Wednesday, August 31, 2022

“Stay off the Grass”

Recently, at a track, I was walking alongside the track on a curb when a track vehicle drove by and stopped at me. I looked in as they rolled the window down and the driver shouted, “hey, how about you stay off the grass?” I looked down and saw I wasn’t on the grass so I was about to argue the point, but then the car drove off. 

I was confused. I wasn’t in the grass, and when I looked at the grass the grass was, well, it was dead. It was all dead. Why would they tell me to stay off a dead patch of grass when it was primarily hard soil?

When I got back to my coworkers I mentioned that they wanted us off the grass which resulted in some laughs. They looked at the grass and said, “what grass?” I was perplexed.

A lot of us on the autism spectrum struggle with humor, and this turned out to be a joke which I didn’t understand. Each day can introduce a challenge for those on the autism spectrum for two reasons. The first, as in my example, is not understanding that it was said in jest. Secondly, a person could think something was a joke when in reality it was not. 

It seems obvious after the fact, but the extra processing time requires an answer before understanding is in place and by trying to avoid the social error we commit a social error. For others, this understanding of joke or not a joke is more ingrained, but for us on the spectrum, well, next time you hear a comment like the one I explained today I’d like you to think about how difficult it would be if you didn’t understand if something was or wasn’t a joke, or was or wasn’t a command. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Post from the Past: The Usher vs. Aaron

This was from 2010 and I still remember this vividly…

Last Friday I went to my very first NHL game and for the most part it was great. The sounds of the game in person is something that one can't appreciate at home. The sounds of the blades on the ice are so sharp and crisp, the sound of the bodies slamming against the boards is enough that you can feel the pain, and the sound of the pucks hitting the sticks is nothing short of awesome. However great that experience was was I had a moment of my own in the 1st intermission that over shadowed the night.

What happened between the 1st and 2nd periods is a classic example of something that would, for most people, be minor and a non-event. For me though the anxiety is still with me like it just happened.

Yes, I can see how this event wouldn't be remembered by most people. I'm not like most people though. What happened was this: Between periods I was craving nachos and a soda. I waited for the lines to thin out somewhat and went with 6 minutes to go in the intermission. The price for nachos and a soda came out to $13.25! For what it is worth though there were free refills on the soda. With soda and nachos in my hands I proceeded back to my seat. This is where the usher enters our story

As I walked from the concourse through the small tunnel like chute to the inner arena I had my eyes locked on my seats. Walking amid a group of people that are coming and going is always a stressful experience for me so I have to keep my eye on the final destination. If I look at my immediate surroundings I may make eye contact or look at someone in a wrong way (don't ask what a wrong way is as I'm not sure what it is, which is why I try to avoid it). That being said I keep my eye on the finish line.

I passed the usher and was just about to go down the stairs towards my seat when all the sensory alarms went off in my body. It wasn't much as it was just a tap on the shoulder, but the sensation of touch on my shoulders is considerably higher than anywhere else on my body. To put lightly, unless I know the person and it is expected, any touch on my shoulders is something I would avoid at any cost. A tap on the shoulder is like being tapped everywhere on my body all at once and that is a lot of information to process.

I was set on my destination and this tap threw me off. So much so that I nearly took a tumble down the stairs. I was startled, and processing what just happened and thankfully I was stopped by the railing that goes down the middle. What was the meaning of the tap on the shoulder? She needed to see my ticket.

My senses were violated because she needed to check my ticket even though she had checked it before the game. Okay, so maybe she didn't have a good memory, but I'm still a little irked of the end result that happened. Sadly, the bout wasn't over.

She needed to see my ticket, but my ticket was in my pocket and I had both hands holding the drink and the nachos. I was in a startled state, and I realize now I didn't vocalize anything after being startled. Truly I didn't say a word as I was processing so much information that the actual world took a back seat to the anxiety of my body.

I was unable to say "my hands are full" and I started a small dance to try and illustrate this. I looked at my left hand, then my right, then my left, then down towards my left pocket, and then she said, "I'm sorry sir, I can't hold your drink". I was now lost. I had no idea what to do. What I wanted to do was teleport back to home and go to bed and never leave my bed. Being flooded with so many issues is a short amount of time that I couldn't foresee was just awful.

I started to have this odd jerky motion and I was filled with nothing but rage. Pure rage. The rage had no direction and wasn't towards anyone as I was just confused and scared. I didn't know what to do nor could I fully comprehend what was expected of me.

Finally, someone walking by asked me if I would like them to hold my drink, so I handed it to them and showed the usher my ticket. With drink in hand I made my way towards the stairs with the goal of sitting in my seat and slowly venting this anxiety and anger out of my system.

It happened again. A tap on the shoulders and again I nearly took a spill. "Sir" she said, "You can't go down the stairs and you must remain behind the blue line until play stops. Just as I began my trek towards my seat the 2nd period began. I heard her words but nothing made sense. Being tapped on the shoulder once is bad, but a 2nd time, after a tense two minutes was too much.

I just stared at her in befuddlement. She repeated her line and I slowly comprehended that if she had not put me through two minutes of torture, I would not have been in violation of crossing the line while the puck was in play. I was angry and confused.

While standing behind the magical no cross blue line I began to twitch. My rage was at my personal limit. The sensation of the tap to the shoulder would not go away and I could not comprehend why the usher was doing her job.

As my luck would have it, several minutes went by without a stoppage in play and I stood there shaking. All I wanted was nachos, a drink, and to return to my seat in peace. Something simple that most people could do without an event. My event I endured was worse than any fight that happens on the ice (I don't understand why they fight in hockey by the way. Hockey is a great sport, but the fighting just is so out of place).

With a stoppage, finally, I returned to my seat and slowly got my bearings. It's an event like this that I fear each and every day. If you aren't on the spectrum I don't know how you will understand this story. Perhaps if I tell you that I am teary eyed right now talking about this because it strikes fear in my heart. Pure fear. I don't know when an event like this will happen nor will the person that creates it know what happened. I can't blame the usher (I want to, trust me) for doing her job. How can one expect that a tap on the shoulder could have such an impact on a person?

Trying to operate in a world that can't foresee such impacts is difficult. I don't have a big "Don't touch me here" sign. I don't have a sign that says, "Don't interrupt while walking".

It's hard. It's a challenge. Life is nothing short of a fight and most times people don't know they started one. I don't fight with them though, it's a fight with my own mind and senses. It's because of this I hesitate each time when leaving the house.

The world is a dangerous place and is filled with many events that will prove to be hazardous. The problem is this; what is hazardous to me is a non-event for most people. People will put me in these positions and not even know it. The usher couldn't have known out much pain this would've caused me, and I don't think she ever knew. I kept it internal except for the shaking.

This event evoked a sense of fear I haven't felt in a while. This "usher vs. Aaron" event was something far more dramatic than two goons on the ice trying to punch the other guy's face in. My fight, that I think about each day, is about the battle of overcoming the fear of every day life. When will the next battle be? How bad will it be? Will I endure it? These questions I ponder each day, and this bout with the usher has me second guessing myself.

I'm here in the office though, I got out of bed this morning and life continues on. I'm fearful, but I won the fight. I fear the next one and wonder if I will overcome it, but how will I know if I will or won't overcome it unless I try? For this I play on.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Every day...

 

Every day I worry if this will be the day other’s will see through my chameleon ways. It’s one of my greatest fears. Every day is a battle to ensure I’m always in a position of safety; a position that will prevent a sensory issue, or an unexpected social situation.

It’s difficult for me to understand how other’s not on the spectrum go through their day fearless and not calculating all the possibilities that could lead to the situations I want to avoid at all costs. The liberation of that concept is impossible for me to conceive. So too, I expect that those not on the spectrum can’t fathom or appreciate just how draining it is.

Truly, it’s the essence of my being. All that I do in most situations every day is aimed and keeping the proverbial ship afloat. If you see me in person in an open environment, you can probably witness the magnetic repelling that goes on. As I walk near a person, my eyes as repelled from their eyes and my arms will naturally fold away from them. As I walk by my neck will lean away from them as I try to slither by unnoticed.

Every day I worry about the unknown. If you can, watch my eyes in a situation that may involve a sudden loud noise. When I walk past a fire alarm, my eyes focus in on it with a sense of dread awaiting the blaring of sensory knives to my body. Or, if a semi-truck drives by slowly, I’ll await the sudden blast of the horn that is an adrenaline tsunami inducing event.

Yes, I don’t know if you can appreciate the courage it takes to leave the front door, nor can I imagine living in the world without this constant albatross of pure dread awaiting the next time my autism becomes obvious.

I know with every day that passes people become more and more understanding of the autism spectrum, but if I retreat from a loud noise with haste, I still worry how that will be perceived. Will it cost me a chance, a friendship, or most of all I fear having to have a conversation about it. In these situations, the last thing I want to do is explain what happened and why it happened. Every day I dream of the day there’s no need to. I dream of the day that I don’t have to look at people in fear on how they might be mad as my body is metaphorically magnetically repelled by them, or the fear of the random sensory event.

Every day I’m exhausted by trying my best to hide what my body wants to do. No matter how much I write, you will more than likely never understand the level of exhaustion experienced by those on the spectrum unless you live it. However, I keep going. As dire or catastrophic as my words may seem in this post, every day I keep going. I put myself in situations that surprise even myself. The world is just too grand, too awesome, and too interesting to not. That’s why every day I wonder how to increase the world’s level of understanding. There are millions of others like me out there that will look at the sensory element they loathe. There are others that will do everything they can to avoid any social encounter. I’ve had awful social encounters due to autism, but I haven’t let it deter me from seeing this world and continuing onward. With no understanding, another person may think that every day is impossible and that each day they leave home they will have nothing but heartache and pain. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Understanding is the foundation for hope and yes, there’s a chance a person can be nothing short of a jerk, and there’s a chance that fire alarm will go off, but understanding of sensory issues, and autism exhaustion/burnout, may just be that little bit to keep a person motivated in seeing all there is to offer in this wonderful world and avoid the pit of thinking that every day is hell.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Memories of Nintendo Power

I became a subscriber of Nintendo Power in 1991. It was absolutely awesome to have a magazine come to my house, at the age of eight, and each month I awaited in anticipation for the arrival of that's month's edition. I mean, my parents had Newsweek and I had Nintendo Power.


In my room I had a cabinet that I would place each month's magazine so I have every issue so as I opened the box that had all the issues I was able to go back to those days in 1991. My first thought was, "wow, gaming has come A LONG WAYS!" as there's a preview for Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge. To think racing games went from that to the graphical bliss that Gran Turismo is or the realism and structure of iRacing, back then, would be impossible.

This trip to the past was more than just about the games as it took me back to those places and times. The games that were previewed back then that I got I remember getting. In that first issue there was a review of the game Monopoly for the Nintendo. I remember my parents getting me that game. It wasn't on the most pleasant of occasions as I noticed the game under my dad's seat in the car. I didn't mention anything about it because we were on the way to the hospital and I was about to have my tonsils removed. I treasured that came ever since, up until early 2009 when I sold my NES and the 80 games I had because I needed the money to pay my credit card bill.

Another thing that I remembered was, as I mentioned, the anticipation each month for the issue to come in the mail. As the end of the month approached the last few hours of each school day felt like years as, once we were released, I'd run home (I only lived three blocks from school) to either find utter disappointment of sheer elation. That's one thing that I don't think anyone today can feel. What I mean is, think about information on games or anything. Why wait an entire month for reviews or information on games. One can go to ign.com or metacritic and get as much or as little information as they want when they want it. I don't know if this is good, or bad, or either, but there was something about being able to hold the magazine and feel the materials of the magazine.

As I went forward in time and I got to the time that the Super Nintendo was released I went back to that era. Of all the systems that have been released I was most impressed with the Super Nintendo. From Super Mario World, to F-Zero, to SimCity and Pilotwings, I had seen nothing like it. It also probably didn't hurt that it was a birthday gift, but I felt a strong sense of happiness and sorrow all in one. Happy for the memories that were, but sad in that these memories were from over 20 years ago and yet, for me, it felt as if it were five minutes ago.

I eventually got to the issues of the N64 and that era, for me, is one that I don't fully remember as vividly as the previous. School was getting near impossible for me and no one knew why I was different. There was one issue that I won't forget and that is issue #110. Five months prior there was a challenge for the "highest scores in one round on Wheel of Fortune 64." To do this one would get a high score, take a picture (with film and have it developed. Remember those days?) and then send it in. I came up with a slight "trick" to do this and I ended up with the 2nd highest score with the winner doing the same trick as myself, just a little bit more (I didn't want to make it too obvious, the winner did.)

In the end as I scanned my final issues, which was in the 2002 year (Nintendo Power's last issue was December 2012) and I went back to the beginning and noticed the letters section and that did it for me; I was now overwhelmed. Looking at the names of those that wrote in, and some of the pictures of kids dressed as Mario and, well, I felt a wide array of emotions as I wondered who those people are now, what they're doing, and what type of life they've had. It's an odd feeling, it truly is, to be overwhelmed by such a thought like this for people I've never met, never known, and will probably never meet. Perhaps this all was all due to the fact that I don't like change, I struggle with accepting the passage of time, and what more could possibly show all this than being able to go back and visit the past in the form of a magazine. You see, websites can be updated; heck, I can go back and edit any of my blog posts going back to the beginning. My blog has also had several different looks to it over the years and for many people I'm sure web browsers have changed, monitors have changed, but for those magazines, they are like they were on the days I first got them in the mail. The world has progressed, time has moved on, but for a magazine they are frozen in time, and forever will be, and there's something special about that. This is something that, maybe in 100 years, will be unheard of.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Ghosts of Friend's List Past

Of all the misconceptions about the autism spectrum that are out there, the one that gets me riled up the most is that we don't care about others. I know that, for myself, I do but it looks a bit differently than the way others show it. The proverbial ice takes much longer to get broken than others, but once it is, I usually will remember a person forever and there's nowhere this is more obvious than my Xbox friends list.

It's been amazing that, the sophisticated the Xbox Live service has become, the more solitude it seems is out there now. Also, people's attitude are much worse than when I first played online in 2004. However, as I glance at my friend's list, I am reminded of people I played with for years, and others that may have been just one evening. 

There's a gamertag, Prognosis, that I remember vividly. It was February 2006, and we played a ton of Halo 2. He was a doctoral student at IU, and we played with his girlfriend and another friend of theirs. I don't know how I got into a party with them, but the evening I played was the eve of my trip to Madagascar and I was trying to adjust my hours so I could sleep on the long flights. Anyway, we had deep discussions about life, travel, Africa, Halo, and as the sun came broke the horizon, they were done with their all-nighter and went to sleep. When I returned from my trip, their accounts were offline and have been since then. It's amazing how one evening of conversation can stick with a person, and it's been 16 years, but I can't delete them off my list because, in a way, that would be the deletion of their memory.

I have a former coworker from GameStop, the person I first added to my friend's list, dozens of people that I raced for years and years, and several that I've met in person. Each, however, mean so much to me. When I first played online, I did everything I could to maintain anonymity. I played to win and nothing more. Slowly, I opened up and with each friendship developed I learned something more. These aren't just random names on a list to me, but rather a deep meaning of progress, friendship, and competition. 

It's a unique thing, I think, that I'm able to see each person I added. Well, think of the people you worked with and were cordial with, and perhaps there's a person you've tried to remember their name that you worked with 20 years ago. With a list like Xbox has, you'd always be able to recall the name. This, though, leads to the "whatever happened to..." questions. There are many ghosts on my list that may never reappear. For most, gaming with a random person is just that, random, but for those circles people invited me into, those days were special. I think over half my lists are now ghosts. I'll never know what happened to most of them, but they'll also have no idea how much it meant to me and my development to have been included in what may have been just one evening of Halo. Yes, there's a misconception out there that those on the spectrum don't care about others, but for myself, I may be delayed in picking up on social cues, and maybe delayed in offering support when a person needs it, but those that I've come across mean so much to me I can't even delete their name off a list I have, even if they are a ghost of the past. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Silent Scream

In a little over an hour, I’ll be in the flag stand at WorldWide Technology Raceway in the position I feel most comfortable. The NTT INDYCAR Series is racing here in Saint Louis this weekend, and when I’m up in the stand with flags I must say everything feels right. There’s no hesitation in my thoughts or words. Contrast that to most every other situation. 

“What do you think?” the person asked me. I looked through my reflective sunglasses attempting to come up with an answer that I knew I knew. “C’mon, Aaron” I thought, “I know this. He knows I know this. Say… something.” 

On the outside I’m stoic, maybe aloof looking. Perhaps a person would take this as a sign that I didn’t here the question, or perhaps that I don’t fully care about what was asked, but behind the blank wall is a storm.

What started out as a simple “C’mon” quickly avalanches into a full scale panic. On the outside though, you wouldn’t know as the internal dialogue picks up in volume and intensity. At this juncture, if the other person asks a different question I may snap back at them. It isn’t a snap at them though, it’s that I’m overwhelmed trying to come up with what I know. 

“ANSWER… ANSWER NOW!” is what comes next. If you know what to look for you may be able to see the eyes dart quickly, my arms tense, and my breathing increases. It may have been just mere seconds since I was asked the simple question of “what do you think?” but now all I’m thinking is that I have to give an answer… any answer. But, with the crescendo of the volume of my thoughts and panic on not answering I become even more powerless to give an answer. 

Finally, through the volume of the fog, I find an answer. It might not be right, but it won’t be wrong. Such an answer is “I’m here” to the question “how are you?” 

If you ever see me in a crowd, watch me as I try ti avoid the bubble around people. I try to be a chameleon; invisible to everyone. People have asked why this is, and now I hope you have a bit more understanding as the unpleasantness of the silent scream is such that I’ll try to avoid it. This is why we on the spectrum rejoice when we are in our element, such as I’ll be in just a short while, with flags in hand, on top of the world. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

My Worst Date

It was 2006 and I decided to try dating again. It had been just over two years since my breakup with Emily, which is the story at the start of Finding Kansas, so I was ready to tempt fate again. Fate had a lot more in store for me than I bargained for.

Thinking back to then, it's hard to remember just how difficult it was to tell a person that I was on the autism spectrum. There weren't shows on television with characters, and the thought of a Netflix show being an international phenomenon such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo was not even in the realm of possibilities in the best of imaginative worlds.

This date, I met her online, and she was a chemical engineer with an awesome job. We chatted for a couple weeks, and we had dinner planned at an Olive Garden. The initial pleasantries came and went, and she asked me for more detail about me saying I that I was writing. This led to talk about the chapters I had been writing and this, of course, led to the talk of Asperger's.

I held my breath each time I told anyone this because, and do remember this was 2006, people generally didn't know what Asperger's, or the autism spectrum, was. Maybe they had heard of it but had no frame of reference on what any of it meant. 

It was always a hold my breath moment. Would they ask, "what does that mean?" or the "my great uncle's third niece's mother's friend's teacher's son has it, I think." I wasn't sure yet which I loathed more, but I knew people didn't know what it meant. However, this person did "know".

"Autism spectrum?" she said with a raised eyebrow, "Oh, I know, that means you're unable to care or love anyone else, is that right?" I now knew what I hated the most, misconceptions. It was bad enough I had endured the horrible information on the night of my diagnosis, but this? How was I supposed to deal with this? It's one thing to have negative self-talk, but to have another person so blatantly say a mistruth as if it were as holy as a religion was crushing.

Needless to say, there wasn't a second date, and since that day I told myself I would wage a fierce battle against such misconceptions. There are now a multitude of shows depicting individuals on the autism spectrum and the understanding that it is, indeed, a spectrum is becoming more and more prevalent. I hope that 16 years from now, misconceptions are a thing of a bygone era. It is difficult for me to think back on the fear of a person never hearing of the autism spectrum, but now that's not as big of a concern. 

Maybe this date was ahead of her time. The battle now is with such wrong misconceptions. To have a belief as she did guaranteed the outcome. If you tell a person they can't, or that they'll fail, or that they shouldn't even try will almost ensure that outcome. My hope is that there won't ever be a situation like that Olive Garden visit back in 2006, but I know there will be. There will always be confusion and an air of mystery over something as mysterious as the autism spectrum, but all we can do is try, and not let the misconceptions define who we are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Other People's Anger

I’m afraid of disputes and arguments. I’m going to guess most people would shy away from a tense confrontation, but probably not for the reason I do. In my eyes emotions are extreme. This means that there isn’t varying degrees of anger, happiness and hate. If someone is angry that means they want to kill the person they are angry with. I can’t see that someone can be partially angry and just want to have a stern word with whomever they’re mad with.

            Living like this is hard! Each and every day is a potential explosion in my eyes. If I see two people angry with each other I instantly think that I’m about to witness a 21st century rendition of the showdown at the OK Corral. Is this normal?

            I’ve felt this way as far back as I can remember. In school I tried to be as bland as possible to avoid any chance that I would make another person mad. At this point in time though I don’t think it was going to involve guns, knives, and perhaps a pipe bomb. At the early school age though I was worried about fists, kicks, and yelling which, for someone in 1st grade, is just as scary as guns.

            Looking back I wonder if this extreme misinterpretation of other people’s emotions was one of the leading causes of my unusually high anxiety level. Each day was like crossing a barely frozen pond just waiting to hear the crackle of the ice that’s about to break. For that person crossing the pond the stakes are life or death. I saw it this same way for me.

            To witness an argument, regardless of what age I am talking about, is very traumatic. My fears jump to the worst case and I prepare for an all out brawl. All this thought and all this fear is just downright tiresome! I have yet to see the all out brawl occur, but I am 100% confident it will happen each time I see an argument.

            The underlying problem is a complete lack of the knowledge that emotions are level based. For me, screaming equals the desire to kill; therefore if I see two people yelling at each other they both want to kill each other. I don’t experience this because I realize within myself there are levels and I try not to allow myself the option of ever being mad or angry at another because that in turn will make them want to kill me. I know I’m using extreme words, but that’s how it is. Every person is a stick of dynamite with a quarter second of fuse left.

             I don’t know where this view of the world came from. I haven’t seen the extreme case happen in person… yet. Could this simply be that because I am unable to sense any emotion from someone I have to go with something that is on/off? I can’t judge the depth of anger so I must assume it’s the deep end. Whereas the person who is mad may be a depth of 2ft out of 10ft I see all anger as either none, or 10ft. Perhaps this is so.

            What gets me though is that even though I have yet to see a situation go nuclear, I still think each case will. This is what made me a good race director because when anyone was mad with my call I did everything in my power to convey a sense of calmness because, even though I have no intention of the extreme option, I assume everyone has that same extreme sense of other people’s emotions. This means if I show anger the other person will think I want to seriously harm them. Because of that I always stayed super calm and had an understanding fa├žade even though I was waiting for that 9mm to rear its ugly head.

            As I think about this I believe this concept if more than just a misunderstanding of anger. If I am to show any interest, like, or dislike on any given item then that means whomever hears or see this will assume that I am 100% committed to it, in love with, or complete hate with it. Since I see other people in an all or nothing fashion I believe that they do this to me; therefore I have to avoid any emotion whatsoever to avoid a misunderstanding.

            I simply wanted to state the fact that I don’t see other people’s anger in levels as it could be lukewarm, mild, extreme, boiling, and full of uncontrollable rage. From that attempt to state that I think I’ve uncovered why I try to be blank in public. Any emotion equates to full emotion and full emotions are usually bad therefore I must not be bad. Wow, impressive! Um, well, I guess this isn’t bad (must not show emotion, must not show emotion, dang, too late!) 

Friday, August 12, 2022

To be in School

 


I’ve spoken a lot about school so I thought it best to dedicate an entire chapter to it. I also wrote a similar chapter to this in Finding Kansas but from when I wrote the chapter “School” to writing this now my knowledge about myself, and the autism spectrum, has grown immensely.

I’ll start by saying that school was not easy for me. You’ve probably gathered that by the numerous examples I’ve given so far be it the fire drills or my love of arguing with those in authority. Anyway, preschool was difficult to begin with as my language skills weren’t that developed at the time, and I should mention I’ve been told most people don’t have memories to the details I have, but I always got so frustrated when I would talk and no one would listen or understand what I was saying. On top of that, when any sort of pretend play would happen I’d try to state what was wrong, or how to do it, but my words were never understandable. 

By the time kindergarten came along I was better at speaking but I didn’t have much interest in communicating with those my own age. I did have one friend my own age, my neighbor, but he was in another class. Also, those my own age didn’t interest me as I’d much rather talk to the teacher because, either she understood me better, had interest in what I was saying, or was good at pretending on knowing what I was saying. This isn’t to say that I didn’t make the attempt to socialize. Yes, I tried, but not in the most appropriate of ways as I’d talk about my Kansas’ be it auto racing, the flags of racing, the drivers of racing, the cars of racing, the tracks of racing, car numbers, or the weather. In extreme events, when I was worried about the Soviet Union, I’d speak about my fears of intercontinental nuclear war which always got the same response with me being looked at oddly and then being left alone.

When others would try and join me in the fun of pattern blocks (okay, pattern blocks were and are the most awesome thing ever made. Sensory wise, there was nothing better than putting them together and creating all sort of neat designs one hexagon at a time) I would always disagree with the way they had their design so I had no qualms in letting them know. If they didn’t adhere to my advice I’d coldly go over and destroy what they were doing because it wasn’t right. This was a theme in all my time at school. I may have been labeled the “teacher’s pet” but I could have a streak of seemingly mean or cold behavior. This would go towards anyone, as mentioned in the previous chapter because teachers were no excluded from this.

After kindergarten and first grade came around I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t understand how, when I was in kindergarten, the amount of hours were doubling. After lunch on my first day the nerves got so great that I vomited right there at my desk. This was a one-way ticket home and using my “Film Theory” from Finding Kansas this started a precedent of how to avoid school albeit this first example was fully involuntary.

I may have difficult towards my classmates, but I was also a terror to substitutes. To my primary teachers I’d almost be a timekeeper and if the top of the hour was near and we weren’t in transition to the next subject I’d adamantly protest. Rules are rules and schedules are schedules and any deviance is not accepted. My 1st and 2nd grade teachers were amazing in that they tolerated this behavior and were always understanding and they’d explain it logically to me if we went over the allotted time. However, when it came to subs, well, that’s a different story.

As I state in my presentations my most famous, or infamous, run in with a sub was in 2nd grade. She came in and straight away put a wheel on the board. Now, I loved wheels and any game that loved a wheel automatically got three bonus points in my mind, but this wheel, wherever it came from whether it was from the depths of hell, or a teacher’s supply store, it needed to go back. You see, it was segmented into different subjects and she called it a topsy-turvy day and she would spin the wheel and whatever subject came up next would be the next subject we would do. Um… NO! I don’t do random all that well and in this subs defense every kid in the class thought this was the best thing ever, but I was the poster child for preparedness and this random element was not sitting well so I complained and she politely said, “Yes, Aaron, I know” and spun the wheel.

So often subs will use this logic when explaining something, “We’re going to do it this way because I said so.” If you want to lose a person on the spectrum use this language because it won’t make sense. It quite simply won’t because if everyone in the world used this language the question has to be asked, “Whose say so would have more say so than the next say so?” This is why we have rules, routines, and schedules and to come along and change it without any explanation other than, “because I said so” is only going to illicit a response of fear and anger. Why fear? Here’s the thing; if you’re making this change now what’s preventing you from using the same logic 15 minutes from now on another topic. This is something most people won’t think of as most people are a “now” thinker meaning they are only seeing the here and now, but for us on the spectrum we may be constantly thinking ahead and if you change something now everything I foresee happening is questionable because the only guarantee is that random could happen at any moment.

So the teacher spun the wheel and the next hour I complained again and got the same polite response but then in the third hour I finally had a logical argument because we did have a printed schedule on the wall. I rose my hand with extra oomph as she went to spin the wheel and I pointed towards the schedule and stated my protest and she looked over, saw it, and walked over and proceeded to rip it off the wall, threw it on the floor, and then spun the wheel. The worst part was my 2nd grade teacher was gone for the entire week so I really hope her week in Florida was worth it!

3rd grade was not a pleasant experience. I changed schools and had a very inconsistent teacher. One day she’d be firm the next would be random. It was hard for me to feel any level of comfort and she also had the, “look at me when I’m talking to you” mentality so that year was not one I enjoyed.

4th grade was great as my teacher really challenged me and got me thinking outside the box. It’s amazing what a teacher can do without doing much, but Mrs. Colvin was a great example of that as she didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but she used many of my existing interests to spawn new interests. Going to school was never fun for me, and I would protest or be “sick” in the morning to avoid going but when the last day of school came I cried for the first time at the prospect that I’d never be in her classroom again.

5th grade was a turning point for me as halfway through the year my family moved from Indianapolis to Saint Louis and on my last day in Indy two major things happened. The first was I learned I landed the lead role in the school play which I wouldn’t be able to play and secondly, and more importantly, my class that I was leaving behind bought me a College Park Elementary school pencil. While it may have not been much, and it may have only cost a nickel from the school store, it quickly because the world to me. 

In Saint Louis it took a couple weeks before I felt comfortable going to school but eventually my parents no longer asked if I were ready so off I went and, sadly, the class I went to had a habit of pranking the new kid. What did they do? I’m sure pranking has come a long way from this seemingly innocent prank pulled against me, but during the lunch/recess hour a fellow student got into my classroom and hid all my pens and pencils. This was almost fine because I wouldn’t have cared if my new pencils and pens were gone. However, that College Park Elementary school pencil was gone as well and since I don’t remember people visually without a physical item it was very much like deleting the memories of those in Indy. Because of this my reaction was not a mild one but was rather severe. And because of that whoever pulled the prank did not come forward and if anyone had knowledge they kept it to themselves because no one wanted to have any part of the trouble that one might have gotten into considering my reaction.

A few months later when the teacher’s podium was moved for the floor to be cleaned my supplies were found, but it was too late by then. No one could understand, including myself, why inanimate objects had such an effect on me and since first impressions are important I never really fit in at that school. This trend would continue and eventually I’d be homeschooled which is where I’d finish up my schooling career.

There are several more points I’d like to make about school. The first is that I struggled in anything that required a group. There were many reasons why from not wanting to socialize to not trusting other’s work and if there were any debates on anything I’d be about as close-minded as possible because I knew I was right and it was my way or no way. Group work often has results much like mine and there was one project in 7th grade that I actually submitted my own personal submission outside of the group I was in. It wasn’t that I misunderstood the idea of a group but rather it was that I didn’t trust their work, they didn’t listen, and I knew I was right. 

Secondly, I could be cruel when it came to others around me if they didn’t pick something up as easily as I did. Things did either come easy (math, geography) or things were impossible for me (anything fine motor, English, spelling) but during the part of class where the teacher would call upon students to answer a question, and I knew it, I’d let our verbal, “Ugh’s” and “Grrr’s” when someone got it wrong because this meant two things; the first was that they didn’t know which was beyond me because I had the mindset of, “if I can do it everyone can do it” and secondly was that a wrong answer meant we’d talk about this longer which, since I already knew it, meant more minutes of endless boredom.

Finally, and on a positive, as I mentioned my 4th grade teacher was phenomenal as was my 2nd grade teacher. They both did something which I swear let me become the person I am today. In school the only thing I enjoyed were academic games as long as it wasn’t a spelling bee although in 2nd grade I tied for the win for the class but I just got lucky as everything I got was geography based so I let the other person go to the school spelling bee. Anyway, when it came to flashcards or states and capitols I lived for those games and the game played was a one question, sudden death winner takes all and proceeds to the next desk duel to end all duels. It was simple; get it right and proceed. Get it wrong and wait and sadly, for my classmates, both of these subjects fell within my Kansas so rarely did anyone else get to play. In 1st and 3rd grades I was declared the “retired champion” and was exiled to the corner to do busy work. This work wasn’t graded but I had to do anyway. Talk about a logic fail! Instead of banishment in 2nd and 4th grades my teachers did something else as I got a promotion and became the host of the game. I either held the flashcard or named the state or the capitol but all in all this was practice for public speaking.

For the teachers reading this I first salute you and secondly I have to say that you can do amazing things for us and you may never know the outcome. Society can get so caught up in trying to fix everything right this second, but sometimes it is like planting seeds and the seeds planted for myself took two decades to sprout, but here I am. It may not take much sometimes and outside the subs I had my teachers never got angry with me which, had they, I may have become afraid of them. Also, several of my teachers were able to engage me in my interests which built up a trust with them. My 2nd grade teacher began to follow auto racing and she would quiz me as to where the world traveling Formula One series would be racing and she once asked me, “Aaron, where is Silverstone?” which I knew the track but had just a faint idea about where it was and that it might be in someplace called England and from that moment on my love of travel and learning about new places were born. So yes, while I did write a lot about my negative experiences there positive ones as well and I never got the chance to say thank you the wonderful teachers I had so I must dedicate this chapter to them to express my gratitude because without them I would not have achieved what I have.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Score in the Past

My brain is a funny thing. Out of nowhere can come the need to solve a mystery from the past. Unlike popular mystery movies, there's no real intriguing mystery, but rather something simple such as, "where did I place that pen?" or "where did I play golf that had the college dorm right off the course?" When one of these mysteries hits, the need to solve it is instantaneous.

I went to Google Maps to do a blanket search of golf courses and I looked at the names hoping to see a name that rekindled the place. No luck. I then went to my memory drawer where I have most every scorecard from every round of golf I've ever played. I wish my need to know when I want to know wasn't so great because the flood of memories was a tidal wave.

The scorecard on top was from May 27, 2000. It is one of my favorite days I've ever had as it was the day before the Indy 500, and a note on the scorecard shows what my dad almost achieved. He was on his cell phone as we approached a par 3, he put the phone down, and almost had a hole in one without even seeing the end result because he went back to the phone. Truly, it hit the pin and sat on the lip of the hole, and he didn't even know. It was fun to watch, and the Indy 500 was the next day! However, this wasn't the course I was searching for.

A couple scorecards below and I saw the name. It was the name of a former coworker who died five years ago. I noticed his handwriting on some of the scores and I stared at it, reminiscing about the round we had in Texas. The note on hole 17 says we ended due to darkness and like a scene from a movie I remember us searching for our golf balls in the last bit of light as an early fog and mist rolled in. Memories like this one are bittersweet because I didn't have many more with him after this.

I was now on the memory lane express, and I hit a series of course names I didn't instantly recognize. These were from small towns in Missouri that I played at while passing through, either headed to or headed from presentations. This made me miss the road and presenting to people and helping anyone that wanted to listen. Actually, I missed this a lot, and I broke down in tears. Why did having to find one golf course mean so much? And why did I have to stumble upon so many memories trying to find the answer?

Google Maps was consulted again because I didn't know what type of landmines awaited me in the scorecard pile, and I looked up college courses and I found it; it was just across the river in Edwardsville. I looked back at my scorecard pile and almost had the inclination to throw them away, but how could I do that? I keep many seemingly irrelevant tokens, trinkets, and scorecards, but even if I throw them away, I'll still know they existed, and the memories tied to them. Seeing the items, or scores on holes, makes the memory current. It truly feels as if it were today, and it's overwhelming to experience, but it would be doubly bad to try and remember and be unable to.

As I was putting the scorecards away, one fell out. It was from the Boulder City golf course in Nevada. It was from October 2003 and although it just had my score, I played with a local that day. He was retired, and we talked the whole round. This was, and is, extremely uncommon for me as I try to avoid interactions on the golf course, but that day was special. Seeing that card reminded me of how much impact a random person can have in a person's life. We didn't create world peace or solve any of life's mysteries, but that day, under the desert sun, I felt normal. I wasn't diagnosed yet, that would come in two months, but I wasn't quite the same as everyone else. However, on that round, I was. I wonder what happened to him. He was maybe 65 at the time and that was 19 years ago. Another mystery. This one unsolvable, but the motivation to be nice and have an impact remains... dang, I wish I would've had his name on the card. 

The cards went back into the drawer. They'll see the light of day again, maybe when I'm trying to remember what course I played at in Effingham, or the round I played with another friend who is no longer with us. Everyone has ways to remember people or places, and for me one way is in a stack of scorecards. The neat thing for me is, even though I try to avoid interactions, all the cards that mean something to me included someone else. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Memories of Places

I took a ride down memory lane last night, I'll write about that trip in a few days, but it got me thinking about places lost to time, and Crestwood Plaza, so I went diving for what I wrote in 2011, which is the following post... 


Places are very important to me. Having an associative memory system I remember a lot from being in places that those memories are tied to. Because of this I hate changes in the places that I know because it disturbs the way I remember the memories there.


With that being so, on Saturday, I decided to go to mall known Crestwood Plaza. Some of my first memories of Saint Louis happened at that mall. As my parents were house searching in October if 1993 we went to the mall and I was shocked. Yes, we had malls in Indianapolis, but there was something about Crestwood Plaza that I loved. The food court was enormous and the mall itself seemed to stretch forever (I just did a Google Earth measurement; it measures at .33 miles).

The food court was located in the basement right next to the Exhilarma which was, quite possibly, gaming overload for me at the time. This arcade was mammothly big and had everything. I went there for many years until it closed in the early 2000's, but I have one special memory in the arcade. In 1998 the day before I got confirmed at my church, the arcade racing game of Sega Super GT was glitched in a way. Instead of being a 3 lap race it was a 40 lap race! 40 laps for just 50 cents. Good times!

In a way this mall eased the transition from Indy to Saint Louis due to just how awesome that mall was. If this mall was any inkling to the future, the future was going to be bright (note to self in the future: Do not let malls dictate omens of the future).

I don't know why I wanted to go to Crestwood Mall on Saturday. I have read in the South County Times that the mall may be razed and rezoned and that shops are disappearing at an alarming rate, but I had not yet seen this for myself. I may have been reading it for two years now, but it wasn't real because how could the most fantastic mall on Earth suffer such a fate?

It was 5:45PM when I arrived at the mall. In my memories of previous Christmas shopping experiences I can remember parking at an extreme premium. There was no thing as a short walk! Saturday though, well, front row parking was readily available. I began to worry what I would find inside. My worries were well-founded and the following picture is one I took:

This may have been the building I remembered but where were the people? Where were the stores? Instead of a mall it looked like a prison with all the metal gates down on the empty stores. I was horrified.

I'm sure everyone has that place from their childhood that is no longer there be it a corner store or a cinema. Time changes, places change, but the ability to accept this varies in people. I was brought to tears at the emptiness of a place that I have so many memories at.

In a way now my memories are tainted as I will remember the people at the mall, but instead of remembering a lively mall with the typical healthy economy atmosphere I will remember a place that is well out of place. There is no avoiding change and change seems to effect us on the spectrum more so. The thing to remember about this is that it can be changes in places like a mall. I have written about this mall as if it were alive, but in all reality it is just a building that opened in 1967. To me though, as with all places I visit, it is the ties between what is and what was. I have always had a challenge when places close or get torn down because in a way the memories there get closed or torn down too. Sure, the memories are still there, but instead of being memories that are experienced in video form in 3D they sort of get filed into an encyclopedia in my mind that simply states that "memory happened".

What will the future hold for Crestwood Plaza, now known as Crestwood Court? I don't know officially, but from my phone's picture it doesn't look good. I don't know what happened to it, or where the stores went, nor do I care really because the only thing I know is it happened. In a way it feels if all that enthusiasm I felt as an awe-struck 10 year old back in 1993 is gone. The place that helped bridge the move, which was a big deal, is being lost to time. It may not be alive, but it feels as if I have lost a relative that always made me feel at ease.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Wanting Balance

 I truly don't like this but when this train of thought gets a rolling it seems there isn't all much I can do. 


Right now I am in full awe of how others make life look so easy. What I mean by that is how others makes the simple art of conversation easy. How do they simply go up and talk to another? When I have to do this the surge of fear is off the scale. And yet others can go up and speak as if it's nothing because, well, chances are it is to them.

I'm in that pit right now of just seeing what I am not. This is the trickiest and worst pit to be in because when one sees what they aren't they will forget who they are. This is where I am at and when in a pit like this everything, and I mean everything, becomes worse than it is. 

This isn't the first time I have written about this over the course of my blog and maybe this is a one every three month experience but right now it seems worse and I'm not sure why. The only moments of respite have been the moments I've had a flag in hand or have been giving a presentation. I am in the midst of showing how Asperger Syndrome can pop up in everyday life and this is where; balance is a hard thing to find. I live in an all or nothing system and in those moments of presenting and flagging I am putting everything I am into it. As soon as it is over though it is like I never did it. Whatever is now is the only thing that matters and if I'm not doing it now it means it was like it never was. 

Okay, read that last sentence above one more time. Have you read it again? I've talked to several other people on the spectrum that share this and this is one of the big hurdles to finding that balance. What's balance? Right now I'm seeing what I am not and I yearn for the ability to simply converse with ease and maybe even have a social life. Since this is the now this means everything else is irrelevant as it doesn't exist. What this means is that there is no balance; everything is to the extreme end of the scale. I'm either fully engrossed in the activity I am in and perhaps even hyper-focusing to the point that I don't realize I'm actually enjoying myself or I am fully down on myself and the inabilities I have.

The lack of balance is frustrating to say the least and as I write this I'd give almost anything to experience the normality that I witness. Those around me might say that I do a fine enough job as is but trust me when I say everything I do is thought out a dozen times and it is forced with a high level of anxiety. This alone causes so much exhaustion as I simply can't "be" in a social setting.

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Thoughts

Someone asked me about social anxiety recently and the thoughts that surround it. This sort of goes with last week’s post regarding the desire to not let anyone see the way autism plays out in my life. So, here’s the thoughts that come about in a random social encounter…

I struggle with initial interactions. I’m never the one to say hello first, or ask how someone is doing. Why is this? It’s the process of these thoughts, “where are they looking? I’m not sure, but not at me. Don’t look. Don’t look. Okay, are they mad at something? Can’t tell, but if I ask them something they might get mad at me. Really? Hard to say, but it’s a risk. Okay, play it safe. Avoid interaction. It’s the only way to guarantee safety.”

Those are the initial fears and thoughts that come about at every interaction. And yes, it’s that extreme. I fear that, if I introduce, wave, or say hello to a person the outcome will always be anger. Why would I want to make someone angry? Since I don’t want to, this means that all social encounters will always have to be initiated by another person. I do know that this makes it appear as if I’m uninterested in others, but it’s the fear of making people angry that lends itself to avoidance. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Humor by Visualization


Yesterday, I was reminded of the time I laughed over the Taco Bell incident from 11 years ago, so I just have to tell you it  

I have laughed before, and I have laughed until I have cried, but in all my experiences with laughter I may never have had an episode of such intense laughter as I did in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.


I don't find many things all that funny. What other people call comedy I call words. However, when something does find that sweet spot of humor I end up laughing in what could only be called a fit of laughter. Then, instead of the moment passing, my mind maintains that point of maximum humor for what seems to be longer than other people. This always got strange looks when I was in school.

So, in the hours after midnight on a Sunday morning I was in the midst of what I think was a NHL 11 game on the Xbox. There were three other people on the team and we had been playing for many hours. During an intensely close game a random fact popped into my head. I am a resource of useless knowledge and when a random fact like this one pops into my mind I have to ask the question. The question at hand was, "Why is Taco Bell called Taco Bell?" What came next was nothing short of pure hysteria.

At first there was silence. Maybe it was because the other team had the puck in our zone, or maybe no one knew the answer. Then, right before I was going to give the answer, Rob, the friend from Vancouver, gave the humorous answer, "Maybe it's because when you want a taco you ring the bell." I lost it.

When I say I lost it I was at the point where breathing is difficult. I have no idea how I didn't wake anyone up in the house, much less the neighborhood because I was laughing harder than should be allowed by law. I don't know if anyone else found the line as funny as I did, but when he said the line I visually saw people lined up wanting tacos ringing a bell. 

In the midst of my laughing storm Rob made it worse by saying, "And you ring twice if you want extra salsa!" If I hadn't already totally lost it I was now a lost cause. As I said, it was a close game, and my eyes had so many tears in it I could not see. Oxygen was quickly being used up and breathing wasn't easy as well. My virtual, if he could think for himself, had to be thinking as to why he was constantly skating into the boards miles away from the play. 

Thankfully the play on the game was stopped due to some reason or another and we were able to pause the game. The laughter still was as strong as it could be and I kept seeing people ringing bells. Why was this funny? I'm not sure, but trust me when I tell you that writing this right now is tempting me to go back into that rage of laughter.

As I said, this type of laughter is something I have experienced before, and when it happens there is no simple off switch. Very rarely will a traditional stand-up act make me laugh, but I have been known to lose it to sarcasm, irony, or most of all visual concepts because I can truly see it as if it were real. Once that happens it's all over except from the pains in the stomach from laughing to hard.

After about five minutes I regained my composure just enough, and in a voice that I think stressed just how worn out I was from laughing I said, "It's Taco Bell because the guy who started it was named Glen Bell... but if you want a taco you ring the bell!" and I lost it again.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Joys (and pain) of Alias

I've created and defined numerous concepts that better help others understand the nuances of the autism spectrum. For myself, it can be frustrating to define something, understand it, and be powerless to do anything about it. One the main things this plays out in is within my concept of Alias.

The concept, to put simply, is that I am much able to play a role much more than a wide-open social situation involving myself. Within a role, such as a presenter, or an official at a race, is precise as to what is expected, and there are rules that better help define what is expected. It doesn't take much to go from a position of comfort within Alias to being extremely socially awkward and hoping the social encounter ends quickly. 

Last week, INDYCAR did an interview with me for a segment called, "Meet the Paddock" which allows fans to get a glimpse at the vast array of individuals that are involved in the series be it on the competitive side, or as in my case, the series side.

The interview was to take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I was already there helping setup in preparation for the weekend's race. It was to be shot in a place I had never been so there was a bit of anxiety as to where, exactly, it was. With that being so I headed over early because I always have to be early to avoid any social encounters on asking for help.

When I got to the location, it wasn't too long thereafter that the camera guy, sound guy, and the interviewer arrived. I see all of these individuals at every race; sometimes in passing and sometimes in the flag stand so I thought I'd be fully comfortable, but I wasn't. This is the frustrating aspect of Alias. Each time prior I was comfortable enough to converse and small talk, but on this day, with it not being a day where cars were on track or myself in the flag stand, I was lost.

On the outside I looked uncomfortable, but on the inside, I was screaming, "please, please know it's not you! I'm here, I just don't know how to do here right now." 

It's one of the most isolating feelings in the world, this not knowing how to simply be when around others. Also, knowing that in the right environment things are fine makes these bits a bit more difficult.

The microphones were placed, the cameras set up, and without much prep the interview began. Like a key in a car's ignition being turned to make the car come to life so too was my comfort level. I went from over-processing and awkward to spot on and fully on my game with a simple introduction by the interviewer. 

It was a blast. I had so much fun during that interview and felt fully at ease. I was able to slip into my Alias and tomorrow I'll post the video of the interview but do know that the minutes before the interview I was experiencing positional warfare (that's being uncomfortable in one's own skin and having no idea how I should inhabit the space I'm in) and barely able to craft a response without overanalyzing it. 

When not in an Alias, it is frustrating to know what I'm capable of. It's crushing to know that, with the right environment, I can soar with ease. However, when the right environment occurs, and the social anxiety vanishes, it's the most freeing and liberating sensation in the world. You, I think, will see it on the interview tomorrow.