the confidence in previous life experiences? Progression is a key to life, autism spectrum or not, and one can’t simply go out and be the best or exceed their limitations simply because they want to. No, one has to work for it and work hard for what they want. It’s small steps, one at a time to get to a destination and for the next person out there, instead of a volcano, it may be getting a driver’s license, getting a job, or understanding fractions (ugh! Fractions) but whatever it is if the person isn’t prepared it could end in misfortune. Thankfully, today, I decided not to exceed my limitations. Hey, I just turned 33 yesterday, I gotta at least get a couple days past my birthday!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day 6: 33! And the Road of 420 Bends

The day I loathe above all others came and because I’m 10 time zones east of home it came earlier this year (yay…?) and I was amazed at how fast it felt routine to go outside to the courtyard where the pool is which is also the dining area to have breakfast. This time I was on sparrow watch and got my drink before my food much to the display of the group of sparrows that were watching me hoping that I didn’t learn my lesson. Well, take that sparrows! No breakfast on my account on my birthday!

With my foot healing at doctor’s orders to stay off it the best I can and also stay out of the ocean for two days I was left at a loss as to what to do today. My first thought was to sit in my room and sulk all day on everything that isn’t and all that I’m not but that quickly seemed unproductive so I decided it was time for a road trip. I had never heard of the destination which was a town called Cilaos but it was at the end of a roadway with the name of N5 and from the roadmap the road looked to be a fun drive so out the door I went with a minimal amount of preparation. All I knew was to get on the RN1 to the N5. How hard could it possibly be? I mean, in America, interchanges are essentially information overload with sign after sign after sign.

My phone gave me directions for the first six turns I needed to do and I made it onto the RN1 and I knew the N5 started in the town of Saint Louis. What a coincidence seeing that I come from Saint Louis but I’m sure, here, it’s pronounced much more French like which I’d opine is the proper way. Anyway, the signs counting down Saint Louis went from 40km to 25 to 15 to… Um? Somehow I missed the exit and thankfully it wasn’t 20 kilometers like the day I got here before the next exit so I exited, did a U-turn, and look diligently for a N5 sign but no sign came and now I was through Saint Louis again. How did people live before turn-by-turn navigation?

Again, I exited quickly and turned around and got off in Saint Louis and was quickly greeted with proper city traffic with stop and go but then I got to the most confusing intersection of all time; it was a four way go. Four way go? In America we’ve got four way stops where all cars stop and in a chaotic way it works as cars take turn going but here, on a four way go, it’s much like a poker game where you’ve got to bluff your way across the intersection. No really, if you wait for a car to let you go, or rather had I waited for that to happen I’d still be there waiting, and waiting, and waiting. I wasn’t in a waiting game and I didn’t know the proper rules, as I’m a rules stickler, but when there are no rules chaos ensues, and it somehow works, but I went for it and made it through and at the next intersection there was a sign pointing left with the town name of Cialos. I only knew of one road that went that way so I took it and a mile, ahem, about a kilometer-and-a-half down the way I saw it, the N5 had begun.

The locals call it the road of 420 bends and it started off tame alongside an empty river bed. Many signs warned of the dangers of this empty river as the signs, and they were in English which meant the signs meant business, stated that flashfloods can occur even on a sunny day. I tried to figure this out but it was English and I’m not from here so I took its word for it not that I had the urge to go playing on the large rocks that formed the river bed.

I did mention it started off tame but the speed limit end sign, which is a sign with the kph with slashes through it much like the end of town sign I said in a previous post, was shown and this confused me because as that sign came the road began to twist, turn, rise, and dip with the likes I have never encountered. If you’ve been to the Black Hills in South Dakota there are some twisty bits there but this was, this was driving nirvana! However, I was scared out of my mind and was more nervous taking on this road. At one point I pulled off and wondered, “Is this really worth it?” as the lanes were just one car width wide and at some points there was only one lane and I’m in a rental with a manual transmission. Do I have any business trying to climb this mountain? Actually, walking up seemed an easier proposition.

I felt up to the challenge so I got back in my car and I’ll admit I was nervous because this road required 100% concentration. If any driver’s concentration ever waned there are reminders everywhere on the consequences as memorial crosses can be seen every mile or so. There’s no margin for error and at some points in time there’s just this flimsy one foot high stone wall separating you from a several hundred foot straight down drop. Oh, and this also is in the midst of a blind corner with only one lane. Perfectly safe, right? The locals drove this road as if it were Daytona with, what I swear, was reckless abandon as it seemed they never slowed down. I’m white-knuckling it and they’re driving this road as if it’s main street of any small town in America with no dangers lurking.

Not only are other cars a factor but gear selection also is a major part of working this dance that is the N5. I really wanted a co-driver like those that race in rallies have with the co-driver saying, “3 left into 2 right into hairpin left” as I had no idea what was around each bend which is why I drove with such caution. Each time a car came up behind me I would, when there was actually a chance, peel off the road to let them by and each time the driver of the passing car waived at me because they could easily gather that I was unfamiliar with these roads and I would try and stay with the car that passed me but after a minute they were gone. I just didn’t like the prospect of having a head-on collision.

The gear game was getting rather old and in this series of back-to-back hairpin, and when I
say hairpin it’s quite literally a 180 degree corner and as I would turn in to a right hand hairpin I was looking out the rear passenger window to view where I wanted to go. However, I had three cars behind me at this one hairpin and I forgot to downshift to first gear and I stalled the car. It was the first time I stalled it outside of my awful time trying to find the reverse gear my first day, but the car behind me honked at me and I said, “Yes, because I want to stop on a narrow road and cause a scene!” which obviously they couldn’t hear but the string of cars passed me and I was once again, after restarting the car, back on my way.

Every so often a small village would be passed and at one point there was this town in this valley that I’d have loved to stop and take a photo of but there was no place to pull off to do so. I had stopped previously in the road to take a picture of a hairpin but that was when I knew I had at least two minutes of time between myself and the potential next car, but here visibility behind was nothing and the locals drive this road, as I said, at Mach 3. Yes, it seemed the higher we got the faster they drove.

It just kept going! The N5, which I was now calling special stage Never-ending 5 just kept going and with mountains on both sides of me I had no ability to judge my progress. It was upshift-downshift-up-down-down-up-up-down-turn-turn-turn some more and it was all great fun but this was more intense than any race I had ever been in. Now maybe had I been in my car, in the states, it would’ve been different, or maybe if I knew the road, but the last thing I wanted was to deal with wrecking a rental car on foreign soil.

When I thought I was near the now all but mythical town of Cilaos there was this 90 degree corner with the sign for tunnel. What the sign didn’t say was that this tunnel was just barely one car width wide and was about 100 yards long. “Oh, lovely!” I said with the greatest sense of sarcasm possible, “How does this work?” A car was coming out so I focused to the light at the end of the literal tunnel and I proceeded and just as I did a car made its way on the other side. I frantically tried to figure out how to turn my headlights on but it wasn’t in the space that every car I’ve driver had them, but thankfully the brights were the same so I blared the high beams and the other car stopped, reversed, and blared their horn at me the entire time I was in the tunnel. “Yes, thank you, I’m not from around here” is what I would’ve said but that driver was angry and I wanted to proceed.

Seriously, where was this town? Another tunnel, more hairpins, some construction cleaning up a fallen boulder (that’s reassuring!) and some landscaping were seen but Cilaos remained this mythical town up in the clouds but as I rounded one last turn there was the town sign. I was there! I had made it! I’ve always had the dream of going to Germany to drive the Nurburgring but now I don’t know if that track will have the same mystique as the N5.

Now that I was in Cilaos I had to figure out what to do. Do I just do a U-turn and leave? I figured I’d drive for just a bit and then do so, but as I got to the high point of town there was this church as well as some clouds coming off the top of the mountain which made for an incredible photo op so I found a parking space and got out. I then saw, over to my left, the start of a hiking trail. I didn’t bring my hiking boots but did bring a liter of water so I figured my injured foot, which was the foot that was constantly working the clutch pedal, needed a break from clutching so what better way to rest than to do a hike, right? I’m not good at taking orders it would seem.

My inspiration for this hike was a waterfall that I could see so I started down the trail and it wound down, down, and further down. With each step I knew I would have to walk back up and after 20 minutes, when I got to a paved road and on the other side the path split into four ways, I figured that was my sign to turn around and walk back. It was at this time that I finally realized something; this was my birthday! The fact of this had slipped my mind with all the twists and turns and being scared out of my mind but for the first time since I was little I was having a blast on my birthday. Granted, this was because I forgot about it, but that’s okay because, well, it just is.

The hike back to my car sucked. No, really, it sucked. I don’t know if it was exhaustion from all the travel (have I actually rested on this trip?) or the energy exerted from swimming in the ocean the day prior, but each step up felt like a 1,000 foot journey. I said aloud, “I’m too young for this!” which then reminded me that today was my birthday and the joyous mood dropped for a moment but I got back to my car and mentally prepared for the return trip.

Going down the mountain was easier than going up although I did have a couple close calls with the public transit busses but I made it back to Saint Louis and ended up taking a wrong turn and had to endure the four way go again and I just went and it seemed to work and no one honked and on my way back to the hotel I took four more wrong turns (oh, GPS, how I miss you!) but eventually I made it. I had been gone just five hours but those five hours were filled with literal twists and turns and when I walked into my room I didn’t think, “I’m 33” I instead thought, “Oh, my, goodness, what a ride it’s been!”

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Most Read Blog Post I've Written

Can I say I hate this post? I don't hate my words in it, they needed to be said but that was the problem in that it needed to be said. A tragedy induced this post and the all too happy media rushed to generalizations which I could not stand for. This post also ran in a couple newspapers as an op-ed post. I hope and pray that I never have to write something with so much fury towards misguided experts that put all people on the autism spectrum in a box and in a bad light:

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.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

#2: The Days of Monopoly

I don't remember writing this post whatsoever but it is the second most read post I've written. Perhaps people are drawn to Monopoly, maybe it's just got the right keywords people use when searching, and then again my blog was hot in 2010. Whatever the case, here it is, the second most read post I've posted.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Days of Monopoly

For as long as I can remember I have had an absolute love of the game Monopoly. Yesterday, while at the Joplin office, I saw a game of Monopoly in session and a huge smile formed on my face as I remembered the days of Monopoly.

I had a family that I was friends with in Indianapolis that I grew up with and even
though I lived in Saint Louis it seemed as if I spent just as much time at their house. These trips were crucial in my development because the days of Monopoly brought out my social side.

If you could have seen me before a game of Monpoly at their house and during the game you would have been quite confused. Just as I have said about the need for direction, playing the game gave me direction. My level of comfort would go up by an unmeasurable percentage and I began to talk.

I would talk before the game, but it was forced and labored, but during the game I was as slick as a used car salesman. Trading was my specialty and I am sure I would have been guilty of "badgering the witness" had this been a courtroom.

Perhaps my trading and negotiating skills were harsh, but as the title card of Donald Trump's television show "The Apprentice" says, "It's not personal, it's business". Harsh or not, playing the many games I had allowed me to talk. I felt comfortable in a social setting.

When we moved to Saint Louis in 1993 I was in shock. I could easily have conversations about auto racing in Indianapolis (where we moved from) but I was in shock that, in Saint Louis, people generally only care about the sport if the home team wears red and the sport is played with a bat. My conversational tactics that worked in Indianapolis had no chance of working here in Saint Louis so I became rather quiet in school. That being so I looked forward to my trips to Indianapolis from months in advance.

I've tried to count how many games we played during all those years and it has to be in the hundreds. We had so many games; one that sticks out in my mind was where we started with five players, got done to two, and had a perfect storm that neither he nor I could win. We had to break out the $1,000 and $5,000 bills from "The Game of Life" because we had so much cash on hand and the $500's were out. The game ended in a tie as we said we had developed the "perfect economy".

While it may be the games I remember, it is the end result of where I am still experiencing. Had we not gone back to Indianapolis as many times as I did I don't know where I would be right now. It may have been intermittent but it allowed me to know that I was able to talk, I was able to socialize.

I was always kidded that I was only happy if I won, and that wasn't the case. I had to play hard to stay in the game, but winning wasn't about having Boardwalk, or Baltic (my personal favorite) or my obsession with buying all the $1's from the bank but rather winning was simply playing the game. I could practice talking, negotiating, and during a game the need to understand initial social cues is eliminated and since I get caught up with that aspect of life having that aspect be not in play was valuable.

It's been forever since I played a game of Monopoly in person. I played one game online last year and naturally won, but it wasn't the same. Monopoly is a social game and playing online just isn't the same.

It's been forever though and I don't know if I will ever experience those days of Monopoly again. As sad as this makes me it isn't a total loss. Everyday I live I still have the positive effects of all those games and for that I am so grateful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#3 Most Read Post: Defining It

People a writer, at times, is awesome. Especially when a post like "Defining It" comes along. The downside to being a writer is that when magic is captured like this post it can be months, or even years to be able to write anything with anything close to the passion and resonance that this one had.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Defining It

Every so often on my blog I restate what keeps me going and my motivation behind this blog and my presentations. I often get asked "why do you do what you do?" and this concept is the ultimate answer.

When I first got my diagnosis back in 2003 I don't think many people understood what Asperger Syndrome was. Outside of the elite professionals in the field I feel like it was misunderstood, if understood at all. "So is it or isn't it autism?" was a question I had to answer all the time. It was frustrating to the extreme because, at the time, I didn't fully know what it meant.

Shortly after my diagnosis I looked on the internet to try and better understand this foreign sounding syndrome I had. What I found was not helpful at all because this website said that, in very concrete language, "People with Asperger Syndrom don't form relationships, don't have friends and are depressed."

There were no words like "may" or "could" in the website I read. This was the first reading I did on the subject and I instantly began living life in a proverbial vacuum. Nothing mattered because I believed the words on that website. Up until that point I had lived my life just fine, but after the diagnosis and that website the name Asperger began to define me.

During the next 15 months I pushed everyone and everything as far out of my life as I could. Why would I want to form a relationship or friendship when it will just be destroyed because that website, in bold words like "don't" said I can't?

The depression was immense and it started to consume me. I believed those words to a fault and eventually a fuse blew in my brain because I started to write about my experiences. Over the next year and a half I wrote my book, "Finding Kansas" by accident because I was writing for the sake of writing.

Something changed while I was writing as a thought entered my mind. This thought has bounced around in my mind for years now, but was realized yesterday and this is why I am writing this today.

There is nothing worse than when one lets something define them. I let Asperger Syndrome define my life. I accepted failure before I attempted something because of it. This isn't to say I can conquer everything about the syndrome, but I feel as if I lost my identity when it defined me.

What did I realize yesterday? I realized that, in a way, I am now defining Asperger Syndrome. In a way, with my concepts I have set forth here on my blog and in my books, I am, but that's not what I am really getting at. What I mean by that "I am defining it" means that I am not going to let words on a website dictate who I am. The world as a whole wants all conditions to fit into a nice and tidy box, but the autism spectrum is so vast and complex that no two people will be the same. This means that each person on the spectrum will help define the spectrum.

Be it people on the spectrum, or family members, we all will help define the autism spectrum. If you have a son or daughter on the spectrum and you fall into the trap I did and let the words I read on that website define the person they may become that person. Don't let this happen! Each person is different, there is hope, and third party words should never define a person. This is why I write, to give you an unique "behind the scenes" look as to how the mind on the spectrum may work. I won't kid myself and say that all people think like me, but with each comment on here that relates to me, or each e-mail of thanks I receive, I reflect back to when it defined me and I smile at how naive I was.

The autism spectrum, in society, is represented by a puzzle piece. I don't know if anyone has looked at it like the way I'm about to say, but this is great because a puzzle piece isn't defined by the puzzle, it defines the puzzle with many more pieces. That's what each person can do. We all have different stories, and through these stories we can get the world to not just know about us, but to understand us! So please, don't be defined by it if you have it or are a family member of a person who does, but rather help define it so the world outside the spectrum can understand.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top 10 Most Read: #4 I've Had Enough!

With a title like this you've got to be thinking I'm about to go on a tirade about something a school district did, or an ignorant comment made by a politician, or maybe what a misguided expert said on the news. Well, those would be great guesses but no... Actually, in this post I complain about the usage of "highway 40" over the proper "I-64" in Saint Louis because in my book interstates always take precedence over highways. Since this post I've heard much more 64 talk than 40 and obviously people must agree with me because this post somehow is my fourth most read.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I've Had Enough

Dear fellow Saint Louisans,

I've had enough! I can't take it anymore! I've tried to fight it, I've tried to hold my tongue, but I must be heard. What's got me riled up? Is it Albert Pujols heading to the Angels? Is it the proposed toll on I-70? Nope, it's none of those. What it is, well, it is I-64 constantly being called highway 40.

For those of my readers outside the metro area of Saint Louis let me explain. Here is a map of the route of I-64. The interstate goes through the middle of Saint Louis and runs out to Wentzville and I-70. The final portion of I-64 towards I-70 wasn't always called I-64. The portion that runs through the city has been I-64 as long as I have lived there.

Now that you've got a minor history of a highway you may never drive on or much less see, let me tell you why it has me so riled up. I have a rule, and this rule seems to be shared by all road signage in America, and that is that an interstate always takes precedence. That means, say, if the interstate is also a highway, and a road, it should always be referred to by its interstate number. In Saint Louis, when referring to I-64, it is very rarely called I-64 but rather highway 40, or simply, "40" as seen on the left.

Okay, I will give you 40 callers a break as 40 is an older highway and a longer road, but still the interstate number should take priority. Sure, us locals may know what we're talking about, but if someone from out of town is trying to find "40" and all they see on the signs are I-64's they could easily get lost. On top of all this I think MODOT is trying to convert us as the signs that tell us how far the next exit is says "I-64."

So isn't it time to change? I know that's funny coming from me who often says, "change is bad" but this change is okay. It may have been “40” back in the day, but it's bigger and better now. Think of it as it's all grown up now and it's been promoted so it's okay to turn your back on the past.

Okay, I must admit now I feel a little bit better. For years I've heard it and I haven't said anything. And trust me when I say that I truly wanted to say something. When I hear something that I know is wrong, or it should be called something else, it is a reflex for me to say it the right way. I don't try to be rude in correcting, but things need to be right regardless of the importance of whatever fact may be said. 

So, moving forward, I still will bite my tongue when I hear I-64 called "40". I've done my part in the crusade to get interstates the proper treatment. It's a slow movement, and I hope you join it as we can move on with the right names. So yes, I do feel better now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

#5: The "Autism Is..." Project

For several of my milestones in blogging I ran this project. This, somehow, isn't the most read post of all time of mine, but it is the most commented and if you'd like to contribute please do as currently 175 comments have been made and each day people find this post so please, if you feel like it, complete the simple sentence with what autism is...

I did this once and I wanted to run this again. For today I want you contribute. This is a simple task and all I want you to do is finish the line, "Autism is..." I want as many answers as possible. If you've contributed before feel free to do so again.

Autism is still a gigantic mystery to most people outside of the spectrum and I want as many comments as possible. This truly is a spectrum disorder and no single voice can cover the whole spectrum. So, autism is...? There are no right answers, or wrong answers. Use one word, use as many words as the comment form below will allow (4096 letters). The only thing I ask is that we keep this positive and if you want you can mention if you are a parent, on the spectrum, professional, or have no ties to the spectrum. You also have many options as you can post your name, or do it anonymously.

So now it's your turn, "Autism is..."

Friday, February 5, 2016

Top 10 Most Read: #6: A Crash in Huntsville

This title was a play on words to the title of a post back in 2012 when an incident in Nashville struck the stand I was in breaking a few ribs and that post didn't crack the top 10 which proves that Kyle had way more support than I. Just kidding.... Anyway, the scariest incident I witnessed while flagging did and it happened early last season involving Kyle in Huntsville. I'm glad to report all involved made a full recovery but the lasting impression which one never really forgets, is that at a track never for one second let your guard down regardless of where you are on the track.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Crash in Huntsville

Racing is dangerous; always has been and always will be. It's also a spectacle of color, sound, and competition and is something I've been drawn to since the age of two and currently I am the chief starter for two different series and this past weekend I was working the USAC .25 Generation Next series race in Huntsville, Alabama. This was our fourth national event of the year and is my sixth season as being the starter and nothing could have prepared me for what happened on Saturday.

One of the things I love about the USAC .25 series is the safety. I've seen some of the wildest flips and the cars are tipped back over and the driver remains in the race. The rules and construction of the cars have made the safety for the drivers extremely high. However, things can still happen and as the field came to green for the first heat race on Saturday there was some minor contact and two cars headed towards the tire wall, which is rather normal, but as they got to the wall one car shot skywards.

I didn't believe what I was seeing. I don't want to say flips are expected, but they happen and 99.9% of the time are benign and the car remains in the race. In this instance though time slowed down and the car kept going up and it almost went over the eight foot high fence and then I saw my friend and coworker for six years and all time froze.

The next tenths of a second were an eternity as I could see Kyle running. "Run!" my brain screamed but he was only able to take two steps before gravity did its thing and the front of the car caught Kyle on the head and both he and the car disappeared from my view and then there was silence. There may have been noise, but seeing this was shock inducing. I think I displayed the red flag and the silence was broken when I screamed, "MEDIC!" as they were stationed right behind me.

The worst case scenarios began to creep through my mind. I couldn't see Kyle at all because the wall blocked my view and when the first person got to him the motions for the medics brought about a sense that the worst case was going to be realized.

More and more people got to him and the frantic pointing of the people continued to show the seriousness of this incident. I stayed in the stand because I didn't want to know. I thought back to my incident in Nashville three years ago and people reacted the same way so I was hoping that this was the same, but then again I was just thrown about in a stand and Kyle literally had a car land on him.

About five minutes went by and there was still a big huddle of people around Kyle and as they were righting the car I slowly walked over and as I got to the wall and peered over my heart finally started beating properly again because I could see that he was awake, in obvious amounts of pain, but was responding to those around. At that moment the shock disappeared and I went back into flagger mode and we started clearing out people that just didn't need to see what was going on.

The ambulance came and it wasn't until they left that the sense of shock came back. I've been flagging for 20 years and have seen a lot of things but never something like this. We are about as safety conscious as it comes and you can prepare for everything but still the unexpected can and will occur. For the drivers in the incident they were fine, as once again the safety of these cars were shown, but concern still remained for my friend.

We got back to racing but it just didn't seem real. My attention was on the track under green but between heats I still played back trying to figure out how a car went that high. I never did figure it out and about six races later on a start there was an incident that found it's way to the wall right at the flagstand which knocked me out of it and onto the ground. The first thing I said was, "you've got to be kidding me!" as it was obviously not a good day to be an official. I took a break as my shoulder was throbbing, and my shin was all different shades of colors it's typically not, but for some reason or another that incident put me back into a calm, cool, and collected mode as if Kyle's incident never occurred.

Kyle returned to the track just five hours later and I didn't see him right away but those that saw him described him as a "mummy" with a head bandage and other bandages from scrapes. Also, his foot was in a boot from a rather nasty break of some bones. I'd see him once the day's races were halted due to a flash downpour (a fitting way to end the day the way it went) and he was in obvious amounts of pain.

Back at the hotel I did all that I could to make sure he was comfortable as I was rooming with him and despite all the scrapes and trauma he was in rather good spirits keeping his sharp wit and still making me laugh. His nickname is "muscles" and it was obvious why because not many people would take a hit like that and walk out of the hospital just four hours later.

It wasn't until the next morning that I once again felt that shock of when it happened, but it wasn't just a sense of that, but in life in general. I started by saying racing is dangerous, but to be honest life is dangerous as shown by my possible tornado experience 10 days ago. It doesn't matter if one is at a race track because one is passionate about the sport, or crossing a street in a city, or simply walking down a supermarket aisle. Life is dangerous, things happen, we can prepare for everything and still the unexplained fluke can occur. This is where, at least myself, thinks about the fact that with all this being so it is of the utmost importance to cherish everything now because in the blink of an eye things can change, things can fall, and the unexpected can occur. Thankfully, Kyle is going to be okay and it may be a few weeks, or a month, before he's back to prime shape, but for a moment, I'm sure, all that saw that experienced the same moment of shock I did. So to Kyle, whom I sure will read this, get well soon!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Top 10 Most Read: #7 The Power of One

This post came in #5 on the Top 10 best posts of my first 1,000 and is something I live each day by. On another note today is my 33rd birthday but my full post about that will come within the Aspie Traveler series about Reunion starting in a couple weeks, but anyway, this post I wrote is the pinnacle of my mission. Perhaps you've seen my presentation in person and maybe you were in a crowd of 100, or 500, or maybe less than a dozen and regardless the size my effort and enthusiasm for the mission is the same because the only thing that matters is changing one person's perception, understanding, or empathy of autism because if just one person is changed then the whole course of their history and those around them will be changed forever.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Power of One

Recently I have been a bit on the spoiled side with having four presentations in the past month with over 100 people in attendance. I love bigger crowds, I'm not going to lie, but it wasn't until I was driving home late Friday night that I realized the power isn't in the bigger numbers.

My passion and mission is to raise as much awareness and understanding as possible and being able to do it 100 or more people at once is great. However, for there to be true understanding in this world we need to focus on the one and not the 100. What does this mean? All of us who are or know someone on the spectrum are advocates whether you know it or not. For those that attend my presentations, well, chances are they already are aware of autism. Out in the public though, this is where the power of one is.

Here's the thing; when a chance arises to inform a person about the spectrum you should take it. It is with the people who know nothing about the spectrum that need it the most. Speakers, like myself, can talk to big groups, but they already know of the spectrum. Granted, I'd like to think that I add some understanding in my presentations, but it is out in the general public that the ones we need to reach are.

I hope one day there is no need for a post like this, but I think back over the course of this year to times that I did state that I needed help and my plea fell on deaf ears. The quote I heard at the Salt Lake City airport will not soon be forgotten, "Sir, I don't know about autism and I have a flight I need to get ready."

Had I been in a better state I should have thrown it a quick thing of what autism is. This is the power of one; if we can get to as many people as possible then incidents like this might not happen. One person may not have the ability to make a situation perfect, but one person does have the ability to make a bad situation worse. And they may not mean to do so, but if they don't know about the autism spectrum and that those on the spectrum may need a little more help then they may choose the wrong words or actions without knowing it.

We're farther along than we were eight years ago when I was first diagnosed. I no longer have to explain Asperger Syndrome, or explain that I didn't say the word "hamburger" (true story, happened twice) but there's still a mass out there that may know the word autism but have no idea what it is, what it looks like, and what to do about it.

So, with all that being so, we all have the power when the chance presents itself. Now I'm not asking for everyone to grab a bullhorn and drive up and down the roads in the middle of the night spreading autism awareness (that would be cool though, although I'm afraid it wouldn't end well) but when the chance pops up, say, at the Salt Lake City airport, you can give a quick 10-15 second explanation of autism. We don't need to go into extreme depth but rather just enough to open the door of what autism is.

Here's what I hope happens. If you're reading this you already know about the spectrum, but if we can harness the power of one then maybe that person who now understands will come across another person who doesn't know about the spectrum and then they share it and so on and so forth.

I'm sure something like this has been thought of before, written before, and spoken of before, but truly the power of one lies with us. We can make the difference to that one individual who is ignorant of the spectrum. One by one we can make that difference and get us closer to a world where everyone is aware.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Top 10: #8 The Day Before...

I don't know how or why this is the #8 on this list. There's nothing all that special about it except me announcing I would be doing a sunglasses experiment. Come to think of it, I've been all about pushing myself in life and while I'm on an island right now in the Indian Ocean doing The Aspie Traveler I actually started putting myself through miniature experiments long ago with the Great Sunglasses Experiment and here is the post announcing that which, somehow, made the top 10 list of most read blog posts:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Day Before "The Sunglasses Experiment"

(This is the start of a long sequence of posts. There was no easy way for me to link them so if you want to continue reading after this post you can click on the archive to the right and go to July 2010, or scroll under the comments and click "newer post" to go the next day. This is one month I will never forget and I hope you enjoy my journey!)

I must admit I am getting just a little bit nervous. Tomorrow I set forth in wearing sunglasses in all social situations for one month. This is not a small task, and add on top of that I will be writing about it all.

I am also nervous to see if there is any change in social interactions. While watching the NASCAR Nationwide Series race last night I remembered the day I first wore regular glasses. I had been working at a video game store for about three months and was doing good in the sales department. Customers trusted me and I could up-sell almost anyone. At the same time my eye sight was slipping just a tad so I decided to pursue eyeglasses. My logic was this, the stereotype for glasses is smart people therefore if I wore glasses at my job people would buy more from me. Odd thing is, I was right! I don't recall the exact numbers, but I was already the best in the area and I furthered it by a landslide.

When I first got eyeglasses the change just wasn't with me, but also the customer themselves. The interactions were different, the dialogue sharper. I don't know how to fully explain it, but I am wondering if I am going to have a similar situation with the sunglasses, and here why; When I don't make eye contact with someone, say, in a store I think they too get defensive. If the other person assumes I am making eye contact will that open up a new line of dialogue that I am not accustomed to?

I will say again that I am nervous. This experiment was made possible by a person who attended a presentation and heard about this in talking with me afterwards. Without asking she said she wanted to make it happen, and tomorrow it will, but I am still nervous. I want to crack the dilemma of eye contact. Why is it so hard for me? Will I be able to make eye contact with my mirrored sunglasses?

Oh the suspense! Just 24 hours from now we will hopefully learn just a little bit more about this. Yes, in case you haven't caught my drift, I am nervous.


For more info on my experiment you can read the original entry here:

To read the next post click

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top 10: #9 One More Lap

For anyone who competed in any sport in their youth I think the feeling from this post can be felt. If you played baseball what would you give to take the field for the first time? If you played soccer what would you give to go back to the field that you scored your first goal? The thing about racing, however, is that each track has, or in this case, a soul. No two tracks are the same unlike the conformity of, say, a football field, and while it's just been just over half a year since I wrote this post about Widman County Raceway Park I still would give just about anything to tackle turn one to set up turn two and oh, what I'd give to go through the sweeper one more time... Although one would turn into a full fuel run...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I Would Give For One More Lap...

About three years ago I wrote a post similar to this in regards to seeing the past, but I feel I have more to add now, then again I may just repeat myself...

Over the past weekend I worked the Fikse Wheels SKUSA Summer Nationals at New Castle Motorsports Park. The track facility is unbelievable and is a stark contrast to where I began in the sport of motorsports. New Castle has garages, a full on diner, suites, more pit area than one could possibly use, and an infinite (that number could be slightly exaggerated) number of track configurations that could be ran. I have to admit watching photo finish after photo finish (the event is going to make for some exciting action on CBS SportsNetwork in a couple weeks) that I wish I was still behind the wheel instead of displaying the flags at start finish but as I thought of this I didn't want to take a lap around New Castle but rather I'd give anything for just one more lap around Widman Park.

I began racing karts in 1995 and the Saint Louis Karting Association had a lease for the Saint Louis County Parks department to use Widman Park ,which had been a motorcycle track for many years, to be used for karting. The land itself is in a frequent flood zone so there wasn't much use for the land to anyone else but for myself it shaped who I am today.

If you look on the internet you can find videos of many karting tracks in use today. With the advent of high quality cameras such as GoPro you can even get a driver's perspective of almost any track, but if you look up Widman and SLKA few hits will come up on Google. One of the leading ones is actually the time I blogged about it. When it comes to images, again, few come up, but I did find this one that a person posted in a Facebook community about the history of karting in Missouri.

With all of the picture capturing devices now kids of today will be able to remember the tracks they raced on. Heck, I take pictures of the tracks I flag at, but there are few images of the place that I spent my weekends racing, growing, and learning all the valuable lesson one learns while competing.

If you drive by the land that the track was on it'll either be flooded or will look like a unkempt field and there will be no trace of the track that was there. Was the track New Castle? Oh, most certainly not! However, I'd give anything to take turns one and two again (the turns in the top right of the track) or turn three, or the horseshoe which in six seasons I always felt I could take it just a bit better.

Memories are an odd thing and are something that will certainly be transformed by the ease of capturing video and pictures. The fact that no one has shared pictures from all the years the SLKA raced there is saddening in a way. When I began the club was getting about 150-200 entries for each club race. Those numbers today would be massive for a club race, and yet there is barely a trace that the track ever existed.

I owe a lot to that place; it's the place I first held a flag while motorized vehicles raced, it's the place I first became a chief starter (at the age of 13!) and it's the place got me through my childhood. Where would I be without this place? I'm not sure. This plot of land gave me a reason to get through the days. I didn't feel isolated in my teens, really, because I was always focused on the next weekend when everyone was socially equal being isolated behind the wheel of their karts zipping around the track.

Many years, 20 actually, have passed since I first took my first laps around Widman and to many that raced there it was probably just a hobby; something to do on the weekends, but to me it was much more. For all the kids that race today I wonder if, in 20 years, they'll think about the track they began at and the smell of the track, the early mornings, the sun rises, and all the dreams of racing stardom when they took that first lap. I can almost assure you one thing though; regardless if any of the drivers I flag today make it to NASCAR, Indycar, or even F1, there will be a time that every driver will think back to the track they began at and will give anything to do one more lap on the track and one more attempt to take that tricky corner just right. They'll want to relive that time that they made a three wide pass, or the time they won there first race. Maybe in 20 years the track they began at will still be there, and then again perhaps it won't, but the memories made are irreplaceably vivid. Sure, newer tracks will be built, but no place can replace the place where it all began. Oh, to be 12 again and take my first green flag!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The 10 Most Read Posts: #10: Why We Walk

I don't fully remember writing this back in 2010 outside of the line of, "We walk to be heard." Actually, that line has stuck with me for all these years and I've made it an effort not to repeat that line because it was so unique in the context I used it that it made the whole other part of the post a fog for me. Anyway, as I mentioned last week, during these two weeks or so that I'm in Africa/Reunion I'll be running a series on the top 10 most read posts and here, at number 10, is "Why We Walk"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why We Walk

This past Saturday the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event was held in St. Louis. I had never been to one nor did I know what it was about. I didn't know how many people would show up or what type of atmosphere there would be, but this year I would find out the answers because I would be working the TouchPoint Autism Services booth.

I got there rather early and as the minutes ticked away the empty parking lot slowly started to come to life. I had no idea how many people would be there, and already at 7:45 I was impressed.

By 9:00 I was shocked. This event wasn't just a few families getting together to raise awareness but rather a whole community there for one cause.

There were parents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and every other type of family member you could imagine along with many who are on the autism spectrum.

While the general world hears the word autism and instantly thinks of the worst case negative situation, this community of walkers embraces the people they walk for.

By the time the start of the walk came the mass of humanity was massive. I also didn't know what type of atmosphere there would be, but it was like a celebration; a celebration of who we are on the spectrum. Parents were having conversations, sharing stories, and the best part was there was understanding between them.

As the walk started I became highly reflective and thought about so many people walking for the same reason. But what was this reason? What motivation was there for the tens of thousands of people to give up their Saturday morning to take a 1.5 mile walk?

I thought on those questions and came up with many answers. The first one, obviously, was that these people love someone on the spectrum. But walking? Then I saw a t-shirt that said, "Everyone wants to be heard" and then everything made sense.

With so many people having a collective cause being heard is easier. We don't walk to simply walk, we walk to be heard. Our messages may be different be it that I, myself, want the world to know that I am not defective but simply different (Aren't we all?), while others may walk to say that about their son or daughter.

The current numbers for autism state that 1 in about 100 will be on the spectrum, but that doesn't state how many people will be affected by the spectrum. The whole family becomes involved when a child is on the spectrum, and these walks allows the entire family to be heard.

So why do we walk? We walk to show the world that we exist. We walk to show the world that, while we have challenges, we won't run away from them. We walk to show our support for ourselves, or other loved ones, but most of all we walk in unison with others to be heard. Simply heard.