The Life Autistic: Advice I Get Before Social Gatherings

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[pictured: a party too cool for me]

Yeah, so this exchange pretty much sums it up:

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So if I’m not doing a lot of talking at a party or other visit, this is one of the reasons why!

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The Life Autistic: The One Interview Answer That Almost Ruined Me

o-JOB-INTERVIEW-facebook-e1444055067489.jpgThe interview was actually going great, and I was somewhat confident I’d be hired for none other than Apple. Corporate. Working from home. The good life.

It was for a customer service position (really, yes), and I’d been doing similar for a vendor for the past three months. My contract was up, and Apple was interested in hiring a bunch of us at the site. My options were either 1) lose my job, or 2) get hired by Apple. Can’t say it was all that difficult.

But as I was quizzed on how to troubleshoot, de-escalate customers, and handle complex situations, a question came up about keeping someone calm when I didn’t know how to solve the issue.

I don’t remember my answer in total, but I remember how I ended it:

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

*brakes screeching*

*record scratch*

The interviewers cocked their heads, quizzing me about what I meant by faking it.

Oh boy, here we go . . . 

I didn’t want to mischaracterize my work as being a fake, but there were a lot of skills I had to come by unnaturally. 

Confidence. Tech savvy. Affability. Empathy.

I wanted to be a good agent, so I’d sound confident. Direct. Measured. Succinct. And people thought I was confident.

I’d land maybe one or two jokes to break tension, and people found that humorous. And so they thought, ‘hey, this guy is funny.

People responded to someone who could relate to their issue. I learned to make the sounds, say the words, lean into the yearning, situate myself into someone’s shoes and the miles they just walked and respond in kind. 

Apparently, that’s empathy. I know how it sounds and acts, just . . . not how it feels.

Back to the interview, I pivoted well enough: told ’em I didn’t mean “making stuff up,” but that confidence and expertise are just what you present, not what you possess.

It made sense.

And here I am, still at Apple after 9 years, still “faking” what I don’t have until I make it into what I do have.

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Things NOT to Say to High-Functioning Autistic People

IMG_0213.jpgSometimes the best things you can say to us are the things you choose not to say. Here’s a short list:

“Why can’t you just be normal?”

Because we’re not dishwashers and clothes dryers. It’s not a setting we can just switch to.

“You’re not really THAT autistic.”

I’m sorry that I’ve socially adapted to the point where you think my autism isn’t as prominent as you think it should be.

“I need you to grow up and get over it.”

Really? You think we’re somehow unaware of the illogic in our response to stimuli, frustrations, and otherwise outlandishly inconvenient meltdowns? Autism isn’t a maturity issue.

“You’re just using autism as an excuse for [insert something negative here].”

This is where I buy you a dictionary and educate you on the different connotations behind “reason” and “excuse.”

“Can’t you just use your autism to [do something here]?”

What are we, mutants? Autism and its perks aren’t just ‘powers’ we can trigger, sorry.

“I wish you got along with people better.”

Likewise.

The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

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For those of us on the high-functioning side, we’re sometimes accused of faking our autism.

But more often than not, we’re having to fake being “normal.” 

That’s where ‘masking’ comes in.

Masking is where autistic people drastically adjust their behaviors to mask their symptoms. Some of us do it more than others.

Things like finding a spot on someone’s face to stare at to approximate eye-contact. A painstakingly-rehearsed repertoire of small-talk to give off the appearance of social comfort. Mimicking normal behaviors. Finding places to sit or otherwise be occupied so we’re not caught pacing, flapping, or otherwise repetitively twitching while we talk. Reaching out to others out of the blue. Doing research on people we’ll be meeting so we can find ways to get them talking so we don’t have to.

Why? To pass as normal. To retreat from awkwardness. To fit in. To be accepted.

It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you neurotypical people do it.

But I know how do it. I’ve needed a mask, something that goes beyond Hunter.

My mask is practically Batman (or Daredevil, as befits the image). It’s become its own thing nowadays.

You may have seen it.

It’s why some people think I’m a great raconteur, an entertainer, and (at work anyway) a well-connected, gregarious individual who can light up a room and spin the conversational wheel of fortune around the table.

But that is itself a mask, an emblem, a symbol.

My mask has a name: H2.

. . . to be continued

The Life Autistic: Why Apologies are Hard (and how you can help!)

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 10.23.45 AM.pngSaying “I’m sorry” is hard for neurotypical people.

It’s not that hard for us.

“What?” you say. “Dude, you just said apologies are hard!

Yep, they are.

What’s the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” It’s different for autistic people, because there’s an added dimension that defies our solving:

It’s not how we say we’re sorry; it’s that others cannot tell if we’re sorry or not.

I’ve spent a good bit reading up on how to voice apology without qualification, excuse, keeping it simple enough to admit wrong and relay why it wronged another.

But for us autistic people, it doesn’t matter. Why?

People assume we don’t feel sorry.

I get when it’s a hasty apology, or when it’s just words coming out to diffuse tension, or something insincere and excuse-laden.

But we hear things like:

“You don’t sound like you’re sorry.”

“I don’t think you understand what you did.”

“You should feel worse about this.”

People, people, people — help us out here.

If we’re owning our blame, conveying that we wronged you and elaborated on why, and we’re apologizing, without qualifications, to make peace and seek genuine restoration in doing better, then please accept that.

Please.

It is difficult enough for us to navigate emotional and empathetic gaps, but we’re not heartless people. Please don’t assume our heartfelt apologies are any less sincere because we’re half-robot.

There’s a line that sticks with me in Moana, when Maui apologizes to Te Fiti.

“Look, what I did was …. wrong. I have no excuse. I’m sorry.”

The sad reality: if Maui was autistic, no one would believe him.

The Life Autistic: I Walk Through the Uncanny Valley

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Ok, if you’re not familiar with the phrase and concept of ‘uncanny valley,’ go read up.

Back? Cool.

Being autistic is like being living in an uncanny valley.

Why?

We humans are most comfortable with humans who act like humans and robots who act like robots. Mixing the two together creates an eerie revulsion that jars our expectations and freaks us out.

And of course, how do people describe us higher-functioning autistics? Monotone. Focused. Cold. Rational. Unemotional. 

Robotic.

Instead of thinking it was always personal, or that it was my weight, acne, whatever, I should have just rationalized it as “Oh, duh, these people have a reflexive avulsion to humans with robotic tendencies!”

If only.

We’re not robots. We’re just different.

Where many would become derailed by emotion, we won’t. Where others make poor decisions based on anger, spite, and hate, we don’t. Where some bask in the warmth of others and feel the benefit of feelings, well, sometimes we can’t.

We’re no less human. I’m no less human.

I might not look you in the eye. I might flap and jitter while walking and waiting. I probably won’t get worked up about hot-button, emotional topics. And my elevated prosody isn’t your computer’s dictionary talking.

I can’t help that you’re revolted. And I also cannot pretend to be a normal human the way normal humans don’t have to pretend.

If you can, try to see beyond the uncanny valley. 

The Life Autistic: Why Handwriting Sucks

IMG_6384.JPGI remember taking notes for an absent classmate back in 4th grade. That was a mistake.

While I thought I was doing her a favor, it turns out that she spent more time decoding my hieroglyphic scrawl, consulting forensic experts, and soliciting translation assistance for my poorly handwritten notation.

She probably failed the test and never spoke to me again. Typical.

My handwriting sucks. It just does.

I used to think that it was due to an early bait-and-switch in my second preschool, where, as the only leftie, I was forced to comply with the “right” way to write along with the class.

But no, while that may be part of it, it turns out that it’s common for us high-functioning autistic folks! It’s like there’s something that gets lost in transcription there.

“So what, H2? It’s 2018. Get over it. Nobody uses pen and paper anymore.”

You’re right about one thing: it’s 2018, not 3018.

Kids like me still write in school. Visit an elementary class sometime and lemme know how many of them text and type before learning to write. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.

You try being one of the sharper kids in class who could be out trying to learn about socializing during recess, but no, he’s stuck miring through a penmanship worksheet. It’s a struggle at a young age. And get this:

Handwriting is a struggle for us autistics at any age. 

And sometimes it does matter.

I don’t like putting down more than just my signature when writing in birthday cards.

I’m not the one you can count on to jot something down.

And my wife would appreciate a love letter once in a while, but I’m embarrassed and taxed in writing her one that doesn’t look like it came from a 1st-grader.

So yeah, if we insist on texting or emailing instead of writing: trust us, it’s for everyone’s good.