Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Pain of Not Knowing

"It hurts" I said, with my hand up. The teacher looked at me, huffed, and then said with the most blunt and stern words of, "No it doesn't."

It was 1989 and I was six. It was first grade music class, and I was still 14 years away from getting my autism spectrum diagnosis. The teacher was explaining bass and whatever bit of music we were listening to was turned up to maximum bass. Kidneys were shaking, and if we had fillings at that age, they would've been shaking out of our mouths. However, I was 14 years away from any understanding as to the events of this day, and the long-lasting impact it had on my life.

This month, December 2023, is the 20th anniversary of my diagnosis. I've been struggling with writer's block because I have such deep emotions about this. After this month, I'll have lived more of my life knowing I was on the spectrum than not knowing. With that said, how could I commemorate this milestone? This story of first grade music class kept flashing in my mind, and it needed to be told once again.

The impact of "No it doesn't" transcended that day. Of course, how many people knew what sensory issues were back then? Asperger's was still five years from getting put into the DSM, so how could I blame the teacher? I don't, but this doesn't mean the impact was negated. What impact? The impact of being unable to advocate for myself.

While the other kids were loving the feeling of the music, the beat were like knives in my arms and legs. My heartrate picked way up, and I didn't know what adrenaline felt like and I couldn't identify it, but my body was in full fight or flight mode. I spoke up, I said how I felt, and I was told I was wrong. Think about that for a long second or two. With my belief that those on the spectrum operate with the system of, "whatever happens first always has to happen", that makes it an extreme danger that, the next time I felt any distress at all, why would I speak up? Why would I risk stern words from a teacher or family member? 

This is why the need for understanding is so great. It was a different world back then. Autism was rare, and there was minimal knowledge that approximately 90% of those on the spectrum will have a sensory issue in one form or another. I can tell you, I became fearful after that day of any big speaker, and any potential event that would create a lot of noise that shook the room I was in. Did I actually feel what I felt? If so, how could I speak up about it? 

The fear of the noise often became worse than the noise itself as I lived life in anxiety all from the words, "No it doesn't." Had I not learned about being on the spectrum in 2003, I can't imagine where I'd be now just in terms of the sensory aspect of life. It was a great relief would I finally understood what happened on that day in first grade. I do wish the teacher had said something else, or asked what I meant by the pain I mentioned as I might've not grown afraid of my own feelings and if others would negate how I felt. 

I'm often asked by people whether or not it's worth even getting the diagnosis anymore. This story of what happened to me in first grade, and the relief I experienced when my reaction to bass was validated was such a weight off my existence. My feelings weren't imaginary, my traits weren't because I was defective, and after my diagnosis it took a long while to understand this but, I'm not normal, but this doesn't mean less. As I've yearned to be normal, I finally realized that normal sounds boring so yes, there may be events in my life like bass that give me grief, but there's also a wonderful world of traits that I wouldn't have without being on the spectrum, and it took man years to understand and accept it, but 20 years on after my diagnosis I am so thankful that I am, and thankful for the answers of knowing that yes, it did hurt, but it's okay, and I hope fewer and fewer people go through what I did back in 1989.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

20 Years an Aspie

"Aaron, I don't know what the future holds, but I know two things. We are going to get answers and there's going to be a lot of work to be done." 

Those were the words that introduced me to prospect that I might be on the autism spectrum. I was somewhere in West Virginia riding with my dad as we were driving back to Saint Louis after Thanksgiving. It was 2003 and my life was about to change.

I can't believe it's been 20 years. With this year's anniversary and with me being 40, I'll be at a point that I've known I was on the autism spectrum longer than I hadn't. This feels a bit surreal because I remember that drive back home in 2003 so vividly.

When my dad brought up the subject, I didn't really know what to think. He mentioned he read an article in a newspaper that sounded a lot like who I was and my skillset. I had never heard of Asperger's and he mentioned that he was going to have me see my doctor when I got back. While I was intrigued about this, the "a lot of work to be done" had me a bit scared. What did this mean? What would I have to do? While I would go to the doctor, I wasn't too invested in all this yet. Of course, the doctor meeting went bad.

I find it odd that I'm having a hard time writing about this. I've been jammed internally with the need to write this post, but the words aren't flowing yet. Maybe as December comes I can give this milestone 20 year mark the post it deserves.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Why don’t you talk?

“Why doesn’t he talk to me?”

That was the question an indirect coworker asked of a direct coworker. This was many moons ago, but the person asking the question didn’t understand. Most people don’t. 

Having Asperger’s, socializing just doesn’t come naturally. I’ve grown immensely in the past decade, but I’m still highly reserved and it takes a long time for myself to be able to socialize. That’s why most of my socializing is on the job. 

It can be confusing for those that can see a person like myself socialize with a seemingly level of ease that others could envy, and yet, if there’s just one change in the environment, there can be a drastic reduction in my ability to communicate. Things don’t get built overnight and so too my ability to socialize takes a while. 

I’m working the SKUSA Supernats this week and I’ve worked with some of my coworkers for a decade, some even longer! It’s awesome to be accepted for who I am and my lack of socializing outside of the track is understood. 

Employment can be hard for this very issue in that it can be so difficult for all parties to understand the dynamics in play. On the track I can be social, and the teamwork that takes place here at SKUSA, and with INDYCAR during that season, is something I wish came naturally for me outside of the workplace. 

As for me, now, I’m going to cherish today and the next two days as I stand at the finish line of the world’s largest race, and I’m free from the questions of, “why doesn’t he talk”? However… there seems to be a push to get me to dance. I understand this is all in fun, and it’s amazing to be in a workplace that I can truly thrive.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Unexpected Call

“Aaron, you’ve got to stay for the podiums.”

Ugh! It had already been a long weekend of racing in Saint Louis and as soon as my responsibilities as the flagger and the race director were over, I’d head home. The social aspect of just hanging around to chit-chat was not my thing. However, the promoter told me I had to stay.

It was the first race of 2008, and I was working a regional series and the season started at my home track. The series became SKUSA affiliated and the owner, Tom Kutscher, was in attendance. I didn’t think much of this as no matter the day, if I were at a race track I’d be giving it everything I had.

The podiums began and I thought my presence was needed to assist with trophies, but as I attempted to help I was pushed aside. This… this was odd. Why was I still there? I endured the awkwardness of hanging around, and now I was just there, standing awkwardly, and for anyone that didn’t know I had Asperger’s, the signs were obviously apparent as I had no idea how to stand in the space I was in. 

I was getting flustered. On the track, there is no second thought of how I stand, how I move, or what is required of me. I love it. I crave it. At work, I’m at play, but this? What was this?

I tried not to look too uncomfortable, or irked, but I applauded on cue when drivers were announced and they got their trophies. Then, it happened.

Tom grabbed the microphone from the promoter and said, “folks, I’ve seen some crazy…” there were some colorful words, he then continued, “yes, I’ve seen a lot at race tracks but I’ve never seen anything like I saw today.” Oh goodness… what did I do wrong? That’s all I could think of. Whatever was about to be said couldn’t be good, “What I saw was amazing!” Amazing? This was sounding better, “Amazing, passionate, it was a show… I have found my new flagman for the Supernats… Aaron, do you want the job?”

The world stopped spinning at those words. I knew the importance of that race, it’s the largest kart race in the world. It’s an event that draws racers from all over the world, and I had to blink several times to think if I heard what I actually heard. I was speechless and now all eyes were on me. Tom then asked, “so , Aaron, do you want it!” 

Want it? I dreamt about working a National event and couldn’t believe it. I nodded, I tried to say yes, I was fending off tears as the crowd erupted in cheers. It was a scene out of movie, and as I drove home that evening, I kept the news to myself until I walked into the house and told my dad the exciting news, the news that would change my professional life.

Two things inspired me telling you this story. The first is that, right now, I’m on a plane heading to my 15th SKUSA Supernats. Secondly, the question I was asked by an individual as I presented at Easterseals Arkansas has haunted me for almost two weeks now. “Aaron, how do you keep your dream alive?” 

That question and this story, combined, gives me so much hope. I probably understates just how much of a fish out of water I was standing around awaiting the podium ceremony. My social skills were minimal back then. My timing in conversations were about as awkward as someone trying to tango during a slow waltz. However, my passion an ability at the job itself was noticed.

A dream can bring so much hope and so much anguish. My dream to be a race car driver was dashed right at the time of my diagnosis. It was the only thing I wanted to do in life, however, all dreams may not be fulfilled, but sometimes the dream can turn into a wonderful dream you didn’t know you had. From picking up SKUSA, I continued living my dream at the racetracks and there’s no doubt in my mind that my path to the NTT INDYCAR Series and the Indianapolis 500 absolutely needed that regional kart race in Saint Louis in 2008.

In this world, I firmly believe that dedication and passion for a job, any job, is noticed. It can be difficult to keep the work ethic of giving it one’s all because, what’s the point? Who is going to notice? If other people barely try, why should I? Those questions are easy to fall into, but one may never know who is observing, who is watching, and chances one didn’t even think were possible can come out of nowhere. Well, actually they came from somewhere. The passion and drive we on the spectrum can have when our job lines up with our passion. It may not be a job, it’s play, and given the opportunity we may shine brighter than anyone could’ve imagined. I never could’ve imagined the events that came after 2008. I’m grateful, beyond grateful, my passion was noticed. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Fear and Interviewing

"Aaron, do you have any sales experience?" 

The question hung in the air with no response from me. If this were a game show, I'd have been buzzed long before I spoke, but I had to assess this question.

Job interviews can be daunting for those on the autism spectrum. We can strive to be perfect which, at times, may make us overprocess the question at hand.

This was an interview for what I hoped would be my third job. I didn't interview at my first two, so this was a new experience, but in the back room of the mall videogame store, the setting reminder me more of a police interrogation instead of a place of commerce. It was cramped, and the manager was hovering over me with my resume in hand. It was as if he had all the answers, and in this inquisition, it was up to me to get the right answers but... what was right?

There had been about 20 seconds since the question had been asked. Sales experience? I thought back to my jobs and my first job that wasn't at a racetrack was at a bowling alley. Now, the question was, "did renting out bowling shoes count as sales?" 

When I present, I make sure to let my audiences know that, while our answers may be delayed, it doesn't mean we are "slow". Others may easily be able to rationalize an answer, but I was trying to determine what the meaning of sales were. 

I had the thought of, "why can't we talk about videogames because those I know.? Panic began to set in. I knew an answer was needed but I couldn't think of the right answer. To give an answer of anything I gave the response of, "I don't know." I then thought, "genius answer, Aaron, pure genius."

The next question surely would be about videogames but instead, out of leftfield, came, "Okay, I see you've worked at a racetrack so do you have any management experience?" 

He was right, I had been flagging for the Saint Louis Karting Association for six years, and when I was on track I was in charge of the operation of the race, but was this managing? I had corner workers I'd talk to during the race, but was this managing? I didn't hire them, but I could tell them to wave a yellow flag. More alarms in my brain started going off as I wasn't prepared for these questions, I wasn't yet diagnosed with ASD so I didn't know that overprocessing was a thing, and I most certainly couldn't come to a conclusion on the definition of management experience. 

"I... I..." I what, Aaron... what? I was screaming at myself internally as the adrenaline spiked and a panic the sorts of which I was unfamiliar with set in. For being such a simple question, I was locked up, unable to respond. So, again, I answered with a, "I don't know."

Last week as I presented to a wonderful, intensive program about employment for college aged individuals put on by Easterseals Arkansas, a person asked me about interviewing skills and the above story was the one I gave. I had never given the nuts and bolts of the interview in how I overthought simple questions which ended up with me giving non-answers. It might've been the worst job interview of all time, but as I ended the story, I told them that, somehow, I got the job. Once I had the job, I was a model employee and it turned out I had amazing skills at sales. 

Interviewing is an important part of employment, and it is one I've always struggled with. I always try to know all possible answers in advance, but when a question that is asked that is unexpected, it throws my whole system off. Think of my brain creating this wonderful, thousand-step dance, but to work it needs to have every step preceding each step to be the artform that it is. However, I doubt any amount of planning can truly let a person nail an interview on preplanned answers.

A follow-up question was, "Any advice on interviewing?" and I didn't know what to say. I wanted to give the perfect answer. I wanted to... and then I realized that such a profound question, this question of an event that all in this program will go out in the world and have to navigate, was much like a job interview for me. I overprocessed, I wanted to be perfect, and as I relayed that I also said, "Here's the thing... about the only thing the managers at where I interviewed noticed was my enthusiasm. I might not have had all the words, and I may have just said 'I don't know', but they picked up on my passion for the job. Don't lose sight of that should something go amiss in the interview. While managers may not say it, I firmly believe they will pick up on passion and enthusiasm so if you want the job, they will, I hope, see it and that will work in your favor.

Was that the right answer? I've wondered that for an entire week, but I know it to be true, and I hope all managers out there have that ability to see that an interview doesn't define the employee. For those that have interviewed me, I hope they'd agree.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Cause

I got into my car fending off tears. These weren’t tears of sadness but rather tears of supreme… supreme what?  

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed north. I was leaving Little Rock as I spent the previous three days presenting at various Easterseals Arkansas venues. This was my first time back to presenting as if the pandemic hadn’t happened. It was… it was something I forgot.

As Little Rock disappeared in my rear view mirror, I kept reflecting on this feeling I couldn’t define. Tears were still trying to make their presence known as I tried to maintain my composure. I tried to figure out what I was feeling, and I knew the almost four years of not presenting to live audiences had made me forget what it was like to see the “ah ha” moments people in my audiences have, but it wasn’t that. It couldn’t be, this feeling wasn’t about what I did, and that’s when I figured out that this wasn’t about me at all, it was the people I met.

Over the past three days I had met hundreds of individuals and their questions had amazed me. The smiles, the motivation, and most of all the courage. From presenting at Easterseals Arkansas’s school, to presenting to their program to prepare a person for employment, the questions I were asked, and the stories of those that offered them touched me greatly. The tears were in amazement of the human spirit, and I once again realized the gigantic need that exists out there. 

Some of the questions I got asked were, “who was your biggest supporter?” 

“What is it like on race day for the Indy 500?” 

“What was job interviewing like?” They loved the story of my misadventures on this one!

And the question that hit me with every force of emotion possible, “how did you keep your dream alive when people told you not to follow them?”

As I got halfway home, and crossed into Missouri, I began to understand, once more, that the thing that motivates me are the people I present to. I tell my story, but when others get the courage to speak up, to share their struggles, hopes, and dreams, well, I know it’s easy for myself to do so but the courage it can take for others to do so is awe-inspiring. 

It’s been several days since I returned home, and I’m still in awe. It is such an honor to have been invited to present, and I can’t wait until I get the next chance to share my story, and in turn to hear others hopes and dreams. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


“I don’t think you’re on the autism spectrum” said the man that was now at my author table. It was 2009, it was my first book signing event, and he explained that a person with autism wouldn’t be able to have a public function like this. Thankfully, I was armed with my concept of Alias and I explained to him that, at that moment, I wasn’t Aaron Likens but rather Aaron the author guy. More was said, and eventually I’d present at his masters teaching course at Lindenwood University, but that day I learned the power of the concepts I put forth in Finding Kansas. 

The power of Alias can never be stated enough. I am incredibly shy and quiet, but when playing a role I can be outgoing, such as presenting on a stage. I’m often at a loss of words with which the ease of presenting is now for me, and yet a simple phone call creates an anxiety to which I will do all in my power to avoid using the phone. 

Looking way back in my life, Alias was present in school. Again, I was shy and quiet, but my second-grade teacher would have me be the host of the flash card game, or the states and capitols game, and suddenly words came easy. 

Later in life, employment was the same way. My third job was at a video game store and I had no problem selling things to customers, but trying to socialize with my coworkers always ended in failure, if it were attempted at all.

The concept of Kansas from yesterday can certainly aid in an Alias being formed. For us on the spectrum, we may know more than most about whatever subject our Kansas is, so socializing in the realm of that topic becomes easy, and if there’s a task to perform for that subject, an Alias can quickly form.

I’ve been blessed to have different Aliases from presenting to student bodies, to now working for the NTT INDYCAR Series where I man the flags and sometimes have some impressive guests to my office. During these meetings of celebrities, I’m still steadfast in my Alias and if I’m ever asked what I do outside of racing, I often get a statement I began with on this, “how can you do this? The pressure? The crowds?” Thankfully, I’m armed with this concept, and can explain just how I can do what most people would want to run away from. 

Monday, October 23, 2023


 I'm doing a bit of a blog reset, which I've done from time to time, which means I'm starting anew in that I'll write as if everything is new. I'm also going to be sharing these writings directly to X and Facebook as both platforms now make it almost impossible to get traction if a link is going of their platform, so for now I'm going to start a small series of my five most important concepts...

When I started writing my book, I had no idea I'd be creating concepts that would make it easier for others to understand the autism spectrum. The title of the book is Finding Kansas and today I want to start a series of my five most important concepts and to which the concept of Kansas is #1.

For those on the spectrum, we will have an area of defined interest, knowledge, or an activity that we will do to the exclusion of everything else. Sometimes this works great as I've been waving a flag since the age of three and I made it to being the chief starter of the Indianapolis 500! Other times, well, maybe I should've been doing homework instead of waving a checkered flag to cars driving by near where I lived. 

That's an activity, but often times, when our defined interest or knowledge, we will do whatever we can to steer a subject to our intertest. Now, take this small bit of knowledge about having this area of defined interest or activity and leave it at that. How would you describe that to a person? How would you relay that to a person that doesn't know about autism? How could you put it into words that will make them understand the need? Enter, the Kansas concept.

What if you could only speak and make sense of the world when you were within the borders of Kansas? When you're within the borders you don't walk, you glide on the verge of flight. It just makes sense, you don't over process things, facts are facts, and all makes sense. Now, venture off to whatever state you want to be the opposite of Kansas, and things don't flow. You're asked a question, and you have the answer, but you think, and think some more. The other person gets a bit antsy and says, "come on... think harder!" to which thinking harder never results in anything beneficial when under the gun of the question, and you say, "I don't know." You had the answer, but processing for us on the autism spectrum can take longer. This does not imply that we are slow, far from it as we are processing a world of a fourteen-sided chessboard and trying to calculate an infinite number of moves.

Growth can happen in Kansas. When the clattering of the sound of life is reduced, things can make much more sense. My second-grade teacher knew this, somehow, years before Asperger's was a diagnosis. She used my love of auto racing to springboard my interest in the world. By asking where the track of Silverstone was, I took an interest in learning about new places, cultures, and she opened my eyes to the world around me that wasn't simply a racetrack.

With each year I am on this Earth, I grow more astounded by the power of Kansas in my life, and I love hearing stories from others that found their way through their Kansas. An important thing about this concept, one of which I didn't know when I wrote my book, is that "if you've met one person with autism, you've only met one person with autism." What I just put forth, might be opposite for the next person you come across. This, too, makes it so confusing for those that don't know or understand the autism spectrum to grasp what it all means, but through concepts I hope that it becomes just a bit more clear.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

It's been a decade since the biggest month of my speaking career. Facebook memories have been reminding me about my month where I spoke to almost 8,000 students in a single month. I'm not sure if I'll ever have such an opportunity again, but I wanted for you to experience this post as I reminisce, and dream of the day where I speak to thousands at a time...

I don't know if it is possible to measure the impact of this tour. And if we could, what would the criteria be? It's impossible to know what a little bit of autism understanding will do for a person in a week, a year, or maybe even two decades from now. However, there is one thing I can measure and that is the questions that are asked and, in what was my most memorable venue and stage ever, I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

Faith Lutheran Middle School/High School, Las Vegas, NV

When I present to schools, I don't use anything flashy, no PowerPoint, it's just me and my words for 20 minutes. After that it's open to questions and this is something that never goes the same way twice. The final question of the first presentation on Thursday in Las Vegas, by a student all the way in the top row, was, "Yeah, you've spoken about the depression and sadness you felt and how hard socializing is so what made you want to come out of your world and into ours?"

I may have been on a stage, I may have been in front of nearly 800 people, but at that moment my entire being was not in that place but in all the struggles I had to go through to get to be on that stage. I began to think back of all that had happened and then, realizing I needed to say something, I smiled greatly and said, "Wow! That might be the most profound question I've ever been asked." From there I talked about my passion that, for some reason, I'm able to write and I am able to stand up there on the stage, give my story, and give others a much-needed increase in autism awareness and understanding because there is hope through understanding.

If it had been up to me, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing as I'm shy and quiet, and yet I stand in front of big groups and present. I added this in my answer, but I said my mission is more than me and I know there are others out there that are where I was, and it doesn't need to be that way.

There are many moments I remember from the nearly 450 presentations I've given, but this question and answer, in that I explained my reasoning for breaking free of the shy and quiet me and for proclaiming, "HELLO WORLD," will be a moment that remains with me forever and just furthers my belief that speaking to students is more important than anyone can realize.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The joy of VR

I’m a late adopter to VR, or rather virtual reality, with the Meta Quest 2. I had never utilized it for my racing on iRacing, but I had a prepaid gift card through an airline that I had to use, so on a whim I made a purchase and my racing will never be the same.

IRacing was already realistic, but the addition of VR has made it almost indescribable. The first lap I did at Pocono with the VR headset gave me the biggest of smiles as I exited turn one and could see all the way to the tunnel turn. 

My brain was confused as I turned the wheel going into turn two. My body thought I should be feeling the gravitational forces. Then, as I reached turn three, I caught myself leaning into the corner to fight the forces that didn’t exist. 

The practice session continued in and some other people got on track. As I made a pass I was able to look to my right and see the car as it fell behind me. I glanced back forward and let out a burst of excitement as I couldn’t believe just how real and fun this was. 

I can attempt to describe what it’s like to be fully immersed in a race car that doesn’t exist, but without doing it yourself I doubt I can relay what it is like. The elation, excitement, and the ability to run closer to the other cars and know exactly where I am has made the experience all the more enjoyable.

The off-season can be difficult for me as I’m in need of doing something, whether it’s being at a real track or at a presentation, but this will make the time until the next event go by quickly  

Thursday, October 12, 2023

When iRacing goes bad

 Parents ask me all the time, "Do you have a tough time losing at a game?" It seems those on the spectrum often times become enveloped within a game. Myself? I love playing games for the sake of playing games unless it is something I truly want to compete at and iRacing is one of those.

The past two days will go down in my books as the roughest stretch of that game. It started two days ago when on lap 2 of a race at Texas a car spun right in front of me and I was collected and finished last. Next race, lap 77 out of 110, a lap car on my outside hit the wall and bounced into me. Last night I was in a four car breakaway and we had 16 seconds on 5th place; truly this was just a leisurely 220mph drive waiting for the end, but one of the best drivers in the game hit the wall by himself, I went low to avoid him, but another car hit him and deflected him into me. I then did a modified race and the streak continued as I was following a car that spun and I could do nothing. I went back to the Indycar and on the last lap I got cutoff and crashed. As if that all wasn't bad enough, when it came time for my final race that I had entered my internet died with one minute until the start. Because I was registered it counted me in the race so I got last.

Quite the run of luck, right? Just four days ago I almost had my iRating to 4,000, but now I'm at 3,300. There aren't many things I "have" to win at, but when it comes to iRacing I am very competitive with my iRating. Going back to what parents have asked me I will say I don't know what to do when it comes to that, but I can describe the feeling.

Imagine this; whenever you do a game of some sort imagine it becoming the only thing that matters. This topic will be covered in my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th books, but it is so fitting for me to say this now. Anyway, because we on the spectrum can hyper-focus on something, when we play a game it feels as if the entire world ceases to exist except within the confines of that game. So, 10 minutes ago doesn't matter, yesterday doesn't matter, and tomorrow doesn't matter. What this means is that of course we're going to have an emotional reaction when it doesn't go however we hoped it would. Last night I felt sick to my stomach after just two of the bad races. I wish I could learn when to not try anymore because everyone has a night that just isn't their night, but I enjoy it too much.

When I look at it objectively I don't know why it matters. iRating is gained and lost, races are won and they are lost, and sometimes the internet just decides it wants a one hour breather.While I may know this when outside the heat of the game once I am in the game the only thing that matters is that race.

As with most things on the spectrum there is no grey area; I either don't care or it becomes overly important. Again, I wish I could state a strategy to cope with issues like this, but since I can't I hope that just being able to describe it in these words allows you to better understand where we come from when we are in the midst of the game.

Monday, October 9, 2023

A Teacher Gone

I've had several posts about my 2nd grade teacher and at the end of my presentations I thank her for the doors she opened but getting me interested in more than just my small world at the time. You would not be reading this if not for her because I doubt my world and self-awareness would've been wide. Would I be happy? Perhaps, but I wouldn't have been an author, I wouldn't have loved to learn about new places, and I probably would not have had the social skills to make it to my dream job at the Indy 500. She did this all by using my interests to springboard outward. She used Kansas before there was real understanding of the autism spectrum, and this was four years before Asperger's would be put in the DSM.

When I thank her at presentations, I make sure to let those in attendance know that they may do amazing, life changing things for a person on the spectrum and may never know the impact of their work because it may take a decade or two for those seeds to sprout. After making that point, I say it's a minor tragedy that they may never know because the end result may be more than they ever could have imagined. I often would wonder as I say this what my second-grade teacher would think.

Every so often I will do random searches on Google, and I would often try and find my teacher on the internet. I never have had any luck with all of my searches. Now, if I found her and, say, she was on Facebook I don't know if I'd be able to say, "hi, remember me from 1990..." 

On Saturday, I came across my yearbook from that year and I noticed something. I had her name wrong. It wasn't with an e but an i. It was Jindra, not Jendra. I went back to searching and there it was straightaway, an obituary from 2020. She was 89.

My exact words at a presentation, when I talk about her and my fourth-grade teachers are, "I don't know if they're alive, but I wish I could simply say 'thank you.'" I'll never get that chance, but I wonder how many other teachers out there have opened up doors for individuals and will never realize it. An athlete trains and trains for that opportunity to win, and that win is tangible the day of the victory. A teacher though? They put in early mornings, late nights, and, at least in my case a student, would not get any bit of positive reinforcement or words of thanks. Of course, I had no idea at the time about the seeds they were planting, but to think of just how much work teaching is and to potentially not know how the stories of the seeds being planted turn up is... it takes a different kind of person I think to pull it off with the grace Mrs. Jindra did.

When I present next, I'm going to have to change my words. I can no longer say in wonderment if I'll ever get the chance to say "thank you". I won't be able to say that I might get the chance. I might stumble with my words. I might get a tear or two, but I hope the audience can relay this into their life and, if they are a teacher, I hope they can keep the passion to educate, and plant seeds that will better their students understanding of the world more than they could ever have imagined.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Tale of the Beans

The following story is a guest blog post written by my wife Kristen. Sometimes my overly sensitive senses are a bit too sensitive, and then there are times like yesterday when yes, it was really that bad. Enjoy the following hilarity…

When I arrived at work on Wednesday, there was a post it that my beans had been put in a fridge at work.My coworkers in my cubby row let me know that they were quite smelly in the morning, so they put them in the fridge. I wasn’t too surprised as they were a bit old and I forgot to get them back into the fridge overnight.

I was hoping that it wouldn’t create too much of a disturbance for anyone trying to get something out of that fridge, but I would deal with it closer to the end of the day.In the afternoon I had a break, so I decided to deal with the beans.  

They were in a Pyrex dish, so I looked for something to throw them in to contain the smell.  I found a Ziploc bag, placed them in there and threw them in the trash.  Then I washed the bowl with Dawn and a scrubby.  I found it curious that there was still a smell in the empty dish, but thought I would take it home to see if running it through the dishwasher would get out the smell.On Thursday morning, I went to make my lunch at home and remembered the smelly dish in my lunch cooler. I warned Aaron that it might smell a little bit.  

His sensitive nose was immediately alarmed and he darted to the stairs to get away from it.  It was lingering a bit so he quickly went downstairs to light a couple of candles.  He indicated that they were not helping, and it was really strong.  After laughing at him a bit that he was being a little dramatic, I decided to put the dish and lid in the dishwasher. 

I was late for work, so thought I would deal with it after work and that the smell would be contained in the dishwasher. On the drive in, I called Aaron to let him know that the dish was in the dishwasher and that if he could, please run it.  

As he started up the stairs, he was stopped by the stench.  I could not keep back my laughter at the thought that this empty dish was holding him hostage in the basement.  

He persevered, held his breath, added soap, and got the dishwasher started. Aaron ran back to the safety of the candles in the basement and let me know he could really smell it when he opened the dishwasher.  

Aaron asked if the dish could just be thrown away. Due to it being a Pyrex, I said I’d like to see if the dishwasher can get out the smell. If not, yes it can be tossed.I came into work thinking I had quite the funny story for my co-workers. 

While waiting for both of them to be at their desks, I mentioned to one that I had a story to tell when the other was back. We had a visitor from another part of the floor. As I started to allude to the story that the bean smell was too much for Aaron in the morning, our visitor started to laugh that this made him think of something from the day before that had happened in the kitchen area at work.  

The admin from his section was in the kitchen area with a guy from maintenance and they were investigating the source of a terrible smell. They were debating if it was the garbage disposal or something else. Surely it couldn’t be something in the trash creating that much of a stench. Oh my goodness this had me laughing. Then, as he was leaving the building about an hour later, in the lobby (9 floors down) he overheard some maintenance guys saying they were still trying to figure out the source of the smell on the 11th floor. At this point, I was laughing so hard I was crying realizing the extent of the impact of the gaseous beans.

I decided that I should apologize to the admin that my beans were the source of the smell the day before.  I had already laughed until I cried, but this was just the beginning.  I went to tell her and she relayed more of the story.  The smell had wafted out of the kitchen area, past a convenience mart area, and into the first row of cubbies on the other side of my floor at work.  Someone was passing through and thought one of the workers might have messed themselves because it smelled so bad.  The admin went over to the area and confirmed that yes it definitely did smell.  Then when she got back to her cubby, 30-40 feet away, it had permeated her way as well.  It was at that point that she called maintenance. Mind you, the gas from about a cup of beans had permeated a quarter of the room floor (roughly 3000 square feet of smells).  I laughed and held my head in shame at the same time.When I returned to my cubby and related these last details to my co-workers, I was laughing so much that there was belly laughing and more tears.   For the last couple of hours, there has been much residual laughter.  One can only wonder what further havoc these beans created in their journey to the landfill.  Who knew what impact a $1 can of beans could have?

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Flashback Post: The day I met my Publisher

Facebook provides memories and today was a major one as 12 years ago I went to New York City to meet the publisher that would publish Finding Kansas. It led me down the thought of bewilderment of where I was, and where I am now. Each event in life can leave an experience like that, so today I’m rerunning the post I wrote about the meeting:

My alarm, yesterday, rang way too soon. I was more than willing to wake up though as I knew that in just over two hours I would be on a plane to New York City.

I had several private messages on Facebook asking me if I was nervous and I was, but only for the meeting with the publisher. I was so focused on that meeting that everything in the middle was given little to no relevance. I try to use my everyday life to point out the quirks of being on the spectrum and I realized I am so lucky to have traveled so many times because if not I surely would have left something behind or just messed up somehow because I was running on autopilot (truly the word autopilot was used without realizing I am also talking about flying) with the majority of my mind focused on the meeting.

My running on autopilot was quickly derailed (how many more vehicular references can I make? This could be fun) when I landed because my dad made me a cheat sheet with where I would be and when and the phone numbers I needed. The first number that needed to be called was for the shuttle from the hotel. Sounds easy, right? Ha! I stood outside waiting, hoping it would magically appear, but it did not. I then thought of walking to the hotel as I could see it, but there was an interstate between us so that idea blew out like a flat tire (another one!). Eventually, after fearing every possibility of being yelled at by the hotel, I called and they said, in a very polite manner, "It will be right over, sir." So much for my fears. 

Once at the hotel I had to wait a while before the car that was scheduled to pick me up was, well, scheduled to pick me up. The minutes ticked by and a painfully slow pace. There were no clocks around, but I could hear a clock somewhere, "tick...........tock............"

Finally, 1:30 rolled around and thankfully the driver called me as I was fearing having to call another number, and I was on my way to Manhattan. All the years of writing led to this moment. I had been to Manhattan three previous times, and each time I barely had enough time to realize where I was because the trip was so fast (on two different occasions I was there for less than four hours!). Again, this would prove to be one of those trips, but this trip meant so much more.

Traffic was dense, as I assume it always is here, but I still made it on time. I got out of the car and walked into the building that the driver said was the building. I walked in and was puzzled as there were no signs for any companies. Surely this couldn't be the right place? I mean, sailors on ships way back when had stars to guide them and here I am, 21st century, with no direction (chalk up another transportation analogy!) I walked towards the guard station, but then turned away. Fear was mounting and I was sure I was in the wrong place. I walked back to the station, but then turned away at a brisk pace. I knew what I had to ask, but how would I react, and how mad would the guy be, if I was asking for a person that wasn't in that building. Then, I had a stroke of genius; out came the phone and I simply searched for my publisher, and address. I walked outside, and the numbers matched so I knew I was in the right place and approached the guard station without fear.

A pass was given to me and I headed to the elevators. I began to shake a little, I must admit. My stomach tightened and I began to feel just a little light headed.

When the elevator doors opened on my floor I was there! this was it, the place that the journey has taken me. I opened the door to the offices and walked to the reception desk and was doing everything in my power not to shake, or have a quivering voice, but I think I failed on that front.

I was a bit early so I sat down and tried to immerse myself in the chess games I had going on my phone, but all my moves were horrible (I lost three games in those eight minutes with just downright awful moves) so any hope of distracting myself was gone.

How high was the anxiety? I would compare this to the moments right before my first race when I was 12. Every breath was labored and the level of nausea was unprecedented. A part of me wished I could just vanish and go back to Saint Louis and crawl back into bed because I was not enjoying this one bit. However, it is exactly those emotions that got me to this point in my life so despite the anxiety, stress, and multitude of other emotions I was feeling I had to stay.

What was I nervous about? I mean, it was just a meeting with the publisher, right? What made it a meeting larger than life was the unknowns. I never had a meeting like this. I didn't know what was going to be said, or what could come from it. I'm also not used to having meetings where I am the topic. I can talk about myself in presentations for three hours no problem, but a meeting with conversation is a different thing all together.

With each person I saw out of the corner of my eyes I went back to my phone as I was in a state of a no-fly zone in terms of eye contact. With eye contact comes the chance I might have to make that first social move so by paying attention to my phone I put myself in the reaction position. A couple more minutes passed and then I heard my name.

I had many questions of, "How did the meeting go?" yesterday and I responded with, "I don't know" which is an honest answer. I don't know how to measure it and on top of that I had such a level of pre-event anxiety that when I finally got to the meeting I was exhausted. I now notice that I did not notice anything about New York or Manhattan. The previous times I have been here I have loved every second, but since I was hyper-focused on this meeting I became oblivious to my surroundings. 

So again, how did it go? I was told it was a productive meeting, but I can't accurately trace the conversation arc or what said. In a way I feel robbed as this was supposed to be that shining moment, that once in a lifetime moment where it all comes together and all makes sense. Instead of that I have no idea how it went. Perhaps it's because I have no criteria to measure it up against. I mean, if you move to a new town and it rains one inch the first day does that mean it rains that much every day? Without something to go by an accurate measurement is impossible. 

Last night I laid in my hotel room contemplating the future. The release date is April 3rd. That's just over six months away, or half a year. The countdown has begun, but the pressure I felt last night, and again this morning, is immense. I still don't know what the world will look like after April 3rd. I mean, will people buy my book? Will they like it? Maybe if I intended on writing a book when I started writing it would feel different, but I'm here by accident in a way as I never intended on being an author, blogger, or speaker for that matter and yet here I am. 

I'm sure over the next few days I will remember snippets from the meeting. However, perhaps all this I have described in this post is just a explanation of who I am. It is hard for me to ever take credit in anything I do because I simply do it. At presentations, if you ever see one in person, watch my expression if people clap; I look uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. It's hard, well, impossible for me to understand the impact that I have with my writings and spoken words. My mom called that a, "tragedy" a year or so ago, and I believed her, but now I disagree as I feel it is this quirk that keeps me who I am. Yeah, I may feel robbed at times because I expected myself to feel a certain way at an event, but then again what I do isn't for myself. I do realize I state my mission is to raise autism awareness and understanding and I to realize that I am having an impact; don't take these last few paragraphs as me believing that my works are worthless. This is quite the contrary, but I only understand this from a factual level and it doesn't make that leap into the emotional side.

Wow, okay, I have rambled on. I don't know if I kept with the title of this blog (in case you are curious I always start with the title and work from there) but nevertheless the count down has begun. I'm just going to have to take the editor-in-chief's words that the meeting was great and productive. As much as I'd like to know what the next six months are going to look like I guess this would be like a ocean-liner leaving port in the late 1800's as how would they know what type of weather they would run into? I just had to use one more usage of transportation before I ended this, but it works as the journey I have mentioned at the start of this didn't end today, but rather it was just one more stop along the way to, hopefully, the destination of bringing about a new understanding of the autism spectrum to the world.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Back home with photos

It was a two-day journey, but we’ve made it home. This, now, is when the married life truly begins, right? As for now I’d like to share photos from the journey of our honeymoon in Nova Scotia.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Asperger’s, and the Meaning of Love

It’s been a week. It doesn’t quite feel like I should write the line of, “I’m married” yet here I am, on a plane with my wife, headed on our honeymoon. 

I’ve spent the last week trying to write about the wedding day, but it’s a blur, and it’s been too emotional to write about. I’ve been perplexed as to why I’ve been unable as I’ve been able to write about every other fantastic event, and not so fantastic event that’s happened to me. But this? This is different. Boarding the plane, I finally understood why. 

Before the wedding, many people told me that “the day would be a blur” and it was, people told me that, “don’t lock your knees or you’ll pass out” which thankfully there was no passing out. What they didn’t tell me was that I would experience an emotion unlike any other. A realization of what it means to love, and the often impossible thing for me in thinking about another person.

The hardest part to explain to those that don’t understand Asperger’s is that, at the same time, I can have the deepest of empathy while not thinking about another person. It’s opposites, isn’t it? This deep caring of others while not thinking about others at all. 

Thinking of others doesn’t come naturally. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like an egotistical self-centered jerk. This isn’t the case as there isn’t a conscious effort to tune out others, but rather the programming in the brain isn’t there due to the extreme amount of processing my brain does on everything else.  Also, it may be part of a protection mechanism as it can be overwhelming to think of another person, and all that comes with it with emotion, hopes, and dreams. With that so, that makes the next part of this story so extraordinary.

Kristen, my so to be wife, was about to walk into the church. The moment everyone had tried to prepare me for was at hand. The priest, a couple months prior, said, “the moment you two stand at the alter, hand-in-hand, will hear the most marvelous words any human can hear as you here ‘I take you, forever.’” Forever was almost here, and as I saw her enter, she looked angelic. I was taken off-guard, and my entire life flashed before my eyes in an intense tsunami of emotions, and this made me process emotions I often push aside.

With each step she took closer, I became more ill-at-ease as I felt the love I feel for her. I knew I did love her, and I hope you don’t take this post as I, “what? You just realized you loved her right then and there!” That’s not the case, but for us with Asperger’s, we often will try and not fully acknowledge or feel emotions due to the gravity they put on us. They can be unfiltered, consuming our existence, therefore it’s better to have them in the background as we try and outrun them. When getting married, there is no running away, and instead of wanting to hide from them, I let them in. 

She was now at the alter. Her had handed her off to me, we walked to the alter together, soon to be as one, and when we looked into each other’s eyes there was no desire by me to avoid eye-contact. We were staring into each other’s soul and I had the deepest of yearnings to never make her sad. It’s such a simple sentence, but this thought is as one I’ve never had like this. This isn’t to say I’ve had opposite feelings of being uncaring should I make someone sad, but this was a preemptive sensation; one of that, should I make her sad, I’d be doing a disservice to the universe. 

Love has been a mystery to me. Read my book Finding Kansas and you can get a glimpse of the struggle I had trying to make sense of what it meant. I worried it was an impossibility for me, but as the dam broke and it couldn’t outrun feeling the emotion, I found out that its something I shouldn’t run away from because it’s the greatest feeling, and the priest was right. Saying my vows, and hearing hers, were the grandest words I’ve ever heard, and understanding that I can experience love deeper than first imagined gave me an understanding of the meaning of love, and I can only hope I don’t try and outrun this feeling.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Block

This is highly abnormal for me, but I can’t write. I’ve sat down a dozen times this week with the title “Wedding” and I can’t begin. The day was so amazing that it’s, for now, too emotional to write about. I’ve had events that were bad cause this, but never something that was good. A most unusual sensation, but highly wonderful!

Monday, September 18, 2023

A small post

The weekend is a blur. I’m still recovering from the monumental day of my wedding, but did want to share my first selfie with my wife. I’ll be writing a longer, in-depth review of the day, but for today I’m still regaining my senses after 12+ hours of socializing. 

Friday, September 15, 2023

A proposal video

With the wedding tomorrow and today being rehearsal day, the ability to write something awesome just isn’t there, so in case you missed it in January, here’s the way I proposed. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

An Aspie's Wedding: Enter Kristen

It's 2021, and I'm in my second season with the NTT INDYCAR Series. A relationship isn't fully on my mind because of the hectic schedule I'm in the midst of, but at the start of May I decide to try Match.com "one last time". I can't recall how many "one last times" there were, but that time I vowed that this was it. 

As I flagged that year's Indianapolis 500, I did have a thought that, "wouldn't life be so much more spectacular if I could share this experience with someone?" This was a stark contrast to the previous posts in that I equaled a relationship with happiness. I had grown, and I didn't even realize it.

Milo Ventimiglia was the honorary starter for that year's race, and I thought that such a photo, as this one, would make my profile a bit more noticeable. It worked. Although I must say I wasn't vain enough to make it my profile picture, that would be too much, but it was there, and a week after a race I matched with a person named Kristen, from Saint Louis, and we traded a couple emails where we spoke of our love of travel, and when she asked me where I'd most want to go I mentioned, "Reunion island. You've probably never heard of it but it's famous for having the most shark infested waters, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and it's the place where the aileron washed ashore from MH flight 370." She wasn't sold on the island, but the next email she asked me, "Are you doing anything fun this weekend?" 

When she sent that email, I was up in Detroit for that weekend's INDYCAR race on Belle Isle, so yes, I would be doing something fun. I didn't mention what work I did on my Match profile, so I said, "Yes, I'd say so and you can watch it on NBC this weekend." Whoa! Where did that come from? I'm not one for sly segways, but she took the bait, and the email onslaught continued the rest of the week.

This Kristen was proving to be highly intriguing. There was something different about her, and I feared the email I had to write her stating that I was still almost a month away from getting back to Saint Louis as we still had races in Road America, and Mid-Ohio before I'd return home. When finding someone intriguing, that's a long time. Would she be willing to wait so long to meet? It turned out, she was.

Our first date was a classic example of not preparing as The Cheesecake Factory at the Galleria mall was a two plus hour wait. So, instead of us both driving across town to the Chesterfield Mall, she offered to drive us, which gave us even more time to talk. And talk we did! 

The following two hours were stories of where we've been, where we want to go, and laughter. Quickly, I noticed I didn't have to be someone else. Finding that special someone, I now believe, is a 50/50 event in that you, yourself, must accept who you are. Each of my previous relationships were doomed due to my attempt to change when change is not possible. A couple months into our relationship, we went to a play and there happened to be some heavy base, perhaps there were drums there which is my worst sensory issue I can have, and I was able to say it without shame. Okay, maybe there was a bit of self-loathing in there, but I didn't hide this challenge of mine. 

A month went on, and I had another multi-week away stint as INDYCAR had several races back-to-back. I didn't know what to do with Kansas Kitty, and she offered to take her in for that time. Now, Kansas Kitty can be a bit of a pill to those she doesn't know, and Kristen had let me know that she was not a pet person. At all. Like, zero pets is a good number. She told me how Kansas Kity at her house would go with shut doors and above all Kansas Kitty would not be allowed on her bed. I laughed, because already Kansas Kitty had shown that she could tolerate Kristen, and after toleration comes the need for affection for the feline. And cats can be highly demanding.

As I was in Nashville, I kept asking her for the "daily mews" and each day Kansas Kitty got closer, and closer, and I think by day three she was sleeping on the bed. Quickly, Kansas Kitty won her way into Kristen's heart, so this meant she was kitty approved. 

Kristen was also quickly becoming more than anything I had ever known. With each conversation, and each date, I was learning that it was okay to be me. I didn't need to change for her, and she didn't need to change for me. It sounds trite, and cliche, but this dynamic was laying the foundation for an unspoken level of respect that transcended anything I thought possible. As I traveled the racing circuit, I noticed myself yearning for just five more minutes with her at dinner, or just driving down the road. What was this? Was this even possible?

We did a couple trips together and nothing had changed. Each day was fresh, revitalizing, and even in the mundane there was excitement. I thought there had to be some sort of trick, or magic potion for there to be a relationship that could work, but this was... effortless.

This... this marvelous relationship scared me for a while because of my history. Surely there would be some sort of disaster, and while I was open with my feelings on most things, I still lulled around this heavy weight which delayed my ability to say, "I love you." Those three words... those words have the heaviest weight of all words in the English language. To say those is to expose one's soul, and I struggle to say these words to my parents even though I know I do, and the months went by and Kristen sort of hinted that she was expecting those words, but she never prodded. This made me love her even more! A couple more weeks went by and suddenly, and without warning, I opened the door, and she responded, "Aw, I love you too!" 

The next racing season began and there was never a word from her questioning my hectic life. Yes, in the heat of the season when I was completely worn down, she asked, "Is this worth it?" And when I said, "yes" she replied, "I know." 

Again, if you have to change for someone, I doubt the proverbial road will stay intact. My previous relationships were all destined to failure. With Emily it was because I didn't know who I was. Even if I had never been diagnosed, the results would have been the same. With my next girlfriend it was always going to play out the same because we each had this image of what a relationship should look like instead of what it is really like, but with Kristen... there wasn't an effort to change anything. It was easy, effortless, and time flew by.

I had it in my mind, from the first time I was there in 2016, that I would someday propose to my future wife on the top of that volcano, and I'll retell this story in tomorrow's blog, which tomorrow is my last day as a single person.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

An Aspie's Wedding: Same Song Different Verses

My book got published, I discovered I could present in front of people, and I had a full-time job for the first time in my life. It was 2010 and slowly, the belief about not having a job, and friends started to thaw, but could I be happy? I, sadly, tied happiness to being in a relationship, and try as I might, a relationship just wasn't in the cards. That is, until summer 2013.

She was from China, and after a couple dates, we went Facebook official. It's actually harder to think about this time period than it is back in 2003. Maybe it was because I was at full tilt all the time with presenting across the state of Missouri over 100 times a year, and my 20+ races I worked all across the country on the weekends. With the intensity of my schedule, and the importance of my work, I had no ability to see the cracks in the road I was on.

A relationship can quickly go from a week to a month, to six months before you know it. I tried to convince myself that I was happy, overlooking the serious incompatibilities between us. I still had no ability to stand up for myself, or to explain myself to another person verbally. One night, when we went to a concert at Powell Symphony Hall, she saw a friend and introduced me to her. Being a social outing, and in a crowded place, I was in a highly defensive state. What does this mean? In this state, my eyes are constantly scanning the room, and I can't easily engage in small talk. I kept looking at my then girlfriend with the look of begging to end this barrage of questions she was asking me to describe to her friend all the things I do, but the room kept filling up with more and more people and the background chatter was escalating to a near deafening level. I couldn't hear her questions, and she angrily told her friend, "Well, I guess he doesn't like you!"

After the concert, on the drive home, she lectured me, "Aaron, you have to talk more. What will my friends think of you if you do that again? You need to talk. That's all there is to it." It was Christmas 2003 all over again. I can't help that state of being in that environment. I'm capable of marvelous things when the environment is right. Equally, I'm capable of highly awkward social encounters when it's a noisy, crowded, and random environment. 

I was hurt deeply, but I held it to myself. Life tip for you: Don't do that. The following months were akin to an airplane that has lost the rear tail and is in a long, spiraling downward spiral to the ground below. With each week I resented those words, and I think she began to attempt to cure me. I was thrust in uncomfortable environment after uncomfortable social encounter. One thing about Asperger's is that there's no cure. I can grow, and have grown immensely, but if you're under the impression that you have the power to simply make all the challenges go away then, well, eventually that downward spiral hits the ground.

It was awkward, it was painful, and I doubt I'll ever be able to write about that breakup, but I have talked to her since, and she has apologized for trying to change me the way she did. As with Emily, we both were younger than our ages and while I had professional maturity, the knowledge of the need to express myself wasn't there and this relationship was destined to end the way it did.

A few months later, I met someone else and spent over a year seeing if she liked me. It became awkward for me, and I regressed back into thinking that a relationship equaled happiness. This, probably, made every action of mine seem unnatural which never allowed for a relationship to ever begin. From that, I got into another relationship that, again, my inability to communicate led to the end of it. 

Yes, it's my wedding week, which probably has you wondering why I've spent three days talking about everyone except my fiancé. One, it's provided stories to relate to you as a quick look at the challenges of being on the autism spectrum and being in a relationship, but it also is to paint a picture of who I was, and why meeting Kristen was so incredible.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

An Aspie's Wedding: The First Broken Road

I've told and retold the story of my diagnosis. My doctor didn't really know what it was, I looked it up online, and the first thing I read stated that, "people with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." What I haven't fully described is what happened with Emily, so let's look back for the first time on the full story.

In my presentation I mention I broke up with her on Christmas, via text message. This is true, but then I'll say that I've only talked to her once since 2003. This isn't entirely the case as we did finish up that year's bowling league. However, there was no real conversation. Why did I break up, though? It started with her looking up Asperger's and her misinformation that added gasoline on an already explosive bombshell.

"Aaron, do you think that you say that, when I talk about love, you say 'I'd miss you if you were gone' is caused by Asperger's? I read that people with autism can't love, and I don't think you can." She harped on that for a week, and I was already thinking that I was sentenced to a life full of misery, and this was getting reinforced daily. 

If she had all of these thoughts about my inabilities in life, why was she still talking to me? To rectify this, I had to figure out if she still liked me. To do this, I decided I had to break up with her but with my inability to speak emotions, I resorted to a text message.

It's hard to think back to the phones back then, but I had a silver Nokia flip phone and text messages weren't all that easy. They cost 10 cents per message and the lettering had to be used by clicking each number one, two, or three times as there was no keyboard. Hard to imagine that now, right? Anyway, I sent the message and it just happened to be the evening of December 24th. I was riding back to Saint Louis from Indianapolis, and I think I sent it around Effingham, which is about halfway, and I awaited a response. And I waited. We got home, and the hours went by. 

I stared at my phone waiting for it to light up. There was more on the line that just this relationship. My future as a human was on trial. If she couldn't accept me with this diagnosis, then who could? I had known her for four years, and now with the new label I had, all had changed.

Sunrise came. It was Christmas morning, and nothing. No text back protesting my breakup, which that's all I was looking for. I wanted validation that I wasn't broken. You see, with the level of autism awareness that didn't exist, I allowed those words on the internet, and her words, to define my entire being. She didn't know it, and I didn't realize it, but I was being sentenced to a lifetime of solitary existence with just the slimmest chance of parole. Yes, I wouldn't be in a literal prison, but internally I was slammed into a state of stasis. As I finally went to sleep, I accepted the fact that no one could ever accept me as I was.

This is where the story ends in the presentation, but yes, I did see her on Mondays and Wednesdays. It was awkward, it was quiet, and I had no idea how to handle it. As the bowling season ended in 2004, I tried to call her one afternoon, but it went to voicemail. A few minutes later, her number called me, and I elatedly answered, but it wasn't her. It was some guy, and he said he had heard about me, and how awful I was, and that if I ever called her number again, he would make sure to break all of my fingers and toes. It was a very precise threat, too precise, but naturally I panicked about it, and any chance of accepting who I was became lost in these words.

Looking back on this it all seems so silly. Breakups happen. While I may have been 21 then, I was much younger than my age socially, but most of all it was the timing of my diagnosis. I knew that, more than likely, Emily was not the person for me, but with the damaging words I read, she became the only lifeline to normality, and when it was cut, I figured my chance at any life was over.

The next ten months were essentially lost time. I became proficient on racing games on the Xbox, and it was nothing for me to spend upwards of 16 hours a day climbing the leaderboards. With each game I became the best in the world, there was a hollow feeling. Eventually, I'd start writing Finding Kansas in 2005 and it wasn't until I finished it that I realized that I was more than my diagnosis, but nonetheless I would carry around the albatross of sadness from this broken road. I wish I knew it then, but it's these experiences that do let a person know that, when they find where they need to be, they'll know it even more.

Monday, September 11, 2023

An Aspie's Wedding: Where I Was In 2003

It's fitting I finished my Finding Kansas Revisited project last week as this week... this week is wedding week. My wedding week. It's odd to write that. Surreal, really. I never thought I'd write such a thing. I never thought this would happen. But it is. This week. And... I can't believe it.

Last week, I did finish that book project, but I also saw a post on Facebook of the standings sheet of a bowling league I used to be on. It was from 2003, and I figured that would be the place to start this week as I look back on how I got to this week.

Seeing that scoresheet brought back a flood of memories, but it was hard to truly appreciate the scope of it. This was April 30th, 2003, and I was still a bit under nine months from learning I was on the autism spectrum. In reality, this sheet almost happened at the halfway point of my current life, and almost everything was different in my life then, but it was steeped in routine.

It was Wednesday, so my girlfriend at the time, Emily, and I probably had pizza earlier in the night, and then we both bowled in the early league before I would bowl in the late league which this sheet is from. While the routine was nice, there was a high level of frustration in my life. I knew something was different about me, but I didn't know it was going to be such a seismic event when I'd find out, but there was also a severe level of angst as I wondered what the future would hold. 

Perhaps most 20-year-olds are in a race to figure out life, and I too was one of those. With that, however, came many times of being unable to communicate my hopes, dreams, and emotions. Emily would often bring up the future and my future, then, would just come back to racing. It was my only focus. I knew I'd make it in racing. Granted, I thought I'd be the next multi-time champion of any given major series, but so often Emily was looking for an answer that included her and, being on the autism spectrum and not diagnosed, I had no idea that she was looking for herself to be included in the answer.

This scoresheet has turned out to be a time capsule for me as I was just over a month from having everything in my life change. In June, I'd move from my mom's to my dad's, and my childhood pet, Missy the Maltese, would pass away at the age of 16. It was then a blue until October, when I'd move to Vegas for a month to instruct at a racing school, and then the fateful month of December when I'd receive my diagnosis.

I'm not sure if others can have such a profound moment as I've had by getting lost in the names of that standings sheet. If my life were an interstate highway system, that moment of that sheet would be the sign warning of a fork ahead. Everything was about to change, and before I'd get anywhere near the celebration that's going to come on Saturday at my wedding, the dark days would have to be endured.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: The End

There I was, in Kisumu, Kenya, room 312 of the Imperial Hotel, and I was at a life milestone. It was October 2006, and I knew a journey I never intended to set out on was coming to an end. Just 19 months prior, I almost died in this town due to the being held captive by the mob, and after surviving that ordeal I wondered why I was spared, and I realized that my writing's might be worth something besides just trying to explain my existence through written words.

As I opened up the laptop, my hands were shaking. While I never thought of my words as being a book, I did keep everything in a running Word document, and it was time to conclude the journey. 

To do so I had to summarize my chapters up to that point. What had I learned? I looked out the window to the West, towards Lake Victoria, questioning who I was. Emily's words kept haunting me, "You have Asperger's, you can't love others." To have something concretely stated like this put me in a box, and I believed it. And, when you believe something, it often comes true. This was the first moment I realized I was more than my diagnosis, and that I had unlimited potential. 

If you read the book, you can instantly pick up on the change in tone. No more was I writing out of a corner of self-loathing, but instead I announced to the world that, yes, I'm not normal, but I'm more than any label. 

When I got to the final words, I looked out of the window a long time and I can assure you that I never could've imagined the heights I'd reach. You've been on the journey with me if you've read my book, been to any of my presentations, or have followed my blog for any short while. The heights though... wow! I've given 1,046 presentations to 95,985 people. I've presented to the top levels of the FBI in Washington D.C., and I fulfilled the impossible dream of becoming the starter for the NTT INDYCAR Series including the largest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. 

Realizing that this wasn't truly the end, I wrote that I knew I could have a "prosperous life" as I reflected back that, as I began my writing journey, I didn't want to exist. Life, love, and prosperity were impossibilities, I believed, but even though I had achieved little as I finished the book, I knew I was capable. What did that look like? I had no idea, but I was ready for whatever would come, and I knew something would. 

So, in the end, of this reflection back on who I was, I know most of all that the inability to love was the biggest fallacy I believed because, in just eight days, I'm getting married.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: Aliases


            This was a prophetic chapter and I say this in every presentation that I use this concept in. I know I did skip ahead several chapters, but my thoughts on those chapters were just more of the same of material I’ve already covered.

            Anyway, the story I use about not having fuel at the race is something that still holds true at races to this day. Well, not having fuel isn’t an issue as I only flag, but if I asked to go get a certain tool from any given crew I clam up. I can display the flags with vigor and passion, but if you ask me to be put in a position where I need to interact to acquire an item it’s difficult. This is due to “Alias”. I can play a role just fine, but if it’s personal I mat struggle.

            In presentations I state this and say, “If you see me off this stage you may not recognize me.” I don’t know if people believe me when I say this, but for those that have they do believe it. It also had to be confusing to my coworkers when I was worked, or my classmates and teachers when I was in school. 

            When I wrote this I never imagined that I’d have a stage alias but in life sometimes we don’t know what we are capable until after the fact and even then sometimes we may wonder how we do the things we do. Never could I have imagined the heights I’d reach, and the stages I’d speak on.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Finding Kansas Revisited: If I Were Dying of Thirst, Would I Ask For a Glass of Water

 This chapter was inspired by the events of being in Marshalltown, Iowa on the weekend of July 21st, 2006. One side note about that weekend, I had one of the oddest red flag situations on the practice day as deer overran the back straightaway. Deer aside, the stories from that Sunday are prime examples of, “I think therefore you should know” which I didn’t have that quote then, but this concept of not asking for water if I were dying is due in part to, “since I know I need water than you do to!”

            There’s two other examples of this, one was with Greg, the kart shop owner, at a race in Michigan. We were loading the trailer and I was pulling the karts in and he was pushing. We got to the end and my back was against the shelves but he kept pushing not realizing. This hurt extremely badly as I had 600lbs of equipment being pushed into me but I didn’t speak up. I was stuck in “1,000 Outcomes” in that, if I spoke up, how mad would he be?

            Even after I started presenting, I was working a race in 2010 and it was dry, hot, and windy. A perfect combination for dehydration and in a break someone drove by and asked, “Hey Aaron, you need a break?” to which I thought about it and said, “No.” Why would I say no? I needed that water, and my book title prophecy was very much trying to become true, but I said no because since I knew it he already knew it and he simply didn’t give me the water. Several minutes later I broke the prophecy and I did ask for water, but I use this example in presentations to teachers because if I need help then you already need it. As with other chapters this may seem like a simple chapter, but read it again to get under the surface and understand the elements in play.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Getting Recognition

When I present to employers or individuals on the spectrum, I often will stress that, “it’s important to get a job in the field you love. Our passion often shines through and I firmly believe passion is something that can’t be faked and potential employers will notice it.”

This past weekend, the NTT INDYCAR Series visited Saint Louis. I did my usual job in the flag stand but NBC’s INDYCAR X page took notice and shared https://x.com/indycaronnbc/status/1696915770348044375?s=46&t=7ieB_g73Ex723HnKJrVEww

It’s an odd sensation to get a shoutout like this. I love my job. I worked to get this position my entire life, and yet when I receive an accolade like this, I’m unsure how to react. I am proud of my work, but my joy comes in the work itself. The pressure of the job, the adrenaline, and the sensation of ice flowing through my veins one minute before the race is a sensation I only get at this job. For myself, that’s the joy and when I get a shoutout, I’m unsure how to handle it. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is flattering, and a bit cool to have a National outlet recognize me, but I’m doing this job because I love it, and whether I’m working a kart race, or an INDYCAR race in front of a national television audience, I’m going to enjoy it all the same.