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Just a note from Dad... This piece is one of the most significant in this book. It is so significant that some professionals at one of America's top autism organization have adopted Aaron's definitions of a Situational Handicap.

Finding Kansas: The Situational Handicap

new cover Some people who know me and know that I have Asperger’s think that there’s nothing wrong with me. These people, however, only see me in certain situations and have no idea how paralyzed I can be in some situations. This can be very aggravating because I know something isn’t perfect with me, but when I hear such remarks as, “Oh, you’re fine,” or “I can’t see how you have that at all,” it really bothers me.

To make a good example, let’s say a person is paralyzed. However, for reasons unknown, this person is perfectly fine anytime they are in the state of Kansas. If you saw this person while in Kansas you’d flat out tell them, “Hey, you’re not paralyzed!” At the time this comment would be true, but to the person, they know that the second they leave the state they are paralyzed again.

Now this person, knowing the magic of Kansas, would probably sell his home in whatever state he’s in and move to Kansas so he would not be paralyzed. This is exactly how I try to be in life in regards to finding my Kansas.

Aaron Likens” Author of “Finding Kansas”
 and a young man with “No Plan B.”

When in my comfort zone, I am like that man in Kansas; there is nothing wrong and I appear like a normal individual. My ultimate Kansas is anything to do with racing. I am now the race director of two different series and while at my post, I am firm and confident. These two traits can’t be used to describe me very often in a social setting.
new web composite copyAfter the first race weekend this year on a Monday, I went to a video game store to make a purchase. I walked into the store making no eye contact with anyone and was first asked the most horrifying question I know, “Sir, can I help you find something?” I instantly passively said no and a couple seconds later I said the title of the game I would like to purchase. The store clerk then, trying to make small talk, barraged me with several open-ended questions that I made closed ended questions with simple yes or no answers. The clerk kept going and he eventually said, “Umm, do you talk? I haven’t gotten any words out of you!” As if I didn’t
already know it, this was a firm example (sorry for the cliché) that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

This flip-flop difference for those around me could be very confusing. If my shadow could talk, it would certainly wonder how I can be the main guy at the race track, but as passive as a sleeping kitten in a store setting.

As in the example, the guy would certainly want to live in the state that he can walk in. So, too, I want to do everything I can to not leave this magical state’s limit. In simpler terms, you could call this a comfort zone, but that term isn’t strong enough. A comfort zone seems to describe a place that is just slightly better than a normal zone. In my life, it’s more like a “livable” zone and the rest of life would seem to be a “worthless zone.” There is no comfort zone, no middle ground, and it’s either one or the other. Going into that game store, I wished so hard that the clerk would expedite the transaction because I didn’t want to be put in that open ended conversation that I’d know I’d make close ended, and the awkwardness that comes with that is simply unbearable for me.

Let’s say you’re the paralyzed fellow. How would you feel if you’re walking along by the state border of Oklahoma and you venture into Oklahoma and the instant you do you become paralyzed? One minute you are walking firmly and the next minute you are defenseless and helpless? One second you’re self-sufficient and the next you have no ability to do anything. If this happened once, I’m sure you’d do everything you can to stay within Kansas.

Everyone has to do things they don’t like. Most people have a tolerance, though, for these things. That example I used of the game store still hurts. Those open-ended questions with no meaning behind them have a significant meaning for me. I have to be crafty to survive each day, and the solution I see to avoid this is to just purchase everything via the Internet.

I used to work at a video game store and had no problem approaching customers. This is yet another example of this two-sided coin, or rather alter ego. The company line on talking to customers was to greet them and ask them the question from hell (can I help you find…) within five seconds of the time they enter the store. This I could not do. I could approach the customer once I knew what they were looking for. Once I knew that, I could make the game plan and I would have the bases covered. So I said I had no problem with them, I guess it’s more like it was almost no problem, as long as I knew what they were focused on.

What everyone needs to know about this is the fact that there is this situational handicap . I can be fine and dandy driving in the car somewhere, but when we get to the destination and there are other people, I am not who I was. From being able to run like an Olympian, I become as helpless as a bedridden cripple. Imagine the distress that comes with this! One minute, I am like a person who has won the gold medal and, in an instant, I become nothing more than an extra in a movie that has no lines while lying in a bed. I am seen, but not heard.

With all this said, I do everything I can to stay in my state of Kansas. Being outside is so unbearable to a point that sometimes the question of, “Is life worth this?” comes to mind. The hardest part of this all is when someone only knows me when I’m in my Kansas and then they see me outside my livable state. It’s like being completely naked and being powerless to do anything. Whatever person this is has seen me firm and confident and now they see the true me. Once they see both sides, I’m sure they ask themselves questions as to what on earth is going on with me.

I know I refuse to do many things with people because of all these facts. I hope they realize, though, that being outside my state, I feel like life isn’t worth living. It’s like having two choices—running like the wind, or being stationary and blind. Like anyone’s answer, I’d choose to run like the wind, but when I’m in Kansas, I don’t just run, I fly.

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© 2012, Aaron Likens, St. Louis, MO.