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.