Thursday, June 30, 2022

Why Finding Kansas


It's odd to start a blog with a picture but in this instance in is right to do so. Also, there's a saying that a picture is worth a 1,000 words and perhaps this is true and in this photo what do you see? Small town America? Signs of winter? Fields that will be harvested? Those might be what do come to mind but for myself, well, right there in that picture is the birth of Kansas.

Before I go further this blog post should not be confused with the literal history of Kansas. However, with my definition of it, that field is where it all began almost a full decade ago and I haven't been back since until Monday when I drove through Carrollton.

Carrollton? Kansas? What? This place, Carrollton, isn't in Kansas at all but actually, oh, about 60 miles from the Kansas border. Also, you're wondering what a random field has to be with anything, right? This field wasn't a field at all a decade ago but rather a kart track and a difficult one as well and in April of 2006 the 2nd round of the Central States Super Series took place there. I was the race director and flagman of the series and, well, when we arrived in Carrollton I was hoping to have just a bit more confidence in my directing abilities than what I showed a month prior outside Quincy, Illinois. This wasn't to say it was awful, but when a driver's meeting goes 25 minutes and consists mainly of "ums" and "uhs" there is certainly room for improvement.

I was 23 when this race weekend happened and that's young for one to be race directing. I had been writing off and on for over a year but there wasn't something that tied it all together. Then, this weekend happened, and my life would never be the same.

With that bit more confidence I was a bit more social in my duties. During practice I worked the pits where I also had access to the flags and between sessions I conversed with many of the drivers and families. There were two drivers that each time they'd come up we'd talk about racing history, karting, and unless you enjoyed motorsports I can all but assure you that you'd have been hideously bored. Myself though, this was awesome! 

The following day, race day came, and there was a possibility of some rain and one family wanted me to cut laps to assure a dry race but in the sport of karting racing in the rain is a part of the beast so I made no change in the day's schedule and I actually got protested! Since I was the one to review protests the protest, naturally, was denied but I couldn't believe that shy, quiet, and as meek as I was I was able to handle the previous day's conversations and now a tense situation with ease. This was not normal for me. What was going on?

When the race day came to an end and the final checkered flag flew it was as if a switch flipped. I was unaware of it at the time or the mechanics behind it, but those two drivers from the day before tried to continue the conversation but I was having none of it. Gone was the confident race director and replaced was my seemingly normal self. I did everything I could to escape that conversation situation and one of the drivers, and I'm sure he wasn't trying to be mean, looked at me and said, "are you sure you're that same guy we were talking to yesterday?" Those words pierced me to my core as I wanted to be that same person, but I couldn't and I didn't know why.

The drive home that night with Greg, and Gary was one of deep reflection and then it was interrupted with a bang as we got a flat tire in Kingdom City. We were at the Petro station off of I-70 there at the Fulton exit and while the two of them were trying to find a replacement tire I started piecing together the process of events; what happened during the weekend? Why was I able to be so... normal and then not be? It was as if I had visited this perfect place and then it vanished. But what changed? What made the difference? And how could I explain it? 

When we finally got back on the road it was now almost midnight and it would be 1:45AM when I would walk into home but my day was not over because I had to write about this as I knew I was on to something. The chapter title that came to mind was "Situational Handicap" and that title remains the chapter title but the concept within is the important matter and that was Carrollton. Yes, it was originally going to be the concept of "Finding Carrollton" as on our race schedule to not confuse those that had no idea where that town was we called in Kansas City on the schedule. I quickly realize that Carrollton was obscure, and also a pain to type, so I went with Kansas City, That sounded awkward so I dropped the "City" and gazed upon my computer monitor and what had become THE concept of the book and as I printed out the chapter for my dad to read the following day I knew I had a title of a book and a chapter that tied everything together. 

I don't know if I'd ever have recognized the concept of Kansas without that race weekend and as I took that picture tears came to my face because what was once a kart track is no more and nary a trace is there to ever show that it was. For those that drive up US Highway 65 it's just a barren plot of land on the outskirts of a town, but I know that time, and any time in the future I drive past there, it will be emotional because that's where this all began.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The mistiming caused by processing

Conversations are much like a dance in my eyes. There are steps, movements, pauses, and from my vantage point it seems everyone has this ability to all hear the same rhythm while I’m trying to figure out the simple beat. One of the causes of this is the processing it takes to understand what has been said. 

At times, people take processing delays as a person being either slow or uninterested. Both are false as I’m actually too fast in processing as I’m calculating all the possible reasons what was said was said, all the possible responses I could give, and all the possible responses the person will have to my response. In other words, I’m trying to calculate the incalculable.

One of the impacts this has is that I can create a continuation of a conversation from hours, or maybe even days before. The other person may have moved on, or may not even remember the conversation the way I do and where it was left off. Furthermore, when I come up with what I need to say, it’s almost impossible to delay because it’s already been so long.

Our timing in conversations can be off, but it isn’t a case of being disinterested. I’m so interested in what was going on I’m willing to interrupt what you’re doing right now, and what you’re doing may be important, but when I finally have a response it just has to be said.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Relatable Respect


About six years ago I had a coworker tell me something shocking. Well, it wasn’t exactly telling me, but it was somewhat angry. She had told a story in a conversation and looked for me to respond and I did so by relating it to a story experience I had. She didn’t like this and said, “Oh great, another Aaron story.” This has troubled me for six years and I’ve noticed I often will give a story that allows me to relate to others while in conversation. Each time this happens, after the fact, I realize I did what made my coworker mad and then I feel bad. That is until I realized why I do this.

At first, it’ll seem as if I’m trying to one-up what I just heard. That’s what the coworker thought, but this isn’t what is going on at all. I understand why it looks like this because a person will tell a story, and I correlate it to something I’ve come across. Why is this? While it does appear I’m am being egotistical, I’m actually showing respect by relating it to a story. How so?

Being on the autism spectrum creates the challenge of shared interests and understanding another person’s point of view. If I hear a story from another and I don’t share something, that means I don’t have a way to relate it to something I understand. I can’t simply create a sense of empathy or grasp the emotion without experiencing first. What this means is that, by relating it to something I know, I’m letting the other person know two things; first is that I do have some understanding of what was said, but secondly (and this is what I realized this weekend) I’m showing respect because I heard what was said, understood what was said, and by relating what was said I’m showing interest even though I referenced something I knew.

Being on the other side of this must be confusing. Someone else can say a story only to be met with a snippet of a story or a reference to something in the past. I do see how it could get annoying or frustrating and this is why “understanding is the foundation for hope”. I learn new things every week and this is one of them. It bothered me to be spoken to in that tone all those years ago, but I didn’t understand why I referenced back to something, but I’m glad to know this now. I’m glad that I can advocate if someone is confused as to why it always seems I’m talking about myself, but in reality, I’m trying to show I understand the best I can. It might not be the most traditional of ways, but I now know why I do this and I’ll no longer have a sense of shame after a conversation like I’ve had.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Adventures of Young Aaron Likens and The Wonderful Hall of Stairs

There was an event in my life that I had fully forgotten about until I looked at my notes from presentations past. This story was from a police officer who had received an odd call back in 2011.

One morning at around 5:30AM a three-year-old got on a bus with a line of people. The bus went several blocks and then the driver came on the intercom and said, "Would the parent of the child in the aisle please show the child a seat." After a few moments no one claimed the child and the police were called.

The bus remained parked, and the riders tried to remember where the child got on. The child was fully non-verbal and had autism. This turned into a great mystery as to where the child came from, how he got on the bus, and why his parents allowed such a thing to even happen.

Instantly the officers were prepared for a neglect case, but before they got to that point they had to figure out where the child came from. So, from starting where the bus was parked and working backwards on the bus route, they went door to door as dawn was just breaking. There were some angry sleepers that got woken up, but eventually one person said that they thought that the child lived in an apartment above a store.

The police went there, and this officer was ready to let the parents have it, but as they knocked on the door, they heard sobbing. The door opened and the mother was very much relieved that her child had been found. The officer noted that there were multiple locks on the door and a child barrier that the child managed to climb over to get out.

Why is this story relevant? Well, for one, it shows that toddlers on the spectrum are very good problem solvers, and this child did what the parents thought was impossible. But secondly, it conjured up a memory from when I was about two-and-a-half years old.

I remember this vividly. One of my favorite things to do an that age was to slid down the stairs on my rear. If awareness had been what it is today it surely would have been a red flag that I was on the spectrum because I would do this non-stop for hours on end. When I did this there usually was adult supervision because, well, intentionally sliding down stairs isn't the safest of hobbies to have.

One evening the door to the "Hall of Stairs" was locked. It was actually doubly locked with the door know being locked as well as a chain lock. I was still very young and I was not that tall so reaching both locks proved to be a challenge. However, I was very determined because I wanted to go down the stairs and these locks had to be picked. I remember staring up at them with confusion and I tried jumping to unlock them, but I was still way short. Then I had an idea.

I walked to my room where I had a small, plastic indoor slide. It was something like I this picture,  but I remember it being yellow. Since it was smaller, and plastic, I was able to move it and I began the trek of moving it to the basement door where the wonderful hall of stairs sat waiting for me to fly down them.

Why did nobody see me move this slide? This I don't recall, but I remember it didn't take me that long to slowly move this slide down the long hallway. Once I made it I looked down both ways of this hall to make sure no one was looking and I climbed up and I defeated both locks.

Once the locks were out of the way, I went about and turned the knob to open the door. I was as happy as I could be because, for one, I had solved a big problem and I felt like there were no boundaries that could fence me in, and secondly, and more importantly, it was time to go down the stairs.

Before I went down the first time I had an idea. I usually started down the stairs slowly because it took a while for gravity to kick in and get me going fast down the carpeted stairs. How could I go faster? Well, I had brought a slide from my room so I looked at the slide, looked at the stairs, then looked at the slide and I knew paradise was just one slide away.

In my police presentations I state that people on the spectrum can make bad judgments and can have a disregard to danger. This also could probably be said for most two-year-olds, and on this night I turned my slide where I would slide down the stairs. Once this was done, I climbed atop the slide and looked at the set of at 14 stairs and, without fear, I slid down.

There's a reason why my parents always started me out slow down the stairs when I would slide and that is because if one goes to fast control is lost and one can start to tumble. Going down this small slide gave me a faster start, but since I didn't hit the first step flush I ended up tumbling and all I remember from the rest of this excursion down the stairs is that it hurt greatly.

Nothing was broken and I learned my lesson after that, but this is a great example of just how fast a person on the spectrum can get something down. From the point in time I decided I wanted to bypass the locks to going down the slide had to be less than five minutes. On top of that, who would have figured that a child would be able to undo the lock that was at least twice my height? One skill that I have heard a lot from parents, and using my own example, we can be very good problem solvers and what you may think is child proof is just a puzzle that we are going to solve. And once we do, well, it may prove to be as exciting as an Indiana Jones movies as we try our hand at some wacky stunt. In my example I learned that stairs are not something to play around on after my tumble down them.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Ghosts of Places Past

Driving across Iowa today I came across the exit for the Amana Colonies. Growing up, vacation for us usually involved the long drive from Indianapolis to the panhandle of Nebraska and when we didn't do the drive in one day, the hotel stop was this exit. 

It had probably been 30 years since I stayed at what was a Holiday Inn. When I got on the off-ramp there were faded signs for a waterpark that was what the hotel was now, or rather had been.

Time does strange things to memories. I vividly remember the inside of this hotel, and the swimming pool, and the fact that this was the only place I ever saw the game Arkanoid. There was also the visit of 1991 when I took a nap somewhere in Illinois and woke up at the hotel. When I awoke, I had a sore throat and quickly developed a fever. It was within an hour or so we were en route back to Iowa City to visit a hospital where it was found I had an acute case of strep throat. After that night it took me a long time to not equate naps to becoming sick.

This flood of memories continued on as I turned into the parking lot and was met with a chain link fence. The giant wooden playground structure was still there, just as I had remembered, but the building had seen better days. I looked to my left across the street and the German style restaurant was now dilapidated. This made me sad because I think that was my parents go to place, so I felt sad for them even though they weren't with me.

I stayed stationary staring at the former hotel for several minutes. I got a strange look from someone that was filling their car at the Amoco station, but I didn't care because I'm sure they have a place somewhere in this world like I was experiencing at this moment. Maybe this is the essence of life. We all have places we have fragments of memories of, but those fragments bring a smile to our faces and in our memories that place is still like it was, frozen in time, awaiting our return. So long as we don't go back and see what time has done to it, it is still there, not rotting, not rusting, and fully shining on the side of the road awaiting the next family headed somewhere far away.

Seeing what time has done, however, exposes the myth of the stillness of time in our memories. Perhaps the hotel will be razed and perhaps a new hotel will be built. Or maybe a truck stop. Whatever it may be it won't be what it once was. 

I shed a couple tears as I turned around and headed away. Thirty years ago, that turn out of the parking lot would've been either headed back home or headed to my grandma's house. Places can remind us of the times we had, but as I headed back on I-80 I realized it wasn't the place itself that gave me the warm feelings of my memories, it was the time with my family has a eight-year-old. The hotel may be razed, it may become overgrown with weeds, it could become a truck stop, but while the world has lost the physical place, I won't lose my memories of the pool, the opening music to Arkanoid, and the feeling of pure freedom traveling with my family west which felt like a journey to another planet. Oh, to be young again and to have that wonder, and to have another place much like the one that was now locked away behind a fence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Fear of Saying "I Hurt"


One of the chapters I remember writing the most from my first book was, “If I were dying from thirst would I ask for a glass of water?” because I still struggle for asking for things even if I truly need it. A good example of this happened to me back in 2010 as I was flagging a USAC quarter midget race at Eldora Speedway. The weather was hot and the winds were gusting to tropical storm levels and this made the air very dusty. This combo made it a dehydrating experience and I was in need for water. There was a person designated as a person to hand out water to workers and all one had to do was state over the radio that they were in need. I was unable to.

            Even though it was blistering hot, and the winds sucked whatever moisture one had in them out, I could not ask for water. If offered I would gladly accept, but I could not say I was in need.

            This trait has been with me for as long as I can remember and stating what I feel or stating what I need has been a challenge. It was only when I started to write that I became comfortable expressing my feelings and stating that things do hurt.

            One great example I can think of happened to me in 2nd grade. This example came to me as I wrote the previous chapter and I think illustrates several points. The first is being afraid to mention one’s weakness or need, and the second is perhaps the awareness of what creates the pain may not have been there. Anyway, in 2nd grade on one afternoon this robot like creature came to school. I don’t know if it was an anti-drug robot, or a self-esteem boosting robot, and its mission for existence isn’t relevant; what is relevant is that this robot’s purpose in life, in my mind, was to be loud and obnoxious. I mean, this robot’s voice shook the floor it was so loud.

            In my mind it achieved my perceived mission it had because I quickly became ill with so much anxiety. I can think back now and know why it happened and why I felt as if I had fire flowing through my veins. But here’s the thing, I was a 2nd grader in a public school and I could not simply get up and walk out. I also could not raise my hand and say, “Sir robot, could you please quiet down and use an inside voice?”

            I was essentially trapped and was suffering. The robot was annoying, ahem, I mean presenting for the whole school and the robot had at least an hour. With each quarter minute that passed I got more and more pain throughout my body. While the other students in the school thought this was the coolest thing ever, I became distant and confused. I mean, I didn’t realize that I was different and didn’t realize why no one else was sharing my discomfort.

            After ten minutes I had to go to my playbook. Much like a coach has a play for almost every situation I too had my ways get out of unpleasant situations. I learned at a young age it was acceptable for someone to have an ill tummy, so I quickly turned on my sick face (which wasn’t that hard because I was already in a state of pure discomfort) and got the teacher’s attention.

            Being the “good” student I was allowed to leave the room and I quickly made my way to the restroom. I stayed for five minutes and plotted my next move. As I left the bathroom the teacher was in the hall and I said that I was, “dizzy and had a bad headache”. Seeing that it was almost time for us to be released I was hoping to be able to serve the rest of my school time in the classroom and I knew the word, “dizzy” would get me that ticket. It worked.

            Saying that I was dizzy and had a headache was only a half lie. I did have a headache from all the stress, anxiety, and processing that was going on from the devil robot that had made it its mission to educate us students. It was so loud that even in the classroom I could still hear its loud voice and it was all the way in the gymnasium!

            My 2nd grade experience is a great example of my inability to state what was going on. I don’t think I realized what was going on or why I felt the way I did, and what I did feel I knew I could not share for fear or being mocked. I did know that no one gets mocked for throwing up so I had to have that symptom to mask the true issue.

            I have talked about my issues in school before in my previous books, but I can now look at it and realize that I became fearful of the afternoons. I could handle the morning, but the afternoons were a challenge because of the “life: unfiltered” concept. At the time though I was unable to put into words how I felt and how much I feared the feelings of utter tiredness and edginess. Of course how many kids in elementary school can put into words the feelings of life? How could I have been expected to state in words that could be understood what it was like? Even if I did would I have been taken seriously?

            I don’t know what it is like in schools today, but back then weaknesses were mocked and one did everything they could to not make a scene. Using my “firsts” concept this is very bad because this way of life becomes instilled in one’s mind. When one is not willing to ask for help one becomes oblivious as to what is causing the issue. The end result of this is constant self hate because the true reason for the pain is not recognized.

            I wonder how many people out there suffer through each day without knowing why because they simply ignore the sensations and emotions. Instead of realizing that they are tired from the sensory input of life they simply lash out. This is where I am different because my self-awareness is such that I can identify what the issue is. Now this doesn’t mean I can do something about it as I did go thirsty at the race at Eldora, but at least I am able to know why.

            Knowing why is critical for growth because I thought I was so bad and weak for having such an issue with that robot. I kept it to myself because I did not want anyone to know. I am glad I got my diagnosis because I have a reason why I had the issues.

            There may be no easy way to get one to open up and state the actual cause of their discomfort. If I would have been pressed as to why I was sick back in 2nd grade I would have stated that I threw up to my grave. Did I throw up? No and I knew that telling a lie was wrong, but I also knew that I had to get away from that monstrosity of a creature. Even if I were asked, “Aaron, did you find that robot to be loud and it made you feel pain throughout your body?” I would have denied it. When it comes to pain, and what causes it, a denial can possibly be a lie.

            Looking back I know my life would have been much easier had I just spoke up for myself and stated how I felt. But autism, first and foremost, is a communication issue and there is no more personal level of communication than expressing one’s feelings and struggles. If I would have stated what was wrong how could my 2nd grade mind realize that I, perhaps, would not be ridiculed or that someone may understand how I felt? I thought I was alone in my discomfort therefore why ask for help? I had to put on the “trooper face” and attempt to overcome. The fight though can only be prolonged and simply overcoming the issues I had, as equipped as I was, was impossible.

            To this day I still struggle with advocating for myself and stating what I need even when it is obvious that I need it. I mean, don’t we all need water on a hot day? This is the hazards of my “firsts/film theory” concept. I can’t afford to be weak and I can’t afford to share how I feel because I can’t judge your response. What I mean by “can’t judge your response” is that I don’t know if you are going to laugh or yell at me. If you yell or laugh I will experience emotion and because emotions are felt at level 10 only I would much rather live life dehydrated than deal with the potential emotions that come along with being yelled at.

            If I didn’t start writing I am sure I would still be closed off as to why I do things I do. I may still be fearful in person, but that’s why I write. I think each of us can find a way to express ourselves, but because each person on the spectrum is unique finding each person’s way may be confusing. The only way the world may have known I had any issues was the pattern of my “headaches” and “ill tummy”. I was communicating, but it needed translation so, as I did in my last chapter, I urge you to keep an open mind and if there are behaviors at certain times look around and listen. If something is going on the person may be unable to tell you up front, but maybe they are telling you by going to their playbook on how to get out of the activity without telling you the real reason because, of all things in life, there is nothing worse than saying, “Help me, I hurt”.

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Soundtrack at the Hotel

It's coming up on my two-year anniversary with INDYCAR and that first year in 2020 felt, well, traveling with the series in the midst of the pandemic made for an anxious time. At the end of each workday there was a strong sense of relief entering the safety of my hotel room and so often greeting me on the television, when we stayed at a Marriott branded hotel, was the song on the menu screen that played during their video on all the precautions they had taken. I hadn't heard that song for at least a year until last week when we stayed at a Fairfield Inn and when I entered the room I was taken back.

It is amazing how much memory lies within a song. I was taken back to St. Pete 2020 and the realization that the season was coming to an end. I was also, at the same time, taken to St. Pete 2021 and the excitement of the start of a season.

Music, for me, is one of the most private things about my life. I will never say that I like or dislike a song because, by doing so, I am letting you in on the memories associated with a song. All the music I listen to is linked to a person, place, time, idea, or hope I had when I heard the song. 

I think most of us, autism spectrum or not, share this trait. Music has the power to take a person back to any previous time in their life, but for those of us on the autism spectrum that have exceptional memories, it can be almost confusing to feel such a level of confliction when hearing a song.

On the last day at the hotel I made sure to make that video of that song. I've tried to remember how it went, as simple as it is, and now won't have to wonder if I'll ever hear it again. Any time I want to go back in time, all I have to do is hear that song. There's been other songs that have had that same sense of mystique about them, and if you know of the song LodgeNet used in spring of 1998, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Back Home

A week ago, the only thing I wanted was a couple days at home. The road had made me tired, exhausted, and a break was desired. On Monday that wish started, but I'm now living the "be careful what you wish for" life.

I can't wait to go somewhere. I don't home well anymore. There's a high level of anxiety as I await going anywhere. I believe this goes back to the difficulties to transitions. I spent 32 of the past 36 days at a racetrack working 12+ hours a day and now having 24 hours of free time in a day I don't really know what to do with myself.

My days, prior to 2010, were always like the day I'm having today and the concept of working more than six hours a day seemed like an impossible task, but now it's what's craved.

It's amazing that I'm still learning things about myself, and that the things formerly deemed impossible are now the possible and the possible seems impossible. This does show change happens, even when one expects it to not.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Fender Bender Confusion

I work at a racetrack frequently. I've seen cars flip, slide, and impact each other. It's not something that is enjoyable, but something that's almost unavoidable in the high intensity sport of auto racing. With 27 years of racetrack experience, I know exactly what to do with the flags when an incident occurs. I know the radio procedure, what to say, what to listen for, and this all happens without thought because it's second nature. However, when an incident occurred involving myself on the public road, all that experience meant nothing.

This incident occurred over a month ago, the last time I was home in Saint Louis. I had bought a new car just a few weeks prior and was out running errands when I approached a red light. There was a merge lane I could enter for the right on red and as I looked over my left shoulder I started to go, but a box truck came up the hill at a speed way to fast and was changing lanes. This prompted me to stop and just as I was about to go again, I was jolted back in my seat. 

I was confused. There was so much force felt that I was awaiting the sound of glass bouncing around. My neck quickly burned, and I looked in my mirror assured I was going to see a massive amount of damage. However, all I could see was the emblem of a Hyundai SUV that looked fine. Surely there was a car behind the SUV that pushed it into me. Seconds passed by that felt like hours as I tried to make sense of the situation. I looked around and realized I needed to get my car out of the lanes and onto the shoulder.

Fear quickly set in. Would the driver that hit me be mad at me. It wasn't my fault, but I couldn't process what was about to occur. When I exited my car, I walked back and was amazed at what I saw. The damage was, well, by bumper was creased but that was it. For as much force as I felt I couldn't believe it. About this time the other driver got to me and started talking but I couldn't hear the words he was saying because my brain was going so fast on all the things that should, could, and might happen.

The other driver kept talking and I eventually turned to him, looked down and away from him, and simply said, "I'm on the autism spectrum and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do right now." Was this the right thing to say? I'm not sure, and perhaps not because this could've opened me up to him exploiting this and saying, "Oh, the damage isn't that bad, we don't need to do anything." Instead of this, he mentioned that I should take a photo of his license, the damage, his license plate, and his insurance card. 

When the routine of the day is broken; when the unexpected occurs, we on the autism spectrum may struggle with what to do next. We can train, or practice what we should do when the unexpected occurs, but when it happens, we may not be able to react in a timely manner. This is what happened and I'm extremely thankful the man that hit me was honest, nice, understanding, and helped me through the process. At the racetrack I expect the unexpected and am prepared for anything at any time and will have no issues processing the "what to do next" aspect of the job. This is why, in my book Finding Kansas, I refer to Asperger's as a "situational handicap" because there can be a similar situation arise in two environments and the reaction can vary drastically.

The end result of the fender bend gave me a bit more faith in humanity. I know not everyone will be understanding, or honest, but on this day the guy was, and I'll remember that honesty the next time the unexpected occurs and someone attempts to take advantage of the situation.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The CC of Fear

 It's obvious sentence time; communication can be hard for those on the autism spectrum. Okay, now that is out of the way let me expand on one of the reasons why this is.

I've also been hearing this a lot from parents and that is that one-on-one conversations can work great but if one extra person joins the conversation the whole are of conversing breaks down. Why is this? In my book Finding Kansas I believe I explained it by having the reader visualize a chess board. This is how I see a conversation; one person moves, and the next person reacts. Now let's say a third player joins the game and the chess board becomes a triangular board but all the same rules applies. While that may sound cool think of all the possible moves for each other player in regards to your own.

In a conversation my brain is working like an overclocked computer trying to analyze everything; to put simply I'm thinking, "if I say A they'll say B and if they say B I'll say C unless they say D then I'll have to say E..." There is no off switch to this line of thought but there is one thing that will derail my confidence in anything I say and that is the CC.

For those that know e-mail the CC, or carbon copy, is how you can send an e-mail to a whole list of people and to me, this is the scariest of scariest things, especially in a conversation. The way my brain works, if I tell a person something I can't calculate the fact that they might go tell someone else. If I do think that then I'm having to play phantom chess, the board grows from two, to three, to maybe even more players but I can't see there moves right away. Also, in a future conversation, should the other person bring up what I said to the first person I will be caught off guard and then I will try and figure out what else they know and since there is no way to actually know my brain will be endlessly spinning and working trying to figure out the impossible.

This is one thing you have to watch out for as if too many instances of the "conversation circle" as I call it (circle because something said comes full circle and returns to the beginning) and I will hesitate and speaking. Now here's another important thing; you might have come to the conclusion that the stuff talked about within this blog post, as in something I say, might be something derogatory towards a person. This isn't the case; this full circle aggravation is done with anything. If I told person A that I went to a gas station and the pump acted funny and then that person told person B who then asked me about that incident that would be just as bad as anything.

What this all comes down to is processing. If I know what I've said in the order I've said it I can predict in my mind what is and is not known. If everything that is said is repeated to everyone else then I can't predict what may or may not be said. Perhaps this simply may look like a control issue, but it's more than that as my brain has to play the processing game of, "statement A=B unless C=D..." and if words are endlessly repeated then the mathematical possibilities are infinite and for a brain that has to be able to calculate the finite the infinite shuts the whole system down.

Monday, June 6, 2022

My Future Remorseful Self

 If I'm still blogging at the age of 80, I can see myself writing the following post...

I have worked at some of the most amazing places in my life and have fulfilled many lifelong dreams. I look at the pictures on my walls and it takes my breath away. However, I've always known I've worked with some of the most amazing people and wish I would've done more to reach out and to be a part of the groups I've worked in.

I always knew I was going to have trouble socializing on the job. I knew this even before my diagnosis. At the age of 11 I was torn up inside when I saw the finale to Star Trek: The Next Generation when the captain joins in on the poker game with a hint of regret. 

The line of, "you were always welcome" was killer because I knew this from my classmates in school, but I could never reach out and be a part of the group.

I did work with so many awesome people, and they weren't just awesome professionally, but were awesome humans all around. It pained me to watch as everyone else went to dinner and I was much too overloaded from the day's activities to have the energy to go. I hope they knew it wasn't that I was standoffish or thought I was above them, but rather I simply didn't have the energy and didn't know how to handle the socializing aspect.

With each coworker I had that left or changed jobs I grew more and more remorseful. I don't like change and with each change I lost that chance to reach out. I always meant to, but just never did. And when others did make an attempt to have me go out after a long day's work it pained me to say no, but most of the time I had no choice. I either could be good the next day, or I could carry over the overload from the current day into the next and I always strove for perfection on the job, so I had to know my limits.

There are so many people I wish I could go back and have one more day on the job with. That's where I do my socializing while doing the work. It was always amazing to get a coworker that understood me that allowed me to show my true personality. I wish I could've done it after work but going with a large group crushes that ability to be myself because I'll be overprocessing.

I always made an effort to let all the people I worked with know that it wasn't that I didn't like them, but the autism spectrum in me fully required me to rest and recharge. Knowing this at a young age is why that final scene from Star Trek shredded my soul; I knew I'd often be a witness to others being able to have, what I took as, a boundless amount of energy to socialize. I never knew how this was achieved, and many nights being alone I loathed myself for this inability and hoped they understood.

My writings have always said that "understanding is the foundation for hope" and I hope they understood. I'm grateful many did and wouldn't push me to go out knowing full well I needed that break from the world. Wait, isn't that the true meaning of understanding? Is that why the "you were always welcome" is a stab to the heart yet soul lifting at the same time? I think it is because that's what understanding means. I wish I would've realized it in the time because when you're in the middle of the "good ol' days" you never know that you were within them. I was though, and now, more than ever, I wish I would've had that boundless energy to be a part of what I was simply a witness to. Yet, at the same time, I was who I was because of the awesome people I was blessed to work with.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Alternate Route

Let’s say you are in a new town motoring down the highway. The surroundings are unfamiliar but you planned ahead and know the route you need to take. As you get to the city center a sign above the road reads, “Exit closed ahead, use alternate route.” Here’s the thing; that exit was your exit. Now what? You don’t have a map, you don’t have GPS, you had this grand plan and now you’re going to be left on your own to navigate the roads in an unknown city and you’re just going to have to hope find the right road.

                Does this story sound familiar? Okay, it would’ve been a common occurrence two decades ago before the advent of all this excellent technology, but in a non-literal sense does it sound familiar? I had my life mapped out, I knew what I wanted and I knew the route to get there, but so often in life things don’t go according to plan and when I received my Asperger’s diagnosis at the age of 20 and the lack of guidance my doctor gave me I, in essence, was in that road situation I put forth earlier.

                I was lost, my family was lost, and there wasn’t really any map of any kind to illustrate where I could go, what I could do, and how to get there. My response to this was to give up. What was the destination now and how could I possibly get there? What’s the point of trying to get somewhere when I had no directions and no one seemed to have answers?

                The thing is this; I did give up for a long time and I didn’t care much about my life. However, the support I had around me kept me on the road and while my original roadmap didn’t quite pan out, the journey of the roads I took led me to where I am now. There’s been something troubling me as of late, though, and that is I’ve been receiving an increase amount of communications from parents about this same problem I put forth in the start of this.

                As I said, eventually people put me on the right roads and slowly I began to learn about autism, learn about myself, and found my voice. It was a long road, perhaps keeping the road analogy alive you could say it was the scenic route, but I did get direction. However, there are many out there that are seeking that direction, and where to turn to. With the rates of autism continuing to rise more and more families are going down the road I was on. Each person, I think, has an image of what they want and what it will look like and when “autism” is put into the roadmap things aren’t what one envisioned. Where does one turn? What road should one take? Is there a wrong road? These are the questions parents are asking (in a non-literal fashion) but the questions are increasing and across America, and probably the world, families are seeking that road map, that right path.

                My journey on the roads I took were long, but I know I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without it. Were the roads difficult? You bet they were! In the world I lived the concept of hope didn’t exist for many years, but somehow things turned out. Now what was the magic road? Well, there is no one road, but having a few key people at the right time pointed me in the right direction started the journey.

                Because each person with autism is different the path will be different and the destinations will be different, but support and hope are vital. I’m thankful I didn’t go on this journey on my own and perhaps that’s the first place to start. There’s a lot to be said to not be alone in a journey in unchartered territory, and my family was there for me when I certainly wasn’t there for anyone. I may not have shown it, it was registering and I wish I had a way to tell the parents that have just or are about to go down this road of diagnosis that simply being there and being a support is gigantically important even if there is no visible sign that it matters. It does matter. The same goes for any person within the education staff, state staff, or any staff that can provide even an ounce of support.

                My story didn’t end with me wandering aimlessly trying to find my way back on the path I originally set out for in my life. Would that path, which was me becoming a race car driving legend (trust me, I had the skill), have been enjoyable? Oh, I’m sure. The places I’d have gone, the people I’d have met, the fame, endorsements. It would’ve been awesome. However, while trying to find myself in the midst of the alternate route I found a different path. Is it better? No. Is it worse? No. It’s different and different is okay. Okay, this difference is much better because I’m helping many more people than if I were winning races on Sundays, but different is okay because everyone eventually, autism spectrum or not, is going to end up in a situation where they hit a “exit closed use alternate route” situation. Life isn’t predictable nor is it fair, but support and direction can be the difference between finding that alternate path or getting stuck on a cloverleaf interchange going around in endless circles trying to find a way, anyway, out of the path that they’re on.

                I don’t have that magical roadmap, I don’t have the answers as to “do this” as my skillset is in describing the mechanics of what’s going on behind the scenes, but if this helps even one person move forward towards finding their right road then everything I went through finding my way has made my journey the most scenic of drives as I've learned that I am not bound by any one path, and growth is always possible meaning there's always a way forwards.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Have I tried it? No! But I know I don’t like it

I can not tell you how many times I have used the title of this entry in my life. A friend on Xbox pointed this out and it got me thinking as to why I put up such a block to try something new. The primary usage of the "I know I don't like it because I know I won't like it" is usually found in my resistance to new foods. I have used it in other aspect of life, such as new routines, or daily activities so the way I will explain this should apply to those, but I will focus on food. Food is a routine for me and I will order the same thing every time from each restaurant I go to. I have been eating at the Olive Garden since I was six years old, and I still order the same food I did then. Someone, of course, asked me if I would get a certain menu item they liked and I said, "No, I don't like it!" Then they logically asked me if I had tried it and then the normal debate ensued of how I could know I don't like something ahead of time. So, how do I know I don't like something ahead of time? How could I know I would not like a dish with the name of Pasta Alfredo? I never thought it through before today, but I now realize I love the routine so I will not like anything that replaces what I already know. If I get the manicotti, and always have, why would I want anything else? If something is new it is unknown. The unknown is scary and can't be predicted therefore I don't like it. If I already have something then I am happy with that one thing, so why would I want to change? This is a classic example of spectrum like behavior. I'm sure parents the world over have had this argument with their children regardless if they are on the spectrum or not. For me, I feel it is a little different as I like what I already order so why would I want to change? There are times that I have ventured out and tried something new. These events have all occurred when I was in a new environment and outside my region of routine. Take, for example, the first SKUSA SuperNats I worked, on the 3rd day, burritos were served for lunch. I can not tell you how many times I have said, "I hate Mexican food." and "I can't stand the taste of burritos!" To be honest, I had, up to that point in my life, a total of one taco eaten in my life.  I was in a pickle, well, I was actually craving a pickle on a hamburger because I knew I hated burritos. The burrito sat that on the wall slowly cooling away. There was no other option for food. It was the burrito or no food for five more hours. I didn't want to cave in, I really didn't because I knew I would loathe the taste, but, I had to keep my energy up. That being so, I took a bite. "HOT!" was what I shouted. I looked back to the score keepers and had a look of, "OH MY OH MY OH MY!" They laughed as I endured the "spicy" burrito, but as the shock of the spiciness ebbed, I was in shock; the horrible taste I predicted for myself turned out to be wrong as the beef and cheese and pepper burrito wasn't that bad. And on top of that I enjoyed the sensory part of crying because it was so hot. Since then I get the volcano taco from Taco Bell each day I am at the office. What? Try something else there? Why would I want to do that? The only taco I like is the volcano. Everything else is stuff I don't like. What? Have I tried it? You already know the answer to that question and the cycle continues.