Tuesday, May 31, 2022

That GEICO Ad

I don't mean to give GEICO any more advertising, because it's hard to go a day without seeing an ad, but there's one ad that makes me, well, uncomfortable. Most of their ads are witty, but this one... this one makes me change the channel...




Talking about eye contact is difficult. Having an ad break the fourth wall and almost demand it? That's the stuff of advertising nightmares!

My day is spent attempting to avoid eye contact. I don't want a "moment" as this ad proudly states. My "moment" is spent with immense anxiety when eye contact is demanded. 

I realize eye contact is expected in situations and when it's absolutely required I can almost fake it until I make it. However, most of the time, eye contact gives me a feeling of unease throughout my body. Ever have a close call in a car? Or had a momentary sense of fear coming over the crest of a hill while driving and there's a highway patrolman in the median with a radar pointed in your direction? That rolling fear of pins and needles throughout the limbs is a great way to attempt to relate the anxiety experienced from eye contact.

I'm not calling for a boycott of GEICO, or super angry about this ad, but it's clear that there isn't an understanding about those that have aversion to eye contact. Even so, why would they? I can't fault them on this ad because, when I was a salesperson, I could make eye contact because I wasn't myself, I was almost like an actor playing a role, so it wasn't a personal experience. However, at the same time, this can be talked about in a blog post like this to start the discussion that eye contact isn't something to take for granted and for some of us, it can create a sense of pain.

If you see this ad on television, I'd like you to give it a thought and remember that, for most, eye contact is something easy and isn't even thought of. For others though, things that most take for granted are a challenge and to see it stated like it's just so easy, well, it can make the challenge all the more difficult.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Boy on the Rock


Sustained unusual repetitive actions... that's one of the frequent descriptors of behavior for those on the autism spectrum. When I present, I cover this topic and I say it may be unusual to you, but for us it may be the way we get though the day. 

Growing up, school was extremely difficult for me. It wasn't the material being taught that was difficult, but it was the daily grind of sensory bombardment and attempting to be a chameleon in a wild and hectic environment. The first couple of hours of school were manageable, but by noon I had a level of exhaustion that is near impossible to attempt to relate to you. I'll try, but it still won't be good enough.

At noon, each day, gravity felt heavier. The minutes of the day passed as slowly as a sloth on an intercontinental walking tour. The words spoken by the teacher and my peers took as long to process as it would to attempt to watch a video on YouTube on a 56k modem. With all this I was frustrated, exhausted, and I had no ability at this age to verbalize this to anyone. I didn't have many outlets to offset the weight of the day, but there was one. Yes, there was one and it was my first flag stand.

To my parents, the activity I took part in after school most certainly would've fallen into the category of a "sustained unusual repetitive action" because I'd go to the end of the neighborhood road and climb up on a rock with a checkered flag and wave the flag at cars driving by. Unbeknownst to those driving by, I was using a checkered flag given to me by Duane Sweeney. I can't believe my parents let me out of the house with such an impossible keepsake, but maybe they tried, and I went out anyway. 

There weren't many cars that would drive by. I could be standing on that rock waiting for the next car for a dozen minutes or more, but when that next car came, I gave it my best to look like Sweeney, or Ford (the NASCAR starter at the time), or I'd create my own style. 

The time in school may have been painfully slow, the time on the rock went by exceptionally quick. I was in a place that I felt calm, at peace, and the movement of my body moving the flag about relaxed me. At this age there would've been no way I could have spoken to my parents, or anyone for that matter, on just how important those hours of flag waving were. To be able to make it through as many hours of school the following day, I needed this sensory break/input that the isolation of the rock gave me, and the fun feeling of moving the flag through the air.

I doubt anyone could've predicted just where this sustained unusual repetitive action would take me. The hundreds, or rather thousands of hours of flag waving practice have made my flag waving style rather eye catching. Over the weekend, during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, many people took notice over the movements of my flags and there have been tens of thousands of social media views of my work. I too would never have expected this, but the story behind my start is so special. I know I have a special flair and my passion for motorsports is high, but the origin of my first flag stand and the reason why I did, and how it helped me get through the day so I could attempt to get through the next day of school is a story that should be known. 

Each of us on the autism spectrum may have a unique area of interest, or movement, or other motivator that helps us get through the day. The topic we talk about, or activity we partake in, may be done to the exclusion of everything else and may get, well, annoying for those around us. I would talk about racing and racing flags all the time. There was little else I'd discuss. When my family had enough of hearing about racing, I was out the door to let that flag fly high. And here's the thing; could anyone have predicted that the boy on the rock would go on to be in the flag stand of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? 

You may know someone that has the one-track mind like I did. It might be annoying now, but I hope you keep this story somewhere in your mind that someday that topic or activity may provide a chance or opportunity that could never have been imagined. I hope you remember that our strengths could be narrow (key thing to remember is "if you met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism") but do your best to let that strength flourish. I'm glad my parents did, because the world has now seen what that boy on the rock was capable of.


  

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

“Use Your Words”

I’m sitting at the restaurant counter as I write this on my phone. It’s an off day for me in Indianapolis after an intense two weeks. I’m exhausted, I’m worn out, and the last thing I need is to be told “use your words”.


After hotel breakfasts for so long I went to a restaurant for something a little, well, less healthy. It’s an off day, I’m entitled… anyway, I walk in and I’m not the most aware person right now. Imagine a person walking through a field of randomly placed mouse traps in a dense fog and that’s a bit of how timid I walking in. 

I get to the high counter and sit down. I glance at the menu to make sure I know the name of the combo I’m getting and just as I confirm and open my mouth I want to double check that I’m right so I hesitate. The waitress looks with a hint of disgust and says “C’mon, use your words”.

Use your words. Those three words are the epitome of making a person “think harder”. I was double checking to try and minimize a social situation and in turn I was given an even worse situation. The attempt to think harder is filled with angst and social failure. 

Attempting to think harder made me flip the menu over for no reason at all. Maybe it was attempting to figure out why I was wrong. Wrong? There was nothing to be wrong about but when thinking harder nothing seems right. 

At least a dozen awkward seconds passed before I got the ability to use words and get my order out. 

The waitress meant no ill-will by her choice of words. I understand that this phrase is often used in a time when a person is having a difficult time getting words out, but when there’s a reason, such as Asperger’s, as to why I’m having a bit of a hesitation getting words out, well, to put it mildly it hurts. 

My good couldn’t come soon enough as I felt rather small. The contrast between communicating with flags over the weekend for qualifying for the 106th Indianapolis 500 to this moment was as far as one could get. It’s aggravating for me to be able to do certain things way beyond what one would consider average, but when it comes to the everyday things such as ordering food, and having a high level of anxiety while do so, well, it’s the essence of living life on the autism spectrum.

The food was awesome, which I needed, and I had a momentary thought of advocating and stating what that phrase did to me, but their tea machine nozzle broke and there was a steady stream of fast moving tea flying up and then onto the floor. This wasn’t the time, but maybe through this story you will have a better understanding how something ordinary can have an impact for a person on the spectrum in an extraordinary way. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

An Amazing Weekend

You can’t fake passion… this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned and this weekend the fans in the stands at Indianapolis got to see my passion and the response on social media was, well, I never expected it. If those on the spectrum are given a chance to shine we may just shine brighter than imagined…

https://twitter.com/mthompson1567/status/1528056451683520512?s=21&t=Pu9GPYPBZLlCIBiVeL9wLA


Friday, May 20, 2022

The Struggle of Visible Ends

When I started writing Finding Kansas I had no intentions of writing a book. There was no visible destination and I was writing for the sake of writing without a defined end point. I’m currently working on a book chronicling all the adventures and misadventures getting to Indycar, and I’ve had the worst writer’s block in the world. 

This isn’t anything new for me. When I was in school, I struggled anytime I missed a couple days (which was frequent) and I had a back log of work to do. Seeing all the work that had to be done made it seem impossible that I would ever make it to completion.

Writing this current book has been so much fun. My strength is in storytelling and that book is one amazing story after another, and it’s written in chronological order and I’ve made it to 1999, but now I’m seeing the entire rest of the product at once. I’m seeing the stories I need to tell to build upon things already written and instead of seeing one word at a time, I’m trying to complete 70,000 words all at once. 

This has always been one of the more aggravating things I’ve experienced being on the autism spectrum. There is the ability to hyper-focus and get things done at a fast clip, but if an entire journey is seen at once it will appear as if the task at hand is so daunting that it isn’t even worth starting. 

I know the trip is worth it. I know the journey will be amazing, but if a book were a transcontinental trip I’m already worrying about the plains of Kansas before I’ve ever left New York City. 

I’ll get rolling again, sometime, because this story has to be told. When I get the motivation I hope I don’t quickly burnout on seeing everything at once instead of taking it one step at a time. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Six years since the best day

Six years ago today I got to flag a day of practice for the Indianapolis 500. I think it’ll be unique for you to read what I wrote about that day as, when I wrote it, I never thought I’d be there again…



So last Friday I wrote a humble blog on the road it took to get to Indy and all the factors and people that helped along the way. The thing is, though, that I got many messages saying, “Aaron, come on, tell us what it was really like as the story is such an inspiration.” So here goes, what the day really was like and what it meant.


I did a national speaking tour in 2012 and on the way to New York City my friend and codriver on the journey, Rob, stopped at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and did the grounds tour. On that tour the tour bus will stop at the famous yard of bricks and everyone gets out and it’s a high quality photo op. On this trip I didn’t look down at the yard of bricks but rather up at the stand and I told Rob, “Someday. Rob, someday I’m going to be in that stand!” Everyone has dream, and that dream was lofty, but when a dream comes true, well, that’s exactly what happened on Thursday.


The previous two days I had been working the Purdue/USAC EVGP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and as mentioned in Friday’s blog, I was asked if I had ever been in the stand while the track was hot. The answer was no and I was told there may be a chance the following day and I should await a text message. The message never came and going to sleep last Wednesday was not easy because I had been told I may be allowed to stand in what I consider to be the most sacred of flagging offices in all the world.


I awoke early and checked my phone… Nothing. “He’s extremely busy” I told myself and I waited, but still no message came. Practice started at noon at it was now 11 so I decided to go to Noble Roman’s on 10th St which is near the track to position myself to either make the long drive back to Saint Louis or make the short and glorious drive to the corners of 16th and Georgetown and as much as I love the breadsticks there each passing minute raised and frayed my nerves.


What to do? I didn’t want to pester this track official as that’s the last thing I wanted, but still he said he’d get back to me so for once in my life I went out on a limb and I sent a text indicating I didn’t want to pester but I was just so excited. As busy as he was he got back with me within 30 seconds and I was out the door of that Noble Roman’s and started the most fantastic drive to the track. I was on the road I essentially grew up on and I thought back to 25 years ago growing up and never could I have imagined that the dream I had of being in the flag stand during the month of May was about to come true!


I reported to the credential office and it was all taken care of and I was given a silver badge and then a lady came in and shouted my name and if I was in the room. I was, I said, “hello” and the next 15 minutes was a blur as we walked through some offices, got on a golf cart, and made our way into the infield with the sound of Indycars doing 225mph on the track as the soundtrack to this adventure.


She handed me over to the track official as he finished an interview and then it was another blur as I was introduced to various people, so many that I don’t fully recall, but I got a quick tour of the impressive race control room and then it was time! It was a walk I had envisioned when I first waived a flag at the track in the infield for practice when my dad took me in 1988. It was a walk I envisioned the first time I assisted Frankie in 1995 at the SLKA, and when I picked up SKUSA and USAC it was a walk that, albeit seemed like a mirage and an unobtainable accomplishment, the unobtainable was now being experienced as we walked from the pagoda down the tunnel and towards that most sacred of places; the flagstand of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


On the walk the conversation was very much relaxed all things considered. We talked about dreams, autism, and how excited I was. It was also an honor, and I mean that in the truest of words, that this man would take so much time out of his day to make this happen for me.


Out of the tunnel and now we were approaching the stand. He asked me if I wanted to go first and I said, “After you” as I was now soaking it in. This was it! The moment I waited for my entire life and the 21 years of having flags in hand at tracks around the country was now about to equate into an experience few have ever had. First though, I had to negotiate the tricky ladder which if you have a fear of heights you’d hate this ladder and if you don’t have a fear of heights you’ll develop one quickly.


I made my way up and as I did a yellow for a track inspection was called which allowed everyone in the stand to get introduced to me and a couple group photos were taken. Was I nervous in all this? Ha! The photo with the Sunoco checkered was about the trickiest photo I’ve ever taken. I know how to hold a flag for a photo, well, I typically do but I just couldn’t find the corner to display it right. Andrew, the other starter for the day, assisted me and I felt so bad that I couldn’t grip a corner of a flag rightly, but the excitement pulsing through my body made that task rather difficult. Oh, and clipping on the wired radio to my belt… That too was something that had to have those in the stand thinking, “Who is this and why is he here?”


The track was about to back to green and Andrew handed me the green and immediately the nerves went away. When time was right I gave a fierce wave so all in the pits could see even though they have radio communications and as the cars that went on track came around I gave a classy green. I didn’t go all out because that would be out of place for practice, but there was still style to it even though yeah, I wanted to give it my all as if it were the final restart for the Indy 500, but I can contain myself. The style was still good enough to catch the attention of race control which made mention of it after they identified that there was a guest in the stand.


After that I was all business and I barely moved during green flag conditions as I watched each car that went by eyeing for any possible debris. During yellow periods I’d converse and the flag stand observer in the tower, middle in the group photo, actually remembered me from 1996! That also eased the nerves but again, each time the track was under green conditions I stood there in my spot at attention as if I belonged because… I did.


Time flew by. Race control radioed, “three hours remain” and the next thing I know, “one hour remains.” No! What’s happening?! Time flew and I have been asked if I got to “soak it in” which I didn’t because it was so natural being up there. In all the videos that are out there I look as if I’ve been in that stand my whole life which in my imagination I have been, but as 6:00 came and the call for checkered came along with it the three cars on track came off of four and I gave another classy display of the flag and as they passed I froze with the flag and the wind made it look even better as the checkered danced in the wind. Freezing is, if starters have a signature move, is mine but I froze for another reason because that moment in time I wanted to live in forever. It’s been a rough two months for me and I never needed something more than this chance to live out a dream and as several seconds passed I turned towards the other two and started rolling up the checkered. The dream day, the day I waited for my entire life and was sure I’d never get to experience, was now over which is almost as bad as never thinking you’d get to do it in the first place.


The walk back to my car was… It was odd. On one hand I walked with confidence as I had been a very small part of the month of May at Indy. I called my dad to tell him just how awesome it was but then I got a call from the track official that made this all happen. I quickly switched over and he wanted to see me before I left and thankfully I was parked right by his office.




He came out of the office and I was beaming ear to ear with a smile and when he asked me, “How was it?” the answer was obvious and I said, “Thank you for the best day of my life!” There was no exaggeration or embellishment in that and I’ve never been more thankful to another person than I was right then and there. How often does one get to live out a dream? I did and I can try and describe what it is like in having Indycars zoom past at 225+mph, or the way a pack of cars and the air can shake the stand, or what it is like seeing yourself on the gigantic video screens, or what it is like in working so hard for so long and having it pay off, but no matter what as great of a writer as I am I’d never give it justice. Only one person will ever truly know the words or the lack thereof because it was in my smile, a smile decades in the making.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A random act of kindness

It was odd. Within two hours of finishing yesterday’s blog about wanting to avoid people, I had an encounter that showed people are kind of awesome. 

I’m up in Indianapolis for the month of May leading up to the Indianapolis 500 and have been staying at a hotel. I needed some supplies and food so I drove to a grocery store. While there, I still had it in my mind to avoid people and did my best to achieve it. 

I found what I needed and proceeded to the checkout. Sadly, the self-checkouts were closed so I had to go to the ones with the cashiers. Strangely, and prophetically, I thought back to when I started my blog originally in 2010 and all the supermarket blog posts I had. Truly, if I wanted something to write about all I had to do was go to a grocery store. This was going to be no exception. 

There was a lady in front of me so I put my four items on the conveyor belt and waited. The lady hadn’t put her credit card in the reader, but the cashier started scanning my items. I panicked, worried about a social situation and I felt bad for the cashier as she was going to have to deal with a potentially angry customer because my items were now on her tab, but my items were bagged and then the lady paid. 

What was going on? I had the most dumbfounded look on my face wondering what to do  the cashier then turned to me and said, “she paid for it. You’re okay.” Paid for it? Why? Who does that? I didn’t know what to do or say so I did nothing. I couldn’t move or speak because I didn’t know what to do.

I stayed that way for 30 seconds because I didn’t know how to say thank you. The lady never looked my way so I didn’t get a chance to speak, but I also felt like it was some sort of crime going through the checkout aisle and not paying for anything.

The lady quickly disappeared while I was still frozen and looking at the cashier wondering what to do. She reiterated, “it’s fine, you’re items are paid for.” Eventually I did take the bag and felt kind of bad. While I was filled with gratitude, I couldn’t react and thank her. That’s what this post is, though. Nice deeds are awesome, even though a person may not be able to react, and from wanting to be isolated earlier in the day she showed me that people can be totally awesome.


Monday, May 16, 2022

The Attempt to Be Alone

I had an off day today and am trying to find a balance between work and self. I've been awful at this as of late, and I think it's a bit due to languish, but I fought off the feeling that leaving the hotel was an impossible feat and off to a golf course I went.

The morning was perfect, and I was grateful I made it out for something that wasn't work related. Nearing the course, though, my anxiety started to rise. It's been awful for about the past year, this feeling of anxiety when I want to golf. I enjoy playing, but there is such a fear of any socializing at a course. I've always had this, but it's at a fever pitch now. So many other enjoy playing golf as a socializing game, but when I go, I want to be as alone as possible as if I were on a deserted island.

When I arrived, the course was primarily empty. This was great! I was going to get the isolation I was seeking. However, half the course was closed for some agriculture work, so a full round would consist of the same half the course played twice.

I flew through nine holes, and loved it, but as the halfway point was met and I went to continue, there were now many people awaiting to start. This would potentially put me in a socializing situation. I sat there and stared, then I worried, and then I decided my day was over at the course. Leaving, however, would put me into the social situation I didn't want.

As I parked the golf cart in the return area, a lady in a cart said she could drive me to my car. I declined and said that my car was just seven cars away so I could walk. She, who was an employee of the course, said, "didn't you pay for 18 holes?" She knew I had only done nine, and I replied, "Yeah, but it's too crowded now, it's okay." She then gave a lecture on the rain-check policy which kept going on and on. I was okay with leaving then to avoid a social situation which now I was in the midst of without the ability to escape.

Ability to escape... that's such a dramatic use of words, but that's what it feels like. I was disappointed in myself that people on a golf course is such an intimidating event, but it is, and I had to leave, but I didn't want to explain this in full to the lady trying to be of assistance. Truly, she was trying to be nice, but I saw her as an ongoing source of pain. The same way I have a hard time understanding others so too would another person have no idea how trying to help is creating a burning sense of pain.

It just kept going on and on, as she tried to convince me to go inside to get a rain check. I eventually got to the point of saying, "I'm leaving" and so I did without another word. It was uncomfortable, and the experience did not lead to me having the time of rejuvenation that I desired, but it did give me something to write about. 

I'm hoping I find the ability to go out again when I have the downtime. I need the balance, but how do I get over the fear of the random social encounter? Why is it getting worse? How will I conquer this? I hope to find an answer and when I do I most certainly will let you know. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Hello from my office at the Speedway

 The month of May at Indy starts now. I’ll be waving the flags for tomorrow’s NTT INDYCAR Series race. It’ll be on NBC tomorrow!






Thursday, May 12, 2022

“So what about the eye brows?”

On Sunday there was an advertisement for Klondike bars and the eternal ads of, “what would you do…” It was a good bit as they track down people that tweeted what they would do for one, and put them to the test to see if they’d do it. Well, there was this one that said they’d shave their eye brows and my girlfriend said, “No!” to which I stated at the screen and said, “what’s so bad about that?”

It was unique to have two completely opposite reactions to the same event. My girlfriend, I think, could almost feel the loss of the eye brows as they were shaved off, and I stared blankly having no response. I mean, why is it bad to lose an eye brow? Working outside the sweat would surely get annoying, but why would or should there be any emotional response to losing something that just provides a function of blocking sweat?

As I questioned this, and my girlfriend mentioned that the person on the screen would “look weird” until it grew back, it finally dawned on me as to why we had such a different response. You see, I do everything I can to avoid looking at a person’s face. I shy away from eye contact therefore, naturally, I don’t typically notice things like eye brows. Whether they’re there or not, odds are I won’t take notice of their existence.

I’m confident in saying that the ad agency that made this ad had no intention of creating an ad that led to such an interesting discovery and conversation, but they certainly did so. It was great being able to have a conversation that led to discovery for myself and for my girlfriend. I’ll be curious to pay attention to more advertisements to see if there are other ads that may have a message that may not fully be understood like the Klondike ad and if so, what could be learned from them?

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Toca Race Driver 2



On January 8th, 2005 I started the "All Series Championship" on the Xbox game of Toca Race Driver 2. I've written about that game several times on how it greatly aided my ability to speak and have conversations but in all of the times I've written on this topic I never have written that I wrote about that game.

Toca Race driver 2 came out in April of 2004 and the competition was thrilling at the start. To this day this game, along with its sequel, Toca Race Driver 3, remain my favorite console racing games of all time. However, as with most games, the user base begins to dwindle as time goes on. Full grids started to become scarce and just getting a room going with more than five other racers proved to be a challenge. That said I had to do something that brought back the notable names, the racers that challenged me, so to do so I started a league that would go through each championship the game offered and I also came up with a point system to determine the overall champion.

In that first week the races were awesome. It was great once again battling hard for victories, but now it was even sweeter with the point system that I created. However, I realized I had to do something more than just offer a series as anyone can do that. What could I do that would make people want to come back the next week? My answer was to write a recap of the day's action. But, I couldn't just say that driver X won race Y and has a 10 point lead over driver Z. Nope, that just wouldn't do. I'd have to write it as if these races were on par with the Indy 500, or the Grand Prix of Monaco, or the Daytona 500.

When the final race of that first week was over, which I'd say we raced for about 90 minutes, I assembled the score sheets and headed to the computer to write about the day's action. This, at that very moment, would be the first time I wrote willfully with no assignment being given, no due date, and no reason except to do it. Well, I guess I had a reason and the motivation was to keep the great racers interested in the game. 

I spent about as much time writing as I had racing and when I was done I uploaded the post race report to the Xbox.com Toca forums and the write-ups were a hit. Week after week drivers would ask if a certain moment would make it into the race recap reports. The goal I had set out to accomplish had succeeded.

Now why am I writing about a game and the write-ups I did a 17 years ago? I do credit February 8th as being the first time I wrote, and it would be the first time I wrote on the emotional level, but the writings I did on Toca gave me confidence that I was able to write. Had I not been spending the hours I put in to write the race recaps I don't know if I would have started writing about myself on the emotional level. There was a big difference there; with Toca I was writing about facts and points and passes. That was easy for me as I was motivated because I wanted to keep the game alive. Would I have invested the same amount of time on any other topic? Ha! Absolutely without any doubt in my mind the answer is the biggest no possible. With that, this is why I stress to teachers the point of needing to start from within Kansas and expand outward. 

It was a total of five weekends of writing recaps before I would sit down at my computer, in the still of the midnight hour, and write about myself rather than an online race. With each week I became more and more confident and eventually it spilled over and allowed me to write about myself. It's odd to think of how seeds in our lives get planted and that hobbies, events, chance meetings, a word of encouragement, or any random event can lead to another thing that puts a person on the road to something else. For myself, that's what Toca 2 was. I loved that game so much and the competition that I was willing to write to keep the fast people on the game. That's saying something because before that, as I would say, "writing is the most awful, painful thing imaginable!" It's amazing how things change and that change began with this game 18 years ago. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

It's the Textures!

My tastebuds are recovering, and I've got a bit of my taste and smell back, but two days ago when I had neither was one of the most surreal days of my life. 

I've been hypersensitive with those two senses my entire life. If there's a pungent smell around, I'll be the first to smell it and all my attention will be on it. Focusing outwardly won't occur until the smell is gone. As for tastes, that too has been a challenge my entire life and I've been one of the pickiest eaters anyone in my family has known. However, I always thought it was about the taste, but losing the sense of taste shed some light as to what was really going on.

It was odd debating what I was going to eat on Sunday because taste was not a factor. Why was I saying "no" to some things? It didn't make much sense, but my tendencies were to get what I had always got. When I tried a couple new things there was one thing I enjoyed and one thing that made me have a snap "no" response. No? How? If taste isn't a thing what caused it? It was the textures of the food.

I wish I would've been able to verbalize this as a child, or even a dozen years ago. When I don't like a food, it isn't so much the taste but rather it is primarily the texture of it. It does make sense though, now that I've experienced it, that since certain fabrics gives me a negative reaction to my skin it would make sense that certain food textures would have a similar reaction.

Having those words and understanding as a child would've made a gigantic difference. "But it tastes like your favorite..." was a common sentence opening, but when one is just looking at it from a taste perspective and not a texture perspective there is no chance for understanding.

I'm anxious for my smell and taste to return. I always said I wanted a filter but after experiencing a full filter on those senses, I never want to go back. It can be distracting at times to be hypersensitive, but that's what makes me who I am, and I would much rather live life unfiltered than to have a muted sensory system that provides a filter.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Having Covid

I had what I thought were allergies on Tuesday of last week that persisted through the week. I took s COVID-19 test on Thursday and was negative, but at the advice of my INDYCAR supervisor, I retested late Friday and the second line appeared. It was positive. I had covid.

It was a long weekend, and Saturday was one of the longest days of my life. The worst part for me has been a completely different set of emotional responses to things. It's hard to explain and living in the moment of still having it has made it difficult to write about. More on this in coming days.

My taste and smell are gone, this too will be written about in a later post. The reason for the brief post today is that setup has begun for this weekend's INDYCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I should be there, right now, helping setup and yet I'm home, in my basement, with the lights off because light hurts. 

The fear of not being in the stand for Saturday's race is immense. It's even more fear inducing thinking on what would happen if this is a long term covid case. What if I miss the entire month? I know, I should be focused on my health, but the Speedway in May is the highest of all my Kansas's, it's everything to me, and now I must wait and hope my immune system and full vaccinations take care of it and I'm ready to go as soon as I can. 

Being powerless is something I'm not good at being, but all I can do right now is to do nothing and rest.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Reason I Wrote

A common question I get at presentations is, "Why did you start to write in the first place?" This post will be the written answer to that question.


When I answer this question, I start by stating that there was no noble cause in the genesis of my writing. I didn’t seek out a book and I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m an author by accident. In fact, writing was one of my least favorite things in the entire world to do. However, I got my Asperger’s diagnosis in December of 2003 and there wasn’t much information about it back then like there is now. My doctor didn’t know what to make of it and told me, “Good luck” so I had to look it up on the internet where I found the worst information possible and sadly, I believed it. At the same time my racing career was falling apart, and I lost the only girlfriend I had ever had up to that point. My life, despite the answers I finally had as to why I am the way I am, was in shambles and quickly getting worse.

There was a period of hideous stagnation as I stayed in a state of supreme depression for 15 months. The ill-feelings toward myself and the misunderstanding the world had about Asperger’s grew and grew and I had no outlet except to stay silent and feel miserable. This went on until one evening in February 2005, just past midnight, I decided I had to write about the relationship that fell apart but not just write about the relationship in a narrative but write about the mechanics in play. If anything, I was writing as a way to justify my actions and to explain to her should she ever read it which I doubt she would but I had to get the words out.

I ended the last paragraph with a major phrase of, “get the words out”. I always had emotions but lacked the ability to fully express them. If you asked me anything remotely close to requiring an emotional response you’d get a generic answer of, “I don’t know.” Did I know? Most of the time yes, sometimes I truly didn’t know, but when I knew I still was unable to put it into words and get over the fear of speaking about emotions. This is what writing allowed me to do; it bypassed the need to process and bypassed the instant reaction from the person I was speaking to.

The weeks went on and I started coming up with concepts. This was shocking to me as I never had come up with something new much less coming up with a way to describe the mechanics behind the reasons why I do what I do but these concepts, be it Kansas or Film Theory or Alias, would just all of a sudden appear in my head. There was no conscious thought to these concepts and there was nothing one second and the next BAM! There was a concept and then I’d rush to the computer to write a chapter.

Again, through the whole book writing process, I wasn’t intending on any accolades or anything to come of it as I was writing as a way to express myself. I said there was nothing noble in it but then, perhaps, that’s what in the end makes this noble because I wasn’t seeking out a job, a career, or a passion but a way for someone, anyone, to understand me. I felt alone, isolated, and misunderstood and I wanted above anything else for just an ounce more of understanding.

To this day I still write from that same voice; that voice of wanting understanding. Writing now is different than it was when I began in 2005 and I know things in my style have changed from my blog posts in 2010 to today. The voice though… the voice is still the same and maybe it isn’t all that unique because everyone probably has that voice that they had when they were younger seeing the big world outside and fearing it; fearing being misunderstood; fearing not fitting in and most of all fearing a life of solitude wanting nothing more than to be a part of the world. Maybe most lose that part, but I still feel it, I still have those fears and that’s why I continue to write because even with the million or so words I’ve written across all the things I’ve done the goal is still the same, the fears are the same, and this is still the best way to express who I am and why I am.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Dreaming of Locations Afar

People are coming, people are going. I've heard four different languages in just the past minute. I'm sitting in one of my happiest places on Earth, an international terminal at an airport. 

Across from me is a flight to England. Down towards gate F1 is a flight going to Amsterdam. I was on that flight seven years ago during a life changing time. At the gate I write this is a cargo plane getting loaded and about to head towards Seoul. 

I walked past the duty-free shop which sells perfume, and it seems every international terminal smells the same, and that smell brings a smile to my face. I remember all my previous adventures in the air and abroad. 

It's odd I love travel so much seeing that I'm a stickler for routine and sameness. When it comes to travel nothing remains the same. However, if something is always changing does this mean that within itself means there isn't change? 

When traveling there's always that edge of unknown, which I love. Reading this it might be hard for you to believe that, while jumping on any of these planes would be easy for me, the flight home and the need to get a new cell phone terrifies me. 

This is the unique peaks and valleys of the autism spectrum. The first four paragraphs of this would make me seem like an adventurer akin to Indiana Jones and yet the everyday stuff of life is difficult for me. This has been such a hard thing to relay through words and presentations because I understand the difficulty in understanding this dual being of sorts.

A passenger is being paged over the PA. It would be unfortunate to miss a flight, much less one going to Paris. I've only been to the airport, and I do have a trip there planned in about 260 or so days, but that is so long away. I wonder what types of lives, and stories those getting on the planes have. Just now a Virgin Atlantic plane has arrived, and I wonder where those that will get off the plane have come from and what type of travel adventures they had or will have here. It may be a bit still, but that'll be me sooner than I know it. I'm blessed to get to travel around the US working races, but the travel bug is a real one and I want to once again experience the smell of the air in a town I've never been. I want to experience an airport delay leaving a country that allows me to have an experience I'd otherwise not have. I can't wait for that day, and sometime, hopefully soon, that'll be me boarding one of these planes here.


Monday, May 2, 2022

The Process to Acceptance

April is over so the ribbons will disappear, news stories will stop, and for a big chunk of society the terminology of the autism spectrum may not be heard until April 2023. The words may be spoken around them, and there may be a single news story they see, but they won't hear it in the ways I see the pathway to acceptance.

A decade ago, we said "Autism Awareness" month. Some are now against that word of awareness, and I can respect their reasons, but we had to start there. I tend to take words on a more literal level so before one can accept something they must first be aware of it. When I was born in 1983 there was zero awareness as the rate of autism was somewhere around 1 in 1500. I wasn't aware of the autism spectrum and what Asperger's meant and neither was my doctor back in 2003 so that led to a horrible introduction to the autism spectrum. Even in 2009 there was a long way to go to garner the level of awareness we needed because, and I remember this vividly at a GameStop when I told someone I had Asperger's, they said, "Wait, did you say you ate a hamburger?" Sad, but true.

The word used now is that we've gone from awareness to acceptance. Other advocates look at this from an angle that over usage of autism awareness will lead to the problem of typical stereotypes and that it could create a perception that we are a mystery to be solved. I agree with this because a blanket statement will completely disregard the "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." However, and this is the way I see words, the word acceptance makes me a tad bit uneasy. Why? First, go back to the night of my diagnosis; I've told this story 1,000 times and I'll probably share it 10,000 more times in that the doctor told me "good luck" and a website said that I would, "never have a job, friends, or be happy." I accepted this life sentence of misery. In the original manuscript of Finding Kansas, I used that exact word usage that I accepted this sentence. 

Secondly, the word makes me worry as to parts of the world that are lacking in the awareness area. How can one properly accept something that isn't known whatsoever? If proper awareness is given without blanket statements that speak for all then the pathway to acceptance can happen. However, there's a word I'd like to see used over each of those words and that word is understanding.

In the first generation of my, my motto was "understanding is the foundation for hope." Perhaps understanding and acceptance are part of the same family but, if we are looking at the literal way words would work and the steps it would take, it would go like, "We need awareness to build understanding to gain full acceptance." 

I don't think we are anywhere near the point of a world where we can say without hesitation that we have acceptance in all corners of society. I firmly believe we can get there, but until there's a full representation of the autism spectrum in writings, and in media portrayals, how can the person I started this post by mentioning, the person that hears about autism once a year, how can they possibly understand and then accept? Of everyone in society they are the ones that need to know the most. One random encounter can cause a short term, or perhaps a lifelong fear of others. And what if they're an authority figure. A teacher? A police officer? A doctor?

We can get to the world we need to be and whatever word someone wants to use, well, I think it depends on what the level of knowledge around them is. I hope we can drop the word awareness soon, and then focus on autism understanding, so there's full acceptance of autism so those on the spectrum can go through life in school, at work, with friends and family, and have whatever growth they'd like to have in life without the constant frustrations of a world that has no acceptance or understanding.