The Life Autistic: Be Cool, and Talk Like a Normal Person

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“That’s really cool,” said Mo, describing one of her cool toddler things.

“Mo,  try to find a better word than ‘cool’,” Mom (ever the teacher) suggested.

“Yeah, like . . . fascinating.” I up-sold from a 5¢ word to a $2.50 descriptor, something that would befit a typical 3-year-old.

She tried it out. “That’s really . . . fa-sci-na-ting.”

While my wife and I grinned about that, I backpedaled on the thought.

“Actually, Mo,” I realized. “Just go ahead and say cool.” 

*******

Just the other day, someone shared a compliment on my readout on a conference call: “Hunter – eloquent as always with many nice compound words and phrases.”

Some of my coworkers jibe me on how they “can tell I have an English degree” and “feel like they need one themselves to follow me.”

And in chats, I’ve more than once delighted folks when they mention that they didn’t have to Google a word I used.

*sigh*

For those of us on the hyperverbal, overlexical side of The Life Autistic, the journey is fraught with more dictional peril.

So, funny enough, I’ve made strides. Over time, I’ve taken a few mots justes (here, don’t Google it) from the bottom shelf.

Fam. Y’all. Blooda. Thx. Yo. Dude. LOL. IKR? Like. Roll with that. 

And to my surprise, people don’t think I’m dumb when I use words like that.

Sometimes they think I’m normal.

Maybe even cool. 😉

The Life Autistic: Disclosure at Work?

IMG_6778.jpgI came across an article intriguing enough to where I read it twice, about disclosing one’s autism at work. The premise: is it beneficial to disclose your autism at work?

The topic weighs heavy on me, only because I almost did. (Of course, if you’re reading this and you know me from work: Surprise! You were right: something is definitely “weird” about H2! )

But I don’t make a practice of formal disclosure, and I have my reasons why:

I want to be judged by my work, not by how autism affects my work. 

In The Life Autistic, we can often compensate for personality challenges (awkward conversations, small talk, using bigger words than necessary, social unease) by turning in a good day’s work at the end of it all. I’d prefer people focus on the quality of my deliverables over the idiosyncrasies that they’d perceive (fairly or unfairly) about me.

I want to be managed, coached, and led as Hunter Hansen. 

My company is a world-leader in being understanding and accommodating to employees of all walks and abilities, and I’m proud of them for that. For me, though: I’m stubborn and proud of my abilities, even as they weave within my deficits. I’d rather the topic not come up to “explain” why I fall short, or come behind, or even in the rare cases I get ahead. I want my holistic traits and working habits to be what define me professionally. I am not my autism. 

I don’t want it to be used against me.

Again, see above about my company. They are gracious. Not every other employer is. I’m still wary of autism being seen as a “crutch” or an “excuse.”

I remember during a particularly harsh interaction with a (former) manager, where I nearly buckled, nearly threw it out there because I felt helpless — where I almost spilled the beans early, in a desperate attempt to give my boss some context and soften the blow.

At that point, I still had a lot to refine in my professional conduct, but I’m glad I stopped short — it locked me into a more helpful work precept:

It’s the what & how that matter.

I look for ways to deliver what I need, keep it within reason, open to negotiation, and sticking to the facts. “Would I be able to take this meeting via phone today while I concentrate quietly on other work?” Do you mind if I leave early from the team builder this evening?”  

Sometimes it takes a little clout, a little accommodating on my part to earn some oomph to ask.

It’s a balance.

Work can handle the what, where, and how.

The why is mine, on my terms.

The Life Autistic: Learning to Drive (or “Quit Planning, Start Doing”)

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“Hey Hunter, we’re going to get your learner’s permit — now.”

And that’s how I learned to drive. The End.

Let me put this story in Reverse for a quick second.

During a trip from Iceland back to the US, my parents thought it’d be a good idea for me to study up for a driving test. I was 15, and the thought was that I’d eventually get around to needing a car, driving ability, all the essentials.

I wasn’t going to be able to do much once we got back to Iceland, but at least I could cram for when I returned to the states for college in a couple of years.

But nope. 

Either Mom got antsy, or there was some kind of discount being offered for learner’s permits, but with almost zero notice, I was hustled to Waynesboro, Virginia’s eight circle of Hell known as the DMV.

Yeah, there’s a more suspenseful story here, where I missed my maximum number of questions and had to guess my way through the last five, but lemme zoom out to the moral of the story:

I’ve done a lot by being pushed to do.

It goes against 95% of the very fibers of my autistic being. My careful planning. My hedging against risk. My detailed preparation. My manifold situational calculations.

Those skills have served me well, in interviews, tests, speeches — you name it. If I can plan it, I can (usually) ace it.

But that’s only if I get around to doing it.

The Life Autistic is a balancing act, where all that analysis leads to paralysis. My best laid plans were often just that: plans.

Getting over the anxiety to do is the toughest part of the plan.

And yeah, I prefer when I can pull that trigger myself.

But I know me. I’m not the quickest to act even in my own interest.

Sometimes it takes a “50% Learner’s Permits – TODAY ONLY” deal to drive it.