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.

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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.

 

The Life Autistic: The Silly Reason I Walk Alone

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 11.58.39 AM.pngI was touring the campus of Pensacola Christian College for the first time, walking with my campus mom.

Until I heard a voice about ten feet behind me.

Ahem . . . Hunter.”

I’d done that thing again.

There I was, what seemed a mile ahead of my tour guide. I’d walked way too far, but not far enough to hear her tut-tutting at my apparent sprint ahead. I marooned both of us, not by design, but by, well—

See, there’s this thing.

I walk to get places, and I walk fast, and that’s my default setting.

It’s nice when I need to get from point A to point B, or when I need some exercise, but shoot, when I started socializing, being more human, getting to know people, I didn’t realize how much of a socially-illiterate walker I was.

Until arriving at college, I don’t think I walked with another person before.

And that’s when I learned why I’d walk alone: because I walk like I am alone.

It’s not like I’m trying to get away from you if I’m more galloping than ambling. I’m not trying to be rude, inconsiderate, etc.

Walking is a focused, driven, routine, one-track thing for me; it’s how I’m wired, and left to my own devices, I’d walk without stopping, loping along, maybe even talking at myself while I ignore things around me.

I’m learning to slow down.

To walk with people.

To take in surroundings.

To realize that the destination is not the only thing that matters.

They say You’ll Never Walk Alone, but in The Life Autistic, you often do.

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Why We Can’t Just ‘Unmask’

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Sometimes I wish I could live more of my life as more of myself. Many of us feel the same.

“So, uh, live life like yourself then, duh,” some neurotypicals may say.

Yeah, if only.

Many of us mask because we have to.

Here’s why I can’t just rip off the mask and ‘be myself.’

1: Feelings can’t be switched off

“Hunter hurt my feelings with his comment, but I know he wasn’t trying to be insensitive, so I’ll try to be understanding and let that slide,” said no one, ever.

It’s not fair of me to expect everyone to “get me” and adjust their reactions appropriately. It’s also not license for me to be a jerk, either. I don’t want to be reviled and shunned any further, so my mask is one that helps me to talk less, listen more, and say even less so that I don’t come across as abrasive.

2: Quirky oddball loners add tension (and I hate tension)

It’s cringing and awkward when that one dude in your group just isn’t talking, not making eye contact, and isn’t emanating a cool enough vibe to be alluring. I’m usually that one dude. But I can’t stand feeling like that person, so I keep my mask on to glide past it.

It’s a well-crafted, precisely-rehearsed social navigation facade, replete with banter, some medium-grade jokes, and enough chatter to cut the tension, the kind of tension that would be taut enough to cut if I were unmasked and in my element.

3: I’ve succeeded too well with the mask (and not at all without it)

As I look back on the highlights of my life, work, career, and more, they’ve more fallen in the ‘Batman’ category more so than ‘Bruce Wayne.’

I’m not fond of the superhero comparison, but H2 is the caped crusader, the vivacious raconteur, the ebullient knight, better at events, the guy with the hair, almost popular at work, tolerable in life. And Hunter Hansen just . . . isn’t.

I can’t be my version of Batman without the mask. Not yet, and I don’t know if ever.

 

 

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.