The Life Autistic: Is This What it is to Be Human?

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I was once a colder man who cared far less.

Yet since I’ve thawed, I am still bewildered.

Now I’m less a robot than before. Whether by design, intent, or happy accident, I’m not quite sure; I now find things provoking responses in me that are more human.

To a normal life, it’s “being a person.”

But on The Life Autistic, it is discovery.

For example, I was on a conference call that went so far south, it crossed the equator and beyond the tropic of Capricorn.

One of my customers was put in an extremely difficult spot. The exchange was testy, awkward, and alarming. The palpable tension strung taut among the audience until it finally unspooled, detangling in a nervous mess.

Where the Hunter of years ago would have considered it bad, this time, it evoked a different feeling.

I felt bad.

Not just about the situation, but for the person.

Is this what empathy is? It was as if their discomfort and hurried resolve to save face echoed within me. I went from observation to seeking their consolation.

Mind you, I’m just support personnel. The Business Analyst. The data cruncher. The numbers guy.

I am the robot by role, by design.

But I care now.

The next day, I took a deep breath. My gut said “write a note, be encouraging, use your words and not just your data for support.”

It might have penned one hundred words tops, but it took me almost half an hour: 10 minutes to write, 20 minutes being all anxious about sending it.

And off it went.

It may sound trite, but for me and people like me – this is novel.

It gives me hope.

As the great sages of our age, Daft Punk, reminded me: maybe I am indeed human after all.

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The Life Autistic: How I Survived School

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How did I manage through school?

Easy, I was homeschooled. Next question.

Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that.

Due to a variety of factors that included moving every 2.5 years, cost, flexibility, religious reasons, you name it — most of my schooling ended up being done from the comfort and constraints of my own home.

My parents hadn’t quite cracked the code on my autism yet, but they did find that I took to the setup of this ACE curriculum, something that suited my independence and autodidactic attributes all too well.

“You mean I can just rip through all of this at my own pace? I don’t have to slow down for anyone? SOLD!”

Oh, Hunter, if only you knew.

It explains a lot of where I mined out advantages and ran into disadvantages in The Life Autistic.

Sure, it freed me to flex my skills in almost unimpeded (even if narrow) learning.

But I had to navigate social skills elsewhere.

Would I recommend the experience for others on the spectrum?

It’s hard for me to say.

It would have been nice having friends, even if it meant maybe making enemies.

It’d have been good to learn how to adjust and adapt to others sooner, rather than later.

Perhaps I’d have hated the regular school experience more, but I’d have hit the obstacles then and not later. I might have had a shot at passing as “normal.”

But I didn’t.

I remember the day I finished my last test. I was 16.

That afternoon, I told my boss: “Hey, so I’m like, done with school? Can you flex me up to 40 hours now?”

I was a free man and ready for life.

So I thought.

 

The Life Autistic: Say No More

IMG_5762.JPGYou’ve been quiet today, H2.

Yeah, I know.

It happens.

Even to the most adapted, “high-functioning,” disciplined folks in The Life Autistic.

Sometimes we just stop talking. 

There’s a condition that some autistic folks either have or express: selective mutism, which is more or less a way of clamming up, shutting up, and shutting down.

I honestly can’t speak for those with selective mutism; the only experience I can speak to is mine own.

There are days when I’m embarrassed about how much I talk.

There are times when I feel I’m the only one speaking in turn, turning a conversation into a monologue.

There are instances where I say something I shouldn’t and feel the sting of embarrassment flooding my face.

There are topics in which no one responds.

Those things mute me.

Like a locking vice on my jaw, I feel myself close down and shrink in those moments.

And I say nothing or less than nothing.

Not that the words aren’t there.

Not that I don’t want to contribute again.

The Life Autistic has with it an odd voice, sometimes blistering, boisterous, effusive, monotone, polyphonic.

But when shuttered, it is withdrawn.

It doesn’t last forever.

And in fact, sometimes it brings out the voices of others.

You’ve been quiet today, H2.

Is…everything OK?

That is the start to making things OK.

The Life Autistic: “That Was Fun!”

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I don’t know what it is with my oldest daughter, but she finds new ways to amaze me.

We’re all at Cold Stone, about to leave, when she asks:

Can I go up and ask for a lid?”

I double-taked for a second, since, 1) she’s 3, and 2) she’s willingly volunteering to go talk to strangers.

That’s so foreign to me on The Life Autistic – wanting to talk to people.

It’s not that we hate it; it’s not that we can’t; but that’s definitely outside the scope of our wants — and if we can avoid it, we do.

There’s only so much in the tank that we can spare on a given day.

But oh, not my Mo, who’s somehow becoming an extrovert who gets energy from others.

She goes up and politely asks the workers for a “like it-sized lid,” and after they’re accordingly smitten, they oblige and hand one to her.

Mo runs back.

“That was fun!”

Fun, I thought.

I don’t know what it is with this kid. Maybe she’s not the normal one.

But she gives me hope, a jolt, and a new way of viewing interactions. They may not always feel fun to me, yet someone sees the fun in it. Perhaps my eyes can yet stretch to see it someday.

 

 

The Life Autistic: We Need Exit Strategies

Glass_exit_sign.jpgI completely lost the plot this past Monday.

After just one too many days in a different house, with 10x the amount of people I’m normally around, doing only 5% of what I’m good at, and feeling the walls figuratively closing in, I snapped.

It took me a while to cool off and reflect on where I’d tailspun out of control, devolved into an incorrigible mess, and both shut down and shot back at every living thing around me.

And here I thought I’d become more enlightened this past year, in command of reason, existing in an astral plane above the fray.

But no.

You can’t enlighten your way out of autism.

My attitude is my own, and so are my reactions.

I should have better owned how to handle and navigate around them.

We need exit strategies. 

There are some situations, setups, surroundings where we just can’t simmer down. Too many people. Not enough rooms. Too loud. Too quiet. Too boring. Too busy.

If I’m not doing something I feel has purpose or progress, I get cagey, irritable, and eventually explosive.

If I can’t sneak away and take some quiet time relatively alone to reset, I shake out into a rage.

It’s as if the small pressures build into an overload, a meltdown.

Yes, a meltdown, even as a grown adult.

****

The Life Autistic sucks sometimes.

I’m embarrassed by not growing out of it, not yet unlocking a level of conquering that makes me feel like I can be above every fray.

And while I’ve worked hard to adapt, some situations shred away the armor, tear off the mask, and goad my core in spiteful reminder that, yes, I’m still much the same Hunter within.

But that is the life indeed.

While I discover the ways through, the ways forward, I’ve always got to keep read the way out. 

Sometimes that’s the only way back in.