The Life Autistic: Stand and Deliver

This last week I had one of the most intense, searching, and revelatory experiences of my professional life.

EXECUTIVE PRESENTATION TRAINING

Even for you neurotpyical folks, this would have been a daunting ask. Getting each “uhm” clipped, every extra qualifier pounced upon.

For me, I knew what was coming.

I’ve polished my “presenting version” of Hunter Hansen down to where there’s only one thing left to refine.

Me.

I’ve cut out all the big words when I need to present to directors, leaders, etc.

I don’t ramble in circumlocutionary, concentric circles of narrative excess.

But eye contact?

Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time I was reminded to keep my eyes up, eyes down, eyes on the audience, I’d have a lot of nickels.

It’s so hard for me.

It’s like I need a BREAK, because I can only hold a gaze while speaking for so long.

And I almost need a stopping point to look away and “download more content.”

It’s a lot to process!

*But before any of you would cry foul here or think this is some attempt to change part of what makes Hunter, Hunter*

Here’s why I was given that advice.

I’m extremely expressive.

Apparently my face alone does so well to read, reflect, and react to an audience that it draws people in.

And it’s good enough to where I shouldn’t kick them out.

Imagine that. Young H2 would never have believed I was in any way captivating.

In fact, I was told I couldn’t Botox my forehead because of it.

In the end, I was happy. Exhausted, but happy.

The best piece of advice I got?

“Stop performing and just be you.”

Ok, I’ll be me.

You ready?

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The Life Autistic: Learning from Children

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I marvel at the hearts of my daughters. In a way, I feel they’ve given me more of a heart of my own.

This was a small but poignant moment that I was lucky to capture in sequence, something so natural, so pure.

And it’s something I feel I’m learning as an autistic adult!

I forget what kind of scolding Mo got to where she retreated pouting to a corner, but it involved probably roughhousing my youngest, Zo.

Not soon after Mo’s whimpers echo in our laundry corridor, on scoots Zo, as if to come ask Mo “what’s wrong?” 

She’s a 9-month old baby, yet she’s already in possession of a beautiful trait:

She runs to comfort sorrow.

What a profound little thing.

And of course, Mo reciprocates in kind.

They such sweet little humans, my greatest co-creations.

And this — this is how I learn about having a heart, by watching my little ones who do.

The Life Autistic: Hugs, Hugs, and more Hugs

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When I travel on business, there’s a lot of hugs.

“But H2, I thought you autistic folk didn’t like hugs!”

Some do, some don’t!

I know they’re going to happen, I plan well, I’ve mastered my distance, steps, duration, high-low-you-name it.

It’s part of meeting and greeting and I roll with it!

This past visit, I’ll share the encapsulation of the experience.

Across from me were three of my primary customers who I saw for the first time in person. As they came in line, I realized what was up.

This is going to be a conga line of HUGS.

YES.

I’m two folks in, and the third fellow asks “Wait, who is this and why are we hugging him?”

“Oh!” they exclaimed, “it’s H2!”

*SQUEE* MORE HUGS

To some of you, this is normal and 100% unremarkable.

To others, this may be a terror, in which your space feels violated and senses assaulted.

The Life Autistic is a spectrum, a complicated one, where even the simplest embraces might not be so simple.

I wish I could say I worked my way up from crippling anxiety here, but it was more just overcoming awkwardness step by step, hug by hug, embracing the embrace.

Of course, it’s easy when the hugs just go around.

Just don’t ask me what to do when a non-greeting situation calls for a hug, because I’m still figuring that one out! I’ll take tips, please and thank you. ^_^

 

The Life Autistic: Travel Tornado

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Hi all!

These four weeks will be Denver > Austin > Denver > Austin, which is QUITE the disruption to the thing I love most: routine.

I’m hoping I’ll have some stories to share, since every new situation is its own tragicomic tale.

Otherwise, stay tuned for what might be misadventures, maladies, melodrama, or otherwise mundane slice of The Life Autistic.

 

The Life Autistic: Here in the Dark, Gone in the Light

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I fear this may be one thing I never conquer.

There is a peril of a thread that runs through The Life Autistic.

An ice-cool needle leads it through, unrepentant, coursing through the fabric of our lives and needling us at the intersections of thought, actions, emotions.

Logic. Reason. Frigid. Rigid.

In some ways we are too ordered for our own good.

And as such, we think the world should work in that order.

I remember being younger, more impetuous than I am now, thinking that I should have advanced further based on the strength of my skills, my accomplishments.

“Oh, that’s not how the world works,” I’d correctly surmise.

“That’s how it should work,” my autistic self would clap back.

He’s as wrong as he is right, but I’ve since convinced him to play the hand.

It’s not about the strength of your cards, but the strength of the player.

But this is a game I cannot play.

At my lowest, I face the conundrum value.

My own value, to my family, families, friends, acquaintances, and those beyond.

The ice-cold needle and perilous thread wrap and warp my mind away from the altruistic reasons that I fail to grasp, to comprehend.

So I ask:

If I no longer serve a purpose to those around me, what then?

Out of a heart and mind perhaps misguided, I seek to be of some benefit to others, whether for my family, friends, those I know.

Something tangible, brilliant.

A needed light in darkness.

What if the darkness fades, and there is no need for me in the light?

It’s a daring, haunting question.

It’s a frame of mind and feeling I’d rather take apart and rebuild into something better.

Perhaps I’m the accent to otherwise perfect interiors, the blazing comet to balanced galaxies, the shady cloud above compact forests.

“This is how your value should work,” my autistic self asserts.

But this is not the way it works, I continue to repeat, hoping to believe.

The Life Autistic: The Wrong Way to Fish for Empathy

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Over the span of three wintry weeks, I went from beloved teacher/saint Mrs. Wieler sobbing, hugging me before I left her third grade class in Fairfax, Virginia, to wandering the barren white halls of A. T. Mahan Elementary School in Keflavik, Iceland, and finding my new facilitator, Mrs. Baldwin, staring indifferent daggers back my way as I sneaked into her class for the first time.

She arched her head back just so, resigned to pausing her lesson to make a perfunctory introduction.

“Class, we have a new student – Hunter Hansen,” Mrs. Baldwin stated, as if announcing an upcoming maths test.

I paused. Everyone glanced my way.  That was it. Nothing more.

New class, teacher, school, home, and country.

Still 3rd grade, still awkward Hunter.

But let’s back up a couple of grades, because I’d discovered a way to help cope and win friends.

So I thought.

I’d stumbled on something that brought out an empathetic response in others when I encountered an awkward or embarrassing situation. I’d sigh and say:

“I’m stupid.”

Without knowing the emotional mechanics behind it, I found it brought out kinder, gentler, sympathetic responses from my peers, like fellow penguins who’d huddle closer when they knew I was cold.

Let’s skate back to Iceland then, for my first day at my second third grade of the year.

I forget which incident brought it about, but I went quick to my tried-and-true.

I’m stupid,” said I.

To which young Daniel Merman pointed and clapped back:

“Yeah, YOU ARE!”

….

Needless to say, that was the last time I tried that.

It wasn’t the best approach.

Since then, I’ve not tried fishing.

Instead, I try for honesty, vulnerability, transparency, and hope for the best. 

It’s hard, because it is a hope.

It is not an impossible hope.

If you’re still with me, I’ll share one such moment.

In the midst of a conversation, I tucked in a small-but-honest phrase about “not having the heart” to discuss something, then kept going in my talk.

As if a crimson flag was raised atop a snowbank, I was paused and asked:

Don’t have the heart? What’s going on?”

It is a long, slow lesson, but I’ve learned it isn’t so much about seeking and prying, but letting yourself be your truest self and letting that elicit the truest, best selves from others.

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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.