Saturday, December 31, 2022

Here’s to 2023

 It’s the end of the year. I want to thank all of you for following and reading this year and I’ve already been working on bringing you high quality posts next year. 

Happy new year to you, wherever you may be. 

Friday, December 23, 2022


 My diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome came at the age of 20. I had lived all those years knowing, or at least assuming, something was a little different in me, but I never knew why. Beginning in pre-school, my dad was always told that, "Aaron doesn't socialize too well with the other kids, but that's just because he's smarter than the other kids."

The teachers told me that as well so I never thought anything about why I didn't have friends in the truest of sense. "If I am smarter, why would I want them as friends?" is what my school aged mind thought.

As years went on I began to wonder why I was different. My social issues, and life long struggle with time (eight hours in school was too much for my mind) led me to be home schooled and I wound up not going to high school. I often wonder how big of a train wreck high school and I would have been, or would I have found my place? That question will never be answered.

With each year I became a bit more withdrawn. I had a girl friend (yesterday marked six years since I last saw her) but the relationship was getting frayed. I wanted a connection with other people, but knew I didn't have any. I was very confused because I heard people talk about that bond with others, but I had never experienced it and I knew that it wasn't just because I was smarter. If anything, I was feeling as if I had no intelligence because the only thing I wanted, the only thing was to feel that “something” that I saw other people feeling.

Slowly I drifted further from the world around me, and a line of events happened that alerted my dad to the possibility of Asperger’s syndrome. At the time I was immune to the name of autism because I was so withdrawn. On a cloudy, cold, and windy December day I was assessed.

Going into the assessment I wrote a long document that was essentially my life story in ten pages. I was hoping to avoid conversation with the assessor, but my efforts were in vain.

After the assessment and evaluation it was clear and I had a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. Autism? Spectrum? Being new to the world of the autism spectrum I had no idea what the word spectrum meant, and after I was told I had Asperger’s syndrome I went to the internet to see what, exactly, it was.

There were answers for sure, but I also had fears. All those years of not connecting now had a name. I wasn't 100% at fault, so in a way a burden was lifted from me. I had thought that I was simply unlikable. I had thought that I was either hideously ugly, rude, or mean and didn't know why.

Having the diagnosis though also led to a depression. Reading the prognosis and the difficulties of being on the spectrum made me believe that there was no hope. I got into the trap of thinking that, "Since I've had problems connecting with others, and because I have this label, why should I even try?"

That trap led to 15 months of pure unabated depression and self-loathing. My life after diagnosis was… My life? I didn't have a life. I was merely coasting wondering why this had to happen to me.

Eventually all that hatred manifested itself in my ability to write, and I was reminded of that yesterday when I realized that yesterday was the six year mark of the last time I saw my girl friend. After my diagnosis I tried to feel that bond. In my desperation I wanted to see if she cared about me, so my solution was to break up with her, on Christmas, via text message. In my mind she would simply call me and protest this and all would be fine. I was wrong.

After those 15 months and after I started to write I realized that I am unique, as we ALL are. Just because there are pages on the Internet that stated that I will never form those bonds doesn't mean I can't. I may feel them in a different way, but there is always hope!

The trap I fell into is a common one for parents of young children who are newly diagnosed. I went into a denial of sorts in my 15 months of agony, but for a parent, denial is a dangerous world. If Asperger’s syndrome would have been a diagnosis when I was in school (Asperger’s Syndrome entered the DSM in 1994) and I received therapy there is no telling how much progress I could have made. The earlier a child gets therapy the greater the possibility of them being freed from the chains of isolation. This isn't to say that it is ever too late, but the clock is ticking on making the monumental gains.

What I want everyone to know is that my L.A.D. (see title for this blog) was not a good one. Denial, depression, and self-hatred won't get a person far.

Remember though that my diagnosis was personal and I am not a parent and do not fully understand what it is like to hear that your child is on the spectrum. I can only imagine what it would be like. If I had been diagnosis earlier, I would have wanted my dad to do what he could, and not to panic (I don't like panic that much). Knowing what I know now, the autism spectrum is not the end of the world. The generalizations I read on the Internet shortly after my diagnosis scared me to no end. To think that I would never amount to anything and to never have friends was very painful.

Sure, I may have struggles, but I also have extreme joys. These may or may not be on the same page as the rest of the world, but I just wish it wouldn’t have taken 15 months to realize that my life was not over. Time is valuable and can never be returned, be it the agony of being on the spectrum, or the time of early intervention, time is valuable and the trap I fell into robbed me of it. There is hope, there can be happiness, but for that to happen those impacted by Autism, individuals and families, must get past the symptoms found on the Internet and see and experience the outcomes of treatment. Time is everything. Don't fall into this trap like I did.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Case of the Stuffed Crust

 I am going way back in my life for this story, but this is a great example of rigid thinking and the complete inability to understand where someone else is coming from.

For this story I believe the time was summer of 1993. The pizza chain, Little Caesars, had just released the Stuffed Crust pizza unto the world. After being exposed to that once I felt all other pizzas were inferior. I mean, who wouldn't want more cheese on what usually is the most boring part of the pizza?

This was fine and good, except on one Friday evening when I was at a friend's house in the neighborhood I lived in. When told what was for dinner I got elated. "YES! Little Caesars!" I said out loud.

In my mind there was no doubt what the order would be. Because I get the toppings of pepperoni and mushroom so does everyone else. And because I thought the stuffed crust was the best thing ever invented we surely would be getting that as well.

When asked what toppings I wanted I stated my usual, and said, "and we are getting stuffed crust" and then just to make sure I didn't sound too overpowering I added a meek, "right?"

"Aaron," the parent said, "the stuffed crust is $1.75 more." This made no sense to me. The stuffed crust was the best thing on Earth that it would be worth it at $5.00 more.

I made some argument as to why pepperoni and mushroom with a stuffed crust was the best and only pizza worth getting (because it was) to the parent. I was told that he would take it under advisement and he drove off to go order/pickup the pizza.

30 minutes or so passed and when he returned I was so excited. Surely the only pizza worth eating would be in the box. The smell of the pizza quickly engulfed the house and much like a tense moment on the game show "Deal or No Deal" the case, ahem, the box was opened and I was shocked.

Not only was the crust flat, there was no mushrooms or pepperoni. The ultimate insult had been handed out as it was simple a cheese pizza.

I tried with all my might not to say anything and we took the pizza into the other room. My internal fuming grew and grew and eventually I asked, "Where's the pepperoni?" and I got the answer, "Well, my kids don't like it."

This answer made no sense to me because, seeing how I liked it, everyone must like. Even today when I go into a pizza place and see the list of 20 or so toppings I think, "Wow, what a waste of space on the menu seeing how no one will ever order those."

Going back to 1993 now, I tried to eat it, and I tried to understand, but I had to make one more comment, "What about the crust?"

"What about the crust" was like pushing your luck one inch too far because the parent became irate, slammed his beer down, and stormed out of the room.

I was in shock. What did I do? I merely was pointing out the fact that the pizza was inferior in my mind. I wasn't trying to be annoying or to say that he messed up, well, maybe I was a little, but I was just ten years old and I wanted a stuffed crust. There was no malice in my words and I was trying (and failing) to figure out why someone would simply want a cheese pizza.

I wonder how many times this story has been duplicated. in other lives. I ask and I ask and I have no idea that what I am asking is making the other person mad. It took me until after my diagnosis to replay this "Case of the Stuffed Crust" before I began to see that, perhaps, I said all the wrong things.

At the time of the incident I think I was clueless as to why he got mad. I was scared though and I want to make that point clear. I was scared because he got mad and I didn't understand why. It made no sense and for a while I became afraid to speak because I was afraid of duplicating the feat of making someone mad without knowledge. And to tell you the truth, I still carry that fear, although not as much, today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Home… finally

The sun was rising in the air in all its radiance, but the shine didn't bring about the warmth one would expect. The earth was white with snow, lots and lots of snow, except on the road, which was now, and finally, clear. I didn't think it was ever going to happen, but I was now headed home.

What a blizzard it had been! Thursday into Friday I worked at digging the sidewalk in front of my mom's house clear so my mom's and sister's dogs could have somewhere to go outside. After that I turned my focus to my car which had snow drifts almost as tall as my car all around. On Saturday, after way too much effort, I got my car out and went to get a new snow shovel (I broke my mom's trying to dig) and some groceries. When I got back, disaster struck. Okay, disaster is a strong word, so let's call it a winter annoyance struck.

Parking when there's feet of snow around is a bit of a challenge. Backing up into a driveway is even more difficult as I was unable to back in the way I wanted to. I knew I didn't want to nose it in because I wanted to see where I was going when exiting, but as I attempted a three-point turn my car wouldn't go backwards... or forwards. I had found a small section of snow which had melted when I heated my car up and was now ice. I got out, looked under the car, got back in and tried the accelerator harder, which is not advisable, as I began digging a hole where my tires were. I was now truly stuck.

During the four days of snow, I caught cabin-fever. I had heard the term but had never experienced. The thought of being snowed-in when I was going to school was nothing short of a perfect dream, but now that same thought made my body feel like I was being squished and added a sense of needing to go somewhere, anywhere to feel like I were still alive.

The extra days were great in that I got to spend more time with my mom, but I couldn't turn off my brain that felt like the walls were closing in and the only way to be safe was to have the ability to go in any direction in a car. There was no place to go as the roads were still closed and the wind chills were lethal, but to not have the ability if desired to go was the issue.

On Monday, my mom contacted a person that had a piece of heavy equipment, and he came and began to dig the mountain of snow that had drifted in the backyard and driveway. It was a bit annoying to see the machine move a mountain of snow in the same amount of time it took me to get my coat, gloves, and boots on. 

After the snow had been moved, he tried getting my car out with digging, but he looked down at the divots my tires had made and realized he didn't have the right equipment. He went back home, got some strong salt, and within five minutes my car had been liberated once more.

I drove home yesterday. It was a freeing feeling driving down the road. Having the extra time with my mom and sister was excellent, but the anxiety I'm still feeling today of the sensation of being trapped is one I hope eases soon. I felt this feeling many times in my life, such as going to school and feeling trapped, that it's rekindled those types of feelings. Hopefully tomorrow I wake up with the sensation of freedom, of... oh wait, there's a winter storm warning for Saint Louis tomorrow. Winter started today, but can it be over?

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Blizzard of ‘22

There have been many times that I’ve been in a blizzard warning but the end results were anything but. There was always this notion that it would be fun, so long as the power stayed on, to go through the type of snowstorm you might’ve heard about from yesteryear. I’m here to say: it’s not fun!

It started snowing on Monday and each day has had snow. Tuesday into Wednesday was the heavy stuff, but each day has added to the snowfall. This trip out to my mom’s in Gordon, Nebraska was supposed to come to an end tomorrow, but now I’m not sure when I’ll get to leave. 

Last night I shoveled the front sidewalk out to the street and this morning I was dismayed to see my work undone between heavier than forecasted snow with the constant blowing snow. 

This was supposed to be… not this! In my mind I pictured a day of heavy snow but then life goes on. Currently, however, the western part of Nebraska is closed. All the roads from town to towns are closed for travel.

I probably sound a bit whiney but the underlying thing in play is that I can’t plan or predict what is next. Being on the autism spectrum can lead to a strong need to have prediction and to know what comes next, but it is impossible right now. I, along with many others out here, are at the mercy of the weather and the Nebraska Department of Transportation. So long as the wind keeps ripping the lands at 40+mph there will be no progress. Furthermore, a deep freeze begins Sunday with potential double digit negative temps. 

One person pointed out on Facebook that this guarantees more time with my mom and she is correct. It’s hard to enjoy it because I don’t know just how much time. If I knew that it will clear up on Tuesday then I’d be able to settle down and not have this constant anxiousness. For now, though, I’m relegated to looking out the window and seeing more white stuff fall from the sky. When will it end? Will it ever end? Those two questions will be what I remember most from the blizzard of ‘22. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

To the Teachers

 This is written to my 2nd and 4th grade teachers but really this could be applied to any teacher who has had a profound effect on any student autism spectrum or not...

Dear Mrs. Jendra and Mrs. Colvin,

As another school year comes to the halfway point, I, as I do every time this year now, think about the two of you. What you did for me was nothing short of extraordinary and here's the thing; you have no idea and probably never will.

Mrs. Jendra, you opened the door that got me out of only thinking about auto racing by using auto racing as a means to springboard into other topics. Your one question of, "Aaron, where is Silverstone?" got me to wonder about all the places Formula 1 visits each year which spawned my love of the world. While this may not seem like much to some, for me this opened my eyes that the world was greater than racing stats, or the barriers that enclose a race track because, prior to that question, that's all my world was. Did you mean to have this profound impact on me? Thinking back I think you did. Over the course of the school year you listened to my endless conversations about racing but then engaged me in math, and science. You really challenged me when I was bored and changed the way information was presented when I was struggling. It's amazing, really, that you did everything right despite the fact that Asperger's was still two years from officially being classified as a diagnosis. You had patience, and in the end you opened my eyes to a world of endless opportunities.

Mrs. Colvin, you too played an important part in my development. As with Mrs. Jendra you took an interest (or at least faked the interest) to what I had to say. Maybe it was that you noticed I didn't speak to too many of my peers, or maybe you really were interested, but whatever it may have been I gained confidence in speaking when you would ask me about a race, or the weather. Of all my teachers it was you who constantly said, "Aaron, are you sure you want to be a race car driver? I ask because you could be so much more like a meteorologist, or a doctor, or a lawyer." I laughed it off because a race car driver is the only thing I wanted to be and yet you saw the potential in me that I wouldn't realize until 2009! You also challenged me and kept me interested in what was being taught. Maybe it was that you used so many real world topics and examples to keep me interested, but whatever it was I was never bored in your classroom.

The truly life changing thing both of you did was something that I now close my presentations with. School was a challenge for me be it the length of time or the endless social interactions, and maybe you noticed the the challenges I had socializing, but both of you changed my life. If you remember, I loved academic games whether it was the flash cards or states and capitols (my favorite) but there was a problem in that, the game we would play where two kids would go head-to-head and whoever got it right would proceed to the next desk, well, the problem was no one else got to play. It wasn't that I was smarter than everyone else, it's just that both of those topics are my special interest (I now call it "Kansas") and I have extremely quick reflexes. In other grades I would not be allowed to play the game and would be given busy work to do. This busy work wasn't graded but I had to do it. This angered me but both of you thought outside the box and instead of banishing me you gave me the honor to host the game. Maybe you just wanted a break, but I think it was more and certainly more is what turned out.

I'm now a public speaker and have met many, many teachers like the two of you and each time I do I almost want to cry when they realize that a student in the distant past had Asperger's because here's the cruelest thing; you may never know what type of impact you had. So often people on the autism spectrum and their families get caught up in trying to fix everything right this second, but often times it is like planting seeds and you've got to give them time to grow. The two of you planted the seeds of public speaking and it took two decades to sprout, but here I am with over 500 presentations given and almost 50,000 people spoken to. This wouldn't have been possible without your planting of the seeds and when I see teachers that have the devotion, dedication, and compassion you did my heart is filled with such a high level of hope and joy.

I realize I must have been frustrating to work with at times and I often would question the reasoning or logic of your decisions, and I would be the first one to mention if we were one minute late for a subject transition, but you never once got angry with me. You both had patience beyond anyone else and this made me feel comfortable to learn in your classrooms. 

How do I close a letter like this? How do I say "thank you" in a way that is fitting to the two people that planted the seeds to give me the skills to become who I am? As I said, it is just cruel that you may never know, and since it's been so long and I can't find you on Facebook I don't even know if both of you are still alive. But maybe this cruel fact is what being a teacher is. It's like being a farmer with the possibility of never seeing the harvest. The only way I can show my thanks is to keep moving forward and to keep using my ability of public speaking to spread awareness and understanding and to present to teachers and let them know what you did for me because, somehow, both of you saw my potential. It's amazing what you did and I'm sad that you may never know what I've become because of you, but maybe that's the essence of being a teacher so all I can say, wherever you may be, is, "thank you."

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Last Question

I’m not sure how it works out, but every school presentation will be ended with a final question that is profound. This rule was no different on Friday. 

I was presenting to an entire sixth grade and the penultimate question was, “Why do people share misinformation about the autism spectrum online?” This was an amazing question, one of which I could answer fully, but it paved the way for the final question.

For years I’ve told you that you need to see the magic of a school presentation. It’s unlike anything else in the realm of presenting and the amount of hope you’ll walk away with is grand, whether it’s a person on the spectrum advocating, or peers wanting to understand. What was about to occur though felt bigger than anything. 

I got the cue, it was time for the last question. A hand was meekly raised and I pointed, the student looked down, then at me, took a moment and said, “Why does society think those with disabilities will never succeed?” I was floored. 

How do I answer this? I had been where that question was after my diagnosis in 2003 and the awful information I received. I know the feeling of guaranteed failure. From this point it makes life a chore, each day is another reminder that success is for others, the “normal” people, and that life, for me, would be of witnessing others live it while I’m off on the side merely to be an observer in everyone else’s joy. I experienced this when I was 20, but a sixth grader asking this? My heart broke. 

As for the words I spoke, I’m not sure. I became angry on the inside because no sixth grader should have this sentiment. I became angry at myself for not doing more. I wanted to fox this right then and there. It didn’t matter that this was my 1,045th presentation because I used to give 100+ presentations across missouri every year. Being removed from so many presentations, I forgot the need and the feelings of desperation others may have. 

I hope I answered her question with the precision and care it required. I know I mentioned that I had felt that way, but that I disproved the inability at success as I made it to the pinnacle of Motorsport with the NTT INDYCAR Series and the Indianapolis 500. I think her face perked up for a moment when I mentioned this.

There is so much work to be done. This is bigger than you, me, or any one outlet of information. I would’ve hoped in 12 years I’ve been presenting that this sentiment would’ve disappeared, but it hasn’t. There’s still a gigantic need and the pain of those that believe they shouldn’t even try due to society’s thoughts is unimaginable. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to do my part, and try to get my voice out there amid the chaotic dissonance of misinformation to say that, “I’ve been there, that feeling hurts, but let me tell you way it isn’t true…”

Friday, December 9, 2022

Back to School

After doing this for over a decade I shouldn’t get nervous, but I still do. Today, I return to a school for a presentation. It’ll be an entire grade level and the last time I gave a school presentation it was a year ago today. This has me worried. 

I tend to want perfection when presenting. I won’t remember if I had 95% of everything right on delivery but rather I’ll focus on the 5% that I botched. Also, I know what’s on the line today. 

Every school presentation I’ve done has been magical. There’s no other way to describe it. When minds think, and hearts get opened, it’s magical. This puts the pressure on because this isn’t just another gig; for a person that has the diagnosis, or perhaps a sibling, or maybe even a group of students that’ll become a support for a person, today is critical. I must be on and can’t miss my cures, miss my words, nor can I forget a story. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love this pressure. I thrive on it, but at the same time the butterflies will be immense as I countdown the minutes until I take the stage, introduce myself, and hopefully experience the magic when I open it up to questions. Here’s hoping!

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Decade Ago Today...

This happened to me a decade ago today. Kyle passed away five years ago so this story means more to me than you'll ever know...

When the USAC banquet wrapped up I waited a while for Kyle to get the things he needed to get as I was going to stay at his place as the following day had our USAC .25 banquet where we would honor the champions and top finishers of the season.

I had been joking during the night that I wasn't entirely sure where I had parked. I knew I was north of the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom, but other than that I wasn't sure. As much as I had been joking there was a sense of concern within me as I didn't want to be walking the streets of downtown Indy after midnight trying to find my parking garage.

At around midnight I left the banquet hall and Kyle told me to meet him at the USAC office and I would follow him to his place from there. I did let him know that my phone's battery was dead so if anything happened I would be unable to call him. This fact alone should have let me know that something odd was about to happen.

I walked north with my plaque in hand and was thankful that it wasn't as cold as it was the previous year. One block, two block, three blocks and I thought that my below ground parking garage was on this street. I took a right and thought that the buildings looked familiar so I walked a couple blocks and then I knew I was in the right place.

As I got near the entrance I began to get my keys out of my pocket and I turned the corner to go down the entrance ramp when this is what I saw:

This wasn't good. I looked around for a call button and none existed. "Okay" I thought, "let's try the other side. Surely a parking garage doesn't close." So that's what I did and instead of a walk I was now running. So picture this, I'm wearing my nicest pants, shirt with a tie, and dress coat and I'm running down this dark alleyway in downtown Indy after midnight. I was running because I didn't know where Kyle was and I didn't want him to have to wait at the office for a long time because after all my phone was dead and this delay was not good.

When I got to the other side of the building I saw a carbon-copy of that picture. Again, no signs that says when it closes and no call button. A sign on the down ramp stated that the garage was, indeed, "closed." Closed? But it's a parking garage. This couldn't be happening.

I now sprinted full speed towards the doors of the building because, maybe, the doors were closed because it was cold? With each entrance I tried I got the same horrible result; a locked door. This was not good.

Panic began to set in. I didn't know where Kyle was and my phone was dead and I wouldn't be able to call him if I had another phone because I don't know his number. What was I going to do? Sleep on the sidewalk? I could go to a hotel but a room in downtown Indy surely would cost at least an arm and half a leg. Wait a sec! A hotel, maybe someone left a phone charger in a room and there might just be one at the front desk in a lost and found pile.

With that thought I ran full speed towards the hotel across the street. I burst into the front door and approached the front desk where a weary traveler was checking in. I waited for seemed like 13 years, but it was probably more like 45 seconds, and when I got to the desk I asked, if by chance, there would be an iPhone charger I could borrowed. My hopes were dashed when she, the front desk lady, said no, but then I explained my ordeal and she replied, "What do you mean closed? That garage never closes! Okay, let me see."

Another 13 years passed as I awaited what I hoped to be her return with a charger. Okay, this time it was more like 15 seconds, but if I didn't get a charger I had no idea what I was going to do. If everyone had departed the banquet I would have NO WAY to communicate to anyone what was going on. Kyle would get to the office and I would never show up. Nothing good was going to come from this so I started whispering under my breath, "please please please have a charger" and sure enough she came out from the office with a charger.

She handed me the charger and she said, "That will be $5" so I got out my wallet and she then said, "I was just kidding. Wow, you really thought I'd charge you $5?" I didn't give a spoken answer but just looked at her befuddled. This probably would have been a highly awkward social situation for me but I was solely focused on getting my phone charged.

I plugged in the phone and when an iPhone's battery is completely dead you can't simply plug and go; you've got to wait until the phone as a minimal charge before you can use it. This amount of time seemed like a century. Okay, I'm on a streak of time exaggeration this post but this was about five minutes that I sat... and I sat... and I sat...

Finally, there was the beep and my phone was on. I got to the section on my phone that allows me to call, but my phone was also checking e-mail, text messages,, words with friends, and who knows what else so my phone took it's time not realizing the mess that had been going on while it was sleeping.

When I got through to Kyle I told him I had a problem and my parking garage was closed. "Closed? What do you mean closed?" He too had never heard of such a thing but thankfully he hadn't left downtown so he asked me where I was and after a short conversation he told me to go back to the site of the banquet.

With the briskness of a sprinter I ran back towards where this story began and once there I got in Kyle's car and he again asked me to explain just what exactly I meant by the fact that I couldn't get to my car. I explained and we drove to the garage. We parked in the dark alley I had ran through and he got out to confirm the fact that my car was not in a place that could be reached.

While he took the exterior tour of the building I had done I sat and I thought that 1. what an odd thing to happen and 2. I couldn't believe I had the idea to ask a hotel if they had a phone charger and then to actually carry through with the idea. I'm not one to ask for help, but sometimes I guess I have the power to amaze myself.

Kyle came back and said something like, "I can't believe it. You were right. This garage is closed." And with that we went towards his place with all my luggage sitting in my car locked in the parking garage.

The next day I left my car in the garage because there was no other place to park with so many functions going on in downtown Indy but that evening after our .25 banquet I got to the building and it was closed again. This time however I could get into the lobby of the building and I spoke to a guard there who said I got there just in time. He led me to my car and let me out and sitting in my car never felt better!

The moral of this story is to always make sure your phone has a charge and also, from this day forward, always ask, re-ask, and ask a third time if the parking garage as a closure time because, as I told someone, who knew parking garages closed?

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A Departing Solstice

It's been over a decade since General Motors retired the Pontiac brand, but on iRacing the Pontiac Solstice has remained on the service offering drivers a great car to learn the basics of car control and race craft.

When iRacing began, the Solstice was the car everyone had to start in if they wanted to road race. Call it the rookie trainer, but if you wanted to run faster cars on road circuits you had to start with the car that handled, well, it certainly wasn't a modern F1 car, or a F1 car from the 50's. It was heavy, clunky, but it did exactly what it was meant to do and that was give racers a good foundation for their sim-racing talents.

The start of my iRacing career was filled with many summer afternoons with that car. I started picking up some wins and I thought I was hot stuff, but then a driver that has the same name as current NTT INDYCAR Series Champion, Will Power, came on and suddenly I was 1.5 seconds off the pace. My confidence, and ego, were quickly put into place. Second place.

Like most, I moved on from the Solstice. It was still on the service, and it was still there, but it was a car I never thought to run. I'd see it frequently as I ran in a series that had it in a multi-class series, but I'd see it in passing or hear it mentioned when other drivers referred to it as a "Slowstice" or a "Puntiac". Memories, however, would always flash in my brain as I passed a Slowstice, ahem, Solstice from those days starting out and it would bring a smile. Yesterday, though, the era of the Solstice we found out would come to an end.

The loss of the car brought about an odd emotional reaction, mainly of which was sadness. I quickly got on the iRacing forums to try and orchestrate a big sendoff race in its last official race. I hadn't touched the car in a decade but there was a strange conviction that I had to do this. I had to do one last race in it. Would I be competitive? While I'm highly competitive, that didn't matter. First, last, didn't matter. It was about the car and the memories of driving it as a rookie and trying to find that tenth of a second that other people had that I didn't. It was about a time iRacing is nowhere where it is today. Hundreds of cars and tracks? Ha! It was a handful of each. We are spoiled now, compared to then, and yet for those that were on there on the opening years may from time to time yearn for that simpler time... and then we drive the newest car around the Nürburgring, and we are quickly glad for modern comforts.

The final race was a somber 25-minute race around Laguna Seca. It was one of the chattiest races I've been a part of as we all told our favorite memories of the car. While many moved on, it remained some driver's favorite car as the skillset of the car is one of pure exit speed and power cannot mask a driver's errors, such as mine yesterday, and it offered a different type of race than, say, modern GT3 racing. However, and this could be the true cause of my emotional response yesterday, time and life moves on.

We should be grateful iRacing kept the car around for almost 13 years after Pontiac became defunct. I recall people posting memories of Pontiac when that announcement was made that GM would no longer make the brand. Time moves on. Life moves on. Whether it's real steel, or a collection of pixels, it does seem everything in life has an expiration date and while I always saw the Solstice in passing on the track, it never came to mind that with each passing it was nearing the finish line. How many things in life are like this? It's hard to grasp this on a daily basis and we never know what was there until it was gone. The Solstice though is now gone and retired from official competition. Sure, it was just a collection of pixels on my screen and in the grand scheme of life it was of little consequence, but it's an end of an era. All eras do end, but it's amazing that a simulated car could've elicited an emotional response from those that noticed, remembered, and celebrated the car that was the Solstice.

Monday, December 5, 2022

A Checkered Past

I often get asked in presentations if I, "have ever had issues taking things literally?" I will usually mention that typically I do not unless I have not heard a line before. Little did I know I've been hearing a line over and over and had no idea it's true meaning.

I discovered my error over Christmas back in 2011 while at my sister's during our annual Who Wants to Be a Millionaire games on the Wii. It was the 2nd year for this and on my turn the second question I came across was, "Usually, what does it mean if someone has had a checkered past?" The first thing that popped into my mind was this photo of me:

To me, this is checkered. The options for the question were, "A. A troubled past B. A past filled with victories C. A past filled with dental issues or D. Lots of days playing checkers." With the image of me flying the checkered flag for the winner I instantly, without a second thought, went with B. My sister blurted out in a sad tone, "Aaron..." and I was confused as I was expecting the music of a right answer to play, but my joy experienced a false start as the crashing tones of the wrong answer played. I was in shock.

My sister looked at me in a confused manner as if to say, "How did you miss that?" and I stared at the screen perplexed. I've heard that phrase used so many times and I thought it meant someone of a hero status who always was on top. As my mom took her turn to play I got on my phone to look it up and was flabbergasted when it read, "A morally dubious past."

Thankfully, my misunderstanding only hurt me on the score sheet (although I must brag, I came out ahead in the end, although it was a hard-fought fight on the last night) but I experienced a thing that many people on the spectrum face. Non-literal sayings like this can wreak havoc on us. If it weren't for WWTBAM I probably still would think checkered past meant something much like the photo above.

There are so many figures of speech, and I use them too, that I think we forget about them and simply take them for granted. As you go through your day today just take a step back and listen to all the conversations. Keep a mental note of how many phrases are said that aren't literal. Also, keep track of how many times you hear, "That was like a..." Each time you hear one just think how confusing it would be if you took it as literal as possible. Maybe you'll hear a lot, maybe you'll hear a few, or perhaps none, but even if you hear one, or use one without thinking, just think how difficult or confusing it would be if you took it in the literal fashion. I'm thankful that, for the most part, I understand non-literal sayings... Although perhaps I just think I do. How many more sayings are out there that are like "A checkered past" that I have misunderstood? Hopefully there aren't many...

Friday, December 2, 2022

To Worry


            I’ve heard several misguided experts proclaim that, “All people on the autism spectrum have no imagination.” While some might have this, and while I was never good at pretend play unless it was under my terms using my logic, my imagination is super strong in terms of being able to visually play out scenarios in my mind. This can be a strength, but when I was younger this proved to create a lot of issues that those around me couldn’t understand and I couldn’t vocalize.

            The first thing in my life I can remember worrying about was the weather. There were two instances that might have influenced this, well, maybe three. The first, and this is what made me think of three, was this weather radio my dad had. Yes, this before the time of the Internet and this NOAA weather radio, anytime a watch or warning would be issued, would blare out this hideous squelchy, screeching sound. I would scream when it would go off and this may have appeared as a fear of the impending storm, which was there, but also the noise itself was bothersome for my system. Now, if we use many of the concepts put forth in my previous books such as “Film Theory” and “Associative Memory System” this meant that stormy weather equaled that noise which was bad therefore both storms and that radio were bad. I don’t know what happened to that radio but I hope it got dropped in a tub of hydrochloric acid.

            The second event was when I was about five and my dad and mom had just left the house and I believe my grandpa was watching me and no later than five minutes after they left a massive lightning bolt struck a tree in the front yard. I can remember this moment as if were right now as the sound was deafening and the light, oh the light was blinding. I think in this instance I screamed for an hour afterwards and from that moment on every storm equaled, in my mind, that experience of severe noise and light which was, perhaps, one of my first true sensory meltdowns.

            Thirdly, about a year after the lightning strike, a severe storm producing tornadoes was passing through Indianapolis and the tornado sirens went off (this too was a sensory issue ”first” as well as scaring me because I figured that eerie sound that everyone could hear would only be used if something was really, really bad) so my dad and mom rounded the family up and we headed to the basement. As I went from my room headed to the basement I can remember looking outside and the clouds were something I have never seen since; it was the greenest sky you could imagine and yet it was night and the clouds were moving in a straight down fashion. On top of all that electric lines and transformers were blowing ever half second. Needless to say it was a scary sight for a six year old to see. 

            We get to the basement and go into the deepest room but as soon as we get there the entire family, excluding me, go out the basement door to watch the storm. I heard the news and I had been taught that in a tornado one must go to the basement. This doesn’t mean go to the basement and proceed to go outside! This means hunker down and hope and pray for the best. However, I was left alone, screaming mind you, and going through my mind at the age of six on that stormy night, were all the possibilities that would happen to my family be it a lightning strike, or the impending tornado. Both of those options could have happened but my mind could play it out and I could truly see it. Because of all this I screamed and I screamed and I walked halfway down the hall and demanded that everyone come inside. 

            From all of those experiences I developed a severe fear of all things outside a sunny day. I used to live by a map The Weather Channel had and that was/is their thunderstorm forecast map. This map shows the US and where there could be strong thunderstorms the area will be shaded in orange and the possibility of severe was red and if my hometown was shaded in red it was all but impossible to get me to go to school? Why? Several reasons; the first was that schools don’t have basements and the rules on the television always said go to a basement or a “central room.” There was an experience I had in kindergarten where a storm was close and the sirens were going off so we went into the hall which was right by the front door. I knew this wasn’t safe and from that day I didn’t trust a school with my storm safety. Secondly, if I was at school, I couldn’t see the radar which back then, Internet less mind you, the radar was only viewable once every ten minutes which meant that every ten minutes my imagination ran wild.

            If I were at school my mind would play out situations of how and where the storm would develop and in my mind it always ended with a catastrophic F-5 tornado coming and ripping up where I was into oblivion. Was this probable? No, but could it happen? Yes, and this is where it can be difficult for those around us to understand our worry because to you it is something that has such a remote possibility of occurring that you don’t give it a thought, but since feeling an emotion is to feel something to the unfiltered level this means that not only can I play out the scenario but I can also feel it in advance.

            If storms weren’t bothering me another issue plagued me from a young age and that was the fear of losing those around me, specifically my dog Missy. Yes, I feared losing human family members but that worry was so deep that any thought of that at all was brain shattering and the only way I can compare that is to imagine what it would be to drop a piece of china from a ten story high window. But when it came to Missy I would sit with her and silently cry fearing the day that she was no longer barking in supreme happiness when I came home. This was when she was just a couple years old and again, was it probable that her life was going to end anytime soon? No, but again the possibility was there and since it was there in my mind it was consuming. My dad would always tell me that my worry was like, “paying interest on a loan that you haven’t taken out yet” but being so young I didn’t understand it. Even if I did it wouldn’t have mattered because the fact of the matter was that she was going to die, someday, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it.

            As I grew older my ability to worry grew with age as I learned more about the world and more about potential life changing events. With the advent of caller ID I began to fear phone calls because anytime a number called that I didn’t recognize I always feared the worst and assumed it was the highway patrol letting me know that someone I knew had been in a fiery car crash. This worry and fear, when it hits, is instant. It isn’t, “Oh, here’s a number I don’t recognize. Could it be one of my mom or dad’s friends? Hmm, probably not. Could it be a store letting someone know a product came in? A telemarketer? Oh, I don’t know, there are just too many possibilities.” Again, that’s not how my brain works. My brain instantly goes, “Okay, who just died.”

            I will try to cover social worries in later blog posts as those deserve their own time, but of course social issues can also cause worry. And with all these worries, and if I forget to mention this later on, you’ve got to remember that these worries/fears are more than just a slight worry for us as they’ll become the only thing that matters. We don’t go from an alert level of all’s well to all’s hell in a gradual form; no, we go from 0 to 10 instantly and we may be able to feel it, see it, and experience it because, if we’re a visual thinker, we can see it in advance. And what this means is that saying, or diminishing our fear by saying, “It’s nothing to worry about” or, “I understand” will do little to quell the storm of worry that is raging. Can you do something? Oh yes, but you’re going to have to understand why we are afraid and try to think logically and visually, but since each person with autism is unique and since each person’s worry triggers can be anything and everything there is no one answer I can give in confidence as to make everything perfectly better instantly. 

            As I reached my adult years the primary worry has been the worry that everything “won’t be okay.” This is a broad term I use and I have constantly, for almost 15 years, asked my dad at least once a day, “Will everything work out, will everything be okay?” Part of the genesis of this question was that awful website I read when I was diagnosed which told me everything was not going to be okay, but from that the worry had many sides and depths. Will I always have a place to live? Will I be accepted? If things are difficult will I swim instead of sink? Will I be able to pay my bills? Again, please remember that these things I just asked are things we all think and could quite possibly be part of the essence of being human, but for some these questions are just that. For me they take on a life in my brain like a movie and I can play out and see all the future expenses and I’ll know the exact date that I will run out of money. What can’t be calculated, and maybe this is caused by the worry, is what money will be earned. As good as I am imagining the end of my world and all that could go wrong I can see what could go right. You see, Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

            There are other aspects to this that can cause worry for us on the autism spectrum and they are all around you right now. If you’re in a home listen for a moment and turn any music or background noise you may have on. Maybe you hear an air conditioner or heater, or maybe, and I hope you just heard this but the odds are low, you just heard the house settling. If not, I hope you know the noise which can very much sound like a footstep on the floor. I’ve heard over a dozen stories from parents that struggle with this because, and I suffered from this too, that when that noise is heard I don’t think that it’s the house creaking but rather I think of some masked robber here to take my things or hurt me. Again, is this the likely thing it is? No, but it could be and when we are talking about all the possible outcomes in life it is impossible to get everything right, isn’t it? But, what I think is one of the underlying causes of this worry issue, is that processing for us on the autism spectrum can be longer so I have to be prepared for the worst before it gets here. Maybe this is an instinctual response that can’t be helped to protect my body in these events. And then again maybe this is just because I’m just hyper-sensitive to my surroundings and since whatever is felt is felt to an extreme level therefore any hesitation, any worry, or anything that is 1% out of the ordinary will create a response that might be impossible for you to understand, but while it may be impossible to understand how I can fear a storm that doesn’t exist yet, or mourn the death of my living dog the fact of the matter is that my worry is real regardless the current state of realness of whatever it is I am worrying about and that is what those around me, and others that are around those on the autism spectrum, must understand.