The Life Autistic: Bridge Building & Lessons in Risk

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In my short elementary school years at A.T. Mahan in Keflavik, Iceland, I was ‘selected’ for their Talented & Gifted class. I don’t know how they came to their selections, but given my entry, they must have been pretty lax that year.

One of the class projects stood out: Bridge Building

We were given our raw materials (toothpicks, glue, paint), budget, and some architectural guidance (“Use lots of triangles!”). After we were finished, our bridges would be judged on their design, fiscal discipline, and strength.

I constructed mine with meticulous, exacting care, decking it in red and blue as if it were some causeway of American patriotism. Across the table was another team, lamenting their need to rebuild a section of their bridge.

It was then that our teacher, Mr. Feige, dispensed an important anecdote:

“We once had a team who had to rebuild their entire bridge. And even though it went over budget, it was the strongest bridge we’ve ever tested!”

Did you catch all the important lessons there?

I sure didn’t.

Judgement Day arrived, and all our bridges were up for judging – and of course, the fun part, seeing how much weight they’d support.

The other teams tested their bridges to the absolute maximum, wrecking them in spectacular fashion.

When it came to my bridge, it held about 5 pounds, buckling quickly.

I stopped there.

I could have kept going. Could have risked a little more. But I didn’t.

In the end, my bridge didn’t win a prize for being the best looking, or the most fiscally sound, or the strongest. But I did have one takeaway the others didn’t.

I took my bridge home, intact.

So, what’s the lesson?

In my life autistic, I’ve learned that I toe a fine line between confidence and caution. Even recently, I found myself plugging in directions, even though I’ve done the drives dozens of times. I’m not as quick to get places, but I’m also not getting lost.

Sure, I could have out-designed and budgeted better to at least win the “smart” way, or I could have wrecked my bridge and set a new strength record.

But I know myself: rarely first, rarely worst. My bridges don’t win contests, but they do stay standing in the end.

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