The Life Autistic: How Could You Forget How to Ride a Bike?

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You know that phrase, “It’s like riding a bike – you never forget how?” I’m here to tell you that’s bogus. Bunk.

have forgotten how to ride a bike.

I may be exaggerating, but that there’s not a lot of membership in the Autistic Athletics Association. The spectrum life is about dealing with physical gracelessness and disinclination toward the social aspects of formal sports, athletics, etc.

Exceptional coordination and athleticism is uncommon, but even common coordination can be a challenge for us autists.

I learned to ride a compact, green Huffy bike through the neighborhood of Burke, Virginia. While I was six of seven, I can’t say I was embarrassed about that late start. I was an official biker.

Fast forward to Iceland, that winter, where my parents bought me a new Roadmaster for the “summer” rides we’d take. And by the time that season rolled around, I’d lost it.

I’d literally — in the space of a season — forgotten how to ride a bike. 

I was almost a decade away from discovering just how different I was, but this was embarrassing. Who out there just up and loses their ability to ride a bike?

People like me.

People who fight for every fiber of muscle memory. People who put in work to get to only passable levels of coordination. People who aren’t naturals at this.

I was a whopping eight years old. Young. Stupid. Stubborn. 

Stubborn enough to get back on the bike and try again. And fall. And sputter. And pedal just a bit more. And fall again.

My dad cheered me on; I reflect on it with regrets, disappointment. He shouldn’t have had to teach me twice. He should have watched me take off like any other normal eight-year-old who’d learned to ride before. But after a few hours, it came back. I wasn’t about to revert to my non-riding self.

Since it’s been over a 15 years since I last rode, some people joke about me forgetting again.

I forgot how to ride a bike once, but I learned it twice. 

And dammit, if I have to learn it alongside my daughter this time, I’ll learn it once more.

 

 

The Life Autistic: Things You Need to Know About MELTDOWNS

atomic-bomb-2621291_960_720.jpgPictured: Me, after more than an hour of forced socializing in cramped quarters

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

Remember that phrase. Recollect this comparison. Recall the equation.

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

“Wait a minute, H2, I thought we were getting some quirky, offbeat story about you like usual, like how you broke down after your parents moved away while you were at summer camp?”

You’ll get that story.

But this is important. Your autistic kids need to be spared the ignominy of misunderstanding. Your autistic acquaintances want you to know the difference.

Tantrums are an explosive reaction, an output to an unfulfilled input. 

When I was younger, I remember finally getting the chance to go out for Indian food in Reykjavik, something I’d been looking forward to for years. That was the plan.

Until, due to whatever-the-heck-probably-something-stupid, it wasn’t. We ended up going for McDonald’s at the Kringlan, where I sulked, whined, and griped all the way through a meal that topped the Big Mac Index (no lie!)

I didn’t get what I wanted, and I pitched a fit. That’s a tantrum.

Meltdowns are either explosive or implosive, a response to overstimulation that defies consolation. 

For starters, I’m going to shout-out to all the parents who have kids who melt down.

These are hard. 

They’re stressful, embarrassing, and the stares you can feel from behind your back — I’ve only small words of comfort that I hope will apply:

This too shall pass.

But let me share what it passes on to.

After my promotion to “Big Boy Manager Job” at Apple, I joined the other organizational leaders in the group for a summit out in California. First time traveling. First time seeing so many of my extended peers at once. 

On the third night, we all went out bowling. It was a blast, we had fun, other people had drinks, and I pulled out all the stops to be just as social and cool as everyone else.

But after about an hour, I ran out of gas. Folded. Catatonic. Zombified. Shot. I just . . . couldn’t anything anymore. People are exhausting. Firing on all cylinders just to keep up with the malaise, cacophony, I could only maintain for so long. I don’t see how you neurotypicals do it, all told.

I melted down to a sedate, sullied, burnt husk of a man, utterly spent, like a robot who’d lost its charge.

As I sat in the chairs at the bowling alley, pitcher of water all to myself, sipping away aimlessly, a Senior Manager caught my thousand-yard stare and cocked her head.

“You OK?”

“Yeah yeah,” I nodded.

See, I’ve learned a bit about meltdowns. They’re far less violent now. The fuse is longer. The combustion is more of a slow burn, cratering in the chaos. Not a bang, but a whimper.

I’ve outgrown the explosions, but I’ll never escape the meltdowns.

The Life Autistic: What’s with the Accent?

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When it comes to autism, sometimes it takes one to know one. The tells, the signs, the idiosyncrasies — our AutismRadar® is near flawless.

“Hunter, I think you need to talk to this guy,” said June*, one of the managers who reported to me. “I’m not sure what to make of him.”

“How do you mean?”

June told me more about one of her new employees, Benjamin Bennett*, who’d started going by B2. “He said he was inspired by you, H2!”

Great. 

She described some of his mannerisms, how he acted in meetings, communicated in email, and then dropped what I found to be the most interesting tidbit.

“He does these . . . accents when he talks to customers. Like, not his normal accent.”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll talk to him.”

There were two ways that coin could flip.

Some people would smack down with a variation of “Ok, what you’re doing is weird, and you need to stop,” and just make life worse.

The other approach would be that gentle, almost meek, “So, tell me why . . .” style of discovery, unassuming, wise-as-a-serpent-but-ultimately-harmless way of getting him to fess up and explain more.

I went for a third option: make this coin stand on its edge.

Benjamin and I had a great talk a week later, discussing career progression, job skills, how he was adapting to his new team, etc.

As I relayed and related some of my experience, I casually mentioned:

“When I was on the phones, I’d even switch up my accent. Sounds weird, but sometimes it helped, if you can believe.”

100% true, folks.

And I still do it to this day.

It’s a bit of an odd habit, and sure enough, it’s something we autists share to a degree.

My phone habit? An unconscious shift to a Southern drawl, which oozed sweet tea, honey, and biscuits – all of which de-escalated my most irate callers.

And then when out and about, talking to my wife, I take on this almost Received Pronunciation British lilt, as if I have to be overheard with “more intrigue.” Too many William F. Buckley vids? I’ve no idea. Mrs. H2 isn’t ever amused.

And then there’s my lack of accent, an unplaceable affect that I take pride in maintaining. Since I’m half-robot anyway, I find it fitting.

So, what’s with the accent then?

I couldn’t tell you. Stress response? Phoneaesthetic soothing? Who knows.

Back to that talk with B2, my confession loosed a sigh of relief and exultation from him — he didn’t have to worry about being ‘weird’ or suffer the consequences of being ‘different’ in a way that few understood.

But I did.

Takes one to know one.

*not their real names

Image courtesy WikiHow