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. 

 

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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: 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.

The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

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For those of us on the high-functioning side, we’re sometimes accused of faking our autism.

But more often than not, we’re having to fake being “normal.” 

That’s where ‘masking’ comes in.

Masking is where autistic people drastically adjust their behaviors to mask their symptoms. Some of us do it more than others.

Things like finding a spot on someone’s face to stare at to approximate eye-contact. A painstakingly-rehearsed repertoire of small-talk to give off the appearance of social comfort. Mimicking normal behaviors. Finding places to sit or otherwise be occupied so we’re not caught pacing, flapping, or otherwise repetitively twitching while we talk. Reaching out to others out of the blue. Doing research on people we’ll be meeting so we can find ways to get them talking so we don’t have to.

Why? To pass as normal. To retreat from awkwardness. To fit in. To be accepted.

It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you neurotypical people do it.

But I know how do it. I’ve needed a mask, something that goes beyond Hunter.

My mask is practically Batman (or Daredevil, as befits the image). It’s become its own thing nowadays.

You may have seen it.

It’s why some people think I’m a great raconteur, an entertainer, and (at work anyway) a well-connected, gregarious individual who can light up a room and spin the conversational wheel of fortune around the table.

But that is itself a mask, an emblem, a symbol.

My mask has a name: H2.

. . . to be continued

The Life Autistic: I Walk Through the Uncanny Valley

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Ok, if you’re not familiar with the phrase and concept of ‘uncanny valley,’ go read up.

Back? Cool.

Being autistic is like being living in an uncanny valley.

Why?

We humans are most comfortable with humans who act like humans and robots who act like robots. Mixing the two together creates an eerie revulsion that jars our expectations and freaks us out.

And of course, how do people describe us higher-functioning autistics? Monotone. Focused. Cold. Rational. Unemotional. 

Robotic.

Instead of thinking it was always personal, or that it was my weight, acne, whatever, I should have just rationalized it as “Oh, duh, these people have a reflexive avulsion to humans with robotic tendencies!”

If only.

We’re not robots. We’re just different.

Where many would become derailed by emotion, we won’t. Where others make poor decisions based on anger, spite, and hate, we don’t. Where some bask in the warmth of others and feel the benefit of feelings, well, sometimes we can’t.

We’re no less human. I’m no less human.

I might not look you in the eye. I might flap and jitter while walking and waiting. I probably won’t get worked up about hot-button, emotional topics. And my elevated prosody isn’t your computer’s dictionary talking.

I can’t help that you’re revolted. And I also cannot pretend to be a normal human the way normal humans don’t have to pretend.

If you can, try to see beyond the uncanny valley. 

The Life Autistic: Why Handwriting Sucks

IMG_6384.JPGI remember taking notes for an absent classmate back in 4th grade. That was a mistake.

While I thought I was doing her a favor, it turns out that she spent more time decoding my hieroglyphic scrawl, consulting forensic experts, and soliciting translation assistance for my poorly handwritten notation.

She probably failed the test and never spoke to me again. Typical.

My handwriting sucks. It just does.

I used to think that it was due to an early bait-and-switch in my second preschool, where, as the only leftie, I was forced to comply with the “right” way to write along with the class.

But no, while that may be part of it, it turns out that it’s common for us high-functioning autistic folks! It’s like there’s something that gets lost in transcription there.

“So what, H2? It’s 2018. Get over it. Nobody uses pen and paper anymore.”

You’re right about one thing: it’s 2018, not 3018.

Kids like me still write in school. Visit an elementary class sometime and lemme know how many of them text and type before learning to write. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.

You try being one of the sharper kids in class who could be out trying to learn about socializing during recess, but no, he’s stuck miring through a penmanship worksheet. It’s a struggle at a young age. And get this:

Handwriting is a struggle for us autistics at any age. 

And sometimes it does matter.

I don’t like putting down more than just my signature when writing in birthday cards.

I’m not the one you can count on to jot something down.

And my wife would appreciate a love letter once in a while, but I’m embarrassed and taxed in writing her one that doesn’t look like it came from a 1st-grader.

So yeah, if we insist on texting or emailing instead of writing: trust us, it’s for everyone’s good.