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: 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.

 

The Life Autistic: Why Your Skills Can Only Go So Far

IMG_1404.jpgEver feel like you’ve done everything right and still end up like it all went wrong?

Where you’ve mastered every facet of your work, acquired new skills, checked the boxes, and yet — failed?

When you look around and realize, while you may do everything better than everyone else, you are not the best?

This is a hard lesson in life, even harder in The Life Autistic.

“There should be logic to this,” we think. “The whole should consist entirely of the sum of its parts — that’s how it works!” we plead.

That’s not how it works.

Early in my career, I thought that mastering my current job would be the gateway to the next level up. Surely, being a top Advisor would open the doors for me to manage, right? (Don’t laugh.)

But it took a different set of skills (like coaching, motivation, leadership, organization) to progress.

“Ah, so that’s it — it’s all about the DIFFERENT skills!” we think.

As I picked up skills that helped me move beyond to organization leadership, I was motivated to “learn all the things” and fortify every deficiency for success.

Presenting? Check.

Forecasting and staffing? Check.

Employee engagement? Check.

Reporting? Check check check CHECK.

Hopefully your neurotypical minds figure out what took my autistic mind too long to discover, only after I’d stalled.

It’s not about the skills.

It’s about attributes.

Respect. Tact. Diplomacy. Patience. Approachability.

Not just what you do, but who you are.

I was dismayed. I’d done so much, and I thought I could solve it all by doing. But as it turns out, it’s about being. 

Your success must go beyond your skills.

In The Life Autistic, it’s so much easier to do, do, do. The idea of being is not impossible, but it’s tough! To practice things that would normally be just someone’s personality – that’s difficult.

It still doesn’t always make sense to me.

But I’m still making sense of the world. Making better sense of me and people like me to the world.

 

The Life Autistic: Oh, No, not EYE CONTACT!

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This one’s almost made it to the “common knowledge” domain: Autistic people typically don’t make eye contact when they’re talking to you because blah, blah, reasons, difference, awkward, reasons, etc.

Ever wonder why?

I’ll tell you!

It’s hard for us to process multiple senses at once.

Unlike the rest of y’all, we autistic folks devote significant mental resources to engaging in conversation. Saying the right thing, planning our next sentences, avoiding awkward pauses, trying to guard ourselves from over-talking, and reading your face.

Making eye contact? That’s like the camelback-breaking straw.

It often feels like too much at once. It’s not that we’re too shy – we just need to devote more to our conversations with you.

We’re intentional, so we can’t just “rest” our gaze by making eye contact.

I mean, we could make eye contact.

If it were a staring contest.

If the goal is “maintain eye contact until predator backs down” or something weird.

If we were talking about, well, your eyes.

Lastly, we’re on our guard and averse to being “analyzed” 

I’ve a lot to learn about myself, but I know I’m different. 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel that, and I feel others can see it.

So the eye contact thing? It doesn’t help – it’s like people stare straight into my autistic reaction, that visceral feeling of “stop gawking at me.”

That said, I do have a way I’ve worked around this.

You might notice that, at times, I have no problem holding a conversation and looking right back at you.

How?

I’m practically blind now, y’all. Without my glasses, I can stare straight into your face and be A-OK with the blur.

No eyesight, no eye contact, no problem ^_^

 

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.