The Life Autistic: Why my ‘Space’ is a Fortress

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I’ve been on a business trip all this week, doing what I’d imagine many of my fellow autists and Aspies may dread: working with a lot of real-live people all day.

For a dude who works remotely 95% of the time, this is a big deal. I travel once a quarter, mainly because it takes me that long to recharge in between trips to see and work with my awesome co-workers and extended peers in person.

It’s fun, but it is exhausting. 

But I did have an interesting self-revelation last night. As one of my friends left with me, he graced many folks with parting hug. I had to suppress a small smirk as I prepped to leave as well.

I joked about having a “hugs quota” that I’d exceeded for the day.

Someone asked: “Ah, so you have kind of a space bubble?”

I had to think both thoughtfully and fast, neither of which I do well on their own.

“Well, it’s more like a fortress.”

That right there is a fair assessment of how I feel about space. Here’s why:

A fortress is a defensive bulwark.

While I sometimes wish I were more forward, you’ll find that I’m never intrusive, not even by accident. Steadiness and steadfastness are great byproducts.

A fortress doesn’t pop. 

Bubbles don’t have the kind of permanence that I carry; it’s a stronger force, a lot more obvious – sometimes disinviting, but never surprising.

A fortress has an entry.

I’m most at peace with this one. I’m not closed. I’ve got a few arches, edifices, some cool design features – but despite the walls both high and wide, I can still control the gate. 

 

 

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The Life Autistic: Oh, No, not EYE CONTACT!

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This one’s almost made it to the “common knowledge” domain: Autistic people typically don’t make eye contact when they’re talking to you because blah, blah, reasons, difference, awkward, reasons, etc.

Ever wonder why?

I’ll tell you!

It’s hard for us to process multiple senses at once.

Unlike the rest of y’all, we autistic folks devote significant mental resources to engaging in conversation. Saying the right thing, planning our next sentences, avoiding awkward pauses, trying to guard ourselves from over-talking, and reading your face.

Making eye contact? That’s like the camelback-breaking straw.

It often feels like too much at once. It’s not that we’re too shy – we just need to devote more to our conversations with you.

We’re intentional, so we can’t just “rest” our gaze by making eye contact.

I mean, we could make eye contact.

If it were a staring contest.

If the goal is “maintain eye contact until predator backs down” or something weird.

If we were talking about, well, your eyes.

Lastly, we’re on our guard and averse to being “analyzed” 

I’ve a lot to learn about myself, but I know I’m different. 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel that, and I feel others can see it.

So the eye contact thing? It doesn’t help – it’s like people stare straight into my autistic reaction, that visceral feeling of “stop gawking at me.”

That said, I do have a way I’ve worked around this.

You might notice that, at times, I have no problem holding a conversation and looking right back at you.

How?

I’m practically blind now, y’all. Without my glasses, I can stare straight into your face and be A-OK with the blur.

No eyesight, no eye contact, no problem ^_^

 

The Life Autistic: We are your Workplace Engines – Here’s Why

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I remember getting a interesting compliment from my boss on my work ethic; it was as much his own transparent introspection as it was a testament to my drive:

“I have actually let things slip, knowing that you will catch them.”

(And for the record, this was a manager who did and does get things done!)

I was grateful for the feedback — flattered even!

Despite my troubles in other areas (tact, speaking out of turn, saying too much, being too direct, you get the trend) — in both leadership and in individual contribution, there are some ‘autistic features’ that have really helped me.

And they’re common enough among us autists to where they help you.

We’re great at laser-focusing on tasks.

I ended up building all of my Excel skills purely by taking on the most tedious and taxing items that involved spreadsheets, formulas, all that jazz. While I’ve since moved on to more fun tools (hello, Tableau!), my ability to zero in and grind out arduous work paid off.

We’re honest.

For all of our tactlessness, we are at least forthright about when something is great or not great. Back when I managed supervisors, I wasn’t always the most accommodating, nor the warmest, fuzziest manager. But I was honest, and that brought out the best in my folks – the expectations and feedback were always clear.

We’re good with details.

One of my best career experiences was with a global communication team — I was fortunate to be in a role that allowed me to fight for excellence in even the smallest details: pixel-perfect presentation arrangements, fine-toothed grammatical combing, and punctilious analysis of distribution lists, procedures, and more.

We’re quite good engines: driven, detailed, and dutiful.

Hire more of us, please!

The Life Autistic: Our Stats are Different

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For those of you who played video games growing up (or, if you still have time to do that as a grown up), you know how it goes with character stats.

“Well, I could go with Axel, but he doesn’t have as much power as Goro, and neither of them are as quick as Chun-Li. I like speed, so I think I’ll go with Sonic.”

There’s a balance.

People have it too, where some have their ‘IQ’ boosted, but take a hit on ‘Athleticism.’ Others score well in ‘Looks,’ but maybe that’s balanced out with a lack of ‘Smarts.’

Or, heck, some people have it all (but their ‘Happiness’ stat is lacking).

Autistic stats seem that way too.

We might get a HUGE boost in Vocabulary and lack in Social Skills.

Some of us might do amazing in Artistic Ability, yet zero out in Verbal Communication.

Personally, I’ve worked on Coordination and Small Talk, but I’m still behind on Tact and Reading People.

It’d be nice to have some extra points to where I’d be a better athlete or have the endurance to be around people all day.

But it’s nice knowing that, no matter the balance of stats, I’m my own character. 

 

The Life Autistic: Is High-Functioning Autism just a Shield?

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I recently came across some autism-related news; it’s unfortunate the autism mention came in defending one’s poorly-chosen actions:

“I understand I came off as super rude but I’m rude and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

[Becky] said she suffers from Autism and that having Obregon stand outside her home made her feel trapped.

“As somebody with autism I’m extremely uncomfortable with having strangers in front of the house,” she said. “It’s extremely triggering to have to walk out and see a stranger there. To me, this person might attack me, I don’t know.”

As I read this article (and the, uh, interesting takes that followed), it got me thinking about the all-too-fine lines between ‘autism as a reason for actions’ vs. ‘autism as an excuse.’

I’ve even had to endure some difficult conversations about to what extent I “hide” my negative actions (brusqueness, directness, ignorance, insensitivity) behind my autism.

That line of thinking both makes and misses the point:

Autism is not a shield, nor is it meant to excuse our worst attributes.

I’ve had episodes similar to Becky’s, thankfully with less racist/ableist optics.

I’m not proud of when I’ve yelled and cussed at people, or when I’ve ever lied, or grabbed the last piece of cake.

Some actions are just bad, and autism doesn’t explain them away.

Autism doesn’t justify racism, prejudice, lies, grift, or many hosts of other sins.

In fact, it doesn’t justify anything.

Things like ‘rudeness’, ‘insensitivity,’ and ‘brusqueness’ — now that is where autism gets its bad rap.

But do I get a pass on those? Do I get a “Get Out of Civility” free card?

No, and I shouldn’t. And I won’t use a shield for that.

Instead of a shield, I’d rather have context, something that moves my stance from “Don’t Blame Me” to “Do Understand Me.”

 

 

The Life Autistic: WHO THE $@#% MOVED MY CHEESE?!

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I forget where I was that day, but I’d been out of the house, something typically productive for a 15-year-old, like work.

As I settled back down in my room, I went to put my wallet, watch, and my other effects back in their spots.

Then I noticed something. Many somethings. They were off.

This . . . would end poorly.


If you know me, you know I’m not the cleanest person, but I am one of the tidier, more organized folks you’ll meet.

My nightstand, office desk, and other surfaces are arranged just so. 

It’s not neatness; it’s obsessive compulsive behavior.

I almost wish it were less so! I’d like to be able to leave my bed unmade or have dishes in the sink for more than a minute. But I can’t.

It’s a visceral reaction, one that (to me) seems borne of a need to declutter the things I see so that I’m not being overwhelmed with my own internal clutter than I don’t see. 

So when you’re wondering “Why is he doing dishes during this event at their house?” or “This guy is really obsessed with picking up after every single toy right away” — it’s not because I think y’all are dirty; I just have to declutter space to function. 


Back in my room, my pens had been misaligned. My watches completely shuffled. My change cup was emptied, its contents placed in piles across my dresser. Like a surgeon rearranging one’s organs and fitting them back into a body, my room had been dismembered and stitched into a pale imitation of how had everything.

I heard my siblings’ impish chuckles outside my door, and — well, I might have lost my cool. My brother tells the story better, adding much more violent, beating-someone-over-the-head-with-a-plastic-blue-chair color commentary — I don’t recall the reactions, but I definitely remember the irrational outburst.

In the end, it’s just stuff. 

I tell my normal self that “stuff can be rearranged.”

But my true self, the autistic one, doesn’t see it that way. Out of place is the wrong place, and it’s what makes our world melt.

The Life Autistic: One Word We HATE Being Called

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Imagine you’re a horse.

A horse with a mission: “Run as fast as you can around this track three times.”

And off you start: saddle, blinders, gate, whistle – go.

The best horses run; they gallop with single-mind, pounding heart, focused and intentional.

But that focus isn’t always innate — that’s why they wear blinders. To keep their attention on the task at hand, to eliminate distractions, detractions from that mission, that task.

Now what if you’re next to this horse in the race and he jerks his body into you, slamming into your leg? Or maybe he veers right into you without noticing, shoving you off course?

Of course, you blame the horse, right? He should have been paying attention. He should have been more aware of his surroundings.

No.

Now imagine you’re autistic.

Whether you give it or get it, sometimes you have a mission. It’s mundane. You, being normal, don’t understand why it’s so important to put away a pile of socks — but it IS. 

Your focus narrows, your blinders are slipped aside your eyes, and off you work.

You don’t stop. You keep going. You’re not making the decision to ignore people or things. They’re not getting your attention. You’re barreling through people without seeing them as obstacles — you’re just not seeing them.

This is why people call us a thing, something that speaks to output and ignores the input.

Inconsiderate.

Don’t call us that. We hate it.

Being ‘inconsiderate’ implies too much maliciousness, willful self-absorption, and frankly, that gives us too much credit. We’re not some haughty, off-putting villains.

We’re autistic. We’re focused. We have blinders. They’re just there. 

We’re not excusing the output. We’re explaining the input. 

We get that it can cause problems. Trust me, if I could yank the blinders off at will — I would.

Don’t blame the horse.

Perhaps reconsider what it is to be inconsiderate.