Monday, January 31, 2022

Why I Twirl

Last week I talked about the school presentation I had in December and one of the questions a person on the spectrum asked which was wanting me to describe why we on the spectrum may have had fidgets or other movements. While I can't recall what I said word for word I can do my best.

"Great question! Why might we have hand movements that some may consider 'odd'? I can only answer for myself but during this presentation I've been having some hand movements that might just be odd according to some. Have you noticed? No?! Well, when I'm just a tad bit nervous in public I'll twirl my belt loops. It's not very noticeable unless you know what you're looking for, but why do I do this?" 

"It's the way I regulate my anxiety. If I don't do this the anxiety bubbles up and up and it becomes overwhelming to the point that I can't focus on what I need to focus on so this very small movement and sensory input in my fingers allows me to sort of... think of it this way... you're extremely hungry and there's the world's best soup in front of you but it's just too hot to eat. You know the feeling, right? The feeling of soup that's too hot that makes your entire mouth feel like it's on fire. There comes a point, though, that the temperature of the soup gets to the point that it's tolerable and not that overwhelming heat blitz that can't be handled. That's what the belt loops do for me; they lower the temperature of anxiety."

"I have another hand motion and when I was in school kids would, sadly, make fun of it. I do this when I get extremely excited, and I do try not to do this in public but there are times where quite simply I'm going to have to." I then proceeded to show them which is using both hands moving right near the speed of sound either by my ears or cheeks. The room was silent as I continued, "That motion allows me to feel the excitement and start to purge the excitement. Without this the level of excitement is going to grow and grown until it feels like I'm going to explode. I don't know why it works, but it does, and it's my way to manage the emotions that may come during the day."

"It's unfortunate that some get made fun of for such things. Do I wish I didn't have to do this dance of the fingers? Yes, I do but wishing it away won't get rid of it. If you only knew how much strength it took for us on the spectrum to get through a day! Easy things you take for granted may be difficult and exhausting for us and each of us on the spectrum may discover little tricks such as twirling belt loops as a way to help us get through the day."

I've been asked this type of question many times and it is a booming sound of how important these presentations are. I dearly wish that, when I was in school, there had been someone that was able to translate my quirks like I am able to now. That little bit of understanding may have avoided so many years of hardship. I'm grateful that I get this opportunity now and it's never lost on me how much gravity is in each question that begins with, "Could you explain why we..."

Friday, January 28, 2022

To get Interrupted

 This title could be taken as if I'm talking about an interruption as if it were to be an interruption akin to being talked over but that’s not the interruption I’m talking about. For myself an interruption, as defined in this post, is any time I’m doing one activity and by any means get forced to go onto another. This could be something major such as a fire alarm but with minor events there may be a major misunderstanding in the way I respond.

For those that know me you will know that, when you say my name when I’m in the midst of something, I’ll give a response of, “WHAT?” It sounds as if I’m angry but here’s the thing; I’m not angry at you but rather I’m flooded with emotions of what to do and confused as to why the proverbial train stopped. Proverbial train… Let’s run with that…

Let’s take the Shinkansen, better known as the bullet trains of Japan. They’re known for their efficiency and high speeds and let’s say you’re on an express train from Tokyo to Osaka. This, being an express train, has no stops between Tokyo and Osaka and when you’re on this train you’re expecting a quick journey. Let’s say, halfway through the trip, the train begins to slow and come to a stop at a station and the doors open. This isn’t supposed to be happening. There would be confusion among the passengers. Why did you stop? When will you be going again? Will you be stopping again? Of course, the passengers will become irritated during this delay because it wasn’t planned for, nor was it expected. This is what daily life with Asperger’s is like.

In any thing I do, when I am doing it, I am like that Shinkansen express train. I am hyper-focused on the goal and when an unexpected interruption occurs, even mildly, my response is like the passengers on that train example I gave.

I mean no ill-will when I give a response that sounds angry. I do know I sound angry and when I mention this aspect of the autism spectrum to teachers I often see, in unison, each person’s head nod in unison because this is something we share. It’s easy for us to have tunnel vision and only see what it is that we are focused on. When I was in school if I were working on a worksheet, I’d get irritated at annoyed at any person that spoke to me. Why? Let’s go back to the train example. Let’s say the efficient Shinkansen wasn’t all that great at getting up to speed. Once up to speed all is well but getting up to speed is a challenge. That’s the way my brain is; once at speed I can focus with perfect clarity but that one interruption can bring about a complete change in ability to focus or achieve a task hence why the unsuspecting interrupter is going to get what sounds like an angry answer.

This post isn’t to say that interrupting a person on the autism spectrum should be avoided at all costs. Quite the contrary; this post is to highlight the reason why you might get a response of annoyance and that we aren’t truly angry at you, we may just be angry at how difficult it is for us to change speed, to adjust our attention, and our fear of being unable to once again achieve the speeds we had been going.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

There's Still Magic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic my in-person presentations have been almost nonexistent. While health and safety are of the utmost importance, I have been filled with sorrow on the lack of presentations I've had in schools. Someday I hope you get the chance to see one of these presentations because if you want true hope for the future all you have to do is witness the magic that happens.

My school presentation lacks anything remotely considered flashy as it's just me, speaking, for 22 minutes and then the magic happens as I open the floor for questions. So often I have to fight back tears at the well thought out and compassionate questions from students that aren't on the spectrum, but then the waterworks are almost impossible to hold back when a student on the spectrum advocates for themself. 

Last month, right before the Omicron spike, I got the chance and absolute honor to return to a school that I had been an annual tradition. On that day, while driving to the school, I was immensely worried as to how the presentation would go and that's in regard to not just my ability to speak but what would students have the same level on inquisitiveness? Would that same level of compassion that I wish could be bottled up and when you're having a bad day you could open the bottle and know that there's so much good in this world? 

There was a new principal at this school as the previous one that had booked me for, gosh, eight years or so, so she had a hint of skepticism as to what was going to happen at my presentation to the whole 6th grade as I had no PowerPoint, no props, and no "flash". I was skeptical too and I tried not to show it as I got introduced to the 250 or so students.

Presenting is much like riding a bike and while my comedic timing was a tad bit off to begin the rust was quickly shaken off. However, I had no idea if I was holding the audience in the palm of my hand of if they were waiting to toss me aside and get back to their regularly scheduled schoolwork. The masks made it impossible to know and when the 22nd minute ended I almost pleaded when I said, "And now it's your turn. I have no idea what you know or want to know so the floor is open, and I know no one ever wants to ask the first question so..." and before I could finish the almost begging for questions the first hand was raised and the magic was there.

"I heard people on the spectrum like routines, is this true?" 

"I know several of my classmates have Asperger's, how can I be a friend when things get tough?"

It was question after question of pure magic. Truly, and I know I've said this, I wish you could witness this for just two minutes. In the midst of our currently chaotic and unpredictable world I'm so glad to know that kids are still as kind as I found them to be in my very first school presentation. I was worried as our world speeds up with all of our technology, cynicism increases, and we learn of a new Greek letter every two months which may or may not change the way we go about our lives kids are still wanting to know about this thing called autism and from that the future seeds of understanding will be beautiful. 

Leaving the school that day was almost like some major life event that was coming to an end because there's no telling when my next school presentation will be. I know it's needed, and I know there are thousands upon thousands of kids out there that have the same sentiment I had when I discovered writing as a medium to express myself when I wrote, "All I want is for someone, anyone to understand me and when that happens, I might just be free..." I know this to be true because the one question that almost knocked me onto the floor was when I called on a student that had their hand up for at least a dozen straight minutes, asked after 10 seconds of gaining their composure, "Yes, um, I, I, I fidget my hands a lot and some kids have made fun of me. Could you explain what it is and why we do it?" I'll remember that question, and the absolute silence of 250 sixth graders as they waited for my answer, forever.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Why I Don't Watch Shows Involving the Autism Spectrum

With a title has straightforward as this one you may think I could have a vendetta against shows like The Good Doctor or Netflix's Love on the Spectrum. There's no vendetta though, nor any opinion on the realistic (or not) depiction of the autism spectrum. Instead, it's that I'm simply not strong enough.

My girlfriend, several months ago, asked what I thought of The Good Doctor, and I gave a non-answer. How could I give one when I've never seen an episode? I told her what parents at my presentations have thought of it, but I was unable to give a first-hand answer. Then, last week, she asked what I thought about Love on the Spectrum, and again I was unable to respond. Atypical may have come up early in our relationship and then, like the others, I was unable to answer. I think she asked me at some point in time why I hadn't watched, and I gave a closed off answer that teetered on truth but wasn't the reason. I knew the reason, but I couldn't vocalize it so, as I've done so often, I'll write about it.

As mentioned, I have nothing against those shows. The reason why I don't watch is that I'm trying to protect myself from emotions. Way back in 2011 I was on a panel that discussed the movie Adam and while watching that movie I felt extreme feelings of compassion and empathy. I felt similar emotions while watching Temple Grandin but seeing how I presented on a panel with the real person that seemed a bit, well, different. Back on point... While watching and then discussing Adam there were those two strong emotions and typically, I can watch forms of media without any spark of emotion whatsoever. However, if I can relate to a scene, or a struggle, the feelings compound and it's downright overwhelming.

The misconception out there is that those with Asperger's fully lack emotion. I laugh, and then want to cry, when I hear this because it's not based in reality. What is true is that I'll do what I can to avoid situations that will entail an emotional response, or I will do my best to conceal the emotion because emotions often cause more emotions which bring about more and that is just so tiring. Also, because I believe emotions are felt at an unfiltered level meaning that instead of a scale that's zero to ten mine is zero and then maybe a nine but most certainly a ten. 

With no shallow or middle ground, the emotions that are triggered become a tidal wave. If emotions of outward empathy and inward reflection are spurred at the same time it is an overwhelming mess. With the "everything is now" memory system I have, when a memory is conjured up by relating to a scene from a show, the emotions I had at the initial moment of living it are brought back to the present. And, since I had a hard enough time the first time I felt something, it's even more difficult many years later with now interest being added to the initial emotional debt.

Perhaps I'm missing out. Maybe a blog of "life on the other side of the film" would be a great project to do in reviewing and relating to the various shows out there. How based in reality are they? Could they do better? I know I could provide insight to this, but right now, as I think about Adam, I can still feel the helplessness in the situations the movie depicts, and it gives me an image of drowning in emotions. Maybe there are others out there on the spectrum that share my extreme hesitation to take the media plunge and watch. The odd thing is that reading books doesn't have the same impact on me. I find this curious, but perhaps that's because I was an author first and it's a media of the mind and not of someone else's interpretation of a script.  

To close, that person you may know that is avoiding a movie, or genre, perhaps like myself with things involving the autism spectrum, there could be a silent reason as to why they will do whatever they can to steer away from it. I've known this about myself for almost a decade and couldn't describe it to anyone. It took me a decade to get the bravery to say way so if you don't get an answer as to why, perhaps it's too deep, too personal, and they too would want to avoid the tidal of emotions that can be brought about by seeing a struggle they struggle with on the television screen.

Monday, January 24, 2022

"Bro, do you even lift?"

 I've wanted to do this post for about a decade but just never got around to it. Maybe I didn't want to embarrass myself, but it's just too good of a societal misinterpretation to pass up as the troubles with literalness of figures of speech, idioms, and other dual meaning phrases is on display here.

Back in 2004 I was a professional gamer before it paid anything; in other words, I was jobless. However, I was extremely talented at most of the Xbox racing games which were Xbox Live enabled. Truly, this was incomprehensible to me in that I could race other people from around the world and the first game I took serious in becoming #1 in the world was Toca Race Driver 2. The game itself deserves a secondary blog post in all that it's done for me in terms of friends and the ability to have a conversation, but today I pick up the story on any given start at the A1 Ring.

I'm starting first. I need to win this race to maintain my rank of the top racer in the world. I look forward to turn one and its evil steep slope into what I considered the biggest crash inducing turn one in all of racing. Since this is a videogame, many people simply don't care, or aren't skilled enough, to get through turn one cleanly. It was commonplace for 12th place to try and take the lead in turn one by, well, forgetting to slow down for turn one and the end result was primitive graphics showing a bunch of broke race cars and a whole lot of angry voices yelling at each other and it was never anyone's fault, or the other favorite go to excuse was, "I didn't hit anyone on my screen!"

Anyway, in-depth racing talk aside, the common result of such incidents was someone saying, "dude, just lift!" meaning lift off the accelerator. During this same era an early internet meme started popping up with the words sometimes changing order of, "Bro, do you even lift?" This could only have meant one thing, Toca Race Driver 2 had a supreme reach on the internet and the struggle of turn one was real and known by many.

Flash forward to, and I'm almost ashamed to say this, November of last year. Something spurred my curiosity of the Toca game, so I looked up information and then I looked up the meme and I was shocked; its origin wasn't of Toca at all but referring to weightlifting! 17 years of knowledge were instantly thrown into question and another bit of the English language confused me once more.

Non-literal words, phrases, and idioms can be extremely confusing for those on the autism spectrum, and it can be even more confusing when we can actually use the words in something that makes sense. I should've been suspicious of the fact that Toca had such a wide reach in society, but "do you even lift" made sense as turn one of a race looked more like a bowling alley than a racetrack.

I spent almost two decades unaware of my misinterpretation of the saying but since then I haven't been able to shake the words from my thoughts when I see a lap one turn one incident on iRacing. It works, doesn't it? When someone from last goes through the field like a perfect strike in bowling the question to be asked is, "bro! do you even lift?" Surely this makes more sense than anything bodybuilding related, right? 


Sometimes I like my understanding of words more than the actual meaning, but when the truth does come out, we can be oh so confused and have no idea where you got your understanding because ours makes much more sense.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Article from last year

Before the NTT INDYCAR Series event at WorldWide Technology Raceway in Saint Louis last season, Benjamin Hochman of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch wrote this amazing article about me and with just a little over one month before the start of the 2022 INDYCAR season, and the fact I’m counting down the minutes to the first green flag, I felt it appropriate to 

share this amazing article.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Mining for gold

So many people do throw back Thursday so today I wanted to share this video back from the end of 2020 about autism and employment that I was a part of.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

“This has been a joke of the EAS”

I was in the middle of a race on iRacing, which is a motorsports racing simulation game, when my phone did the emergency alert system noise. The noise so often now is associated with an amber alert so there's a bit of a desensitization to the noise from, say, when threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union was a daily fear, but as I looked down, I didn't see the usual "amber alert" message but instead "Emergency Alert." That can't be good" I said aloud to no one.

Special reports and civil defense sirens have always invoked mortal dread in my heart. I, for one, don't think there's anything scarier than the intro to a special report on NBC as worst-case scenario thinking runs amok when that's heard. 

I used to be much worse at the worst-case scenario thinking. Here in Saint Louis the civil defense sirens are tested on the first Monday of the month and each time at 11AM on those Mondays my fear of tornados, bombs, or perhaps an alien invasion of Narwhals from Neptune were going to change life as we knew it. Then, I'd see the time and realize that all was well and we wouldn't be overthrown by our new overloads from space.

The race was quickly over and I was able to see the alert. "Gotham City, Missouri"? This sounded more like a "same bat time, same bat channel" tease at the end of a 1960's Batman broadcast. The purple/green color scheme also seemed a bit of either a riddle or perhaps a joke, and then the license plate was also in the realm of fantasy. However, questions still remained.

Was this legitimate? Had there been an extreme event with someone attempting to recreate a Joker incident from one of the later movies? There was no indication that this was a test so the mind could go 1,000 different directions as to what this was. Also, the link provided went to the Missouri Highway Patrol Twitter page furthering the legitimacy of the alert. 

About 15 minutes later the EAS went off again saying the previous message had been a test and that the test had been concluded. There was no danger, no 1978 Dodge purple and green Dodge terrorizing the state of Missouri. All was well. 

I haven't seen a story on if this was an intended test or a mistake like the 2018 North Korea missile alert in Hawaii. I did see a story on Facebook by the local NBC affiliate last night and the comments were all over the place. Those that said they were worried were instantly chastised by other commentors. I think back to a decade ago when the fears of every alert were paralyzing, and I have no idea what I would've done with an alert like the one that was given yesterday. Anxiety of this nature wasn't a choice and the "flight or fight" mechanism, when engaged, isn't a simple off switch which would've made actually seeing that the message wasn't real based in reality difficult or downright impossible.

Those that were confused or concerned shouldn't be ridiculed. I used to be that way, still can if you go back to the blog from last week, and furthermore do we want to desensitize people to what an alert means? Someday a person might be in a situation that the message on the screen labeled "Alert..." might save their life but if they think it's just another "joke of the Emergency Alert System" then they may not heed the lifesaving advice and that, truly, is the danger of whatever happened yesterday across Missouri.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Torn Memories

A way I describe my memories is through what I call the "associative memory system." Think of it much like an interwoven spiderweb and everything is connected. This can play out several different ways with one being that the Olympics are a great organizational tool for remembering where I was when they were. However, while dates are good mile markers the biggest tool are physical items and while my girlfriend assisted cleaning out the guest bedroom yesterday, I came across a piece of clothing I very well might've died in.

Seeing it instantly brought me back to Marshalltown 2007. I was race directing and flagging a kart race at the now gone Iowa International Speedway and I've got to tell you, seeing the clothing allowed me to remember that the day before I gave my shortest red flag ever with about 20 seconds worth of red flag conditions in a practice because a herd of deer were galloping down the backstraight. However, I could hear my words in the driver's meeting as I hoped it would be a safe weekend, "Okay everyone, we had a red flag for deer yesterday and as we come to races today let's keep that as the only red this weekend. No one wants to be the cause of a red flag." A big case of irony was about to play out.

I held the clothing in my hands. I could see the cut lines from where the paramedics and ER staff had cut the suit. This clothing was my race suit, and I would often race just the final race while someone else filled in on my duties. I had had one practice session and the track was exceptionally bumpy but had a fun mix of corners. Anyway, racetrack talk aside, during the race I was doing great considering lack of practice compared to everyone. There was one corner that I loved; it was a high banked bowl hairpin. Throwing a kart into that corner was a rush and lap after lap I attempted to make a pass for fifth in the corner. I was so focused on the battle that I didn't really notice the diminished braking power I had. Perhaps it was only a couple corners that I had warning, but as I thought about another attempt at a pass going into this hairpin my brain had a hard time registering what was going on in my world.

"Should I throw it out?" has been a question I've asked many times. Because my memories are so tied to objects would I be able to "move on" from the feeling of helplessness that I felt in the couple seconds after not realizing what was going on in my world? It's hard to describe what it is like to expect one thing and have it not happen. When you press the brake pedal in your car you know you're going to slow down. But what if you don't? Then what? That's what I was faced with and I turned the wheel hard left trying to spin and avoid the kart in front of me. 

Sliding into the hairpin I almost had it spun. The good thing was I didn't collide with the kart in front of me, but the bad news was that I went into the hairpin flush which sort of acted like a point and shoot slingshot. 

Memories are funny; I've found that remembering the good times is almost impossible but the times when we are pushed to the extremes, well, those moments can live on forever. 

The next two seconds or so went on for what seemed to be months and months. Every regret, hope, idea, and dream I ever had was played out as I stared at the hog fence in front of me. This hairpin corner didn't have much run-off which meant the solid objects that could be hit were rather close to the track. I had enough time to think about the second bit of irony that I had asked the track owners to put the plastic barriers often used at kart tracks in front of this semi-solid fence. There was a gigantic stack of them just out of line of sight as the fence was getting closer and closer. Then, I made contact.

Hog fence, which I'm 99% sure is what I hit first, was in panels of a much thicker metal than a chain-link fence. The pits were on the other side of the fence, so they didn't want any karts making it through the fence hence the overly strong tactics, but at the same time it made for a sickening impact as I struck it, breeched it, and made my way into the chain link fence.

My memories are fragmented greatly after the impact. One thing I firmly remember is a man by the name of Noe running full speed at me. His pit was the other side of the fence but that's all I can remember of the world until my memories pick up with me screaming. I wasn't choosing to scream, well, my conscious self wasn't; think of it like waking up from a dream during the day. The fence had done a number on my head, hand, and lower legs and there was no doubt to anyone that saw it that I was taking a trip to the hospital.

I had no lasting injuries from the crash. The concussion took about a month and my hand couldn't fit into my bowling ball for about a month as well, but all things considered I was lucky. Lucky? The luck factor is why I keep the suit. It may be sort of morbid to keep a suit I almost died in, but here's the thing; that weekend I had forgotten my helmet at home. My helmet was much like a karting helmet with no protection given under the chin. I had to borrow a helmet and the helmet I had used that day was from someone that had given on oval tracks in stockcars which had an extra lip under the chin. The first place of my upper body to connect with the hog fence was the lip and had it not been for that the fence would've made direct contact with my throat. Survival, in that case, would've been unlikely.

There are all sorts of items in my house that may look like junk, or something oddly irrelevant, and then there's a race suit that has been cut wide open. While seeing it may bring up a recall of staring at a fence in the most helpless of situations it also reminds me that I had something else in store for my life that I couldn't possibly imagine. So, if you know a person on the spectrum, be on the lookout for trinkets, knickknacks, or what you might consider junk because it might be the connectors in their memories of perhaps a favorite day, a day that was transformative, or in my case, an item that reminds them of just how lucky they are.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Positional Warfare

Having Asperger's, for myself, has many advantages. In the coming months I'll cover those but today I'm writing about the most tiring and anxiety producing element. This is the reason I try to avoid social situations at all costs. The cause? It's what I like to call "positional warfare".

There's much written about that, "people on the autism spectrum look like their uncomfortable in their own skin." While I agree with that sentence it doesn't give any explanation as to why. I was reminded of just how much of a battle the positional warfare is whilst at the grocery store yesterday.

Since the onset of the pandemic my social encounters has been cut drastically outside of my work for INDYCAR, and this has been a challenge for me because, in the five years I didn't blog, I got extremely apt at the random social encounters. As with anything in life, though, practice is needed to remain sharp and at the grocery store yesterday a battle of position raged.

My girlfriend and I were getting some supplies and food and while she was looking at shampoo in the soap area, which is more open than the traditional long aisles, an older gentleman came up behind and partially beside me. I could see him out of my peripheral vision, and he was just there. I didn't want to turn my head to fully see him because I didn't know what he was doing. Was he waiting for me? Waiting for my girlfriend? Did he just want to push his shopping cart past? Was something expected of me? So many questions and the only thing I could do was process more questions which left no answers.

Time, in these moments, slows down as the anxiety spikes to the moon. With each question I ask of his motives I in turn ask questions as to what I need to do. Should I turn? Should I speak? Should I tell my girlfriend there's a man in shopping limbo behind me? Should I change my arm position? 

When this type of processing takes place, I start to "question everything and react to nothing." What this entails is that I become so deep in thought and so flooded with a near adrenaline induced anxiety storm that I look unnatural in the environment I'm in, or as the literature says, "uncomfortable in own skin."

The difficult thing for me is I understand the near absurdity as I write this. If the roles were reversed, and I was the person waiting for the shampoo section, I would be doing exactly what that man was doing. I would want to stay invisible and off to the side with no chance of an interaction. Wow, okay, it's fun when writing and having a revelation like that; not only am I uncomfortable in my own skin in this situation I, in turn, could potentially make others a bit uncomfortable as I hang out in people's blind spot in a grocery store trying everything I can to not have to be in a situation where I'd have to utter the fear-inducing words of, "excuse me."

This is where practice and repetition come into play and where the pandemic has, at least for myself, made my chameleon ways not as sharp. I'm sure in the coming months this won't be the last time the positional warfare comes into play. Oh, how did the story end? As with so much of the high-intensity moments I have nothing came of it. The man eventually ran out of patience, walked past and said, "excuse me" and that was that. 

The last part I'd like you to know about this is that I wrote about an everyday occurrence in this blog. For most of you out there a social situation like this lasting no more than a dozen seconds is something that you'd forget about by the time you put the milk in the fridge, if you even recognized it at all. For myself, this is daily life; a random encounter that I can still sense a trace of anxiety almost 24 hours later. This is why the positional warfare rages on; it just isn't the moment of the battle but the fear of the next one when I'll be wondering, "Is this posture okay? Where should my arms be? Eyes... eyes... where should I be looking with my eyes! Wait, do I look uncomfortable in my own skin now?" 

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Tale of the St. Elmo Watertower

In sharing yesterday's blog I used the header, "Who says an Aspie isn't sentimental?" I, of course, know we are and maybe, as this post will show, can be a bit more. The misconceptions are annoying but if a person doesn't have understanding of the autism spectrum, then the potentially beautiful, emotional, and sentimental ways will not be understood or misinterpreted...   

Small things have always meant more to be than it has seemed it has to others. While others seem to be moved by bigger things in life, I can be brought to tears by seemingly simply changes to the world. This can be confusing for those around us, and my first girlfriend got rather confused by this.

It was 2001 and Emily and I (her full story is in my book Finding Kansas) were driving up to my sister's in Indianapolis to attend the Brickyard 400. On the drive we were on I-70 and we came through this town of St. Elmo, Illinois and the first thing I noticed was that the water tower had been repainted. No big deal, right? Wrong! From 1993 to 2001 I must have been in a car through that town at least 50 times and on the water tower, under the town name, it said, "1988 I.H.S.A.A. Final Four" which meant that the team from that town made that year's state's final four in basketball. In 1988 I was only five years old so you would think this would mean nothing to me but my reaction to this change was tears. Emily thought I was kidding, but I was brought to tears as I thought about all those that were on that team and that no one, from that day forward, would know what they did.

The confusing thing for Emily was that just a month prior her dog had been diagnosed with a potentially life-ending health ailment. I had never met a dog that disliked me until that dog. I love animals, but I gave that dog no second thoughts when I wasn't around it. Anyway, we she told me the news I had a blank facial expression. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. I immediately asked how bowling went the previous night which made her none too happy. Of course, I was undiagnosed at the time and had zero self-awareness, so I had no idea the thing to do at that moment would've been to be as supportive as possible. Several hours later I knew I should've been supportive, but the processing in the moment made this impossible. Side note: the dog was fine and probably spent the rest of its days thinking of how to terrorize me.

This is a very difficult concept to explain because, on one hand, there can be this cold, and seemingly immune reaction to emotion and yet a minor change in the world can evoke an emotional response that I'm sure is impossible for others around me to understand which is why I think the line of, "more is less and less is more" fits perfectly to this because some things that would seem to be an obvious emotional reaction may get none and a change in the environment say, a business that goes out of business, or a childhood toy is lost, or a street sign is changed, or a water tower being repainted may illicit major reactions.

There are many reasons, I think, that puts this system in play. One, for sure, is the "associative memory system" in those exterior items, or places, or songs, or anything really becomes connected to a time, a place, an emotion, or a person. It's this system which everything is really tied. I originally thought it was just memories, but this is the foundation for everything really and the basis for routines. When something is lost, or changed, it creates a rift throughout the entire system, and it is here when "less is more" becomes apparent. If something is sudden and stated much like "my dog may be dying" it is hard to register. That's the only way to describe it as it takes time to register and to be processed and yeah, four hours later I realized the scope of the loss, but at the moment more was less because it was unable to be processed.

There's been many more St. Elmo water towers in my life. It's difficult to move on from things, or throw things out, because I either get overly emotional thinking about basketball players from 1988 who have been forgotten by their town, or it's the associative memory system that ties that memory to the web that makes up my memory system. So yes, some people may have a gigantic misconception of what those with Asperger's may feel, but when we do feel it can feel as if, well, a water tower fell and all the water came gushing out. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Tale of Bim's

The years I spent not blogging I missed telling stories of places and people the most. It was always unique to read the comments from people that found what I found to be exceptional or interesting to shed light on what someone they know may be feeling. I had a bit of an impromptu blog post several months ago on my Facebook page about a pizza place I went to back in August while working the Road to Indy series in New Jersey and I feel that it is more than right to share on here.

The pizza was amazing, but that’s not the story…
My colleague and I left New Jersey Motorsport Park after a day of working the Road to Indy races there in search of dinner. The night prior had been a chain restaurant and I remembered from the year prior that the pizza in South Jersey is, well, amazing. With the chance of amazing pizza it was a quick search and the highest rated place was Bim’s Pizza so off we went.
The image on the phone map showed a red house and, as the photo I took showed, that’s exactly what it was. This brought a gigantic smile to my face right away in its… uniqueness to everything I’ve seen. My first thought was, “when you DoorDash you do not get this experience!” I didn’t know the experience would turn even more on the verge of magical.
We walked in and I approached the counter and the man behind the counter looked at me and as I processed what to say he chimed in, “I got to tell you that you’re not from around here but the menu is simple. Pizza. No subs, no calzones, just pizza!” I smiled and I ordered as did my colleague.
The man, who we learned had worked there since 1980 and was born in Millville and lived there his entire life, worked with such precision. He said that his 67 year old body wasn’t as precise or as quick as it used to be but I thought that impossible. His wit as well… here was a man that was making two pizzas while taking four pizzas out of the oven while talking to my colleague, who is originally from Denmark, about the differences in pizza in Europe and his underwhelming experience of steak in Texas… it was simply a show to watch him work.
I sat in a corner with my head cocked sideways with a gigantic smile on my face and almost a tear in my eye. It was moving to watch a person work at something with such… perfection; perfection is the word to use. He didn’t skip a beat when a person walked in and picked their order up and the man informed us that the customer was the son of a teacher who had played a role in his life many ways.
Was this Americana at its finest? I felt as if I were in a 90’s tv dramedy about a pizza place owner that had all the connections in town and sort of held the town together.
As I saw the pizzas come out of the oven I knew the moment I had feared for about a dozen minutes had come. It was time to leave, and at that moment I had a deep regret that I don’t have a daily blog because this exchange was the quintessential social encounter I loved writing about. You see, I saw and watched this man in awe. I don’t become awestruck by many and I myself have done many amazing things in life but what this man had I wanted. His ability to socialize with wit, banter, and the occasional empathetic comment was something that if I can become just 10% proficient in life I’d call it a success.
As we left I thought back to one of the first things he told us after he deduced we went from here, “I don’t mind making pizzas for you but I know that you’ll probably never come back…” to which I wrote this and say, “sir, next time I’m in Millville be prepared to make another amazing pepperoni and mushroom pizza and I expect to hear more stories of Millville and everything else that makes encounters like this almost heavenly.”
May be an image of road

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Masked Communications

I may be almost two years late to this conversation, but I haven't written in two years so I haven't been as observant in behaviors to notice. However, while flying back from the race near Miami I did notice just how much I rely on nonverbal communications.

This is truly weird for me because I can be so inept on reading people. I miss cues, and I often see a smile as one would see an angry face. I can be so far off and yet I've gotten rather resilient at sending out facial signals that often quell a social situation or appeases what the situation calls for.

This has changed, though, hasn't it? What I meant by saying I was two years late refers to the masks that are now often worn. Whether you believe in them or not is a moot point on this blog because if you want to fly you best have your mask on and while boarding the plane Monday morning and the flight attendant greeted me while entering the plane I gave my awkward upward head swoop and sort of smiled. I've come to learn that the quick smile I give is typically enough to spare me from having to say anything aloud. Also, I may move my lips slightly to emulate speaking with no noise being made. This could lead the person to think I said something and they just didn't hear it. 

My goal in random public is to be a chameleon and be invisible. I want to avoid random social encounters and each movement I take while walking is trying to keep the avoidance as strong as possible. I've learned all the moves I need to pull off to keep this bubble of isolation intact, but I just didn't realize howe much I relied on the minute facial expressions to keep it all functioning.

The flight attendant wasn't mean about it, well, not exactly but I did the swoop and did the silent lip movement of "good morning" as they said it to be, but I wasn't consciously aware of the fact that they couldn't see my lips. When I got to the first seats in the place, I heard a "well, good morning to you too!". It seemed a bit redundant as they had already told me that and I had to think back on what I could've possibly messed up socially. 

I traced back the one to two second encounter and thought of every possible scenario that would've gotten that slight hint of snark so early in the morning. I played it back, "they said good morning and I mouthed it and raised my eyebrows ever so slightly and... and... OH! She didn't know I mouthed it!" 

Another odd thing is that, when it comes to mistakes like this, I'm destined to make the same mistake over and over and over again until I have one of these moments. I don't have a strong ability to see things from another person's line of sight or viewpoint. Another one of my sayings is, "I think therefore you should know" which would apply to this situation of "I know I mouthed good morning so she would to."

I wonder how many errors I've made these past two years in thinking another person can see my face when they couldn't. The lack of a two-way street here is frustrating for me and I'm sure it's frustrating for others to understand the following logic: I know I can't see another person's face behind the mask so if their lips are moving, I know I can't see them. On the flip side, since I know what my face looks like and I know what I'm doing with my lips and if they moved or not means the other person does as well."

Now that I identified this, I'll be curious to see if I can alter the outcomes a bit and not be so rude unknowingly. I do plan on writing on this topic more and the next time I'm in a place that requires that little bit of random social interaction I hope it's blog worthy to note further on another example of the lack of a well-made two-way street.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Posts from the Past

 Just a bit of a housekeeping post today; I have kept 10 posts alive from the first iteration of this blog and they were the top 10 most read posts. If you'd like to revisit the past you can do so at

Monday, January 10, 2022

Don't Hear Chimes

 Something was wrong. I looked forward, beside, and behind me as I sat on the plane in the midst of a panic, but no one else had any inclination and I almost said aloud what I was thinking, "Am I the only one who knows? Why don't you all care?"

Being overly aware of my surroundings is something I've been blessed and cursed by my entire life. It seems this isn't uncommon with people with Asperger's and I have thought in the past that it's a bit of a defense mechanism because, since I'm so often delayed in seeing social situations, I have to compensate for the various challenge Asperger's brings. 

As I sat there on the plane, I thought back to what precipitated this panic and I wondered if what I thought I had heard was on a song I was listening to. I knew the song but wanted to make absolute certain it wasn't the three chimes I heard. It was like the noise you hear on the plane when someone hits the flight attendant button, or the noise before landing, but it came in three, the note was shorter, and it was a bit of a subdued chime. I'd never heard that before and figured nothing good could come from such a noise.

Was I overreacting? I thought this but then I thought back to the time in kindergarten we had a fire drill but I knew it was different because the office staff had gone outside as well and in the previous two fire drills I had taken part in they had never been outside. Sure enough someone had left a suspicious bag at an entrance with a note stating it contained a bomb. This was not a good memory to recall at 36,000 feet.

Now I knew something was truly amiss because the flight attendant at the front of the plane picked up the intercom with haste and frantically changed what he was looking at on a monitor. I peered over the seat in front of me and saw that it was a diagram of the plane and there was a section blinking red in the back. I knew three chimes couldn't be good but any diagram of a object with a blinking red light surely can't be good. And yet, I was seemingly alone among the passengers knowing something was wrong. Oh, to be oblivious to such facts! It's a strange contradiction; I'm typically flying in the dark when it comes to social situations and yet I'm an absolute barometer to an environment and can sense an incoming storm.  

Flight attendants went forward, and back, forward, and back with a movement I'd call a graceful yet firm dance of concern as they moved. If not for my noticing the flurry of movement after the chimes you'd have been hard pressed to know something was amiss and perhaps you'd have thought they were out of Sprite on the drink trolley.

Speaking of the drink trolley, the flight attendants blocked off the front of the plane as they will do when a pilot has to use the lavatory and the captain came out from the cockpit to talk to the attendants. This brought relief and panic at the same time. Obviously, if we had a serious issue with the plane I doubt he'd come out for a stop and chat. However, there had to be a problem because it brought him out from the cockpit.

The pilot looked at the same monitor and pointed at something on the screen to the attendants. He then turned and smiled which made me think, "A smile... that's good!" As I hung in suspense trying to assess what the smile meant a flight attendant made an announcement, "This is a reminder that smoking and vaping is absolutely prohibited in the lavatories and is against federal law."

Whew! I was right that something was going on and thankfully it wasn't serious. Most of the time when my senses are engaged on thinking there's an impending danger in my environment it proves to be nothing and the constant level of worry is taxing on me. It isn't a choice to acknowledge or ignore what could be an impending threat in my environment. I'd have loved to have been most everyone else deeply unaware that something was going on, but my body and mind weren't wired that way. It may also have been tiring for my parents as I didn't have the words growing up the describe the sheer terror that comes with knowing something is wrong (even if it actually wasn't) before anyone else. Is it horrible though? I'll leave you with this question to end though; what about that one time myself, or any other person on the spectrum is right? 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Origins Part 4: Coming Back to Whole

 Have you ever been defined by a single moment? Oh, wait, have we been here before? We have in part one of this origin story and another moment that ensnared my essence and soul.

"Whatever is now is forever" was the way I'd describe the fail-set mindset in a way to describe why a bad event would last. All the good things will be forgotten when a bad event happens, and I know for myself the ability to see evidence contrary to the conclusions I've drawn or have been told is simply not there. If you know someone on the spectrum that had a story like I've had I hope this story can help you empathize with them because I know, for myself, the inability for others to understand because I couldn't speak it was almost as bad as the event itself.

So this event... there was a person that I had great trust in and in a sick twist I was told by them that, "oh, your blog? Yeah, it really doesn't have the impact you think it does and do people actually read it?" Devastation. Destruction. Soul-shattering words. It's amazing on two fronts that one, I was told this, but secondly that I believed it. Remember that whatever is now is forever and if you believe the "no", "don't", and "can't" the end result will always look like that. Because I believed those words I stopped writing.

On the speaking front I kept growing with presentations for universities, global conferences, and even to the top levels of the FBI where I've received four awards for my work. What did this mean to me? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Think about that for a moment. No, truly think of that on just how impossibly difficult it is to endure this. I was afraid to speak up on this because I understood the evidence at hand; I must've been doing something right to have been invited to the places I was presenting at but those words about my writing haunted me to the point of consuming me.

My story isn't an isolated one. I fell into the trap so many people had asked me about and I thought I had understood, but there's a stark difference between the first life-shattering event with the awful introduction to my diagnosis and there's another to have "made it" so to speak and then be torn down. As I said, I thought I understood but it's in the years that my brain have robbed from me that has truly let me know just how "comet smashing into the Earth" an event like this.

As I mentioned, I reached great heights these past several years. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly slowed presentations which added to the depression I had and there were times I'd log into Blogger and think about sharing a thought or story, and I was greatly tempted to share the news that I landed my dream job in 2020 as one of the starter/flagmen for the NTT INDYCAR Series. In May of last year I became just the eighth person to flag the Indianapolis 500 from start to finish. That isn't just a small feat but another "impossible to comprehend, oh my goodness how did this happen!" moment. How did I commemorate the occasion? It would've made the most inspiring of blog posts that yes, if you can stick something out and give it your all your impossible dreams may come true. However, there was no post on this. There were many photos as I've become an exceptional photographer snapping photos at race tracks, but there wasn't what that moment deserved because, in a way, I questioned if I deserved it at all from the life-shattering event.

This has sounded like a negative post, hasn't it? This is where it changes though. I have walked through the shadows and have come to peace with it. It was years and years but I'm back! My brain finally worked out that the sum of my being is not dictated by a single person. I now understand the evidence that people always pointed out when I attempted to say I wasn't okay. I have a newfound understanding of the challenges we on the autism spectrum face and endure daily. So often professionals would say, "Aaron, what makes your content and presentation so unique is that you aren't a clinician talking about data or third person observations but instead you're a participant." 

I know my words will have limited abilities to change the way a person sees themself right now, but in this experience and the words I've used to describe it I can only hope that it can help that person's supports in their life to understand what is going on behind the scenes. It has brought me to tears writing this paragraph, and they're tears of joy as I know tell you that I'm back and I so look forward to our future on here and the new thoughts, ideas, and joyous occasions that will be shared. Thanks for being patient and bring on the future!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Origins Part 3: Finding My Voice

So, I wrote a book... one thing that is extremely disheartening to new authors is what comes next. Yes, it's great a book got published but that doesn't mean people will care right away. In March of 2009 I was at a teacher's conference in Saint Louis with my book and sold zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada. Nothing. Was the journey worth it? That's what I asked myself that evening as the feelings of rejection I felt each time I was passed up stung like all the nights filled with hopelessness.

Nothing just happens overnight. When other authors, and people desiring to be a public speaker, ask me about the process of "making it", whatever that fully means, it is difficult to relay the message that they should never give up. For any successful speaker or author, you see or know if they too probably have a story of what my first function of my book was like. It takes work, and a bit of luck, but it does seem the harder one works the luckier they'll be. My luck was to occur a few months after throwing up a goose egg at the conference.

My dad had been in communication with the non-profit that I got my diagnosis at and he delivered some books for their leadership team. It was through this that my book ended up on Ron Ekstrand's desk and it wasn't long thereafter that I was hired as a consultant to go through their parent training program and see if any of my concepts could be utilized into the curriculum. 

I didn't know what parent training was or what it entailed outside of the fact that I had a job with the coolest job title I ever had. Me, a consultant, that was just grade A+ awesomesauce! As cool as I thought it would be it actually changed my life as I finally got the accurate info about the autism spectrum and not that awful site that I read on my diagnosis night. For once, the word "hope" wasn't followed by "lessness".

The three weeks came and went, and I quickly got depressed once more as I feared vanishing from work that mattered. What was there for me though? I was just a local author that could come up with concepts on the mechanics of behavior of the autism spectrum but nothing more.

A couple weeks later my dad told me we were going to drop in on a Masters level teaching class at Lindenwood University. Oddly, I didn't ask many, if any questions as to why we were going but I dressed kind of nice which was good because when we got halfway there my dad said, "Oh, by the way, you're presenting tonight." Wait, what? Me, presenting? How? I didn't have an ounce of whatever the opposite of shyness is within me. Walking into a 7-11 to get a pack of gum was the stuff that a horror film of social anxiety was made of. With that being so how on Earth was I going to stand in front of a class, much less masters level, and not bomb out?

When we got there my dad informed me that he had made a PowerPoint presentation on the concepts of my book and it should be self-explanatory as to what I should talk about. Sure enough, the flow was natural and I found it eerily easy to speak in front of that class. This was odd because usually my teachers in school had to read my book reports because I couldn't deliver them out loud, but this... this was different. This was fun!

A week after that a grandparent that had gone through parent training reached out and asked if I wanted to present at the Missouri National Educators Association conference that was to be held in November. It said yes with a bit of fear fearing that the ease of the first presentation couldn't be reproduced.

November came and several hundred teachers had signed up for my presentation. This was much different than earlier in the year when not a single person wanted to hear from me, but now I was going to have 60 minutes to fill and I was worried. 

Once again, my dad had made the PowerPoint and I went into the presentation primarily in the dark as to what I'd be talking about but if I had tried to study and plan the anxiety would've crushed me. At the end of the 60 minutes I held my breath after I awkwardly thanked the audience for hearing me ramble on and the thunderous roar of the applause took me by surprise. They just didn't like it, they loved it.

After that Ron Ekstrand hired me at the turn of the year to be a part time presenter at the Saint Louis County Police Academy on their behalf and once again I was frightened going in as I couldn't see what I could say that would have any benefit but quickly I rose to the top of their highest rated instructors and that in turn led me to my first full time job as a presenter and also a blogger.

As my audiences grew, and my blogs started being read by people from all over the globe, I still remained in the dark as to why people cared what I had to say and why my audiences said the presentation was so engaging. I'm not being overly humble as in saying, "oh, that? Yeah, it's nothing. I could do it in my sleep!" Truly, I don't understand why my book got picked up by a division of Penguin in 2012, and how I was able to do two national speaking tours and people took time out of their day to come see me speak. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely proud of what I've achieved and most certainly want to continue, but in my mind I'm still that, let's say kid, that found out about their diagnosis and just always saw themself as the "shy, quirky kid."

The years went on and each blog post and new venue I presented out was simply a dream. I enjoyed hearing the hope I brought, or the inspiration I gave a teacher in understanding a student and how they could better serve them, or even the parents who would tell me, "I didn't know my child until I heard you so thank you for introducing their world to me."

I would get correspondence from all over the world and one of the common subjects was the fail-set mindset. That is, well, one way to describe it is in my original diagnosis story; since that website said failure was a guarantee I then wouldn't even try because failure was destined to occur which in turn assured failure would happen. I'd respond to these the best I could and talk about the positives to be looked at in the situation they had described to me. Well, there is a dangerous slope that's navigated when a person like myself doesn't understand why they're successful and why people want to hear from them, and that story will be tomorrow's blog as I give you the story of the second time my life was shattered.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

My Origins Part 2: Finding the Words

 Have you ever let a moment define you? Was it a word? Perhaps a sentence said by someone in passing? Or perhaps it was either your biggest triumph or your biggest blunder. Whatever it was, or rather if it was, you can perhaps relate to how I felt each and every day as those horribly wrong words that I read on the night of my diagnosis.

No job.

No friends.

No happiness.

When you let a moment define you, or in my case those words, you no longer are defined by who you are but rather what someone else suggests or thinks how you should be. A box is formed and any existence out of the box is akin to trying to exist outside our dimension. My relationship with my girlfriend ended (who could ever forget the story about how I broke up on Christmas via text message. Don't know the story? I'll have to tell you it sometime) and every lead I had in life I didn't take. What was the point? Being a logical thinker, albeit flawed logic in this regard, I couldn't get past the idea that any effort was irrelevant because the end result would be the same; myself, eventually homeless, and 100% alone in this world.

Here's the thing, and it's a big, gigantic thing, if you could've had a conversation with me back then you'd have known none of this. I had no ability to word or phrase how I was feeling, and no one knew my fears for the future. Think about that for a second; I was in a state of complete hopelessness with complete conviction that there would be no one that would ever understand who I was, and I was destined to be misunderstood until the end of my time on this Earth. Instead, you'd have probably thought I just a shy, quirky person that had some master plan on how everything would be just fine.

A year of this crushing depression went on and I wanted someone, anyone to understand that I wasn't okay. I didn't want pity, but I wanted someone to know what was going on behind the facade I was able to show. Eventually, the urge to shout my state of being at the top of my lungs for all to hear turned into a night at my computer with a word processor with a simple mission; to put my thoughts on paper and go from there.

That first night in February 2005 feels like it was mere moments ago and as I wrote two chapters that night and nervously hit CTRL-P and the sound of the printer putting the essence of my soul on paper made me freeze. What had I done? Was what I did okay? Remember from yesterday's blog; in first grade I was taught that it wasn't okay to say I wasn't okay. More importantly though I wondered who, if anyone, would read it? 

Printing those 40 pages (what can I say, I had ambition and a life story to tell) seemed like an eternity and as the sun was just about to break over the eastern horizon, I put those 40 pages on the stove for my dad to see fearing what type of reaction there would be. My dreams were vivid that night and I experienced every single possible reaction I could imagine as my dreams all revolved around the possible cardinal sin I committed by expressing myself. 

It wasn't a long sleep and when I awoke I went upstairs and saw my dad and he said, "About those things you wrote..." and before he could finish the sentence or question I stuttered this, "So, um, so, um. it wasn't bad?" That was it. That was all I wanted to know. I couldn't handle the processing of critique of thought or how I felt and my dad smiled greatly when he said, "It wasn't bad."

Being "not bad" became a trend over the next year. Wacky events kept popping up in my life and many events that I was blessed to survive (hostage situation in Kenya, MRSA staph infection at base of skull, and so on and so forth) and with each event I pushed myself harder to write. My first two chapters were primarily narrative but I started branching out to describe the why. I had no idea I was writing a book but when I wrote the chapter "The Fourth Wall" I thought to myself, "I may someday somewhere by some chance talk about this on a stage with an audience listening." That was the only time I allowed myself any glimmer as to what my work could possibly become.

In October of 2006 I went back to Kenya and I realized I had come full circle in my book which was becoming rather wordy so it was time to bring it to an end. I still had no idea this was going to be a book but I wrote a chapter that was a fitting end to all the previous chapters. When we got back stateside my dad reached out to some former classmates of his and it took a bit but in October of 2008 I held in my hands the words that were 25 years in the making. I was probably too young to appreciate the behemoth undertaking it was to make this happen, but I now had a book and... and what? What comes next? I had no idea. Was that website still correct? I still didn't have a job that was a career so I wasn't sure, but just around the corner was the next impossible occurrence to happen and that story will come tomorrow in part three.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

My Origins Part 1

 Every story has a beginning and every triumph more than likely had a bit of adversity to climb and perhaps, like myself, there's a single defining moment that creates a chain reaction of events that, when all is said and done, it seems impossible. For myself, I still think what I've done from where I was just 12 years ago is impossible.

The photo to the right was taken in 2000. I was 17 and I knew exactly how my life was going to play out. There was, without any doubt, destiny to live as I was going to be the greatest race car driver that ever lived. It was going to be easy and when asked what I was going to do as a job my response had been the same as when I was in school, "I'm going to race! That's plan A for my life and there is no plan B".

No plan B... I had a singular mindset and had that gift/curse my entire life. In kindergarten I could barely have any conversation with my classmates, but I could give a monologue as to all the happenings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was also my intense knowledge/fear of weather, and I could drone on and on about the threat of severe storms, but for the most part it was all racing all the time. There may also have been the occasional conversation in regard to my fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and those conversations went as well as you can imagine in a kindergarten setting.

Teachers attempted to tell my parents that something was, well, something was. What was it? If there had been a diagnosis of, "smart, quirky kid that no one can really makes sense of" that's what they would've given as even now I, or before the pandemic when presentations were common place, hear time and time again that, "Well, we don't really know if anything is really going on because this child is so smart." 

There were also times in first and second grades that my first experience with sensory issues happened and there was no understanding, and I had no ability to voice what it was. Actually I tried, I really did in first grade when the music teacher gave us examples of what bass was and it shook the room. I felt this horrible pain and I raised my hand with a furious angst, and I said, "this hurts!" and the teacher said, "No, it doesn't." This reinforced my fear of speaking about how I felt.

School got so difficult and the stress that I was under from the social and sensory aspect made my health shaky. My parents elected to home school me and I enjoyed that, but a few years later I wanted to give actual school another go but the same patterns developed and all the while there were no answers as to why what was occurring was occurring. 

Throughout all this I never once thought anything was different with me. Instead, I thought everyone else was the different ones. I could not understand why others had the interests they did, or why people wanted to "hang out" in a group. What was the appeal? Why was there this need for social interaction? 

It was December 2003 and I had driven down to Orlando from Saint Louis to test drive a late model stock car at a track when my viewpoint about life was shattered. I was in a Denny's parking lot right by my hotel and there was a family with three teenage looking sons and there were playing a game of keep away with what I recall to be a hat. Perhaps this wasn't all that fun for the person that had lost their hat but the liberating fun they seemed to be having with no restraints, no hesitations, and no cares to anything but the moment was, well, it hurt to the point that I'd say I was shattered. Shattered? Why? I realized at that moment there was some sort of restraint in my life meaning that I would overthink things and couldn't just "be" in the moment. From overthinking things came hesitations; how could these kids move so freely without thinking about the space they're in? And lastly, how could they run, jump, and even yell without thinking about 1,000 possible ramifications of their moves? As I watched them play on I began to sob uncontrollably, and I called my dad. 

Perhaps this was already in the works but shortly after that call and when I returned to Saint Louis my dad had me see my doctor to get a referral to get assessed to see if I were on the autism spectrum. Sometime before this there had been a story in Parade Magazine and it had been about another person with Asperger's whose story seemed extremely similar to mine. Perhaps my dad already knew the answer, but after the assessment there seemed to be little doubt. However, the defining moment of my life was just waiting to jump out at me.

Even though the assessment was done I had to go back to my doctor to get the results. Mind you, this was 2003 and the autism spectrum, or rather I think just the awareness of the word autism is nowhere close to where we are today. My doctor had no idea what a spectrum was in regard to autism and as he read the assessment in front of me, he made audible noises of, "Ah" and "I see" and "hm" and as he got to the end he said, "Yup, there's no doubt about it, you have Asperger's. I don't really know what to say so, um, good luck?" Why did I use a question mark on that sentence? I'm not sure if he was asking a question but his vocal tone was going that way and I'm not sure if that were directed at me or himself on having no idea what this meant.

Right then I didn't think much of the diagnosis. I had been given many before and I felt as if I were on a roulette wheel of diagnoses with this being just a new flavor of the month. That evening, though, I decided to look up what I had on the internet and the first bit of info did sum up, at least in medical terms, the way I felt in that parking lot in Orlando. Then, as I got to the prognosis, this website said, "Those with Asperger's will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy." As many times as I've written that sentence and said it in presentations the icy chill of hopelessness still tries to creep into my being. When I read that horrendous statement my entire being changed; I went from a dedicated and focused future race car driver. Wait, future? Two months prior to this I had been a professional racing instructor at the Derek Daly Academy in Las Vegas but none of that mattered now. I was defined by frivolous words on a non-medically accurate website but to my 20-year-old self the source material was irrelevant because I had recently thought I was different, found out that I was, and now was told the future was hopeless. 

When you believe the "no" "don't" and "can't" that can pop up in life it can become a self-fulfilling destiny and instead of fulfilling my destiny of 22-time World Driver's Champion (what can I say, I had ambition!) I was now fulfilling my believed destiny of a stagnant life. The next thing that happened was the first in a long line of "impossible" events and that story will be part two which will be tomorrow's post.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Blog Reboot

 "Just another voice in a crowded room?" Those were the words I used when I began my blogging journey back on March 5th of 2010. I then went on to say who I was, why I wasn't just another voice, and that I hoped that in the following days, months, and hopefully years you would join me on my journey as a presenter, blogger, and all things between. It's been a while though, hasn't it?

My blog is now empty. The 1,400 posts of the past are now gone as this is a reboot which means I can't simply link back to a prior event to explain a concept. It's been almost five years since I wrote a blogpost and in that time I've grown to see things different so the way I may describe something now may have been drastically different to the ones I have done in the past.

My mission when I began blogging was one of, well, confusion. I didn't know if anyone would ever read a word I wrote, but the +700,000 reads I've had states to the fact that yes, people did read. I had amazing input, conversations, and comments from people from all parts of the globe and I look forward to reconnecting with everyone that was so loyal to this blog.

I'm excited! I could write paragraph after paragraph on all the exciting stories and experiences I've had the past five years, new insights, and the hope I have for the advancement of the level of understanding society as a whole has of the autism spectrum. 

As I wrote on my very first post this blog is not going to give medical advice. I won't tell you how to think or what is the best way of anything, and the opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. However, I hope to give you a glimpse at what goes on "on the other side of the wall" and the mechanics of behavior and the way they play out in my life. It's going to be a wonderful ride through all the ups and downs and thanks for being patient with me as it took a long while, but I have found my voice once more.