The Life Autistic: Why I Made the Mistake of Summer Camp Only Once

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Oh man, Hunter’s got a SUMMER CAMP story!

A poorly adjusted autistic teenager, packed in a bus with a church group who rarely talked to him, going to a camp more than three states away.

What could go wrong?


 

Folks, I hate to disappoint, but the camp story is boring.

It was uneventful.

I didn’t embarrass myself, didn’t fall off a zip line, never had someone stick a lobster down my swim trunks, didn’t sit on a vaseline-covered toilet seat, and didn’t melt down in an awkward, autistic mess.

Not yet.

After a week of camp, my family came to pick me up and drive me back home.

I was elated – nothing went terribly wrong, and I felt like I got along and went along with everything that went on, so I babbled on during the car ride back home.

As we drove, I noticed my folks taking a different way home.

“Mom’s got to handle something at work,” Dad said, as we drove onto the nearby Navy base.

So on we drove, keeping on in conversation, when I noticed something in the distance.

“Oh, look! That person has a New Beetle just like Mom’s—”

At that moment, they all (all six of them) shouted:

“WE MOVED!”

Yeah.

My family literally moved houses while I was gone for the week.

Moved.

Up and relocated without me knowing.


 

On the plus side, at least they came to get me.

I did have my own room there.

Did I have an awful, abject, autistic meltdown and weeping fit?

Yep.

And did I ever go back to summer camp?

NOPE.

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The Life Autistic: How we’re People within People, with Masks upon Masks

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The last interesting person around—magician Ricky Jay—passed away a short while ago.

There’s a New Yorker profile of him that has one of the best opening anecdotes I’ve ever read. But it also stands out for this sobering gem of a quote:

Those most familiar with his idiosyncrasies realize that there are at least three Ricky Jays: a public persona, a private persona, and a private persona within the private persona.

I’ll never relate to Ricky Jay’s skill, patter, or duende.

But I definitely relate to there being Hunters within Hunter.

In The Life Autistic, many relate as well.

Many of us have resorted or otherwise phased into “masking” – a way of passing as normal, skirting our obvious idiosyncrasies, and working hard to make it seem like we’re naturals at social interaction.

There’s that phrase people use: “once you get to know them, they’re —”

I wonder what people think once they feel they get to know me. 

There is that polished, fine-tuned, clever professional persona, my H2 — one of my greatest creations.

After a while, people think they get to know ‘Hunter.’ They do, genuinely so. I step out of the armor, one layer removed.

Yet even beyond the veneer, when I hear people think I’m funny, engaging, or otherwise a normal, bright, sociable creature beneath the professional and personal . . .

There’s a Hunter further down, working hard to craft the jokes. Predicting the way conversations could go. Practicing every word so as not to offend with unintended brusqueness. Plotting my timing. Putting my empathetic response into overdrive to make sure I know I can show I care.

Many folks are OK getting to know H2.

Then sometimes those folks stick around, and they’re fine getting to know Hunter.

But then I worry, what comes of getting to know the Hunter beyond that?

 

 

The Life Autistic: We Fall and Make No Sound

IMG_2441.jpgIf a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it – does it make a sound?

Were that tree autistic and the forest “normal” — no, no one would bother hearing it.

And it would make no sound.

People look at “getting the last word” as a show of force, of getting one’s point across with finality.

Save those of us with selective mutism or otherwise blessed with blissful silence, we’re often cursed with being the last ones speaking, to empty rooms, ears tuned out, no one left yet listening.

Conversations come and go; we often cannot follow and latch on to nothing but vapor.

And no one would think to say, “Hey, we’ve moved on from that.”

We bring up memories, things of note, expecting some reflecting — but no, that sheen has passed, and we don’t see it.

I’ve continued pulling thread from worn spools of talk, only to find myself stranded.

The yarns are spent, and there’s only one time when we figure it out.

When it’s far too awkward and late.

The Life Autistic is like talking on different trains, misjudging schedules, miscalculating interests, missing everything.

Measuring so carefully every word and thought, excited to elaborate.

And like sculptures doomed to dust, they’re dashed quickly on sleek tiles keen to move on.

I have destroyed and had dashed so many thoughts, threads of conversation and idea, that it is becoming painful to walk on the fragments of thought and talk.

I create because I think it matters, and yet it too soon becomes dust and ether.

Hopefully it shines. Somewhere. Whether in a shard someone wants to keep or at least in dust underfoot.

The Life Autistic: Before Kicking Fear in the Face, Kick This

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It took just one line in one email to heap a dollop of dread on my Monday.

“Sorry folks, I’m out of office – hope someone can carry the torch and host today!”

If you haven’t heard of a thing called Makeover Monday: check the link, re-read this post, and —*voila*—now you’ve heard of Makeover Monday, a weekly social data project where folks gather to visualize data better.

I’m a stickler for routine, learning, and talking, so I ended up being one of the “regulars” for our sessions at work.

But I’m still in “learning” mode, soaking things in, far from where I’d step up and lead peers who are way better at data viz.

I had a thought. But I was apprehensive.

Now – this is where three things converged; I’m sharing this slice of The Life Autistic to help put steel toes on a boot that kicks fear in the face.

The show must go on

Some people think I’m a “take charge” person, naturally keen on stepping up to the plate.

Uh, not quite.

A LOT of this is due to my absolute and nigh-inflexible dedication to routine. Someone’s gotta keep the chains moving, and maintain order. I’m less “go-getter” and more “not-stopper.”

Fortune favors the brave

Thank you Sir David Attenborough and Planet Earth for echoing that phrase–audentes Fortuna iuvat–when lizards jumped for prey, tigers leapt for kills, or whatever predator vaulted for things just beyond reach to reach success.

But it was this final point that has led me across this Rubicon:

Before kicking fear, kick YOURSELF

“I should host,” I thought.

“That’s a bad idea,” I thought back.

But this week’s Makeover Monday at work couldn’t just not happen.

Maybe it’d be an awesome session, something that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t try.

I readied an email, swallowing that welling lump of fear, ready to take the torch.

Then I got a text:

“Hey Hunter, you’re gonna lead today’s session, right?”

Right.